Tuesday, March 29, 2011

enhancing learning

Our district's technology coordinator and the "senior learning team" (not sure what that is) recently announced a meeting about district technology directions called "Enhancing Learning." Having been around the block a few times, I thought some preliminary thoughts were in order.

There has been a steady erosion of teacher involvement in district-wide technology over the last few years, so this meeting comes at a very interesting time. I have a feeling they'll drag out a few "new" tools we "customers" can access or maybe hint at where the district and province is going with so-called 21st century learning. New role for social media and distributed learning, etc., maybe a youtube video about paradigm shifts, maybe that dreadful picture of the baby grinning over a laptop.

Unfortunately, the skills and attitudes necessary to build this capacity are in fact the very areas that are hindered by a SBO that blocks projects and technologies, denies access to students and teachers to basic interactive tools and wireless networks, ignores mobile learning, and excludes educators from key elements and stages of educational design.

The interactive web, use of tools like blogs, wikis, and podcasts, and the long list of rich media and web 2.0 apps are not new to our district -- they have been the basis of action initiative grants, leadership teams, tech coaches, DTT planning, and coordinated pro-d and training in our district since 2003, with its roots going further back to the first Tech Support Teachers and teacher-managed network and communication systems. These were all supported by the SBO and many schools, and were part of a movement by teachers and students exploring the integration of technology into learning, particularly members of the TLITE program but also anyone else who wanted to get a handle on how to redirect existing student technology towards learning objectives. We might call this "21st Century Learning," at least the part that involves technology, and the work continues piece by piece and school by school, but now without support or inclusion from the SBO. From the dawn of networks, servers, images, and maintenance in our district, teachers have been involved building systems alongside building content, curriculum, and designs for learning. It is understandable now that much of the system-work has been taken out of the hands of teachers (the pursuit of "secure/stable/standardized networks"), but it is offensive that the educational piece is also being pulled away from educators, the very people who put tech ed design theory into practice with students.

It wasn't always this way -- I felt well-supported by the SBO in pursuing deep teaching & learning projects prior to 2007, as have many others through structures, grants, pro-d, and purchases. I realize these "capacities" were expensive and perhaps not sustainable without modification, but the silence and stonewalling of the last year on a range of key technology issues and processes has broken the will of many teachers for district-wide thinking on technology problems. The loss is not just confined to morale and momentum but also includes years of investment in hardware, software, and training. 

I hope for something more from this meeting, will be glad to be proven wrong and quick to admit it, but relevant past experience suggest a snow-job. Nonetheless, the SBO has some dedicated staff and I'm ready to listen and detach expectations. There are also many positive school-based stories around technology that deserve celebration, and perhaps the SBO knows this is where the interesting work takes place.

A few months earlier, I had posed these questions of the folks who are now setting up the meeting... perhaps I've set the bar too high but I'm hoping to see two or three of these addressed.

Every school district should foster inquiry around questions like:
  1. How is basic digital literacy different from the capacity for transformative uses of technology to affect learning?
  2. Where does the "digital divide" reside on this continuum, and how is it represented in the school district?
  3. What barriers still exist for district students and staff crossing the digital divide?
  4. What capacity does the district have for using technology to affect learning, and how is this assessed?
  5. How did this capacity come to be; what's the tech history in the district?
  6. What kinds of individual, school, district, and external (global/societal) factors and structures have influenced this capacity?
  7. How does the district envision the next ten years in educational technology and how it will react?
  8. From where (external, internal) should the district draw its knowledge of current practice and the impetus for its future goals?
  9. How are district, school, and classroom based tech initiatives planned, funded, assessed, celebrated?
  10. How are these "levels" part of a collaborative effort and how are they disparate trajectories? 

