Roadblocks on the Infohighway

As I worked with teachers today on ways to (meaningfully) integrate technology into lessons, we yet again encountered roadblock after roadblock to quality learning. So many things are blocked by filters imposed by the school system that it makes it nearly impossible to utilize Web 2.0 tools. Twitter is blocked. Diigo is blocked. Access to most wikis is blocked. Student blogging is a no-no. The level of denial in many places about the value of technology use in schools is mind-boggling. I have a theory that the “safety” and “privacy” mantle behind which decision-makers often hide really hides their fear of losing control of content.

Working in schools around the country, I see various levels of concern about the “test” — and, believe me, everywhere I go there IS a test looming on the horizon. Some decision-makers seem to believe every moment spent on an engaging, real-world problem that takes advantage of the technological possibilities is a moment lost from test prep time. They apparently don’t recognize the connection between quality teaching and test performance. (They need to read “Beyond Ovals and Pencils: Thinking in the Disciplines” from Edurati.)

A friend and I once constructed a calendar showing 36 weeks of school. Based upon our observations of the instructional practices in the system, we then debited out days lost to test review, benchmark tests, state tests, standardized tests, writing tests, and semester exams. We also subtracted a week at the beginning of the year for teaching procedures and routines, assessing present levels of performance, review, etc. then subtracted another week for general disruptions to classroom learning (field trips*, pep rallies, fire drills, bad weather days, etc.). When we finished, our calendar had 17 weeks available for quality instruction — less than 50% of the instructional time. We had an opportunity to share the information with leadership teams from several district schools and asked them to do their own analysis. In their opinion, the situation was worse than we predicted. The leadership teams agreed that there were really about 15 weeks of instruction — only 42% of the school year.

Although I keep preaching to schools to worry less about the test and more about the quality of instruction, ¬†engagement of the students, and critical thinking skills, it’s like slogging through mud. The pressure from above to focus on the test objectives is enormous. What better way to maintain that focus than to restrict access to resources that might lead their teachers off the straight and narrow? The roadblocks on the infohighway herd people along the designated curricular path. Just as many teachers use reams of worksheets as classroom management tools (“keep those students busy at all times”), many school districts are using filters to manage their teachers.

* Yes, I know field trips can be valuable learning experiences, but many schools seem to just take trips and do not truly tap into the learning potential of field trips (but that’s another post).

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One Comment on “Roadblocks on the Infohighway”

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    I’m coming across the same issue @ my school. Many site are blocked. The Ning is blocked because it’s a social network; but I’m strictly using it as a road to developing my PLN! With so many tools at my fingertips it is so frustrating to have those limitations. I just jumped in this past year with a blog & wiki for my first graders; of course I didn’t ask for permission;) I just went ahead & did it. So many parents need to be coached along the road to the 21st century learning skills as there are many valid concerns about how to keep kids safe & web smart. I think some (both parents & admin)object to students using technology out of ignorance & fear. The reality of parenting these digital natives is you better keep up with your kids if you want to equip yourself to keep them safe.


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