March 08, 2006

iTeacher or I, Teacher?

What is the future of teaching using technology? Will teachers wag the technology tail, or will the technology tail wag us? Schools all over the country are embracing the use of technology in the classroom. Not just computers, but LCD projectors, VOIP phones, and video conferencing are all common in many of today's 21st. Century classrooms. Software titles abound in an effort to help the classroom teacher meet the needs of "all" students. From Microtype Pro to Geometer's Sketchpad, there is a computer application to fit almost every need. Teaching is changing, and change is good. But what kind of change is on the horizon? And have we already gone too far? Some teachers are still in the "how do I use this e-mail thing?" stage while others spend their days simply facilitating the online experience for their students. How can technology best be applied to the everyday regular-ed classroom? It starts with teacher training. But before we go blindly into the great electrical unknown, I think it's important that we pause and consider our futures as teachers using technology. We must ask ourselves, will I strive to become a competent tech-savvy iTeacher, or will I simply react robotically as if Asimov had written I, Teacher?

Technology is good for education. Certainly our pupils need to be well prepared for their future's and their future contributions to the world. That includes technical literacy. However, technical literacy is not on the public school agenda at this time. Right now, high school public education in California is about the A-G requirements and passing the CASHEE. Neither requires any technical know-how at all. Finding a class in a high school that teaches technology can be challenging. I teach multimedia courses that not only use technology but also teach technology. But my courses are the exception. It's didn't use to be that way. Elective courses in high schools today that could teach technology are being re-designated VOC ED or replaced by math and English review courses designed to leave no child behind. I am in not in favor of leaving any child behind, however I don't understand the logic of replacing important and effective elective courses with remedial academic courses on the master schedule. But that's not what I am writing about right now.

In 2006 there are more and more software applications available and more and more money being invested on hardware and software designed to help students succeed in passing the standardized tests. Money that in my opinion would be better spent on paying people to repair, maintain, and instruct teachers on the proper use and care of the software and hardware we already possess. While this equipment requires electricity and a dry environment to operate in, it doesn't require much input from a biological life-form beyond supplying access to the electricity and monitoring the "on-task" status of the students engaged in "learning". And the software works. Students who use these tools show improved test scores. They don't get "left behind." But what about the teachers? What is our future here? Will we be replaced by classified lab-techs? (they're cheaper to employ)

Our survival is being threatened here. Don't you see it? We teachers need to fight for our futures. We need to fight the I, Teacher syndrome by becoming iTeachers; by training ourselves to use the technology wisely, appropriately, and effectively, so that the technology doesn't end up using us! It's easy for me since I teach technology classes, but all of us, especially the regular education classroom teachers need to learn how to use this stuff, and use it well. It's no longer acceptable to say, "I didn't get the email because I don't know how to use that thing." We are not dinosaurs. But if we ignore the changes in education, if we deny the role of technology in our daily classroom lives, we are destine to suffer the dinosaurs fate.

I’m clearly preaching to the choir here. The mere fact that you are curious and competent enough to search out into the Internet and find a blog site like this is evidence enough of your own technical mastery. You know all of this already. Together we must make a stand for our survival and indoctrinate our colleagues before they are assimilated (Star Trek reference, sorry).

At my school funding is drying up for technology courses, even those that satisfy the category “F” art requirement for UC/CSU. We got a huge start with the Digital High School grant way back in the late 90’s. But now that money is gone, and the equipment purchased during that period is at end-of-life, and in need of replacement. Sadly the funding is just not there if the program is not somehow tied to improving API, AYP, or AMOs. So, I’m going to try and sell the concept that not only does the multimedia program stand alone on it’s own merits deserving of being continued with a new generation of hardware and software, but also that this new equipment will be used to help train the rest of the staff on how they can better use the technical stuff they have at their disposal in their own classrooms. Survival is the name of the game.

I don’t know exactly where education is headed; it’s silly to speculate too much. But one thing is clear to me: I want to stay employed as a teacher working with kids. Are teachers really in danger of being replaced by automated education? Probably not. But the chasm of technical literacy between students and teachers today is frightening. The idea that software can remediate more effectively than a human teacher is just plain weird. But who knows? Perhaps the more we rely on computers to teach the basic core, the more time we’ll have to teach the really fun stuff. The pendulum always swings back, and while in the current environment of “it’s about the test scores, stupid,” we have no time to really explore Shakespeare, to rebuild the great pyramids using geometric shapes, or to explore the universe. In the future, if we master teaching using technology (and not technology using us), we may get back to a place where we can return to the “enrichment” part of the educational experience.

1 comment:

  1. Great commentary on the issue of technology in public schools. I am a technology teacher education undergraduate preparing to graduate next year and am thinking about this issue constantly. Technology is here to stay, and the powers that be need to acknowledge that and enable the classes which will teach it to the next generation. It needs to be a priority. I'll keep reading your blog and hope to comment further in the future.