Telling the Old Story

Joining with David Warlick, Ewan, Miguel, Wes, and Darren, I’m looking to create and tell the new story. The new story about how learning happens, how technology changes the nature of teaching and learning. I’m looking and I have a few potential stories but too often I’m finding old stories.

Our provincial teachers association publishes a monthly newspaper and this month’s edition featured an article about teachers and technology. Here’s an excerpt:

…developed a representing activity for the grade six unit, Taking Flight. In this activity, students focused on the objectives of considering audience, purpose and situation, and using print and other media to explore ideas and express understanding, as they developed a poster to advertise for astronauts. Zakaluzny explained that when her students had done similar activities in the past, many of them became frustrated if they made a mistake because trying to correct mistakes usually means beginning the activity again.When using technology, however, it is easy to alter the size of words, move graphics around, or insert more content without having to start over. Zakaluzny commented that students not only enjoyed this lesson, but also put more time and energy into making their posters just right.

I’m sorry but I don’t share the same level of enthusiasm by these teachers. I don’t want to sound overly critical or snobbish but this is “doing old things in new ways” While some might argue this might be a starting point, it’s time we move past this. I’m somewhat familar with this project and know the number of days spent on teachers creating lessons and projects using technology. If only this time was used to create new stories. What bothers me most is the fact that the leadership in our province is not aware or interested in new stories. I understand that teachers today are so busy they may not have the time to be as current with their teaching practices as they might like. But as a leaders, it’s our job to be aware of what is current and what constitutes best practice.

The sad thing is that no one who might be involved in these type of initiatives is likely to read this. I’d love to be challenged or even chastised for my criticism. Sadly that dialouge never takes place because many are not involved in the global conversation.

Our learning department does have a technology leadership section but it doesn’t appear they are asked to participate when the curriculum department funds a workshop or training initiative.

So while it’s important to find new stories, we may have to pay more attention to old stories and try to force them into retirement.

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  • Graham Wegner

    So here’s my comment – perhaps you can insert it manually.

    Dean, I think that “the new story” needs to be told all over the world. I am helping to implement an interactive whiteboard program here at my school in Adelaide and your link to Prensky’s “Adopt and Adapt” is one that I am familiar with. I am really concerned that teachers could really fall into doing “old things in new ways” with these tools. I know that as one learns, this step is a necessary towards changing practice but I fear that teachers will feel innovative and cutting edge when all they have done is add “fancy presentation” while still retaining the strangehold as the holder of all knowledge in the classroom. Any technology in schools has to move teachers, and as a consequence, students past that point towards the “new story”.

    Cheers,
    Graham.

  • Dean Shareski

    Graham,

    The difference in your situation is that as a leader in your school, you have the ability and perhaps obligation to lead teachers into thinking about technology in new ways and doing new things in new ways. My frustration is that many leaders while thinking they are making gains in technology are simply doing old things in new ways.
    All the best to you.

    Dean

  • Margaret Pillay

    Dean – I was very interested in the comments you made about my article in the Bulletin – although I notice that I was not credited – by the Bulletin, that is. At one time, I would have agreed with you completely, but I have come to realise as one involved in teacher professional development, that there needs to be a starting place for those who are not comfortable in the world of technology. People can not make the jump right from no comfort at all to the ‘new world.’
    Furthermore, you couldn’t be more wrong about the leadership in this province being not aware or interested in creating new stories. There are several committees that I am involved with who are looking at new iniatives. Presently, there are two proposals waiting to be accepted that I know of that do aim to embed technology directly in curricula presently being renewed. If you want to be more involved in this area yourself, a call went out for committee members for two of these committees in the same journal that you quote.
    Also, the technology section in Learning has just been moved under the umbrella of curriculum, so one barrier has been removed and hoepfully, we can progress more quickly now.

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  • Wendy James

    I am currently completing my master’s in educational technology at the U of S and was the lead on this project. I would absolutely like to see teachers move rapidly into using technology effectively and I’d like to see technology change classroom practice (ala Barbara Means and Larry Cuban). However, I am also a realist. Teachers just don’t have the skills we need them to have to use technology in the ways that Means and Cuban suggest, a point they both make. In fact, teacher skill level and the pedagogy we bring to technology make inroads very difficult. See http://www.saskschools.ca/~techsurvey/results.htm

