A few weeks ago, I published a series of my thoughts on 21st century learning and teaching in a post titled “It’s Not About the Technology.” For a tech integrator and enthusiast like me, it was almost uncomfortable to articulate these ideas independent of technology. As a quick recap, my main points were that educators must focus on the skills of problem solving, addressing the needs of individual students and learning, as opposed to teaching.
This week, Ben Grey posted a thought-provoking article to “Tech & Learning” titled “Why Technology?” As friends of mine in ed tech positions across the United States are losing funding for their departments, and even their positions, Ben Grey’s questions are all the more pressing. As the author of a post titled “It’s Not About the Technology”, what would I say if I were asked to stand in front of a board of education or other decision making body and answer the question “Why should we continue to use and pursue technology in our district?”
Honestly, I would start by taking a quick, informal poll. Where have you received and made most of your recent calls? Your cell phone or your land line? Have you ever by passed a gas station because they didn’t have pay at the pump? Where do you look for information? In an encyclopedia or on the internet?
What do our children need to know in order to be successful in our world? Already in 2009, you must be able to navigate the internet and be savvy about decision making and purchasing. North Carolina’s Department of Motor Vehicles is no longer sending out license plate renewal notifications by US Postal Service. All drivers in North Carolina will have to go online to renew their registration. Our children have to be prepared to live and prosper in this world.
But what are we really talking about here? We talking about standing in front of a decision making body that has to weigh sustainability, budgets, personnel and other political factors. They can easily argue that technology use in the classroom has not been proven to raise test scores. Technology is always changing, so how can we keep up? Opponents say that kids get enough social media at home. So, let’s talk a language that they will understand.
The state of California spends approximately $400 million dollars per year on textbooks. Yes, that’s $400, 000, 000 every year. A university professor I know figured out that his university could hire three full-time teaching faculty positions if the university would go paperless. A particular school system in Maine spent nearly $10, 000 this year on hospital/homebound services, not including labor costs. It costs $200 per person to send a teacher to interactive whiteboard training with particular software companies. Webinars can be included for free for unlimited participants to learn on their own time in their own way. For any governing body, these numbers should be staggering. The great news is that we have the resources to combat these things in a modern, all-inclusive and multi-functional way. Technology.
What do high schools need in order to establish academic credibility? They must offer a high variety of courses in all disciplines. They need to provide opportunities for individual and collective groups of students to pursue independent areas of advanced studies. What do you do when you cannot afford a Japanese teacher for ten interested students or an Advanced Placement Biology teacher for nine motivated students? You coordinate with a community college, university or partnering school to offer these courses to students virtually. How can you provide SAT test prep for students who have to work late and on weekends? You create a free Moodle course that students can access from home at times that are conducive to their busy schedules. How do you provide high quality hospital/homebound instruction for students? You enroll them in a regular education classroom and you have them Skype in to a grade-level appropriate classroom where they can interact with curriculum, teachers and peers to facilitate learning. How do you make sure that teachers are getting “just in time” professional development? You create a series of professional development activities that are collaborative in nature to address the demands of individual teachers on a schedule that meets family obligations as well. How do you create an environmentally conscious school system while saving hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment, toner, repairs & paper? You help students. to learn and share in a paperless learning environment. How do you avoid spending millions of dollars on loosely correlated textbooks that are error riddled and often out-dated before they are printed? You build courses around free, open source resources that are web-based, accessible from all edges of the globe and are easily differentiated to address the learning needs of all students without sacrificing the integrity of the curriculum’s content.
Before systems around the United States (and the world) start cutting technology positions and funds, I hope they will consider that these positions and resources may be exactly what saves us in this time of economic uncertainty. While I will holdfast to my ideas that there are fundamental concepts that must be in place before 21st century learning will be at its best (with or without the technology), maybe it IS about the technology when it comes to best serving our students today and beyond!
Photo Credits: “Screen Technology” by rutty on Flickr