Sunday, November 30, 2008

Future Classroom: What are the Barriers?

Meet Elizabeth. The 17 year old junior wakes early so she can get a start on today’s tasks. After she logs on, she first looks to see if there is any feedback on her latest paper. Miguel likes her comparison of the bird flu to the flu pandemic of last century. Elise has a source that may help with her section on medical evidence. Elizabeth then looks to see if there are any new news items on her topic. Three since yesterday. Two look promising. Before she signed off she made a quick check to see if either of her partners found anything. Veronica? no. Hmm, Jonathan got one new source yesterday at 6.

After breakfast, she gets to school and goes to chemistry. The lab report is almost done, but she needs to verify a few facts. She logs on to the FHS Chem. custom search engine and quickly finds the information needed. Also, she sees another source that might help a friend of hers. She saves it to the search engine and notifies her friend. Before she leaves, she looks at the rubric for the lab and notices there is not a criteria for graphics. She knows that quality images can seal the deal…so she adds the category, knowing full well that her friends will undoubtedly fill in the criteria later today.

In US history she finishes recording the last narrative for her time line of the Mexican American War. She’s really proud of this, especially the two video clips, and talking to that woman from the Smithsonian didn’t hurt either.

Art class: She was curios as to what Amanda and Steve meant last night about the Dali painting. She had recorded her views last night and heard theirs, but was not sure what they meant. She couldn’t wait to get to class to talk to them.

English: Elizabeth already saw what Mr. Sloan said about her literary analysis on Sunday, and knew what revisions she had to make. At times, though reading the story to herself was difficult. Before she left class, she got the story from Mr. Sloan…she would listen to it on the bus home. Then she would get another article on the author. She could generate a list of keywords instantly to help her complete her research. She could hardly wait until tomorrow to talk to the Alabama kids about “background” in To Kill a Mockingbird, and she could let them know about the significance of Esperanza moving from Keeler to Paulina in House on Mango Street.

Algebra 2 found her completing exercises on line. She thought the activities were ok, (she liked getting feedback and answers right away) but Mom was really happy that her textbook fee was almost zero this year. Whatever she couldn’t finish in class, she could complete at home. And she was so happy not to have to lug that backpack all around; her laptop was no more cumbersome than a notebook.

After school found Elizabeth at her NHS meeting. They were working with three other schools in the county to create a film that would raise awareness of the need for a homeless shelter in town. Since she missed the last meeting, and didn’t know how to edit transitions, she clicked on the tutorial that showed her how to do it step by step. Fortunately, she was able to play that one hard part until she got it. She checked with her staff before making the new version available to the kids at the other school. She would have to wait until tomorrow to see what they thought.

After dinner, Elizabeth went to her room and made a few more checks around the world, made a few updates, touched bases with some friends. And then she came across that great presentation she made last week. Proudly, she clicked, and thought, “Maybe someone else can use this.”

Tech-savvy people will realize that EVERYTHING Elizabeth did can be done right now. Did you recognize all of the applications? In one day, Elizabeth blogged, used social bookmarking, used RSS, utilized custom-created search engines, contributed to a wiki, pocasted, contacted an authoritative source, contributed to a voice thread, downloaded an audio story to her mp3 player, Skyped with kids in another part of the country, used an open-source textbook, viewed a screen cast, and collaborated with other kids to create a movie…not for a grade, but to bring about change.

So why aren’t we doing this now?

Clearly, not everyone is privy to all of these tools. Undoubtedly, by the time this is published, several of these tools may be obsolete, and replaced by something better. So how do we get these tools into the hands of teachers, and most importantly, into the hands of students?

We all know that all teachers lie somewhere on the “tech continuum.” All schools have the “bleeding edge” and “technophobic” faculty members. Also, while districts make opportunities available, compulsory technology is perceived by many as an invasion of professional discretion, whether intended or not. Clearly, “Thou shalt use technology” is not the answer.

There are some answers though, I believe. First, more districts (including my own) are adopting a cooperative learning model for teachers, often referred to as “PLC’S” (Professional Learning Communities) which foster sharing among professionals. Last month I explained to a French teacher how blogs can be used in a classroom. She adapted and applied the skill to work for her own learners. When her colleagues saw her students’ results, they wanted to do the same. Without the collaborative environment, no one else would have known what great things that French teacher was doing. When I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point I never realized how true his theories were until I became a Tech coordinator. In a school of 230 teachers, there is no way to get to all of them. You need to trust your “Connectors,” like my French teacher.

The other way to get teachers to embrace these tools is to build a “compelling why” for the teacher. I witnessed one of my teachers poring over dozens of student emails, opening and saving attachments, and frantically writing comments. When asked, he told me that he had his students writing a collaborative paper…via email. Student one made an addition, passed it on to the next student, all the while copying the instructor…

After I defined “wiki” for him, his relief was palpable. The teacher had the idea, had the concept…he just didn’t have the tool.

And we must remember that they are just tools. Teachers are more likely to embrace these tools if we focus on the objective first. You don’t build a house because you just bought a table saw. You get a table saw because you need it to build the house. It’s about the learning…not the tools.

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