Involving Teachers More in Discussions of Edtech

I think most teachers would agree that being more directly involved in the edtech “revolution” would help both edtech developers and policy makers to better meet the actual needs of classrooms. Mercer Hall and Gina Sipley articulate this point quite well in their article. However, how can this be accomplished? In Texas, the State Board of Education, like other policy makers, are often more concerned about their public image, and maintaining their position as much as (if not more than) they are concerned with actually improving education. In many cases (such as in Texas), these people also behave more as political ideologues who would sooner drive education into the ground pursuing their own beliefs in what is “right” than listen to dissenting resources or opinions. In these sorts of political environments, how can teachers make sure that their voices are heard? Afterall, just by sheer numbers alone, teachers’ political influence is dwarfed by the voting power that parents yield. Similarly, they do not have anywhere near the monetary influence of businesses that invest in education. So, how can teachers’ voices reach the ears of the people that write and interpret education policy? Possibly more important is also how they can actually make their input politically valuable to those people. One way is of course to influence public opinion, thereby creating public pressure. However, this presents its own challenges (e.g. media coverage, public interest, mobilization, etc.). Furthermore, in today’s political environment, not a single issue comes up that does not become highly politicized, thereby becoming distorted and often destroyed in the process. This goes double if an issue can be interpreted along religious lines, and not just partisan ones. So given all these challenges, what can teachers do to become more involved in the political discussions both surrounding and driving the development and integration of edtech?

Asking the Right Questions about Education Technology

In an article on Forbes, contributor Jordan Shapiro makes some excellent points about the kind of dialogue currently surrounding the issue of integrating technology into the classroom. Primarily, he points out that people have largely been asking the wrong questions. Unsurprisingly, Shapiro feels that this is in large part due to the agendas inherent in many of the technologies being examined today. These agendas are often concerned with prioritizing the teaching of marketable skills, while ignoring the implicit messages and values that they impress upon students. Namely, like the high-stakes testing based environment that has created or exacerbated many of the problems in education today, Shapiro believes these technologies often teach children that marketable skills are a value, rather than a skill-set. On that topic, Shapiro makes an excellent point that people often mistakenly believe that they can remove these misguided messages from these technological media when adapting them for classroom use. For that reason, the slower pace of technological integration into the education sector (versus other sectors such as business) is actually beneficial in that it allows us time to step back and ask ourselves these important questions: What is the message this technology is sending to students? What is the goal of this technology? Does it align with desirable educational outcomes? On this point, I would have to agree with Shapiro.   It often seems that policy makers and business leaders alike are best equipped to slip something past the public eye when there has yet to be enough established, scholarly research and dialogue on a topic. So while it is important for teachers and administrators to look for new solutions to existing problems, it is equally important to allow themselves and others time to question them. Without that, it becomes all too easy for businesses and politicians to slip in tools and constructs with a hidden agenda, thus depriving children of a quality education that is able to adequately prepare them for the future.

The Cyber-Bully and the Tattletale: How Should Schools be Involved?

Given the presence of cyber-bullying among today’s youth, schools nowadays have little choice but to ask themselves, “how, if at all, should we involve ourselves in this problem?” Answering this question is, of course, complicated by numerous intertwining and, especially in the case of technology, constantly changing factors. However, schools should almost certainly always play some part in addressing and coming up with solutions to these problems. After all, even if the problem does not take place within the school’s jurisdiction or sphere of influence, it can start or escalate there.

In the following link, an article explains one particular female gaming journalist’s approach towards halting (or at least decreasing) the sexual harassment she has been subjected to in cyberspace. To paraphrase, the journalist Alanah Pearce has been using social media networks to track down and contact the parents of young boys (who are the culprits in the vast majority of these cases) who have been making regular rape threats online. Understandably, parents are generally shocked to hear such news, and their responses have mostly been constructive. In fact, Alanah reports receiving far fewer threats since she has began doing this.

So my question is this: how can this be extrapolated to be included in how public schools choose to involve themselves with cases of cyber-bullying (especially when it involves sexual harassment or worse)? Surely, schools might be apprehensive to take on the role of tattletale themselves, as they are generally hesitant to take on any definitive stance in such ambiguous, sensitive issues. However, what particularly interests me in Alanah’s story is how she got the parents involved, and allowed them to handle things as they saw fit. So, why shouldn’t the schools take the initiative to collaborate with parents or parent-driven organizations (such as the PTA) in addressing such issues? Even involving student organizations such as the student government association could help school administration and parents to be privy to information and insights that they might otherwise not be able to find in such a personable, close-to-home form (if at all). This could also help lead to viable legal solutions. This is particularly important given the deficit of such (viable) legislation in the realm of cyberspace or online privacy. By getting involved here, parents and schools could help to create solutions that are enforceable, while allowing parents to engage their child in a private, personalized manner.

Clintondale High School and the “Flipped” Classroom Approach

Clintondale High School’s principal Greg Green has been trying some new things in his school’s classrooms (Click HERE to access the article). The former coach has been using at-home video lessons to help improve his student’s learning, performance, graduation rate, and college enrollment rate. These videos, which Green adapted from a technique he used when he was a coach to help his athletes observe and fix specific areas of their performance, have purportedly helped students to identify and solve problems they having been facing with specific subjects/assignments, as well as learn new concepts that will be covered in upcoming class period(s). This has allowed students to do their work while in the classroom, thereby allowing them more access to peers, teachers, and other classroom/school resources as they do it.

Understandably, a method like this would be more conducive to certain subjects/environments than others – For example, music would likely be an easy transition, due to the kinesthetic and audio nature of much of the subject matter. What other sorts of settings would this method be particularly conducive to? And, are there perhaps also some settings in which the applicability of such a technique is actually more limited than more commonly used methods?

Secondly, which students would benefit from this the most? In the link provided, the article mentions that Mr. Green conducted an “experiment” to determine if this method could improve his students’ performance. However, given the amount of errors involved (even just those which are immediately apparent) in both the experimental design and implementation, as well as how the findings are presented, it is obvious that it lacks scientific validity. This is unfortunate, given that the findings demonstrate vast improvement in the performance and attitudes of at-risk students. However, validity aside, could this approach provide unique opportunities for those students which have otherwise been left behind in schools? Or is its usefulness more universal among a diverse student body? Also, how does affluence or home environment play into this?

Finally, one last thing to consider ought to be the demands that this method would place on teachers. How easily can current teachers employ or transition to this method? What will be the learning curve for those teachers who are less technologically literate or adept? And, how much (and for how long) would this increase a teacher’s workload? Certainly, being able to make full use of this sort of method would require that teachers have access to, and perhaps even some experience with, certain technologies (e.g. video making/editing software). For those that don’t, however, what specific technological problems or challenges will this method present?