The Road Back, Part 2


So I sent off my Request for Re-admittance email to Pepperdine yesterday afternoon and then went online to fill out the registration application and ran headlong into the essay part of the application. Ack. I’d completely forgotten about the essay and wasn’t so sure if I just wanted to re-use the one that I’d originally sent when I signed up four years ago. At first I couldn’t find the essay I’d written and when I did and read it I felt the gap between myself and the guy I was four years ago who knew nothing of the crushing pressures I had put myself through during the year and a half I had been in the program and slight death I experienced when I resolved to walk away from that dream. I took it as a good sign, though, that when I let the feelings wash across me I felt all the more determined to see this through.

2008 Version – Ed Tech Observations & My Goals Related to This Program:

Technology is expensive. Some would say too expensive. At a time when school districts are scrambling for funds to pay for books, cutting back on student services, and fighting to avoid any cutbacks that would touch on union contracts, one might be hard pressed to justify spending money on shiny new boxes. To me, the fact that we’re faced with this apparent either/or question indicates that this problem is much more than just an unfortunate fiscal shortfall. There are issues here that speak to the very purpose of our educational system.

At the very least the urgency of this ongoing “butter versus guns” question speaks to the cultural/social disconnects that one can find in the decision making process where these decisions are being made. For example, to the business world investing in a computer is just that, an investment to enable a worker to better communicate, to better facilitate getting the job done, and at the very least a business expense to write-off at the end of the year. It’s just part of doing business. In the elementary classroom, however, over twenty-years after Wozniak’s revolution, computers are still a dusty novelty sitting in a corner like a revered but untouched trophy meant to communicate our commitment to “technology and our children.” The computer is still something you do after you’ve finished your regular classroom assignments. And in this environment of “NCLB” there’s scan little time to do the curriculum, much less after-assignments “fun” activities.

 

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2008 Version, Continued:

So, on one end of the scale the average classroom teacher is already overwhelmed by the countless demands that need to be attended to every day. Making the shiny new box (or perhaps, not so shiny box) a real part of her working day easily become just another unwelcome chore. I believe that it is a part of “school culture” that wants to maintain a kind of stasis in the classroom that is incompatible with “change” mentality that is part of working with technology. The power against change in the classroom seems to be such that recent college graduates who have been using email to communicate with professors and posting assignments to newsgroups for years, do not bother to wonder why their district has no email service or one that their principal uses or why they have to walk across campus every day to check for paper notes in their little box. The culture is much more 1908 than 2008.

To the student sitting in the seat, however, the world is a very different place. It’s not unusual for eleven-year olds to pester their parents for a cell phone so that they can SMS with their friends (though they tell mom and dad it’s strictly for emergencies). They grew up with Furbies, computer mice, drag and drop, cut and paste, the Internet and MP3s. To them the culture within the classroom is out-of-date and irrelevant. The fact that few of my colleagues would imagine that an iPod might make a great content delivery device and would rather just ban any hand-held device from the classroom speaks to this cultural gap. Students may not have the means to articulate it, but the question is there: “how can what you’re trying to teach me have any validity when you act as if everything I know in my world doesn’t even exist?”

Add to this the concerns and agendas of a whole host of important and influential groups. At the top of the list are parents who very much want the best for their children and may or may not understand technology themselves and assume that schools know what to do about all this technology stuff. Then there are the hardware and software vendors trying to make a living who send catalog after catalog, and never seem to grasp the Byzantine educational accounting practices that squeeze a district’s “buying season” to the working days between late October and March 1st (with time off for Winter break). And on top of this whole confluence are the real decision-makers: concerned citizens who sit on school boards, in administrative office and governmental positions whose most recent full-time classroom experience generally pre-dates the introduction of the electric typewriter and are often just as up-to-date on technology itself.

The world outside of our classrooms is changing in profound ways whether the educational world is willing to partake or not. While we squabble about whose responsibility it is to take care of the busted printers and whether the Mac or the PC is a better classroom computer, the world outside is considering (largely because of technology) whether we really even need fixed-school sites or physical classrooms. Yes, technology is too expensive. But ignoring it may, in the long run, prove to be even more expensive.

As a school-site technology coordinator and/or technology go-to-guy for the past 13-years with three different schools in two different districts I’ve had first hand experience with the frustrations and difficulties of moving a technology plan from idea to implementation. It seems to be a continual struggle between having adequate time, adequate resources and the right people to work with. Most complaints one hears about are the ones related to time. The ones that seem to get the most Press are the ones with dollar signs. But I’ve found that the first two complaints are much more manageable if the last one, having the right people, is taken care of. It’s the team, the educators, administrator, and community participants who make the biggest difference. While technology changes and will continue to change everything in education, the most important component will not be any of the devices used but the people who use them and how well we learn to work together. My objective with this degree program is to continue to grow my capacities as a communicator, as an organizational leader, as a group facilitator, and as a team member. jbb

2004 version: The differences between this and the 2008 version are slight, a bit of editing to pull back on some statements, but overall I was surprised at how many things held up after four years. In technology four years is several generations…

Technology is expensive. Some would say too expensive. At a time when elementary school districts are scrambling for funds to pay for books, cutting back on student services, and fighting to avoid any cutbacks that would touch on union contracts, one might be hard pressed to justify spending money on shiny new boxes. To me, the fact that we’re faced with this apparent either/or question indicates that this problem is much more than just an unfortunate fiscal shortfall. There are issues here that speak to the very purpose of our educational system.

