Educational Technology

Is technology the answer?

It is no secret that schools over the past fifteen years have become more acutely aware of the need to improve access to technology in the buildings.   Millions of dollars are spent each year on everything from computers to smartboards.   But does throwing money into the technological infrastructure really improve instruction?  The answer is a resounding NO!  If teachers are not trained on hardware and software, what sense does it make to purchase it?   Instructional leaders need to realize that technology integration does not just mean buying five digital cameras, a computer, printer, and scanner for each classroom, and a handful of software programs.   These all become very expensive paperweights if the proper training does not accompany it. 

 

Teachers need more than one introductory in-service on how to use a software program or how to operate hardware.  If the educational system expects teachers to improve their technology literacy, the schools need to provide support.  Many of the teachers in the
US school system were not raised during the digital age.   Because of this, teachers are forced to play catch up.   Teacher training programs up until the past two or three years didn’t even require a educational technology course.  So many teachers have had to teach themselves how to use various computer programs, etc…  As technology becomes more elaborate, the fear factor for many people increases.  School districts across the
US have started offering in-service training in order to get teachers familiar with new technology.  The problem is that these classes are often attended by entire faculties or grade levels.  With so many people, it becomes increasingly difficult to provide the individual attention necessary to really achieve competency.   In addition to the size of in-service training classes, the frequency in which they occur is also a problem.  Most people will forget what they learned during training if they are not constantly using it.  There needs to be continued in school support for technology integration. 

 Once school districts wake up and put both the infrastructure and the training in place, it will be more likely that technology will begin to have an impact on instructional practices.   We can no longer stick our heads in the sand and pretend that technology is not important to the success of our students.  Most of the kids today were born with a cell phone in their hand.  They have been raised in the digital age and use various forms of technology on a daily basis.  It is our job as teachers to catch up to them, but show them how technology can be used for improving their educational experience.    

The “Profession” of Teaching

Why has teaching not achieved the professional status other careers have?

One reason, I have found, is that everyone thinks they can be a teacher.  Not everyone thinks they can be a doctor or a lawyer.  Because most people spend thirteen years of their lives in a classroom, many feel that they are capable of performing the job of a teacher.   It is often viewed as a mindless due to the nature of the material being taught.  Adults should be able to handle the curriculum a teacher has to present since they all sat through it at some point in their own educational career.  Very few people realize the hard part isn’t the material itself, but the presentation of the material.   Here in lies the aspect of the profession many outsiders never consider. 

There are also other factors to consider.  Because the teaching does not exhibit characteristics of other professions, society tends to assign it a lesser status.   Professions that are viewed as prestigious, like doctors and lawyers, work year round, take part in research practices, conduct peer reviews, require additional schooling, and are paid significantly more money.    In order to improve their teaching, teachers have to attend in-service workshops where educational experts are “feeding” them the prescription being advocated at the time.  Very rarely are teachers actually the experts themselves.  Schools do not encourage teachers to take an active role in research.  If they did, the entire system would work very differently.   Why aren’t teachers allowed to figure out what the solutions are to their problems?  Giving hours of training on something that hasn’t been proven to work is useless.  Action research enables the teacher to take a very specific problem experienced in the classroom and come up with their own ideas of how to improve the situation.  The process would be even more efficient if teachers were able to collaborate on action research within their educational setting.  This may be one way to improve the status of the teaching profession.  But when would teachers conduct the action research?  After all teachers are already spending anywhere from ten to twelve hours a day trying to keep up with grading and planning, not to mention all of the other duties that come along with the job.   There is little trust of teaching in our society.  Failing tests scores published across the nation blame teachers.   But are teachers really to blame?  It seems to me that the issue is not the teachers, but how they teach.  Teaching is the problem in this country not the teachers.  Teachers are not given the adequate resources to be able to improve their teaching.  This is not true of other more “elite” professions.  When was the last time the medical field complained of not having adequate funding?    So many people think that bringing in an educational expert to present a two hour presentation on how to improve teaching is helpful.  It is not….at all!    Teachers need to be solving problems that are immediate and meaningful to them.  Schools have to be willing to see this and provide teachers with time and resources to accomplish the goals.  

