We’re Talking…But Who’s Listening?

Tonight I spent a little bit of time discussing how to get disinterested teachers engaged in the use of technology with the other folks on the weekly Twitter #edchat discussion. I must say, this is an issue I’m struggling with mightily lately. Last March, when I attended the NCMSA conference, my response was one of amazement at the limited number of individuals who were using technology AT the conference. I assumed things would be better at the NMSA conference in Indianapolis. While things were “better” and part of the limitation was a lack of free wifi throughout the conference site, there was still a smaller than expected number of teachers taking/posting their notes or thoughts on blogs or Twitter.

I attended several technology sessions while at NMSA09 as well. The overwhelming feeling I got during these sessions was that I was ahead of the curve when it came to using the tools within my classroom, but the vast majority of attendees were nowhere close. The awareness of tools that I think are the lynchpins of collaboration and creation in today’s classrooms just isn’t there with the large portion of teachers.

So on the one hand, we have a small, dedicated group of educators who gather each week on Twitter to discuss issues regarding technology in education, differentiation, and other pertinent topics. On the other hand, we have the uncountable masses of teachers who are unaware/unsure of their ability to use tech in their classrooms. How then do we drag the conversation from #edchat to those teachers who aren’t even in the conversation at this point? The pace of change of tools is enough to make my head spin, so our discussion can’t simply focus on tools. Yet at the same time, there HAS to be a basic understanding of the tools to get to what they can do in an educational setting. So while we’re moving on to newer, more collaborative tools like Google Wave, we have legions of teachers who think that Wiki stands for “What I Know Is” and still think that Wikipedia is a cesspool of misinformation.

I had an excellent conversation with a colleague of mine this afternoon (the only one who attended today’s Tech in 20 session). She is admittedly a less tech-savvy, or should I say “technorate,” teacher. She has worked hard to include the use of the Internet and her SMART Board in her classroom this year. She also moved her school website over to a blog (more for formatting, than for actual blogging purposes). Many of these moves have been a struggle for her, but she’s made the attempt. Our conversation drifted toward the “digital native/digital immigrant” false dichotomy and she expressed concern:

What if some of us (teachers) will just never get it?  Like a deaf person who gets a cochlear implant late in life, and while able to hear, has lost the neural pathways that allow them to learn proper speech.  What if our brains have missed out on the chance to learn a lot of this stuff?

That, to me, was of great concern.  On one level, there’s concern if there is any truth to that idea.  It would mean that the vast majority of teachers who did not grow up with technology will finish out their careers without fully understanding something that can have a great impact on their students.  On another level, I’m concerned that an idea like that could be used as grounds for a teacher to bury his/her head in the sand and never reach out and attempt what my colleague has done this year.

As one of the first generation of teachers who would generally be considered to have “grown up digital” I have some great concerns for the direction of our profession.  Many folks have been working diligently for years to try and promote tech integration.  However the names of such folks like Will Richardson, Wes Fryer, and the numerous others are far less recognizable than they should be.  In his TED Talk, Sir Ken Robinson pointed out that the students entering Kindergarten the year he spoke (2006) would be retiring in 2065 and we have no clue about what skills/knowledge they will actually need.  Isn’t this statement true of any generation however? Are we more keenly aware of the different landscape of the future due to the rapid pace of change in our lives? If we, as teachers, are more keenly aware than our counterparts 50+ years ago, why then is there still so little movement to incorporate the things we feel are necessary for success in the job/learning markets our students will be entering?

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10 Responses

  1. Hello Todd,
    I managed to tune into the edtech discussion today on Twitter and to be honest I immediately felt a connection with what many of the participants that I follow were saying.
    I would not say that I am on the leading edge of technology compared to other people that I know in the profession. However, in the past two years as I have attempted to integrate technology into my classroom there have been numerous obstacles.
    These obstacles, it is interesting to note, are not necessarily coming from the parents, but rather from colleagues and administrators who do not seem to grasp the power of these new tools nor the fact that, as you point out, and as Sir Ken Robinson mentioned, that the students we are teaching are being prepared for careers that may not yet exist.
    How can we adequately prepare students for the 21st century when we are still teaching in the 19th or 20th? I encountered a few problems even trying to get my grade 6/7’s blogging as one of the administrators thought that they should write in a forum closed off from the rest of the world…thereby defeating the purpose of blogging. Another colleague said that Facebook was enough of a headache, why would she try to use Twitter in the class.
    Whilst I don’t necessarily encouraged Twitter (with grade 6/7’s we are still trying to stress the social responsibility aspect) I do not discourage it either. I have a number of students who, with varying degrees have tried to use Twitter for class projects.
    Basically there is a lot that I don’t know, and I will admit that, but if I do not try to incorporate this technology I am not doing my students any favours…or myself for that matter.