At the very least the urgency of this new “butter or guns” question speaks to the cultural/social disconnects that one can find in the decision making process where these decisions are being made. For example, to the business world investing in a computer is just that, an investment to enable a worker to better communicate, to better facilitate getting the job done, and at the very least a business expense to write-off at the end of the year. It’s just part of doing business. In the elementary classroom, however, over twenty-years after Wozniac’s revolution, computers are still a dusty novelty sitting in a corner like a revered but untouched trophy meant to communicate our commitment to “technology and our children.” The computer is still something you do after you’ve finished your regular classroom assignments. In that environment investing in more technology doesn’t make any sense. “We’re not using the stuff we have,” is the often-frustrated response. There’s a disconnect. They don’t get the role that technology can play in getting the job of education accomplished.

So, on one end of the scale the average classroom teacher is already overwhelmed by the countless demands that need to be attended to every day. Making the shiny new box (or perhaps, not so shiny box) a real part of her working day is just another unwelcome chore. They may vaguely know that they’re missing out on something because they don’t have access to the Internet in the classroom and, if their district has e-mail, they have to bug the also-harried school secretary to get it. But to them, there really isn’t a core connection between what they do as educators and all of this technology stuff.

To the student sitting in the seat, however, the world is a very different place. It isn’t unusual for eleven-year olds to pester their parents for a cell phone so that they can SMS with their friends (though they tell mom and dad it’s strictly for emergencies). To them a PDA has nothing to do with kissing (for the most part… ick). They grew up with Furbies, two-button mice, drag and drop, cut and paste, and MP3s. To them the culture within the classroom is largely out-of-date and irrelevant. They may not have the means to articulate it, but the question is there: “what is the point of all of this?”

Add to this the concerns and agendas of a whole host of important and influential groups. At the top of the list are parents who very much want the best for their children and may not understand why one classroom has three new PCs while their kid can only ogle from a distance his classroom’s “Altar to a Deteriorating Apple ][e,” that the kid is convinced was uncovered in some Inca ruin. Then there are hardware and software vendors trying to make a living who send catalog after catalog, and never seem to grasp the Byzantine educational accounting practices that squeeze a district’s “buying season” to the working days between late October and March 1st (with time off for Winter break). On top of this whole confluence are the real decision-makers: concerned citizens who sit on school boards, in administrative office and governmental positions whose most recent full-time classroom experience generally pre-dates the Inca Apple ][e and are often just as up-to-date on technology itself.

There are short-term measures that can address the concerns I’ve raised, better training and increased communication between all parties to begin with. But given the typical education mindset, I have to conclude that technology is just too expensive. It is too expensive to implement with amateur/part time technophiles who are infatuated with “shiny new boxes,” but haven’t quite thought out specifically how we’re supposed to use these things. It is too expensive to trust to mid-level bean counters who only see the number of boxes they can purchase per dollar, but forget that TCO has to include successful implementation by the end-user, the teacher, and not that it just works. And technology is just too expensive to trust to administrators and planners who have never spent a day in a classroom in the past ten-years, if ever.

The world outside of our classrooms is changing in profound ways whether the educational world is willing to partake or not. While we squabble about whose responsibility it is to take care of the busted printers and whether the Mac or the PC is a better classroom computer, the world outside is considering (largely because of technology) whether we really even need fixed-school sites or physical classrooms. Yes, technology is too expensive. But ignoring it may, in the long run, prove to be even more expensive.

As a school-site technology coordinator for the past eight years with two different schools in two different districts I’ve had first hand experience with the frustrations and difficulties of moving a technology plan from idea to implementation. It seems to be a continual struggle between having adequate time, adequate resources and the right people to work with. Most complaints one hears about are the ones related to time. The ones that seem to get the most Press are the ones with dollar signs. But I’ve found that the first two complaints are much more manageable if the last one, having the right people, is taken care of. It’s the team, the educators, administrator, and community participants who make the biggest difference. While technology changes and will continue to change everything in education, the most important component will not be any of the devices used but the people who use them and how well we learn to work together. My objective with this degree program is to continue to grow my capacities as a communicator, as an organizational leader, as a group facilitator, and as a team member.

The Doobie Brothers - The Very Best of The Doobie Brothers - Takin' It to the Streets Music: Takin’ It to the Streets from the album “Greatest Hits” by The Doobie Brothers