Getting Real about School Technology

Why Get Real?

One difficulty with technology envisioning is that there are two predominant cultures (or rather, cults) related to school computing: "true believers" (who think that anything you can use a computer for is worth using a computer for) and "Luddites" (who would rather we return to 18th century farming).

Somewhere in between the two lies the reality - that computer vendors are not schoolteachers and don't know what works and what doesn't in that setting, but that there are many very powerful learning opportunities computers provide. It's important to navigate a path between these two extreme visions, and "Get Real" as you envision what the implementation process will be like and require.

The Monkey's Paw

There's a well-known cautionary fairy tale called The Monkey's Paw, in which a talisman that seemingly bestows the magical power to grant any wish produces side effects that are far worse than the wished-for benefits.  At right is a chart of such "side effects" to plan against in new technology implementations, a good touchstone to explore in establishing realistic expectations. Chart links click to explanations below.

I do not mean to imply that technology is a monkey's paw in the classroom, only that it can appear so if not properly contextualized or prepared for. Its tabular form is designed to be stimulate group discussion as part of a faculty pre-orientation to technology planning and implementation.

NOTE: The Monkey's Paw was adapted from Getting Real, a "technology kit" created for IMPACT II's Teacher Policy Institute by Janice Gordon (Mott Hall School) and Bram Moreinis (Institute for Learning Technologies), written for teachers about to enter a major phase of technology implementaion. It address issues that arose in the responses to the Getting Connected Survey we circulated among five schools. These issues are discussed at length in the essay, Promises and Problems: Getting Real about School Technology also part of that kit.

Considering Community

Having agreed to steer clear of promising the moon, and before diving fully into the planning process, the technology team should wisely consider what stakeholders should be actively solicited, and how it can make best use of the wide range of community members and their capacity to support technology initiatives.



The Monkey's Paw: Explanations

New Possibilities, New Problems More Possibilities: Technology makes new learning tasks possible, increasing creativity, productivity, range, learning style matches, etc. More Goes Wrong: Technology implementation requires new systems for troubleshooting, reliance on more sensitive systems, and new sets of expectations for reliability (compared to chalk, which always works). Tech Support Strategies There are many things schools can do, including creating a tech help network, and promoting realistic expectations for R&D.

More Sources of Information of All Kinds
More Information Sources: Many new information resources can be brought into the classroom, providing variable perspectives.
Information Overload: Teachers and students may begin to take in information faster and farther than is personally healthy or socially acceptable, failing to integrate it into knowledge.
Start Small and Keep Focus: Practice selective engagement with resources, have realistic expectations for how much you can cover, and stay sensitive to collegial feedback to keep you from becoming too much of a cyber-head.

Using Saves Time, Learning Takes Time
Tasks Take Less Time: You can do the things you are already doing more efficiently, and therefore do new things.
Learning Curve: It takes extra time up front to learn to save time - and some never succeed, always using time saved to take on new learning curves.
Stay Balanced: Have realistic expectations for how long it will take to master a new technology, and set time aside for R&D to apply skills to the classroom.

Frees Up Time for Computer Addiction
Creates Free Time The more teachers seek technological solutions to deskwork, the morefree they are for human purposes.
Creates Addiction: Computers become alternate universes to explore, full of the luresof tangential interests and skills.
Keep track of your initial purposes for using technology as you go.  Don't lose the students!

Teachers Become Learners
Teacher Personal Growth Possible The Internet brings many professional growth opportunities into the classroom.
Students Come First: It's hard for teachers to get online during the school day, when students also want access - and they may not have computers at home.
Designated Access: Work for home computers and Internet access, and create special times and/or spaces for in-school access for teachers.

The End of "Frontal Teaching"
Collaborative Learning Groups Computers enable (and even force) alternatives to teacher-centered lessons.
Juggling Act
Bring computers into classrooms requires skillful managing of small groups, counter balancing the attraction of computers and the need for focus on academic work, and alloting adequate work time for students.
New Strategies: Professional development can focus on developing mini lessons, independent projects, and computer-mediated academic discussions (through email and bulletin boards).

Student Productivity
Increase Student Productivity Students can find more information faster, therefore having more timeto go deeper into assignments and emphasize analysis.
Equal Access Needed: All students are owed adequate access to technology once these opportunities are possible for some.
& Lobbying:
School stakeholders need to working within school and district to build necessary infrastructure and find resources, human and material. Developan access plan to approach equity of student access.

New Uses and Abuses
Students Master New Skills Students can bypass textbooks to become primary source researchers, multimedia producers, published authors, and information brokers for other students and teachers.
Inappropriate Use: Student can become pirates, pornographers, information terrorists.
AUPs, School/Community
Design an Acceptable Use Policy, and use online forums to reinforcenew norms.

21st Century on a Shoestring
20th Century
Actualize visions: "All students with laptop", "computers in every classroom," "bringing schools in sync with the world of work."
No space in physical plant, inadequate wiring, security, storage -and no money for upgrading.
& Lobbying
Work toward pilot projects, not schoolwide bootstrapping, and new funding partnerships. Lobby the school board for new facilities.

Learning Stuff, Stuffing Teachers
Professionalization: Teachers gain access to state-of-the-art tools and workplace opportunities to increase the stature of the profession.
"Staff Developed":
Teachers are bombarded by Somebody Else's Agenda for they need to know and do, and technology gets foisted upon them.
Teacher Culture:
Establish democratic governance - teachers together make the decisions and set the priorities.

Talk and Mis-Talk
Networks permit asynchronous sharing of information, making collaboration more efficient and feedback more frequent.
Miscommunication: Misperceptions occur with unfamiliar media, and poor choices of when to use what media create conflicts.
Troubleshoot communication IN PERSON, talk about netiquette, develop savvy online cultures, and have realistic expectations for growth pains.

Trains Run On Time
Schoolwide Planning: Improved communication will enable more efficient and meaningful dialog  and planning process.
Issue Overload: New channels for mutiple curricular and administrative initiatives and emergencies pull on everyone's time, slowing technology infusion and creating resistance.
Realistic Expectations: Manage communication and always consider opportunity costs. Technology doesn't solve problems, people solve problems.

Tear Down the Walls!
Partner Classrooms: New possibilities for Collaboration with other teachers/students withinschool, with other schools, between states, between countries.
The lack of control over partner environments, cultural misconceptions, and scheduling changes can be disappointing to students.
Realistic Expectations Have backup strategies, help students understand the risks of collaborationat a distance.

Power Corrupts
More Teacher Power: Teachers imagine they can do things with students they couldn't do before, and plan elaborate projects.
More Student Power: Students learn to direct their own learning and participation when  the program is more individualized and less supervised - making the teacher's plans less compelling.
Establish Democratic
School/Community Culture:
With power comes responsibility. Norms for respecting the interface between classroom and online environments must be established and maintained.

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