Thursday, May 23, 2013

Technology and the Bowflex Collide

Right now, many schools and school districts are under a great deal of pressure to have their students learn (and their teachers teach) '21st Century Skills'.  We can all sing along here...collaboration, communication, critical thinking, you know...give me the 7 "C"s and all that.  For the record, I agree, and endorse these skills wholeheartedly.  I'm not sure these skills are so different from that which we have wanted for our students in the 20th century, but nonetheless, it is hard to deny that these skills are vitally important for the success of our students now and in the future.  Unfortunately, this pressure comes at a time when many would say budgets for education have never been tighter.  And yet it is not uncommon for us to hear things like:

"We need a 1:1 program"

"We need to have a smartboard in each classroom in our school"

"Everyone of our teachers and administrators needs a laptop"

"Should we be getting iPads or android tablets for all of our kids?"

"What kinds of pro-d do we need to get for our staff and administration to use technology more in their classes?"

But I can't help but think that, in some instances, we may be looking at technology use and implementation in a manner that is at best somewhat backwards, and at worst a potentially frightful use of precious educational budgets.

I need to qualify something: I am a huge believer in the importance of implementing technology in education. We have made it a priority in our building.  We have free and open wifi at our school.  By the end of this year, we will have projectors in every classroom.  Some teachers have smartboards, others have tablets and laptops, and we have pods of tablets floating around the building.  We have completely re-tasked our library to become a learning commons that is tech-rich and conducive to collaborative learning.  Most of our students have some permutation of a smartphone, and we have policies that support the use of technology for learning.  We welcome the use of social media.

However, my concern about tech budgets and tech spending are most aptly summarized with a question:

"Why are you buying that?"

I say this because there seems to be a prevailing "Field of Dreams"-themed logic out there with technology:  this is the "if you build it they will come" logic, or more specifically the "if you buy it, they will use it" approach with the promise that an infusion of technology will lead our students promised land of 21st century skills.

This thought pattern seems odd to me.  And according to this logic, every person who buys a Bowflex should be in good shape.  Yet if one spends about 30 seconds on Kijiji, there are more than a few fitness items for sale.  And I'm just taking a flyer that most people aren't selling their fitness equipment because they are now "too fit".

#howsthatworkingforyou

Making widespread tech purchases to ensure that each classroom in a school or district is kitted out with a bright and shiny technological suite is (to my way of thinking) quite analogous to the Field of Dreams concept, or buying every student or educator a Bowflex.

Maybe they don't want a Bowflex.  Perhaps they need a stairclimber.  Or maybe they need just want a pair of runners.  Or a yoga mat.

Perhaps a different tact that we might take towards our tech purchases could be based in the tenets of  Instructional Rounds.

  • tasks predict performance
  • the real accountability system is in the tasks that the students are asked to do

If we look at our technology purchases through the lens of the TASKS that we want students or teachers to accomplish, then suddenly the rationale for a technology purchase becomes infinitely more evident.

"I need my students to be able to have instant access to the internet so they can compare and contrast the validity of different websites."  Maybe a set of tablets for that classroom to enhance "side of the desk" technology could help you out.

"I want to be able to upload problems to my website from my math lessons that I have solved with students in class".  Hmmm, maybe a tablet PC or Smartboard could work.

"My students need quick access to a repository of literary terms that they can use to analyze pieces of prose".  Have them pop their smartphones out.

"I want my students to be able to brainstorm and display their ideas when they work in collaborative groups."  Well, maybe you don't need technology.  Maybe you just need some chart paper.

Of course these are just raw and rudimentary examples.  And of course, I support the idea of spending money (and sometimes a great deal of money) on technology.  However, before we spend our modest budgets that serve many important causes in our schools, it seems prudent that we can base a significant portion of our rationale for technological purchases on the TASKS we want our students and teachers to accomplish.

Because I can't afford another Bowflex.   

I learned that the hard way.


6 comments:

  1. Cale wrote:
    I'm not sure these skills are so different from that which we have wanted for our students in the 20th century, but nonetheless, it is hard to deny that these skills are vitally important for the success of our students now and in the future.

    - - - - -

    First, Pal, hope you're well! It's been awhile.

    Second, Marc Prensky likes to break this conversation into nouns and verbs. Nouns are the skills that we want students to master because they matter -- and they're relatively unchanging from generation to generation.

    Verbs are the digital tools that we can use to teach important skills and they are constantly changing. We need to keep our attention focused on the nouns before we ever think about the verbs to avoid getting buried in Bowflex machines.

    Great example, by the way!

    Did you ever see my bit on writing technology vision statements for a school?

    http://blog.williamferriter.com/2011/01/25/does-your-school-have-technology-vision-statements/

    It'll resonate with the PLC guy in you.

    Rock right on,
    Bill

    ReplyDelete
  2. We can all sing along here...collaboration, communication, critical thinking, you know...give me the 7 "C"s and all that. For the record, I agree, and endorse these skills wholeheartedly. I'm not sure these skills are so different from that which we have wanted for our students in the 20th century, but nonetheless, it is hard to deny that these skills are vitally important for the success of our students now and in the future. fitness equipment coupons and deals

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  5. I agree, and endorse these skills wholeheartedly. I'm not sure these skills are so different from that which we have wanted for our students in the 20th century, but nonetheless, Bowflex for Babyboomers

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