    • Paul, thanks for your comments. I can tell by what you’ve said that you’re one of the teachers who “gets it”. Even if you say there’s a bunch you don’t know you’re still working to incoporate it. Truthfully, if you were even attempting #edchat that’s an indication that you “get it.” I saw a late tweet last night that indicated there were 189 educators on #edchat last night. While I think this is fantastic on one level, it’s also a bit scary that we could only outfit approximately 3 to 5 schools in the US (world?) with teachers who are passionate about networked learning. Granted, not everyone can attended #edchat, but that seems like a scary small number of folks. Thanks for all you are doing to push your staff and students in a direction other than where they’ve been before!

  2. Hey Todd-

    These are great thoughts and are exactly how I feel during our weekly #edchat discussions. It’s great to see the choir sing in such full unified force every week, but it’s harder to translate that into action at the local level.

    We had a great discussion going on this topic on the EDU PLN here: http://edupln.ning.com/group/21stCenturySchool/forum/topics/how-can-we-motivate-teachers

    My basic feelings are that the main reason we’re seeing what looks like glacial change is because the internet as we know it has only been around 15 years. And Web 2.0 tools…maybe 5 at the most. These tools are changing the entire face of not just education, but the world. Institutions have not been able to yet figure out how to make these tools work for us on a large scale, mainly because we’ve been using the same basic tools for thousands of years. Friedman spoke about this same thing happening when computers first came on the scene- everyone expected productivity and learning to instantly skyrocket, but it didn’t and people wondered why. The underlying reason is that it takes time when earth-changing tools are introduced to make a full impact. To us, it looks glacial because of the speed these tools have come available and how fast they’re changing. Large institutions, however, are like the proverbial barge in the ocean….they take a while to come around.

    That being said, there are things we can do to help speed this along! To me, it all starts with a certified former teacher turned TF in every school in the country. Someone who knows curriculum and directly tie these new tools to the concepts teachers are working on. Then it’s all about modeling and coteaching on a 1-to-1 basis, taking the battle one hill at a time, so to speak.

    Anyway, this is a long comment- but I identify very much with what you’ve written!

  3. Hi Todd,

    I dropped into #edchat last night too, and it was hard to keep up! I haven’t participated in “twitterstorms” before (my way of looking at the #edchats…. twitter brainstorming sessions), but i’ve peeked in on a few that are a bit more structured, and maybe that would work for you too, since you have SO many people participating.

    Maybe you could get suggestions from participants in advance and pick 6 questions a week to address, each question getting 10 minutes discussion time. The flow will still be fast, but at least when people want to read back through the archives of what was said, there’s some organization to the thoughtstreams.

    Also, I’ve been having a lot of conversations about this topic over on the Emergent by Design blog, and want to point you and your readers to 2 prompts, in case you want to join in:

    Why Education Needs Social Media
    http://emergentbydesign.com/2009/11/11/why-education-needs-social-media/

    and

    Is Twitter a Complex Adaptive System?
    http://emergentbydesign.com/2009/11/17/is-twitter-a-complex-adaptive-system/

    the Twitter piece was just posted yesterday and there is a lively discussion going on, so please feel free to join in.

    I found this post via this tweet:

    web20classroom RT @Twilliamson15: We’re Talking…But Who’s Listening http://bit.ly/1suaS4 <–Great post Todd!

    you can find me in the twitterhive @venessamiemis

  4. Hi Todd, and Steve. Interesting thoughts, Todd. Many thanks!

    I think the ‘glacial movement that Steve refers to is true, and probably inevitable. What worries me is not the time it takes to ‘turn the barge’ but the distance between where we (as teachers) are and where our students (as leaners) are in their use of these tools. To extend the metaphor, the barge may well take a long time to turn, but how many of our students either jump off or get pushed while it’s changing direction? It’s the missed opportunities for the learners in this phase of the journey that keeps me striving to make that change of direction.

  5. The very reason why your original statement of amazement at how few people were using Technology is the reason for Edchat.
    I have been involved with these same discussions with people about Ed Tech since its beginnings 25-30 years ago. The conception is usually that education is always on the cutting edge of technology. I can only assume that people have noted how well kids program things, and text each other, as well as have great success understanding and mastering video games. In an adult mind these are the national standards of Tech in Education. Adults are easily impressed.
    A missing component among educators is a lack of perspective. How do they, their school and their beliefs fit in the big picture? Edchat provides a perspective from hundreds of educators on a single topic per chat.
    It takes a while on Twitter for a chat to settle in and develop. Additional topics or additional moderators will only confuse the issue.
    We have no plans of changing the format of Edchat. The advantage of Technology is that there are several tools educators may use to accomplish various tasks. Anyone may take the initiative to handle things with a plan that they think will work. Acceptance or non-participation will judge the merit or success of the idea. Failing should spur the originator to reflect, improve, and try again.
    Who’s Listening to Edchat? Educators needing answers, ideas, sources, understanding and a perspective on Education. It is our task to take a reflective profession out of a vacuum and offer other information for educators to make informed decisions.
    Join Us every Tuesday at noon and 7 PM EST.
    Thanks
    Tom Whitby

