What does it Mean to Advocate for Technology?

As coaches and administrators we are aware that technology skills are important for our students. Computers are everywhere…in our pockets, on our desks, on our laps, in our clothing, cars, airplanes, farms, factories, restaurants, and doctor’s offices… you get the picture. We want our students to be competitive in the world, and be “college and career ready” when they leave our schools which, most would agree, takes at least some fundamental familiarity with computers. Why is it then, that in spite of 1:1 computer initiatives in our schools, better wifi access in more places and more tech savvy teachers than ever before, we still aren’t producing enough computer science graduates to fill the available jobs nor have we seen student achievement rise to the levels we’d hoped. I had hoped it was as easy as a cry for more advocacy for technology, support and training for teachers. As I was researching, however, I realized that the real answer is not necessarily more people advocating for more of those things, although it can’t hurt, but in advocating for the right things…changes in teaching practice and changes in attitude.

In the early years of computers in the classroom we thought technology was the answer to our education woes. It was going to change everything about how we teach and how students learn. They were “set to revolutionize the traditional teacher-centric lecturing style and to unleash the potential for improvements in teaching quality and efficiency.” (Falck, Mang, Woessmann 2017)  Unfortunately, the promises of technology to revolutionize teaching and to increase student achievement have largely fallen flat. This same study Virtually No Effect? Different Uses of Classroom Computers and their Effect on Student Achievement (Falck, Mang, Woessmann, 2017) posits that the “null’ effects on student achievement could be caused by “a combination of using computers for activities that are more productive than traditional teaching methods, thus improving student outcomes, and using computers in ways that substitute more effective traditional practices, thus lowering student outcomes.”

In the study they talk about the “opportunity costs of time”. Each day teachers are given a certain amount of time and they have to make decisions about how each of those minutes is spent. If they spend minutes on technology in ways that enhance learning and provide opportunities for exploration and creativity that aren’t  possible with traditional teaching methods then they are spending in ways that will likely increase student outcomes. If, however, they choose to spend technology minutes on things like drill and kill practice or electronic worksheets that are not as effective as other teaching strategies such as collaborative work, discussion, design thinking, communication, etc. the use of technology is actually lowering student outcomes because the opportunity for deeper or more effective learning is being lost. It all comes down to purpose. Why is the technology being used the way it is?

I’ve been advocating for years for technology to be used to “transform” teaching and felt that we will never really be able to change student outcomes for the better until we stop doing the same ineffective teaching that we’ve held onto for years and started to fundamentally rethink how we teach and what we expect students to do as learners. But I’ve been advocating for technology use in a broad way and have been happy with the low expectations we have of teachers using technology in our classrooms because “at least they are using it.” Maybe true advocacy is not allowing it to be ok that time being spent with technology is having a negative effect on student learning because it’s replacing good teaching strategies. Although I’d want to focus obviously on the transformative ways technology can impact student learning our schools need to have bigger discussions about the things that don’t work as instructional practices and help teachers make the connection that those same ineffective practices are equally ineffective when you add technology.

It think advocacy for the transformative power of technology will have to come through in the passion I bring to my communication with teachers and administrators, by modeling change and a growth mindset but most of all, by being a part of the bigger discussion around ensuring all teachers are using the best, research based, instructional practices to teach kids. If technology is the right tool to support those practices then I’ll be there to support, teach and guide teachers. But we have to be ready to let go of technology time and instructional practices that are not effective in helping our students learn.

References

  • Falck, O., Mang, C., & Woessmann, L. (2018). Virtually No Effect? Different Uses of Classroom Computers and their Effect on Student Achievement. Oxford Bulletin Of Economics And Statistics, 80(1), 1-38. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/obes.12192

Digital Education Leadership Mission Statement and Guiding Principles

Mission Statement

There are few other technologies that have offered individuals the opportunity both for great harm and great good at the same time, than computers and the Internet. Never before have we had to grapple with both the perceived anonymity of being able to post rude, insensitive or harmful comments about a friend and at the same time being able to participate politely with total strangers in a vibrant online community of people who share common interests. Technology, in spite of its ubiquitousness and ability to blur the lines between our online and “real” lives, is just a tool and we cannot forget that what we do online has moral and ethical significance (James, 2014). The internet won’t make bad choices for us. It’s up to individuals to make the decisions  that will allow them to live happily, in balance and at peace with their digital lives.

