For those of you that may not be familiar with my blog, I like to float around in the middle somewhere, between those that think technology is overrated and has no place in the classroom, and those that think computers and the Internet is the answer to everything. I am a lover of modern technology, but I also believe there are other things we can do in the classroom that are still worthwhile. My observation is that many of today's educational leaders are pushing a computerized agenda down our throats. My instincts tell me we need to remember that technology comes in many forms; that not every old idea is a bad idea; and that personal relationships are still the best kind of relationships.
What I often worry about is the desire to get students "plugged in" while they are at school. Sounds pretty cool, until one considers that that's pretty much what they're doing all the time when they're not at school. Sometimes I think school can provide an escape from the fast-paced, short-attention-span world that children grow up in. At least for some parts of the day, for goodness sake! Some students need that break, whether they know it or not.
But this doesn't excuse the school district that thinks modern technology is just some "fad," or not worth the money it would take to effect that kind of change. We must channel every dollar we have toward providing our students with modern, real-world tools. By this I don't necessarily mean computers, nor any specific device. I have heard about districts buying iPads for their students. Although I can see some value in that, I wonder what will happen next year when the iPads you just bought are already obsolete. Just because something is popular or cool doesn't mean it's the right investment. I once heard someone much wiser than me say: "Date the device. Marry the skill."
Three things about the beginning of our PLN book that I thought were particularly interesting (I am enjoying the book very much so far): Being a former newspaper reporter/editor, I could really relate to the authors' narrative about how newspapers failed to revolutionize their product when they had the chance (p. 4). Instead, they tried to tweak it, believing their business model was still sound. Many students today probably don't even know of a time when newspapers were relevant. As is obvious today, newspapers failed to fully adapt; and their demise is legendary -- and nearly complete. I got out just in time; although I still miss it. More than accurate, the example parallels how many school districts see their "business model." The Blockbuster example (p. 6) was also insightful and relevant. I wonder when school districts will finally see the writing on the wall.
The authors make two statements that are related, in my opinion, and very useful, later in the introduction (p. 7). They say that many teachers, especially younger ones, are probably pretty good at using the Internet and social networks, but they don't necessarily understand how meaningful these types of networks can be for his/her classroom. Just a couple paragraphs later, the authors state that students are already embracing the "building blocks" of the most incredible learning tool ever invented, but they don't realize it. These are two things educators should focus on: helping teachers understand the tools that are available; and showing students how their favorite social tools can dynamically change the way they learn and understand their world.
I was beginning to get a little worried about the authors' focus only on adding technology and enlarging the students' role in the learning process. It's a worthwhile idea, but where do the teachers fit in? Should we just fire them? They just get in the way anyway, right? Fortunately, the authors make their feelings clear in a positive way, on p. 19, saying "if you think we're sketching a vision of students sitting in front of computers working through self-paced curricula and interacting with a teacher only on occasion, you're way, way off." The authors add they simply see the potential for "meaningful, experiential, constructivist learning" to occur in online interactions, just as there can be in face-to-face meetings. "It's the melding of the two that will shape our schools in the 21st Century."
Yes. Thank you. That's exactly the balanced attitude that I believe in.