Federal Demands & State Tests

Federal regulation in local school systems… Are we headed in the wrong direction? 
 

Education has typically been left up to state and local agencies.  However, there appears to be an increasing trend towards federal control.  Ever since A Nation at Risk was published in 1983, our school systems have been under attack.   This report made the U.S. education system look like it was trapped in the middle Ages and prompted bureaucrats all over the country to get involved in trying to improve the system. 
 

Improving schools should be a goal of the federal government!  But how the schools should be improved, needs to be left up to the schools and their local communities.  The federal government should be there to support the local and state governments, not force unrealistic demands down their throat.
 

With the federal government cracking down on the “poor performing educational system” in the US, many of the nation’s teachers are feeling the brunt of it.  The Bush Administration’s No Child Left Behind educational policy had good intentions, but its practicality and implementation leaves something to be desired.  Teachers across the state and the nation are feeling the stress of having their children pass state tests. 
 

There are many problems with these “high stakes tests” which have been pushed on the nations schools.  These tests have created a culture of fear amongst many classroom teachers.  Schools are struggling to figure out if they should offer carrots or sticks to get teachers to try “harder” to get their students to do well on the test.  No school should ever punish a teacher for failing scores of a few kids.  There are so many other factors (support at home, SES level, etc…) that determine student success.  Failure to recognize these other factors is irresponsible on the part of the administration and the government.
 

Unfortunately, what many bureaucrats, and even some administrators who have not spent much time in the classroom, do not understand is that not all students learn the same way and therefore can not be expected to test the same way.   These tests assume that all kids can take an multiple choice test with extended answers here and there. These types of tests are not new to the education world.  However, in the past this type of testing was not such a big deal, because the tests did not dictate your future.  Putting such a high priority on one single test is disastrous for the students, the teachers, and the educational system as a whole.
 

One of the biggest complaints I hear is how the state test have frozen teacher flexibility and creativeness.  Many schools are now implementing pacing guides, which restrict teachers to teach only certain material on a certain day.  This leaves no room for review or reinforcement.  Teachers find themselves teaching to the test instead of using their creative minds to come up with ways to help students grab abstract concepts and ideas.  These tests are stifling the art of teaching!
 

Hopefully one day the government will wake up and realize that state testing is not the “be all end all” for determining student and teacher success.  Although it may provide important feedback in various parts of the curriculum, it should not be the deciding factor of growth!
 

Teacher Inservice Days

           With the state inservice day fast approaching, most of the departments at school are scrambaling to find something worthwhile to participate in.  I thought that it would be appropriate to look the “inservice issue” for this weeks journal entry.  Inservice days are typically useless… 

Too many times during the year we are forced into sitting through hours upon hours of boring, unconstructive lectures.  Why can’t school districts or the schools themselves come up with engaging inservice days?  Most of the time it is because no one puts the time and effort into planning such events.  Everyone is always tied up with their own work, whether that be planning and prepping materials or doing overservations and contacting parents.  Lets face it, the work of a teacher and/or administrator is never done.  There is ALWAYS something else to do.  But someone has to do it.  In most buildings this job is left up to the administration.  Unfortunatly there is often a disconnect between what the admin thinks is appropriate and what the teachers think is useful. Rarely is there any dialogue between teachers and administrators about what inservice days should consist of. This poses the first problem.  Teachers need to be incorporated into the planning process. After all these days are for them more than anyone.

However, this presents yet another problem …what to do for inservice?  How can we as teachers suggest activities for inservice days if we don’t know what is out there?  Teachers need to be vocal and tell the adminstration exactly what they need.  I hear many teachers mention the need to develop their technology skills.  Technology, especially for very young and very old teachers, seems to be “scary.”  Older teachers don’t know how to use a lot of the technology and don’t understand why they need to divert from their traditional ways.  Younger teachers are so overwhelmed with the amount of work, that they have very little time to try and encorporate technology into their classes.    So wouldn’t it be ideal to use a day that is designed for teacher development to get everyone on board with how to use new technology in the classroom?  This could then parle into future inservices dealing with specific curriculum based technology.  One of the biggest criticisms is that once new technology is learned, it is often lost on lack of practice.  Having follow up inservices on specific technology will help take care of those problems.