Sunday, January 28, 2007

The art and the science

I have been wondering what to do regarding my district's recent spate of network difficulties, all of which have seriously impacted my ability to serve the teachers I work with. Also, as I read the recent feeds that came into my Bloglines account, I started realizing that, in line with my previous post on gathering a quorum into the School 2.0 fray, the medium may not be the message.

A few years ago, my wife was finishing up one of her multitude of Master's degree's (I've lost track) and the class was taught by a professor who happened to be the superintendent of a major Abbott District in New Jersey. For those who are not familiar with Abbott Districts in New Jersey, they are the districts that have "evidence of substantive failure of thorough and efficient education; including 'failure to achieve what the DOE considers passing levels of performance on the High School Proficiency Test (HSPT);'"

My wife regaled me with stories, and as a teacher of public school in New Jersey these stories are folklorish, of technology that the staff had access to but could not utilize either through lack of training or lack of appropriate infrastructure.

At The Thinking Stick, Jeff Utecht, a teacher in Shanghai, has appropriately placed the emphasis on the educator, regardless of the medium he or she uses:

I don’t care if you have 20 computers in a classroom or 20 pencils. They can not do or change education without the instructor understanding what can be done with the tool they have been given. We do not ask students to use a pencil to read with, because we know that’s not what a pencil does. Educators understand what a pencil can and can not do. We have used it, tested it, and found its limits. We understand that it works best on paper, can be used in art, and is a great tool if you are drafting something as it is easy to erase. It is not a great tool if you are looking to keep a document for an extended period of time as the graphite easily rubs off, fades, and smudges over time. We use a different tool for those types of documents…a pen. The computer is the same. It is a new tool. You can give one to every child in your school, but if the instructor does not know what the tool can and can not do, how can you ensure that the tool will be used, used properly, and used to it’s fullest extent?

The same dilemma that befalls the Abbott District can befall any other district that fails to prepare its staff for the power of the new media available. What lies ahead is only as powerful as prepare ourselves for. But just as we prepared ourselves for the coming of the internet in teaching, and the coming of Web 2.0, we can easily prepare ourselves for what lies ahead immediately. Succinctly, Utecht phrases it as such:

It’s just hardware, it will not change education, it will not make our students smarter, it will not make our lives easier unless we are willing to take a long deep look into our systems and change the way we do things. We are talking about a pedagogical shift in the way learning happens, in the way classrooms are set up, and the way we view our students in this new digital world.


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