and our school district should ask specific questions like:
  1. Does SD57 see a distict-level systems approach to technology planning as necessary and effective or does it see itself as primarily a support system for the variety of classroom and program based technology uses and initiatives?
  2. What people and structures (collaboration, decision-making, data collection & analysis, models, professional development) would have to be in place in SD57 to make a district-level systems approach effective?
  3. Do the tech needs of the non-educational parts of SD57 (e.g. offices) require different systems and standards than the frontline parts involved in teaching and learning?
  4. Why did SD57 avoid the input and ignore the data and advice of its own technology structures and technology teachers when making a platform consolidation decision in 2010?
  5. Why has their been no follow-up on the April/May 2010 committments by SD57 to supply a technology plan, specifically the part of a plan dealing with PC transition and pro-d support?
  6. What will SD57 do to replace or mitigate the many technology-centered support systems, processes, and planning mechanisms it has allowed to lapse in 2010?
  7. To what extent can SD57 still draw on the labour of past plans, experts, technologies, and processes or does SD57 need to acknowledge it has burned some bridges and needs to find new ways of connecting current and future theory and practice?
  8. How does SD57 plan to build new bridges with a new group of teachers who want to use and improve the way technology is used for teaching & learning; will this support take the form of directives, opportunities to connect & share, or funding for projects?
  9. How does SD57 plan to balance wide-spread generic technology needs with specific requests for innovative technologies and program allowances?
  10. How does SD57 plan to balance district-level network security and tech support with school-based decision-making and differentiation, especially when these pull funds and support in different directions? 
What's at stake is a rare opportunity to address some of the disconnect between what happens at the board office and what happens in the classroom. Tech change, indeed responsible for some of this disconnect, can be a meeting ground or testing place to see if district, school, teacher-based planning can operate congruently. I would suggest that these groups can cut through politics and conflicting visions only if the tech change discussion is centered around how students (and others) can use technology to affect their own learning. This learning process has to be a creative one initiated by teachers and the district should be looking for ways to support this while at the same time providing standard service levels that provide a level playing field for a few basic computing environments. The district has seen a steady change in how technology decisions are made; the locus has slowly shifted over the last 12 years from teachers to others, and while this has achieved some district goals around networks, system stability, standardization, and fairness, there has been an unmistakable impact on teaching & learning for some key areas in the district that used to be centres of innovation and tech leadership.

1 comment:

Thielmann said...

This comment was buried in cyberspace, and this seems to be the place for it...

So, a few teachers, many admin, techies, and SBO staff attended the session today (March 30/11). Here's what I observed; perhaps other teachers who were there could also comment. I probably should have slept on this, but here goes:

1. Our district tech coordinator presented a "21st Century" vision for our district (created by himself, the HR director, Special Ed principal, and an Ass't Superintendent), and explained by a youtube video about how students living life through their cell phones was a creative space "near-now" where education ends and learning starts -- this was modelled by the superintendent who texted through the presentation.

2. The vision embraced student wireless access, use of handheld devices for learning, one-to-one computer/laptop access, opening up of technologies and practices that have traditoinally been restricted or limited in our district and in schools "around the world," and an emphasis on web-based resources anytime/anywhere and not on products or platforms.

3. There will be less district purchasing (as students bring more of their own technology to school and we all use more web-based apps) but possible more money for learning team grants that fall in line with the vision.

4. Most of the ideas and strategies are not new but have in fact been "waiting for their time" for many years and may take many more years to come into being; the entire content of the presentation was virtually identical to DTT, Tech coach, TLITE, Tech folder, and school-based discussions from 2004 to the present; this is perhaps positive in that the presentation seemed to be an answer to many provocative questions that have been raised at the district level for 7 years or more but have largely been met with either misdirection or "we're working on that."

5. No prior and no new involvement for teachers other than an invitation to use the "Wikispace" to communicate and share (up to 100 MB each), maybe pulling some teachers together to help award grants; no signs that the DTT or other ways for teachers to be involved in decision-making will come back.

6. An acknowledgement that the district and many schools currently have restrictive policies against many of the tools and access points that accompany this vision -- e.g. their are no plans to lift the district ban on purchasing handheld devices even while encouraging us to use more handheld devices for learning (i.e. you and your students can use your own iPod, Archos, Zunes, whatever, and maybe in a few years you can even connect to the wireless network if you can't already)

7. Frustrating in that it was a "rebranding" of ideas and processes that were well underway years ago but have been robbed of oxygen over the last 2 years, but also encouraging in that the superintendent and maybe some others "get" that the world is changing and the SBO needs to catch up to what is already happening in many of our schools despite the active blocking from the SBO and some admin

8. The district tech coordinator will post his presentation in a few spots and has invited feedback by email or through a "Wikispace" forum set up for this purpose.