“Boring PD”…My #ITEC14 Takeaway

boredI recently attended ITEC, which is Iowa’s big ed tech conference held every year in October. I’ve enjoyed going to ITEC over the years and always walk away with something new. This year my focus was on all sessions related to professional development, although I admit I went to a great session on how a middle school teacher in Bettendorf, IA is doing real project-based learning. In general though, I went to sessions that looked at professional development and how to make it better. At one point someone tweeted, advocating for the use of social media as a professional development experience, that if you aren’t engaging in social media then you aren’t pushing yourself as an educator. After some back and forth the issue that “Boring PD” was insufficient to meet the demands of learners and society arose.

While engaging in social media is a great professional growth experience I believe more teachers should engage in, since it helps us get outside our comfort zone, I don’t consider it all that much different than attending conferences. Instead of engaging with people in a room we engage with people across Twitter on topics we care about. While this will, to a degree, lead to change in the educator and in a more convenient and cost friendly way, our growth as a teacher is much more multi-faceted than spending a few hours a week on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Great ideas are great…as long as they are implemented. Otherwise, it’s just an idea.

This brings me back to “Boring PD.” We often waste, ignore the opportunities that are available to us for professional growth. Weekly, bi-monthly, and monthly PD shouldn’t be an experience those being served by it feel is boring. I can’t think of a better time for growth than when a group of educators are together to start talking about how we’ve implemented our curriculum, how we can make it better, and then start designing the instruction to make it better. How many times have you experienced this at your school? Your college? Your university? Only on rare occasions have I been engaged in such an experience that led to the development of new instruction for my class or practice. Why don’t we do this more?I get that there are practical issues that we have to discuss, especially in K12 education. Yet, how many of these issues that effect student learning everyday could be resolved if we created more engaging instruction where students are doing more than passively getting by in class, hoping that they won’t be called upon to contribute?

Will there likely be meetings we have to attend that we’d rather not? Yes. Can we change the structured learning opportunities for teachers so that they are more dynamic, more engaging, more productive so that student learning can improve? Yes. We just have to want it enough that we advocate for it, which means that we take the leadership to make it happen. Social media is one cog in our professional growth wheel. There are other factors that make us better teacher, some we know and some we don’t, some we control and some we don’t. Growing as a teacher is complicated, which is probably why we often are unsure of how to go about doing it better. Social media isn’t the answer in and of itself. It’s a small part of a larger system, which means that if we want to grow and see growth in our students, then we need to make professional development not boring. We need to make better use of the time that we have with other educators so that we talk about what’s working and what’s not, how we might improve it, and then create the instruction that leads to better student learning.

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/22646823@N08/3070394453/

#LeadershipDay11 – Don’t allow technology to be added on to current instructional practices

Today is Leadership Day 2011, an event created by Scott McLeod about effective school technology leadership.  I heard of Leadership Day last year, but for some reason I didn’t get around to blogging or even reading many of the posts from that day.  This year is going to be different.  Not only will I read other posts, I’m going to pen my own.  For my post, I wanted to focus on an area of school technology leadership that often is poorly implemented and a problem that happens all too often.  I’m talking about when new technologies are integrated into the classroom, but the instruction remains, for the most part, the same.

To me, technology integration is the delicate balance of pedagogy, content, and technology knowledge, otherwise know as TPACK.  In order to have meaningful change as a result of technology, the teacher must have knowledge of all three of these items and how they are going to interact with each other.  Only then will the learning that takes place truly be different, and hopefully lead to greater learning achievements.

However, too often, these three components aren’t thought about when technology is integrated into the curriculum.  Instead, technology is purchased, whether it be a projector, an interactive whiteboard, or even a laptop, and merely added to the current instructional practices.  While there may be some changes to the instruction, like showing lecture notes via PowerPoint rather than writing on the board, the overall learning that takes place in the classroom remains the same.  Daniel Pink (2006) refers to this as automation.  The technology is added to a current practice to make the practice better, faster, and/or cheaper.  The problem with automation is that the outcome doesn’t necessarily change all that much.  Yes, we can get more done, it may be a little bit better, and maybe even a little cheaper, but when it comes down to it, we are still doing the same relative task.

Taking that an putting it in an educational context, if we continue to add technology onto current educational practices, we aren’t transforming the instruction all that much.  We may make it a bit more fancy, a bit easier to interact with, or even quicker to complete, but in the end the teachers are teaching the same and the students are learning the same.  If we are going to transform education to meet the needs of the 21st century, then we cannot keep adding the latest tools onto our current practices.  We need to have a deeper and more fundamental discussion that involves concepts like TPACK, and really focus on the type of learning we want to see happening in our classrooms.  Only then will we be able to align the learning with the tools that will make a difference.

So administrators and other school leaders, I urge you to think about the type of learning you want to see in your schools and think about how that aligns with the needs of the 21st century.  Then, and only then, find the technology that will assist in making that type of learning a reality.  But here comes the tricky part.  Once the technology is “integrated” in the classroom, make sure the teaching and learning is different than what it was before the technology was implemented.  If it wasn’t then YOU need to do something.  It is YOUR responsibility to support teachers as they do their part and struggle to figure out what to do with this new piece of technology.  If we are really talking about transforming education, then it’s going to be an uncomfortable process for everyone.  Teacher assumptions and beliefs ARE going to be challenged if schools are adopting instructional practices and technology that truly transform education.

So make sure all the time, money, and other investments are worth it.  Don’t let technology be added on, because it not only wastes resources, it also hurts our students and their futures.  Challenge your teachers to try different things, but also be willing to let them fail when things don’t work out.  Each of us have to be willing to fail, because if we think we can transform education without failing, then we further to grow than we believe.  Good Luck!

References:

Pink, D. H. (2006). A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future (pp. 40-47). New York, NY: Riverhead Books.