Tech Integration: Trying to Make Sense of It All

In my role as a technology liaison with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (under the umbrella of the National Writing Project), I love to think of the possibilities for both our site and the teachers at our site. I envision blogging, podcasting, movie making, networking across many platforms, collaborative wiki writing and more. All of this would be done on solid pedagogical ground, of course, with the tool being less important than the purpose.

But reality often intrudes on this vision, and at our New England Writing Project Retreat this weekend, I once again began to doubt ideas that I have about teachers being ready to dive in. I have long thought that we were at a tipping point, but now … I don’t know. This creeping doubt does not come from the NEWP retreat itself, which was productive and helpful and a great exchange of ideas, but from a general sense that the education community has little idea about what to make of the technology that kids are using in their lives. It’s hard to explain exactly why I have pessimism when I am usually so optimistic. (It might still be echoes of our WMWP workshop around technology that we had to cancel due to lack of interest).

Paul Oh and Andrea Zellner gave a cool presentation about the Pedagogy of the Socially Networked, and it sparked some real neat discussions, but I didn’t get the sense that there was a whole lot of momentum to bring these ideas back to our sites, which is where we reach teachers, which is where we reach students. I think part of my feeling because I think most of the folks in the room don’t quite grasp the power of these connected points in our digital lives (even with the fun activity we did to map out our own personal social networks on paper). I certainly am somewhat generalizing here and everyone was trying to make some sense of the discussions.

Paul and Andrea did not sugar-coat the topic, either, making note of some of the concerns (how companies are monetizing the social networking experiences, the targeting of young people who are not yet adept at critically viewing media, etc.) while trying to show that this kind of online experience in people’s (and kids’) lives are not likely to go away, and in fact, are more prevalent than ever and will continue to be so. Therefore, as teachers, we have an obligation to understand it and, if possible, to use social networking concepts with our students. Andrea made a great point about how you could still teach the theories and ramifications of such networks, even without a computer in the classroom. (One idea: using sticky notes to denote “tags” and nodes of shared interest).

I think part of my reservation about meaningful progress is that while we, those who are deep into technology, know what might be helpful for students in our no/low-tech-experienced colleagues’ classrooms, in the end, it is 0ur colleagues themselves who need to “see the light” and take the plunge. We can’t do it for them. (Although, a strong case can be made for finding ways to partner up with mentors on this issue) And we teachers know that if someone — some expert — comes in the room and says “do it that way,” we shake our heads with frustration and resist. We need to develop our ideas ourselves for those ideas to take real root.

And the reality is that if national and state standardized testing does not reflect multi-modal writing, longer range projects with tech components, authentic language of youths, and more, than it is unlikely to get the kind of push and support that is necessary to change classroom practice. It’s a twist on the old “trickle down theory,” even though we often talk about changing education from the ground up. We need the support of principals in this endeavor.

If at all possible, I am feeling both optimistic and pessimistic, and trying to keep my mind leaning towards the possibilities, not the roadblocks.

Peace (in a head of doubt),

  1. Thanks for the insightful post Kevin. I often speak in metaphors. I think it comes, at least in part, from teaching kindergarten where a teacher has to find the simplest explanation for things and make a connection to a 5 year old’s personal experience. So in looking at this problem, I’ve toyed around with a pond, a wagon train, even the solar system as my metaphor. I’ve settled on a mountain. Knowing it has taken me 3 years to get half way up this mountain (or is there another peak over the next rise?,) I have to accept that my peers can’t take any shortcuts either. The scary part is that the longer someone takes in making that first step, the longer the process will take. Teachers also need to find comfort in the fact that there are beautiful vistas along the way, places where they can reflect on their progress, meet other travelers, and collaborate.
    So, in an effort to get all teachers moving, we need to mentor them as they take the most basic steps early in their journeys. Simple lessons with simple practice.
    There is another piece to this as well. Many teachers like to do their work in private. They don’t want others to see their podcast, post, or comment because they feel the risks (the stakes) are too high. Others might criticize them. We know this isn’t likely to happen, just as no one will email me about my miscues and spelling errors here. I know this by personal experience.
    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to reflect on this problem, one we experience even in our own school.

    (Oh another metaphor comes to mind: learning to ride a bike and having a trusted adult holding it and running along side;)

  2. A great post and I hadn’t seen the video. Thanks for sharing. My newest thinking on this is that for teachers to really embrace all of this in the classroom, they must be users themselves. The biggest thing we have learned from NWP and other research is that teachers of literacy must be readers and writers themselves. In this 21st Century world, it makes sense that people who are comfortable bringing all of this into the classroom are those that know first hand how it has changed their own learning and literacy. I think some people are just overwhelmed about where to begin. Great post–so much to think about.

  3. I really found this post thought-provoking, Kevin. I, too, am sad that our little Tech Conference didn’t fly this year. I’ve had to do some hard-core recruiting in the past, and I didn’t do that this year because I’m starting to feel like my “tech push” is annoying to some.Many teachers are VERY comfortable with doing things the way they’ve done them for years –they don’t want to change it up, and the idea of integrating tech doesn’t make sense to them. (Oh no, not another reason to fight for the writing lab…) And you’re right, if the administration isn’t on board, it won’t happen. I’ve been in faculty meetings where 21st Century Learning Skills have actually been mocked.
    Ahh me, I’m still going to push on in my own little classroom. You inspire me, Kevin!

  4. I understand your perspective. It is possible to feel both optimistic and pessimistic at the same time, but try and focus on that optimistic side! What I have found this year is that by continually showing others the power of tapping into technology in the classroom I am slowly getting others on board with the idea. I know I have a long road ahead of me but each step in this journey is a step in the right direction. Keep sharing!

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