My friends Donna Fry and Mark Carbone, co-creators of the #ossemooc have put out a call for us to share our learning during this month of April and, as always, it takes me a little while to get my posts onto the blog!
Luckily for me, I had two great experiences last week, one at the #otrk12 conference and one at the #gafesummit in Waterloo. Starting withStephen Hurley’s examples of passion-based learning at OTRK12 was wonderful and I enjoyed presenting to the e-learning teachers about creating dynamic virtual discussions and seeing Jaclyn Calder’s presentation about the Grader App for D2L with awesome options for providing differentiated and timely feedback to learners. It’s wonderful to see what an amazing teacher like Jaclyn does with technology!
While I could share all the tips and tricks that I learned at #otrk12 and the #gafesummit, I think I’d rather share a few observations that I have mulling around and arising from these 2 great learning events.
A principal from my school board approached me at the Google Summit a little distraught that she had perhaps purchased the wrong technology this year. She has provided her teachers and students with a variety of tools like ipads, laptops, desktops and Chromebooks. She seemed a little worried that she had made a wrong choice and should have bought more Chromebooks. I reminded her, that regardless of how ‘feel good and for the cause of all children and teachers everywhere’ this event undoubtedly was, it was also a Google event after all, and their mission was to make her feel as though Google products were the bomb. Obviously – they succeeded!
I assured her that an effective technology ecology in her school would also include some higher-end media creation tools like her computers and her ipads, and that she’d want to remember that the ability to do some computing with computers is also a really important skill for our students today.
I remember when Nicholas Negroponte from MIT started to predict that ubiquity would be a game changer in our adoption of technology but that rather than getting simpler, as they should over time, there was this interesting phenomenon with computers called ‘featuritis’ whereby software developers keep the software getting more complex and complicated (bloated and expensive) rather than cheaper. Google seems to have figured that out. Make the browser do most of the work, and the machine could remain inexpensive, although not as robust. Maybe robust is not what we are looking for in education anyway. Easy (for teachers) seems to be the preferred approach when it comes to technology. I’m not in complete agreement with this, but I’m learning to accept it. It is what it is.
People often ask me if I think things are suddenly changing, and while I’m hopeful, I’m still cautious because I’m not sure it’s the technology that has been holding us back. We’ve been able to connect our students around the world with blogs since about 2005 and with global projects using forums and list serves since the 1980s. How many of us jumped on board? We’ve had extremely rich sites sharing how-to’s of authentic learning and Project Based Learning for more than two decades. Were we on board then?
We have had Ministry Licensed products that allow multimedia creation and assistive technology for our students for another decade or so. Were we all making use of these? When I tell people that my students and I were blogging with other classrooms across the world almost 10 years ago now, and we did this by taking turns all throughout the day on two desktop computers, they sometimes look at me strangely – like they couldn’t imagine doing that without the Chromebook cart rolled down to the classroom or students 1:1 on their own devices. They complain that there isn’t enough technology, and yet their classroom computer is often sitting silently in the corner reserved for teacher email. What’s up with that?
I’m reminded that early adopters will always be willing to put in the countless hours that lead them to mastery of technology tools (and other things) if they feel that will transform their classrooms – that hasn’t changed much since computers were first introduced into classrooms.
Despite my observations, and my confusion about slow progress in educational technology, I refuse to become cynical. Instead, I’m telling myself that it’s the ubiquity and access that will make the difference this time around. Now that educators can leap ahead with their own learning through connected networks, they are not bound any longer by the limits of their own school building or in-services for learning…they can connect with and support each other and learn not only how to use these tools, but what effective use looks like.
Now that we can share our success stories and connect more widely through social media and through networks like the #ossemooc there is no reason to ‘wait for the learning’ – we can just go out and get it! It was exciting to see so many educators at OTRK12 and GAFE Summit finding their community and learning together!
Brenda Sherry is an education leader from UGDSB.
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On Twitter @brendasherry