A Little Less Conversation . . .

Recently, there seems to be an increase in education power-brokers (i.e., state and local superintendents) calling for teachers to tap into the power of Web 2.0 with their students and “engage” them in their learning. They talk a lot about the students of today being “different” than students of the past, that student process information differently and are very comfortable with digital tools. Considering the people I’ve heard espousing this notion typically work in states or districts where I KNOW most Web 2.0 tools are not accessible in schools, that poses an interesting conundrum. It brings to mind some song lyrics from the King that I wish they would embrace–“a little less conversation, a little more action, please.” [By the way, for you folks under forty, “the King” means Elvis Presley.]

The other day, I read Jeff Utecht’s blog entry about evaluating use of technology in the classroom using an adaptation of Prensky’s typical process of technology adoption. Upon reading both pieces and reflecting on what I see in practice in many schools, I believe most (and please note I said “most,” not all) people making these calls to use technology in schools really mean they want teachers to use all that expensive equipment their systems have invested in to do “school” things — the things Prensky refers to as doing “old things in old ways.” They want “cheeks in the seats” of those expensive labs. They wants (carefully screened ) video streaming through those services they subscribe to. They want distance learning labs used (many they want a classroom teaching doing the same old things to be visible and accessible to remote locations). The real problem, then, rests on what they want students to be doing with those resources.

Prensky refers to doing the same of tasks with the same old materials just using a different medium. He talks about putting data and assessments online; it’s still the same information we had in paper copies, just online. He talks about students writing papers but submitting them electronically; they are still the same kinds of papers in the same formats, just typed with a different tool. Prensky says these are examples of “using computers to collect old stuff (such as data or lesson plans) in old ways (by filing).”

I followed with interest today via Twitter (thanks, @JennyKBell), as @bltg told teachers in her school system that, “Kids enter a classroom each morning that is based in 1985 … then don’t enter back into the 21st century until they leave the building at 3.”  I followed her inspiring comments via Twitter posts from @JennyKBell . She further commented, “Are we really preparing them for OUR idea of a future or THEIRS?” I sincerely believe she is talking about using Web 2.0 tools, not just typing papers, making PowerPoints and doing research online. Proud principal, @JennyKBell also tweeted about her teachers setting up blogs to use with students, so they seem to be leading the way in loosening the filters to allow real access for students to move into the next stages of Prensky’s adoption model — “doing old things in new ways” and “new things in new ways.” Later in the day, @bltg relayed that more blogs are accessible at school and that teachers can access Twitter and Skype. She commented that they are “slowly wearing them down and more is becoming available.” I hope more of the “talkers” begin to be “walkers” on this transformational path.

So, as the rhetoric of many high-profile people exhorts teachers to use Web 2.0 tools, we will continue to fight the fight to loosen the filter that block soooo many sites and tools from use in schools. In spite of the talk, many systems have the equivalent of an expensive, technologically advanced aircraft parked inside a hanger; it’s not flying anywhere until the doors open so it can taxi out of the building.

I hope we begin to see more success in accessing tools during the school day because, as the King says, “All this aggravation ain’t satisfactioning me.”

What about you? What tools are available for use in your schools during the school day? What tools do you want to use that are still blocked? Let’s keep the conversation going in hopes of moving more systems to action.

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