Rheingold  suggests that mindfulness is one way to develop the attention needed to become aware of the effect of technology on our digital lives and the self control needed to manage that attention. (Rheingold 2012)  Developing that attention in youth to think, evaluate the consequences and consider the dignity of others before posting something may help educators be able to guide today’s youth toward more ethical uses of the tools they encounter each day.

My mission as a digital education leader is to guide the district in the development of a collaborative vision  and plan for educational technology (ISTE, 2011) that will encourage our staff and students to navigate more mindfully, deeply, imaginatively and more comfortably through the changing digital landscape. That vision would address the needs for access both in devices and quality instruction, to use technology as a tool to enhance good instructional practice and give students choices in their learning, to help them be strategic users of information and healthy skeptics of what they see online, and to instill a sense of agency and empowerment that will allow staff and students to adapt to changing technology with confidence.

Guiding Principles

Equitable Access is not just about providing students with access to devices and internet in and out of school, it’s about giving them equal access to high quality instruction (NETP, 2016) that includes purposeful technology integration that promotes choice, creativity, and exposure to experiences that only technology can make possible. (ISTE 5a)

Purpose – No tool is effective if not used with purpose. We need our staff and students to be aware of the capabilities of educational technology so they can choose the right tool (device, website, software, etc.) to meet the needs of their learning.

Digital Mindfulness  – There a number of layers to digital mindfulness. Our staff and students need to be informed and thoughtful digital citizens, they need to be strategic in how they evaluate and use the information they find on the web, and be taught how to be healthy skeptics with active “crap detectors” (Rheingold, 2012) about what they read and use on the internet.

As they are developing their personal and digital identities they also need to hone their attention skills and make mindful decisions about safety, respect and the dignity of themselves and others online. (ISTE 5b)

Ribble’s 9 Elements of Digital Citizenship (Ribble, 2013) will help inform my work developing training for staff this spring around these topics and then over the course of the following year we’ll create a comprehensive digital citizenship plan to ensure all students and staff are active digital citizens.

Producers, Consumers & Contributors – Many of us are experts at consuming technology but not many of us can say with confidence that we are producing and creating content that we are eager to share publicly as part of our digital footprint. My goal is for our students and staff to develop positive digital identities that reflect their skills, interests and passions. They should become informed digital citizens and understand the ways in which they need to balance the openness of their identities in order to participate as producers of content and their rights to privacy.

Our students can be contributors and participants in the wider world. Whether that’s posting to a blog, starting a campaign for a cause they are passionate about, participating in crowdsourced research, starting a business, creating an app, posting a video or music, they have things to say and we can help give them the resources and support to help them or even just celebrate the work they do on their own time. The bottom line is helping them understand that they can participate, make change and contribute positively to the world. (ISTE 5c)

Agency – The pace of change in technology is never going to slow down long enough for staff and students to keep ahead of it. I believe I can help them best by teaching transferable skills such as troubleshooting, finding and using help menus and tutorial videos, advanced search skills. In addition, they need the confidence to use tools in new and innovative ways and give them enough control over their learning environment to encourage responsibility, and to build human capacity within buildings to provide leadership and support for one another.

References

  1. Ribble, M., & Northern Miller, T. (2013). Educational Leadership In and Online World: Connecting Students to Technology Responsibly, Safely and Ethically. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 17(1), 137-145.
  2. Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart : How to Thrive Online. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, chapter 1:  “Attention! Why and How to Control Your Mind’s Most Powerful Instrument.”
  3. Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart : How to Thrive Online. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, chapter 2: “Crap Detection 101: How to Find What You Need to Know, and How to Decide If It’s True,” 77-109
  4. Future Ready Learning: Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education. (2016, January). Retrieved February 8, 2016, from http://tech.ed.gov/files/2015/12/NETP16.pdf
  5. James, C., & Jenkins, H. (2014). Disconnected : Youth, New Media, and the Ethics Gap. Cambridge, US: The MIT Press. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com