Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Not-So-Prescribed-View

Starting back at school is a rush for me. So much excitement and hope by both teachers and students alike. As I walked through our high school yesterday, I was besieged by a group of teachers who were recipients of tablet PC's this past summer and had undergone the beginnings of a series of professional development on how to teach with this machine at their disposal.

The questions were so unusual, as they pushed the envelope beyond what I had expected:

  • Can we set up our skype accounts to work in class?
  • How do import my presentations into Journal so I can write and highlight on them?
  • What is a wiki?
  • Are you offering any more courses on blogging?
  • How do you screencast?
Yesterday, I thought about the barrage of tasks and questions that we are faced with as the year begins, most of them being of the mundane type: logins, access to software, licensing, projector hookups, SMARTboards, etc. But this new round of questions thrilled me to the core. Are we beginning to look at a new path?

I came across a post from Harold Jarche today in which he speaks about the difference between working hard and doing hard work. The questions I have begun to answer in my buildings seem to feel more like the hard work. Although they may initially be wrapped in the finer details of software and hardware, this group of teachers now has the ability to unshackle themselves from the confines of teacher-centrism and begin creating networked learning for themselves and their students. Jarche describes the difference like this:
Anyone can work hard, but it takes courage to take on the hard work of changing our communities, questioning the education system or creating a non-profit organisation with no guaranteed return on investment. Hard work is not about literacy, numeracy or even civics. Hard work is questioning underlying assumptions and seeing new patterns and then taking action on this knowledge. Critical thinking is not only hard work, but it’s difficult to teach and not easy to measure. No wonder schools avoid it.
Last year, I remember being thrilled to handle any of the old-guard type questions about access and logins, because everything was so new. One year later, and I marvel at how my thinking has changed and been challenged to change even more. Also, the first time I stood before the faculty of the high school and pitched the idea of a wiki was a classic memory that will stand to make me laugh heartily by the end of this year I am sure: a 1950's auditorium with an overhead projector, dim lights, and screenshots copied to laser printer transparencies, a staff looking at me like I was speaking Hawaiian (which, partly, I was), and crickets chirping as I finished telling them the times and dates of the classes I was offering.

These new questions, these new ideas coming from this small cadre of tablet teachers, will help me transform our pedagogy, even if we have to answer the old questions still.

Flickr photo credit to Alexanderdrachman's Photostream.


Carolyn Foote said...

Love hearing your enthusiasm! I had this same feeling of suddenly realizing how much my thinking has changed in the last year when we started a couple of weeks ago.

It's good to read your post now that I am already mired in a million startup tasks, and keep losing my sense of that initial realization!

The Paperless Teacher said...

A group of us in my district were recipients of that same HP tablet grant two years ago. We did not realize it at the time but it was truely life changing. Our original ideas foundered a bit because we were so technically naïve but 2 years later and we are now incorporating blogs into our curriculum, working on course wikis, and delving into the world of web 2.0 like never before. I wish you and the recipients the best of luck and urge you to have the courage to explore bold new ideas.

Patrick Higgins said...

Thanks to you both for the comments and encouragement. It was one thing to have these ideas last year and to see them falter for various reasons (lack of experience in institutional change on my part, inferior network, etc.), and another to have other initiating the change and pushing me forward.

Normally, I relied on my network to do this for me, but now there is a push from within the organization I work for. I am interested to see how this enthusiasm stands the test of the first few months of school.