It’s been great fun to get to share a part of eight school opening days this year from Mississippi to Vermont. They’re always filled with a great deal of energy, and they’re also a good way of getting a sense of where things are in terms of schools’ evolution (or lack thereof) in thinking around technology in a teaching and learning context. I’d love to be able to say that it feels like we’re a lot farther down the road, but by and large, that’s not the what I’m seeing. There is still a real emphasis on the implementation of “stuff” without the hard conversations about pedagogy that deal with preparing kids for a connected world. There are pockets of that, but not much that is being discussed within the frame of a long-term plan or real vision as to what classroom learning is going to look like in say, ten or even five years. (I put out a Tweet last week asking what the timeframe was for the technology plans at the schools where people are teaching, and most said three years with an occasional five year plan or a “Technology plan? What’s that?” thrown in. I’m wondering, by the way, when we’ll stop calling them technology plans and just call them learning plans.)
What I am sensing, though, is that more schools and districts seem to “get” that the Web is affording some new opportunities for learning, and that they are willing to seriously consider what the impacts are for their schools. The problem is, and this is just my take on it, that most still see it as a conversation about technology as opposed to a conversation about change. As I’ve suggested here before, there is a lot of “tinkering around the edges” going on, but not much that I can see happening in terms of really rethinking the role of schools in learning. In large measure, the schools I visited assess their effectiveness by making AYP, the scores their kids get on AP tests, percentage of graduates going on to colleges, and the merit scholars they produce. In and of themselves, there is nothing wrong with those measures. But I’ve been struggling to see examples of what learning looks like in those schools, examples of engaged kids, asking and answering their own questions, creating, cooperating or maybe even collaborating with other learners young and old, and doing all of it in ways that the rest of the world can learn from it. I’ve heard very few stories of learning that sound any different from the stories we’ve been telling for a very long time now. There are some, like the teacher I met today outside of Buffalo who has been collaborating with another teacher in Scotland the last couple of years as their students study literature together through a wiki, or another teacher outside of Pittsburgh who has her students using Twitter to ask questions and connect around science. But these are still ripples; there are few waves.
I wonder if that’s an accurate portrayal…obviously, eight schools does not a trend make. But I’m betting these schools are not dissimilar from most others at this point. And I’m still left wondering what it will take for evidence of more widespread, systemic shifting to bubble up.
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