Monday, October 17, 2016

Technology for Learning Briefing

Technology for Learning Briefing be shared with the School District 57 Trustees at the upcoming dinner meeting with the Executive of the Prince George District Teachers' Association

Educational Technology is a broad topic:
  • tech in an integral part of day-to-day "workflow" use by staff and students in many contexts -- no one system meets everyone's needs 
  • tech is used regularly for teaching and learning by teachers and students -- some of it ordinary and predictable, some of it innovative or experimental (try/fail/reflect/try/abandon/retry/etc.) 
  • tech is about the "what" and how to use it: software, hardware, and the myriad devices that are used in an educational system 
  • tech is about the "why" -- pedagogy, learning paradigms, universal design, and choices about balance -- when to use tech and when not to 
  • tech brings up issues of equity and access, issues about how to pay for it, and issues about who should make decisions about the technology that is used for teaching and learning 
  • tech is more than a tool and more than a fad -- whether digital "natives" or "immigrants," tech forms a key part of people's identity, especially our students, and for better or worse its impact is not going away 
  • tech use is differentiated -- we have innovators, early adopters, late adopters, reluctant adopters, etc., each with their own expectations about levels of service, training, and opportunity 
In 2010 the school district appeared to have sent a Trojan Horse of sorts into schools, a seeming strategy to move away from the support for the innovative/ experimental use of technology and just provide the basics. The shell for this maneuver was the district decision to move to "single platform" for desktop computing,. This was ostensibly a cost-saving measure, but was accompanied by many other simultaneous changes that had little to do with platform. What else was affected? The District Tech Team and other technology leadership and collaborative structures would be abandoned, including the elimination of a teacher/principal leadership position for educational technology, the "Key Tech Contact" system and collaborative meetings. Unexplained restrictions were placed on tech purchases (e.g. a ban on tablet purchases, even those compatible with the "single platform"), and tech budgets would be slashed at most schools and also at the district level. Additionally, no more District Plans to support Tech for Leaning would be developed, or any other actual plan to support platform transition and address loss of services in, even though there was a specific commitment to do so but the board in April 2010. In other words, we entered an era where technology became a low priority. In some ways this reflects the transition away from technology as its own focus towards technology being integrated and embedded through- out the system, but a lot has been lost in this transition. One example of this is the lost opportunity to embrace or even allow tablet technology in schools. For a while the district banned them all, then restricted them to expensive models that did not do what teachers needed them to do.

As a whole the technology directions of the district have resulted in many talented educators simply walking away from innovative uses of technology; some have even left the district to find a place where their vision could be supported. There is no doubt that innovative uses of technology for teaching and learning still occur, but they happen in pockets, oHen without support or adequate funding, and sometimes in secret because of the restrictions in place at the district level.

In 2011 an attempt was made to gather feedback on how the district should support technology, but this feedback was hardly acknowledged and largely ignored. At the time, the district proposed to meet growing needs in two ways: support BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) for staff and students, and focus more on cloud computing. Five years later we have a wireless network that is slow, disconnects frequently, and does not provide adequate access for staff to use it for teaching. For example, a teacher following the district's advice to BYOD is blocked from accessing printers. A dedicated staff network is needed in order to make BYOD a reality.

Our district went from being a provincial leader in educational technology (roughly 2001-2008) to being a district that has fallen behind in terms of access, function, networks, and innovation. Most district computers to which students have access are used strictly for word processing and internet access, and the public wifi has neither the bandwidth nor stability to be used for teaching or learning. Introduction of new services or innovations has often been met with obfuscation -- teachers interested in trying Fresh Grade or Google School services have had to fight to get the issue on the radar and then face years of delays in having the issues death with.

It would not take much to get us back on track. An "Ad Hoc Committee on Technology" has already identified areas of frustration and potential solutions, and last year the "District Tech Team" was renewed, although it has yet to meet. Hopefully they can sort out some of these issues, but they will need gentle pressure and support from trustees, senior admin, and other stakeholders to both get it right and get it done.

Two things stand out for me as I write these notes:
  • I'm having deja vu -- along with many other young and old staff who know their way around technology, I have raised this issue many times -- these are not new items. 
  • I'm so sorry to have to take a "complainer" stance on these issues -- I am having a great year and I am otherwise grateful for wonderful students, thoughtful colleagues, an effective administrator, great opportunities for collaboration and leadership, and a school district that has nurtured my passion for teaching.