Wednesday, June 12, 2013

We must eternally press forward for what is yet to get.

In a letter to a Charles Clay in 1790, Thomas Jefferson wrote:
 "The ground of liberty is to be gained by inches, and we must be contented to secure what we can get from time to time and eternally press forward for what is yet to get. It takes time to persuade men to do even what is for their own good."
If we interpret "liberty" as educational or academic liberty, and if we can agree on the definition of the word "persuade" as : to Cause (someone) to do something through reasoning or argument this quote resonates deeply with me on several levels.

As an educator, we must be more conscious of the "eternal" struggle our students engage in when it comes to learning about things that are meaningful, engaging, and relevant to them. We must also recognize that it takes time to persuade students to do even what is for their own good.

As an educator, we must be more conscious of the "eternal" struggle our colleagues engage in when it comes to learning about best practices, new initiatives and philosophical shifts that most likely conflict with their own ideals, beliefs, and opinions. We must recognize that it takes time to persuade colleagues to do even what is for their own good.

As an educator, we must be more conscious of the "eternal" struggle our administrators engage in when it comes to implementing initiatives that are beyond their control.  We must recognize that it takes time to persuade educators to do even what is for their own good.

As an educator, we must be more conscious of the "eternal" struggle our parents engage in when it comes to teaching and learning in the 21st century.  We must recognize that it takes time to persuade parents to do even what is for their own good.

As an educator, we must be more conscious of the "eternal" struggles our community and school board members engage in when it comes to balancing budgets and supporting our schools in cost effective and educationally principled ways. We must recognize that it takes time to persuade community members to do even what is for their own good.

As an educator, we must be MOST conscious of the "eternal" struggles we engage in surrounding our own belief systems about teaching and learning and being an educator in this time and age. We must recognize that it takes time to persuade ourselves to do even what is for our own good.

Conversations, discussions, arguments, and passionate discourse should always be a part of the educational process.  It should be happening everywhere from the classroom to the board room. While we must come to a consistent agreement on the end goal (student learning) , the road map will always be changing and evolving. As we complete another year in the life of a classroom, a school, or a district, the end will always represent an opportunity. The beginning is the end and the end is the beginning. If we acknowledge that positive change happens inch by inch, it is much easier to  "eternally press forward for what is yet to get".

As the hypothesis of  Joseph Ellis' biography of Thomas Jefferson "American Sphinx", Jefferson exhibited a duality that squarely placed him as both an idealist and a realist. Often,  this incongruity makes looking to him for wisdom a complicated endeavor. I believe classrooms, schools, and districts must live in this similar incongruity, at constant odds with the reality and ideal.  We must be content to "secure what we can be from time to time, gaining inch by inch, yet eternally pressing forward to what is yet to come." In other words, we must  accept our realities while steadfastly focused on what we must become for all learners.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What is your definition of technology (in education)?

When exploring strand 8 (Science and Technology) in the National Council for the Social Studies Framework for teaching and learning, I came across this definition of technology.

Science is the result of empirical study of the natural world, and technology is the application of knowledge to accomplish tasks. (NCSS)

It got me thinking about what other traditional definitions of technology might be. From merriam webster:

the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area (merriam webster)
And from wikipedia:
The word technology refers to the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, and methods of organization, in order to solve a problem, improve a preexisting solution to a problem, achieve a goal, handle an applied input/output relation or perform a specific function. It can also refer to the collection of such tools, including machinery, modifications, arrangements and procedures. Technologies significantly affect human as well as other animal species' ability to control and adapt to their natural environments. The term can either be applied generally or to specific areas: examples include construction technology, medical technology, and information technology. (Wikipedia)

       For those of us who live and learn from and with technology, this common theme of “application” should come as no surprise. For many of us, where technology usage is ubiquitous, we often use technology to make meaning and show what we know to be true. While there are many excuses as to why we each don’t embrace certain technologies (ie. I prefer Diigo to Delicious or I don’t really “get” pinterest?), I wonder if not learning from and with technology at all makes someone an effective learner in the modern world? I’m not saying that we can’t and don’t learn in other non-digital ways because obviously we do. What I’m wondering about, is whether we are fully developed learners if at least part of our personal learning and growing is not with and through modern technologies. And what does this question mean for our students?

        Although we often dismissively chuckle at the luddite colleague who refuses to learn how to text message or the technophobe who thinks email is about advanced as it can get, we need to question whether those teachers are fully preparing students for a world that has rapidly and will continue to rapidly evolve in technologically driven ways. The factory model schools of the 20th Century are even less relevant to the knowledge economy that exists today . Perhaps it should have always been this way, but no one really cares what you know or how you know it. It’s about what you do with that knowledge. Schools and teachers who do not embrace learning through and with the modern technologies available to them are failing their students.

         Technology today affords global connectivity, an audience greater than the classroom, access to information faster than our brains can process it, and the ability to apply knowledge in creative, authentic, and meaningful ways. And yet what some teachers qualify as using technology in their classroom is limited to firing up the shiny new digital projector, moving a few items with the smart board, and having kids word process when it’s time to write. When technologies are available, it should not just be to check off a spot on a lesson plan or evaluation. It should not be a once a month or a once a year “thing”, it should be ubiquitous.

       My argument is not a new one and it is not easy to digest if you are a teacher who “dislikes” technology or “can’t learn from a computer”. The reality is, it’s not about YOU. It’s about the kids who sit in our classroom each day and the mission we have been employed with: to provide a quality individualized education to each and every child who walks through our door. And ALL of them need to learn and show what they know and can do in ways that are very different from the ways we might have learned. There is enough blame to go around. As a nation we have wasted a ton of money on laptops, interactive technologies, and ineffective training and professional development. Bad pedagogy is bad pedagogy and it has had disastrous impact on student engagement, motivation, and learning. There is simply no excuse for an educator (ie teachers AND administrators) to reject the necessity and learning potential of technology in today’s school and classroom. At the same time poorly teaching with technology might be just as detrimental.

       Our students need to make meaning, to create, to communicate, to connect, and to apply their knowledge critically. Is it possible to do all of this without technology? Yes. If every classroom and curriculum could guarantee every student this opportunity, we wouldn't be facing the challenges we are today. Those schools and classrooms would also be adaptable, flexible, and personalized learning spaces that were full of the tools that each and every student would need to show what they know and can do. Maybe that's my definition of technology in the classroom: Whatever is needed to learn and make meaning. What's yours?

(This post is cross posted at the Digital Learning Environments blog found here.