    The project focused on teachers changing pedagogy in ways that will help them alter both the technology they use and the way they use it. The lessons created weren’t anything close to what ET’s would call great use, but they do represent some critical shifts like technology in the hands of kids and technology being used in a generative way, rather than as a supplantive tool for teachers. I think we need to recognize that most teachers are not technology experts and are just looking for some guidance about what they can do to help students learn. If we expect all teachers to use diverse technologies in dynamic, exciting ways, than we’ll continue to have a lot of teachers who use technology very little. I think many people in ET started with simple uses, saw the power of technology and became converts obsessed with new ways to do things. Looking at my early lessons using technology makes me depressed – but critical change was happening under some mundane lessons. These teachers didn’t all make that shift, but some started to, and many of them were proud of what they did. We need to acknowledge that pedagogical expertise in any area in education is an ongoing process and we are all at different stages. We just need to keep improving from where we are, and have time to reflect. Exposure to a little research and time to plan are critical in shifting our thinking.

    Wendy James

  • shareski

    Wendy and Margaret,

    Thank you for responses. I’m so glad you’ve commented and helped me recognized your perspectives and also your desire to see teachers using technology more effectively.

    While I agree we all are at different levels, I’m not sure sure we have to start at what I feel are lower levels of technology integration. I read recently that there is a push to see special education students be more engaged in higher level thinking skills and that for too long we’ve avoided this because we didn’t think they could handle it. Some research suggests they can handle it fine, they just need more support and time.

    I would argue that we can help teachers who are just beginning to use technology to actually look at doing new things in new ways, since it’s really more about understanding the new shape of information as it is technology. I disagree that we have to start at these levels. I think we can do better and it begins by helping teachers understand how the world is changing and what it means for their students. I suggest spending some time examining a place like wikipedia and understanding how it works and contributing to its content. There’s very little technical skills involved here but understanding how knowledge is shared and built gives teachers and students a small insight into the new shape of information.

    I’m glad to see you are passionate about helping teachers and I’m also glad to see that communication among various groups is occuring. Let’s hope that continues and also involves a larger group that includes students.

    I hope we are able to tell new stories as a province. I just think this one was an old story. I’m glad you recognize it as such I’m just not convinced that we have to start here.

    Thanks again for your comments.

  • Dean: check out my take at the Techlearning.com blog. I’d like to hear what you think…

  • shareski

    David,
    What you describe is more new than old. Digital storytelling certainly is rooted in some tried and true teaching methods but my criteria of “new ways” includes doing things that could not be done without technology. Digital storytelling obviously can’t be done without technology but in my mind the critical piece that makes it new is the ability to share and engage in the global conversation.

    It may just be semantics because we’re obviously on the same page. With my example of the poster, that is something that could easily be done without technology. If we’re going to invest time and money to work with teachers in best practice, it better be done demonstrate learning that couldn’t be done outside of technology. YOur work in digital storytelling in my mind is more a new story than an old one…but that’s just my perspective.

  • You’ve sparked some interest in new stories. That’s good. Congratuations. You’ve provided a venue for some people to discuss further the grand experiment of electronic schooling.

    It reminds me of similar chatter by others during past decades as educators discovered new technologies of felt boards, kato (or is it cato?) markers and tagboard, then the phenominal introduction of colored chalk on green (not “traditional” black) boards.

    Just keep telling your new stories. You’re on a useful track for you, and probably for others too.

    Others will tell their stories in their own ways. Maybe they think their stories are new and others don’t think so. That’s good.

    Thank goodness everyone isn’t on the same page of every story at the same time. How dull that would be. More importantly, what force would we want that makes everyone get and stay on the same page?

    The same goes for trying to get all teachers to do the same things with different students of the same ages.

    If we want all teachers on the same page for all students at the same time we can simply require one set of software or TV or … instruction.

    So, if you don’t want sameness, use your teaching vision. Others will continue using our. That way, we can watch and borrow from each other. What’s wrong with that?

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  • In order to be a technology activist we, technology integrators, need to ask teachers and administrators to rate themselves on the technology continuum provided by ISTE, NETS-T rubric. While I think some of the “skills” highlighted are pretty lame, like knowing technology terminolgy, mouse, monitor, screen, there are very exciting and transforming rubric blocks which support teachers “knowing how to apply technology resources in the school to help close the digital divide and discuss how information and communication technology can support collaboration, personal productivity, and lifelong learning for all students.” Taken from the proficient rubric block for teachers see http://cnets.iste.org/teachers/t_stands.html
    When teachers are asked to reflect on their skills and the progress they have made in a year, then we will see full scale movement towards 21st Century Skills in action.