Sometimes teachers and administrators need a kick in the pants to see what they perceive as problems re-framed in a different way. Adam S. Bellow, author of The Tech Commandments, and founder of eduTecher, spoke to a roomful of receptive teachers at the recent ISTE 2011 conference, and demonstrated some of the ironies and contradictions the education system is mired in. And he had some advice.
1) DON’T TRAP TECHNOLOGY IN A ROOM. “When I went to school, computers were put in a room called The Lab,” Bellow said. “‘What are they experimenting with in there, I thought.’ Technology wasn’t built into what we were doing. It was farmed off in a room, like it was special. Like we were learning how to code, and in case the Russians came, we’d know what to do.” Technology should be like oxygen, Bellow said, quoting Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of Science Leadership Academy: Ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.
2) TECHNOLOGY IS WORTHLESS WITHOUT PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. Bellow emphasized the importance of making professional development a priority, the importance of time and money being spent to educate teachers on not just an hour-long how-to session, but ways to integrate technology creatively into educators’ daily teaching practice in meaningful ways. He told the story of an interactive-whiteboard training guide who made one quick appearance at a school, never to return, leaving teachers still unsure of how to use the technology. There’s a world of professional development on YouTube and on Twitter, ironically sites that most schools block (see Number 4.)
3) MOBILE TECHNOLOGY STRETCHES A LONG WAY. “You can get much more out of mobile tech than out of most other technology,” Bellow said. Kids bring it to class everyday, but we tell them to turn it off as soon as they walk in. In New York City, Bellow said he watched as an agonizingly long queue of students waited for 45 minutes to pass through a metal detector and hand over their cell phones, which were then placed in individually labeled manila envelopes. “Can we do something better with those 45 minutes?” he asked. Cell phones can replace expensive reference books, Flip cameras, old calculators, and the list goes on. “Instead of buying those tools, buy an iPod Touch and it’ll be all of those things,” he said.
4) THE NEW ‘F WORD’ IS FEAR. Not Facebook, and not the other expletive you might have expected. Schools fear everything from being replaced by gadgets (“Any teacher who can be replaced by a robot should be,” he said), to kids knowing more about subjects than they do, to collaborative Web tools that are blocked because of a slew of acronyms that haunt administrators. On one hand, “teachers are frustrated because they feel like they’re being handcuffed,” Bellow said, due to crude filters that block out all kinds of useful websites. On the other hand, kids already come to school with phones that have access to everything. “We could block Facebook, but who are we kidding? They’re already on it,” he said. “The world is not a sterile place. Kids need to learn how to deal with it.” And because kids have access to every kind of information at any time, they need to learn about things like Creative Commons and copyright rules. “We’re doing them a major disservice if we don’t teach them good digital citizenship,” he said.
5) TECH TOOLS ARE NOT JUST A PASSING FAD. Bellow said he’s heard countless times from those who don’t want to take risks by finding and investing in new tools. And even when they do, they use only a fraction of the tools’ potential purposes because they haven’t invested enough time to figure it out (see Number 2). Bellow told the story of a school administrator who was able to buy iPads for his teachers, but is only using them to take attendance. He showed a video of a 100-year-old woman learning how to use the iPad to browse the Web, to read books, to watch videos, and how excited she was about it. “We are natural lifelong learners,” he said.
6) MONEY IS NOT THE PROBLEM. Teachers have access to thousands of free Web tools. And even if the free ones do decide to start charging, others will crop up to replace it. The point is not to be afraid of diving in (see Number 4).
7) INVITE EVERY STAKEHOLDER TO THE CONVERSATION. “Who’s at the table?” Bellow asked. “Mostly administrators, some ask teachers. But here’s a novel idea. Let’s have students come to the table, and parents too!”