Monday, February 05, 2007

Tech vs. Text

Each month our district superintendent sends everyone in the district an email message. Whether we agree with the message or not, I can't see how anyone could disagree with the attempt to communicate and inform. I, for one, appreciate it.

I'm going to post the vast majority of today's email here, and then comment.

I hope everyone had a great weekend and a super Sunday.

I am pleased to report that, after considerable review, a selection committee of staff and community members will be presenting a proposal for a district website provider to the Board of Education. The committee is recommending that we enter into a contract with School World to provide district, schools, departments, and teacher websites. I very much appreciate the hours and hours of work the committee has put into this process. The recommendation is based on many factors, but certainly being extremely user friendly was a major consideration influencing the recommendation. If approved by the Board, we are planning to provide training this school year to a teacher, administrator, and school secretary or clerk from each school, with more training provided next year. We are hopeful that schools and teachers can have viable websites up and going by January 1, 2008, if not sooner. This will add another layer of communication that will strengthen partnerships with the community and parents.

I recently presented a very simple technology “plan” for consideration. It is intentionally over simplified as I am attempting to move us forward with a strategic, but simple vision for the expansion and infusion of technology throughout the district. It basically consists of increasing bandwidth, migrating into wireless school environments, expanding access for students in the classroom, selecting a few core web-based programs that the district supports, and providing an expanded system of professional development. (I will post this “plan” on our website, but please keep in mind; it is not intended to be a refined product, but rather to stimulate productive discussions.) I understand that financial constraints often stand in the way of what we want to accomplish. I believe however, that we at least need to have a clear vision as to where we want to go, regardless of financial constraints.

Despite perhaps lacking this clear direction, we do have incredible examples of applied technology around the school district. We have teachers using interactive white boards, streaming video, netTrekker, and other great web-based programs. We have classrooms taking advantage of COWS (computers on wheels), with expert teachers bringing technology applications into their lesson designs, boosting student learning, production, engagement and communication.

In order to share this expertise with others, we are preparing to post on-line the names and locations of teachers who are willing to share/demonstrate their knowledge with other staff members. If you are willing to be listed as a resource, please contact the coordinator of this project, (name deleted) at (email address).

I am pleased that we have many examples of expanding technology in our schools. Many schools are thoughtfully using the one-time money allocated to the schools this year in order to secure equipment in support this effort. Our students are “digital natives” and their world is high tech. They demand that our schools and classrooms reflect this reality. In fact there is increasing evidence that our students are actually “wired” differently because of their extensive exposure to electronic screens. I recently attended a presentation by Ian Jukes where he talked about this phenomenon. His presentation can be read at It is somewhat long, but I think you will find it fascinating. It could be a great topic for a Leadership Team and/or staff to discuss.

Thank you for reading and thank you for the important work that you do. Have a good month of February.

He communicates well, doesn't he?

I'm wary of exuberence regarding computers in schools. Some may call me a Luddite, but I'm not against technology; rather, I'm against the gratuitous use of technology for its own sake. You can click here to find many of my posts on the subject. My views can be summed up thusly:

Technology is not pedagogy. Technology is not a substitute for teaching. Technology is merely a tool. Nothing more. link

Put simply, the Holy Grail of education is hard work. There's no "royal road" to geometry, as the old saying goes. Computers are a tool, nothing more. They are a means, not an end. They are akin to a pencil, a book, a movie projector. Computers have no inherent ability to improve education... link

Text vs. Tech. I got that phrase from what appears to be a defunct blog, Teaching Right, but it's catchy and it has meaning. I don't mean to imply a false dichotomy--we can and should have both in our schools--but absent some evidence that computers actually help students learn academic content better, I'm going to lean towards text more than tech.

I have a great personal story that relates to how computer software led me and my son to some real learning. I don't expect that schools can replicate what we did, but it does show that I'm open to possibilities. Even there, though, the tech led to text.

I'll be interested to read what our supe comes up with.


Mike said...

In our medium sized high school part of teacher evaluation depends on how well we "use technology" in instruction. This in a school whose computers and software are at least a decade behind the times, where perhaps one computer in the building can burn CDs, to say nothing of DVDs, and where perhaps two scanners exist for nearly 1300 students. Let's not even get into how many digital projectors are available, or whether we have any digital movie cameras (we don't).

