What was my technology is not theirs….

A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to join the staff in my building for presentations and discussion about the use of technology in classes. It was a great morning, and well-organized by the Professional Development Committee. The next day I attended an administrators’ professional development session on Michael Fullan’s, “Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform,” another great session organized by colleagues. These two sessions were prior to the Ministry of Education’s unveiling of the framework for the new Education Plan, which includes the mandate to, “encourage smart use of technology in schools.”

As a student, my technology was far different from what is available to our students in schools today.

Some of the technology of my childhood included:

The opaque projector – a large device, not easily moved around unless on some kind of wheeled cart, used by teachers to project the pages of books on the wall or screen.

The film strip projector was often used in classes, and the “advent” of technology saw the addition of sound through the use of a record player. The audio would include a beep to signal the student responsible for the “technology” to advance to the next frame.

Handouts were created using a Gestetner machine.

Blackboards were black. Telephones were just telephones.  “Dialing” a telephone number actually involved dialing.

Despite what my daughter says, I’m not that old.  Technology has progressed in a relatively short time. I began to reflect on these changes even more when I returned to my former junior high school as Principal a couple of years ago. The physical plant was much the same as it was when I left 30 years earlier. However, the Typing Room full of rows of manual typewriters had become a regular classroom. The Gestetner was long gone. Unfortunately, it seemed like very little else had changed.

One of the things that strikes me as I consider changes in technology is that, as a student, little of the technology at school was available to me at home. Nor would it have better engaged me in my learning if it had been. We did have a record player at home, but to listen to the monotone narrations on records used in classes would have done little to motivate, extend, or personalize my learning.

We now have an opportunity to use technology to engage students in their learning in a variety of new ways. However, technology in itself is just a tool.

(Update:  Technology as a “tool” may not be the best characterization.  It is not intended to minimize or understate the power and role of technology, but to underscore the importance of understanding teaching and learning, which technology can be used to enhance, facilitate, and even transform. Read Technology is More than a Tool by @gcouros.)

Fullan recognizes the potential of technology as a driver for change in education. However, he rightfully emphasizes that technology cannot be the lead driver. Instead, he asserts that the impetuous for change must be led by the following, which, “work directly on changing the culture”:

1.  The learning-instruction-assessment nexus

2.  Social capital to build the profession

3.  Pedagogy matches technology

4.  Systemic synergy

Fullan also identifies the following as drivers which should not be used to lead change:

1.  accountability: using test results, and teacher appraisal, to reward or punish teachers and school vs. capacity building

2.  individual teacher and leadership quality: promoting individual vs. group solutions

3.  technology: investing in and assuming that the wonders of the digital world will carry the day vs. instruction

4.  fragmented strategies vs. integrated or systemic strategies

Fullan indicates that these are not always wrong as system drivers, but their role is misplaced if used to lead reform.

Fullan makes several additional points to ponder about technology in education:

• technology has been winning the race over pedagogy

• technology gets better and better while instruction doesn’t

• the essential idea is to get the right learning embedded in the technology

• without pedagogy in the driver’s seat there is growing evidence that technology is better at driving us to distraction

• teachers need to get grounded in instruction, so they can figure out with students how best to engage technology

• there is no evidence that technology is a particularly good entry point for whole system reform, but it will be a dramatic accelerator if we can put instruction, and skilled motivated teachers and students in the lead.

• once this instructional-digital powerhouse gets under way, students will motivate teachers as much as the other way around

For me, technology definitely has a role in shaping the potential of what we can do with students in our classrooms (@tomwhitby suggests the starting points here), and I enjoy exploring the possibilities with staff and students.  We do, however, need to ensure that teaching and learning continues to be about teaching and learning.

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