Saturday, May 5, 2007

1:1 Learning and teaching

Rising out of the conversations that I thought I was having about virtual schools and arming our faculty with laptops is a wholly different, but not unrelated conversation about who we are as teachers, and who we are going to be.

The Liverpool High School 1:1 laptop failure has brought drawn lengthy grimace on the face of the edublogosphere, and a considerable number of "well, what did you expect?" from the more noted members of our community. Here's a smattering:

Andy Carvin at
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen students using their
laptops in the classroom as if nothing else had changed, lined up in
neat rows, each laptop on a desk, with students listening to a teacher
lecture or taking a test on the laptop. Those aren’t laptops - those
are expensive pencils. Of course you’re not going to see
achievement improve when pedagogical practices aren’t rethought from
the ground up! Where is the boldness, the pedagogical imagination
required to put these devices to use to reach their teaching potential
- and students’ learning potential, for that matter?
Tom Kennedy on Andy's blog:

We must create the context in which 1-1 computing can be effective
by redefining what education looks like and how it is assessed. Until
then we will continue to see “islands of innovation” that prove
successful (usually because the rules of engagement have been
suspended) surrounded by expensive failures.

Technology can’t force a change in education, as I once believed it
could. Education must change first. Then we will begin to realize the
full potential of technology

Will Richardson on a note from
Note: There are so many potential reasons for this, but the basic reason is because learning with technology is simply not a systemic part of the K-12 curriculum. It’s not a part of the way we do business. Instead, it’s something we try to make work at certain times for certain purposes. And even then, we don’t fully understand the implications and potentials of the tools. Not surprising…is it?
The discussions I have been having in my physical world center on how to change the environment so that if we did move to a 1:1 initiative our pedagogy would be in line with what our technology was. Liverpool failed for all of the reasons stated above. My district would as well because our method of teaching, for the most part, is derived from a model that worked really well for a very long time, and, if all were to remain the same, would work really well for a longer time. We know, however, that our students are not going to let that timeline stand still, that they are making the needle jump all over the place. What do we do to make ourselves into seismologists capable of reading that needle?

Reinvent. I am leaning more in the direction of Tom Haskins when he writes:

An underground movement is recruiting subversives to replace the massive machine for the manufacture of controlled content. Must see learning as a growth process. Must demonstrate the envisioning of a botanical
process of planting of seeds that blossom into flowers. Insights into
ecological cycles, successions and transformations -- a plus.

Must have experience with industrial models of schooling. Evidence of switching from pushing content to pulling for the learners is a requirement. Context creators preferred over content developers. Must be able to win without a battle and not make enemies of power trippers who think they can make learning happen with "command and control" requirements.

An M.Ed in informal learning optional. Must show the abilities to have nurturing effects
on learners, to act like a learner oneself and to approach life as an
endeavor of continual learning. Evidence of significant personal growth
given precedence over stagnant or composting developments. Contact with
educational aliens taken into consideration.

When I survey my teachers, formally or informally, about their use of technology and the stumbling blocks to using it in the classroom, I get fewer responses about teachers not being able to handle the know-how. What I usually get is that it sticks out of the lesson too much; that it is too obvious and obtrusive. The goal is transparency, not only in what we are doing being available to all stakeholders in the community, but also in our ability to move from mini-lesson through speaking, to mini-lesson through Skyping the chemical engineer to further the point.

So, I can continue to rant about how people are not using the amazing technologies that we have available, or I can find ways to sneak it into their pedagogy. The failure of the Liverpool initiative, like others in the same boat, rests not on the students for their misuse or lack of performance on standardized tests, but rather on the school administrators and staff for failing to realize that a seismic shift needed to take place in their philosophy towards school. If I am fortunate enough to be in that situation, I will do my best to initiate change before that happens.

Who do we want to be then, the teachers who metamorphosize and are willing to dismantle only to rebuild? Or just the opposite? I know where I am going.


Carolyn Foote said...

I agree completely with your statement that:

"failure of the Liverpool initiative, like others in the same boat, rests not on the students for their misuse or lack of performance on standardized tests, but rather on the school administrators and staff for failing to realize that a seismic shift needed to take place in their philosophy towards school."

I was very disheartened by the one-sidedness of the Times article.

There are schools rethinking their model of delivery, and thinking seriously about how laptops fit into that, and the article didn't cover any of those.

Not to mention her opening graf was very sensationalistic.

The unfortunate result of poorly done articles like this, I fear, is it feeds incentives to people who want to avoid the changes that technology may bring into their schools.

But almost all of the problems mentioned really had to do more with philosophy and implementation than the "laptops."

Anyway, I wrote more about this on my blog so I won't keep going on about it.

I do think that it is incumbent on all of us who know differently to write articles for print sources to counter poorly thought out articles like that one.

Bing Miller said...

Patrick: Thank you for directing me to the NYT article. After reading about Liverpool's laptop "failure" and reading your response, I have to agree with your basic premise: the school philosophy must change, not just the tools. For me, the most telling piece of the NYT article was this paragraph: "Such disappointments are the latest example of how technology is often embraced by philanthropists and political leaders as a quick fix, only to leave teachers flummoxed about how best to integrate the new gadgets into curriculums."

When imposed from above, initiatives like a laptop for every student can easily become misguided and ineffective and even disruptive. We don't need someone throwing laptops in our classrooms and then expecting miraculous results. In fact, I think we need the opposite. We need teachers to pilot and build change from the bottom and then seek necessary support from the top to nurture that change long term. Unfortunately, the inevitable missteps along the way become equated with "laptops aren't the answer." They're not the answer. Neither are blogs or wikis or podcasting. Good teaching is the answer. And good teachers can use tools like those to prepare their students for the 21st Century.

To echo Carolyn, your response to the NYT article was well-done and necessary. Thanks again.

And to answer a previous question of yours from a while back... I used to enjoy Hungry Charlies, Fagan's, and the Inn Complete during my SU graduate years. What about you?

Patrick Higgins said...

Thank you both for furthering the conversation. This article has done much to shed light on what I think a lot of us had taken for granted: once technology is placed in the hands of teachers, everything else will just fall into place.

If these initiatives could become a grassroots phenomena, whereby the teachers themselves begin to demand the technology and the training, then we would see systemic change.

This could be the place where we all come in. Bing, your two-hour session was immensely eye-opening for a lot of the attendees, and Carolyn, the work you do on a daily basis with your staff probably wins converts as well. If only there was a way to speed up the process or create a stronger "felt need" by the teacher-learners.

To answer you back, Bing, I played rugby while at Syracuse and Chuck's was one of our sponsors, so we inevitably ended up there on Saturday's in the Fall. I worked at Faegan's for the years I was there, so that is where I spent the majority of my leisure time as well. Memories...