Which Comes First?

I have been asked to reflect on how I think schools can implement computer-supported learning in ways that authentically transform teaching and learning. I think that this is a chicken vs. the egg situation. Which comes first, the magical computers that swoop in to save the day or authentically transforming teaching and learning with computer-supported learning as part of the package?
I think it is the second option, the “egg” if you will.

I have seen the impact that the introduction of the laptop cart has had on schools and in my opinion it has divided us into two camps. There are those that view it as a word processing and research lab on wheels and then there are those that try to use it as an all-in-one treasure box of tools, adaptable to any project or situation. The problem is that there are still so many that that don’t know of the capabilities of Web 2.0. At the beginning of the year this year I had to put out a disclaimer to all teachers not to kick my students off of Facebook because it was for school and protest the WiFi password change that blocked students from using their iPods as computers. Frustrating! I listen at staff meetings as we discuss keeping kids off of YouTube, those pesky senior kids that are always spread all over the place, and how not to leave Inquiry Projects for substitutes to manage. I listen and then I defend myself. We have a lot to change and computers are not the answer. Computers can not reform education on their own because their potential is not fully understood by many teachers.

This misunderstanding begins in the classroom, behind that closed door. Picture this, 30 students sitting in desks (or maybe a tables arranged in rows, as is sometimes the case at my school), they have a lap top in front of them and they are working in pairs, not because it’s great to collaborate but because there are only enough computers to share. They have just been given an assignment, choose a species of cat, research what it eats, where it lives, what looks like. Write a report on your cat and build a diorama of it’s habitat. Viola! Project based learning right? Computer supported right? Wrong. What is the big idea here? What are the Essential Questions? How is this supported by technology use? It’s not.

My point here is that schools and teaching need to be transformed from teacher driven, even curriculum driven *gasp* (oh crap, I think I just lost my job) and be student driven and now driven. From maybe grade 5 up It needs to be about issues, problems and questions that the students care about. It needs to be inquiry driven and process driven. The technology aspect just comes naturally with that package because I don’t think it can be done without it. Until this reformation is complete, we are stuck in limbo between Cat Reports and Authentic Learning.

My school board is working very hard to make these changes happen. What they are up against unfortunately are resistant teachers that are close to retirement and do not want to change the way they teach. They have been doing the same cat report for 25 years, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it right? Hey, I remember my Lemur report from grade 4, they were cute. But really, if I need to know about lemurs now, I can Google it. Times have changed and the cat report is broke. I am not knocking these teachers, they work very hard and if I was 5 or 2 or 1 year from settling in Arizona for the winter, I probably would balk at the idea too. Having said that, they need to remember that each group of students every year are individual minds that deserve to be taught in a modern, technology rich, inquiry based way. It can not be about the teacher’s needs or inconvenience, it has to be about the kids.

When this transition is complete, and I believe that it will take numerous years, technology will be just a part of school. It will not need to be integrated or implemented, it will just be. Teachers will be tech savvy enough to keep up with the rapidly changing Web 2.0 world because it will be part of their lives, not something they have to learn. It will take patience, understanding and time and I look forward to the day when that virtual chicken lays that golden egg.

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1 Comment »

  1. Marnie Said:

    Some good insight Danielle, but I will provide my perspective with one point.I don’t think it is necessarily veteran teachers who are unwilling to change. Having worked division wide in the system I can tell you it is not age dependent. It is about one’s attitude, philosophy and willingness to take risks. These are ageless and genderless determinants of whether the individual is willing to change their practice.


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