    • Tom,
      Thanks for your response. I do see value in Edchat and I totally agree on the relative ease with which adults are amazed by technology. I think this also explains why schools/systems get so quickly enamored with new “toys” and the “claws in” marketing approaches of so many “research based” products so quickly gain traction. (Apologies for the number of “‘s in that sentence) I think the conversation that is happening via Edchat is a good thing, my concern though is, as Steve mentioned above, that of translating the weekly chat into action within the greater educational community. I am in no way saying that because the task is difficult it should be given up. On the contrary I’d like to see more discussions like this past week’s where the focus is on real ways to get the word out to those who are less apt to grab onto the tech than those 189 who were present Tuesday.
      There is a similar conversation that has been taking place around NMSA’s MiddleTalk listserv. That list is another aspect of my PLN that is a fantastic learning environment. However, a significant majority of NMSA members are not even aware of its existence, let alone the power it holds. It is very worrisome to me, as a younger teacher, who has grown up immersed in tech myself, that such a small number of folks are advocating for the kind of changes we feel are needed. The group feels large on a Tuesday night because of the great involvement for that one hour. When the lens is pulled back for Wednesday morning though, it becomes apparent how far we have to reach to pull in others to our ideas.
      I think there must be a way for us to break out of the Echo Chamber that Twitter, blogs, and the like can be…either that or we have to find a way to move aside and let some others in to join us! Thanks for your thoughts again Tom!

  6. Todd, I’m running into many of the same frustrations at my school, and we’re a tech-heavy school! Just about all the teachers have ELMOs, many have Smartboards, airliners, and every room has fast wifi. I use a cart of Mac laptops on a regular basis, and these are easily available. I’m seeing some change happening, but what it would really take, I think, is a full-time staff member dedicated to facilitating this sort of instruction. Our tech person has to spend most of his time troubleshooting equipment instead of doing his real job, that of facilitating technology in instruction.

    That said, I wonder what the school would be like if you could get 100 passionate technorate teachers together to staff a school. I can only imagine what it would be like to work with someone who is pushing the envelope. How invigorating would that be? It’s one thing to get that at a distance, but what about in the face-to-face environment?

    Also, when does the edchat take place? I’d like to join in sometime.

    Jason (from NCTA) on Twitter, @foolybear.

    Are you working the training in December?

    • I think what you just described is the reason I’ve not gone any further toward pursing my Master’s in Educational Technology. In our county, it also seems that the Tech Facilitator becomes the de facto troubleshooter although we have county technicians that visit our school several days a week. When that person can’t be found, or found readily, it falls on the Tech Facilitator to “fix my problems.”

      I’d be amazed to simply start with a school where 10 or so teachers are truly passionate about technology integration and deep thinking/networked learning. In our building, folks are interested to a point, but many don’t want to do anything that pushes the envelope too far. Not long ago I believe @TeachAKidd had a post about a PLN School that might meet both virtually and face-to-face…the thought of such a place, and colleagues like those I’ve met recently through Twitter and other sources is intoxicating to say the least. Maybe someday!!

      As Tom posted above, Edchat takes place every Tuesday evening at 7pm…you can also search the Twitter hashtag #edchat to see this past week’s posts and an archive of the chat.

      As for the training in December, that’s the same weekend we’re having my son’s 1st birthday party, so unfortunately I’ll have to miss it. Hopefully will get a chance to work with you guys again in the near future though!

  7. the post is great todd – reading through the comments – as you suggested – has led me to a different reply than the post. let me address both briefly.

    on your post: the best way to get people – esp teachers leary of tech – to listen – is by our actions. we can pound new tech tools till we’re blue in the face. those teachers just see it as more on their plate. but if we are immersed and daily sharing what and how we learn – that feeds authentic curiosity. i have teachers now asking for help with twitter now – ones who mocked me for it at the beginning of the year.

    on the comments – esp the last few: getting people on board by our modeling – is a slow process. much slower than i am able to endure. my dream is that in the mean time within each public school (because others can go for the 100 tech people) there are at least 2 cultures. one is more traditional – what the masses are currently doing. the other is a collection of “pods?” say i have one at my school that involves 100 or so students. i am no longer their math teacher – but their facilitator. we meet maybe 2 hours a day. the rest of the time they work via their virtual networks that i help them form and maintain.

    i think the key answer to your post title – is maybe we stop talking so much. maybe we just dig in more. make our dreams happen.

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