Monday, May 26, 2008

The Borg of Education (Trek, not Travian)

I was reading Liz Davis's blog post on "Collective Intelligence" and was thinking about writing a related post. My husband jokingly told me that I should title my blog post "The Borg of Education" (I laughed out loud). For those who didn't follow Star Trek, here is a definition from Wikipedia:
The Borg are depicted as an amalgam of cybernetically enhanced humanoid drones of multiple species, organized as an inter-connected collective with a hive mind, inhabiting a vast region of space with many planets and ships, and sophisticated technology. They operate towards one single-minded purpose: to add the biological and technological distinctiveness of other species to their own, in pursuit of perfection. This is achieved through forced assimilation, a process which transforms individuals and technology into Borg, enhancing individuals by adding synthetic components.

The Borg were a collective, which is why Liz's title caught my eye. I think that there are teachers who view people in my position (technology integration specialists) as the Borg of education, trying to assimilate them & their ideas into the collective where they will lose their creativity and individuality to technology.

How can I/we help teachers see that being part of the collective, especially in technology integration, actually expands the horizons of creativity and gives each of us a place to add our own unique voice & perspective? Do they see assimilation where I see adaptation?

Sometimes technology tools do force us to conform. Wikis are sometimes rigid in layout options, for example. Electronic gradebooks force us to work within certain parameters. Search engines (used effectively) require a certain syntax. However, the ways we can use these tools are dynamic, robust, & infinitely creative. And when we can share what we are doing with "the collective," the collective itself becomes more dynamic, robust, and creative.

Perhaps I am part of the Borg of education, not in the ominous Star Trek way but in the collective intelligence way that Liz Davis has mentioned. I believe we're stronger when we share, and I believe that we have the power (as a collective) to make sweeping changes in an antiquated system. I believe that enhancing what we do with technology is incredibly powerful for learning because kids are already "wired."

And, ultimately, I believe that "resistance IS futile." ;-)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Semantics of Staff Development

Having just caught up (whew!) with my backed up GoogleReader feeds, I saw a couple of postings that grabbed my attention about the term "teacher" and its negative connotations. One was from Ewan McIntosh (Does the word "teacher" create a barrier these days?) and one was from David Warlick (Telling a New Story). Here's a quick quotation from Ewan's post followed by a quotation from Warlick's:
"As adults we rarely refer to those who teach us how to work better as 'teacher'. We've invented a plethora of other words to avoid this: coach, mentor, facilitator..."

"I would suggest that this is too easy. Language is useful. It helps us to form images, and sometimes, new images. But the word, teacher, is not the problem."

This discussion got me thinking about the terms that we use as coaches, mentors, facilitators, etc.

CC Image by jovike

How many of us are calling summer sessions "camp" instead of "summer school for teachers"? That's really what it is, but "camp" is much more appealing, isn't it? How about "workshop" vs. "training"? Isn't "workshop" more positively perceived than "training session"? I've even seen recent events billed as a "summit" rather than "conference" or "study group" rather than "class."

With respect, I have to disagree with Warlick when he says that "the word, teacher, is not the problem." Warlick suggests that we need to "retell" the story of teaching; I like his idea, but I'm afraid that there are some terms too mired in tradition to allow for retelling. In situations where we have to positively sell what we do and create buy-in, language is everything. It's why we have to create a "plethora of new words" and find creative ways to describe learning and teaching.

Maybe if we begin calling ourselves by a name other than "teacher," we might begin to break away from outdated pedagogies & embrace learning in new ways. And, just maybe, it will break down the barrier of negative perception. Like it or not, that's the power of semantics.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A blog posting about blogs

Blogging About Blogs

In thinking about using blogs, one of the questions we need to ask is how this particular tool could be used, either with students or with peers & colleagues. Before we even get to thinking about the applicability of the tool, though, we probably need to take a closer look at the tool itself.

What is the definition of a blog?

Check out these links for clarification on the term:

Here's another great little handout on 7 Things You Should Know About Blogs.

In what ways can we use blogs in the classroom?

What about blogs for professional development?

See blogroll at right-hand side. These are all blogs that I follow to a) keep up with what I do and b) get great ideas from great people. If you want to do a search for blogs in your content or interest area, try Technorati.

See for yourself . . .

Using the links above (or by doing your own search), check out some examples of blogs used in classrooms or those used for professional development. After seeing a few and how they are used, pick 3 - 5 that impressed you or made you think in some way. Then, post a response (or comment) to this post, including the URLs of the blogs & the reason why you picked them. How do you think you might be able to use blogs, either with your colleagues or with your students?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Teaching good instruction AND the technology tool

A recent post from coolcatteacher ("Get Past Teaching Apps") got me thinking about how to approach technology "instruction," but it's honestly been something that I've been thinking about for awhile. Her post is about what she does with kids in the classroom, but with our upcoming summer technology workshops, I am wondering if we should shift our focus for teachers.
from the 1980s ACOT report
Seems like we offer a lot of workshops on tools and not as much on instruction. And I think a lot of that is driven by our participants. I hear a lot of teachers say to me, "Wow, I really need to take a class on Powerpoint." Based on this graphic table from Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow report from the 1980's, I think people assume that this is the progression. Not sure I agree, though.

What I'm considering is that "traditional" classroom practice piece. How do we move teachers from adaptation to appropriation? And what do we do when faced with the barrage of new tools? Should we, as professional developers, try a two-pronged approach where we simultaneously explore moving away from traditional classroom practice and using technology tools? Should we follow Vicki Davis's example and look at various student classroom tasks instead of focusing on a tool? Will that allow teachers to move more seamlessly in their own practice?

With all the talk of transforming education rather than reforming education, maybe we should use technology workshops as a way to look at "new" methods of instruction based on brain & learning research. A great quotation from Wesley Fryer's article called "Intelligently Promoting Technology Integration":
Technology integration should not mean simply fancy PowerPoints and lots of video clips shown to students in the classroom. Those uses of technology can be more engaging and beneficial than some alternatives, but we shouldn't stop at merely digitizing the transmission-based education experience for our students. Learners need to remix their learning and use technologies to both explore and represent their understandings of complex ideas. Additionally, learners need to regularly collaborate with others outside the four walls of their traditional classroom as well as within them.

I hope that our workshop can get teachers to move beyond just digitizing a stand-and-deliver model. But do we need to start there to get them integrating?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

“Culturally” (ir)Relevant Instruction

Our district (in trying to address the achievement gap) is currently discussing what culturally relevant instruction looks like. I'm not part of the cadre getting trained on these strategies, but from what I gather, it involves trying to embed concepts & activities that are culturally familiar to students from differing ethnic backgrounds.

We are totally missing the boat by not focusing on technology, which should be the great equalizer when looking at equity.

I don't know how many cultures are represented in our district. I do know that there is no way that we can address every culture that we have represented, though. What we can address is what is familiar to all of our students: technology & web-based tools.

If we really want to impact the achievement gap for all of our students, we should focus on things (like technology) that impact engagement for all learners, regardless of ethnic background. Until our leadership recognizes that, we will be implementing culturally irrelevant instruction.

For more ideas on this, see the "Did You Know" video from Carl Fisch's blog.