You are absolutely correct. Computers and their software are merely tools. Tools that offer some advantages over more common technology, but tools nonetheless. However, unless they are up to date and present in sufficient numbers, they have little more value than a single hammer in a building construction class of 30 students.

Use technology? Sure. When you provide some, I'll use it.

Joshua Sasmor said...

The reference to your son's learning (in the last paragraph) is a broken link.

Darren said...

Thanks. Fixed now!

And Mike, while once in a blue moon I'd like some tech stuff just to amplify one point of a lesson, most of the time the most advanced pieces of equipment I need are an overhead projector and (access to) a photocopier!

Scott McCall said...

Miller, I finally found a reason you can tell your students when they ask "Why do we need this, our calculators can do it for us".

when your fighting over in baghdad, 20-30 years from now, you run the risk of being exposed to an EMP (electro magnetic puls) in which will kill your calculator, GPS, and all other electronic equipment. This will then force you to pay attention to your map and compas, and other non-tech tools.

So in the class room, come the day when it's possible that we loose power (because we're over doing it)....then what? you have to resort back to writing on the board or other old-fasion means. but if no one has done this in a long time, its going to be less efficient.

(i dont know if i've made my point).

Plus, dumbshit kids would just ruin, vandelize, or steal the electronic equipment.

Matt Johnston said...


What you cite is not only true in education, but also in so many realms. I work (primarily) in the legal and political realm. So many times I have seen companies and clients buy up the latest technology because they think it will help them do X better, whatever X may be. However, unless X has a solid programatic or business purpose underlying the task, there is no need for the latest technology.

Case in point, look at the bonanza of political web video now being used. No candidate is being particularly savvy about the use of the web video. It is new and therefore should be used. The medium has great potential for expanding on a candidate's viewpoints, but right now it is being used more as a gotcha opposition resource than a postive resource.

allen said...

Contrast the use of computers in business to the use of computers in teaching.

In business computers are productivity tools. Their value lies in doing more with fewer people and when a business installs computers for some purpose they always have a clear idea of the benefits.

Not so in education. There's a distinct lack of a clear, measurable organizational goal. There's no reduction in staffing requirements, generally there's an increase, and no clear idea of what other benefits, if any, will accrue.

I don't think it would be all that far of the mark to say that, in education, computers are attractive, at least in part, because you can get them funded. Whether they'll improve education is never raised as an issue.

Darren said...

Scott, it's "Mister" Miller. We've gone over this before. Do you need beatings?

Dean Baird said...

Technology is merely a tool. Nothing more.

And nothing less. Textbooks, whiteboards (chalkboards), etc. There are many tools we use and expect to have at our disposal. I imagine when chalkboards were the new technology, the old masters shunned them. "Why draw words, figures, and equations on a piece of stone when you can speak them with eloquence into the air? A student incapable of visualizing the spoken word is not fit for education!"

We teach a broad spectrum of students, and different students learn in different ways. Some need to see it, some need to hear it, some need to touch it, etc.

We could just tell them that if they want to learn the subject, they'll have get on board with how we teach it.

Then again, we could try employing a variety of tools. But we can only use other tools if we have them and know how to use them.

The teacher teaches the class. Nothing else does. Not the book, not standards, not computers, not the whiteboard, etc.

I've got computers and use them to great effect. I just got a set of clickers and am excited about implementing them in class.

With the variety of students in class, I want my Batman utility belt as tricked out as possible.

I think we agree about the impotence of tech tools without good teaching behind them. But I'm sensing your instinct is to shun the tech tools and mine is to embrace them.

I guess I'm just a "half glass full" guy. Couldn't resist!

Darren said...

Dean, you're more than half full--of something! :-)

It's not that my instinct is to shun tech tools. I do, however, think we should have better reasons for using them than "they're cool" and "we have money to buy them". All to often, as I'm sure you'll agree, that's how spending decisions are made.

I also fear that tech tools, such as graphing calculators, replace learning. Perhaps better teaching can prevent that, but I've seen it too often not to consider it a legitimate fear.

La Maestra said...

If Scott needs beatings, I have La Maestra's Chancla of Doom that I'd be happy to share.

(A chancla is a sandal, and a common parental threat in our predominantly Hispanic area when a kid is in trouble is, "Don't make me break out the chancla." I have a chancla attached to a stick that hangs on my classroom wall. I don't wield it, but I do occasionally offer it up to other students in the class as a method of motivation.)

I agree with you about technology, to a point. I know that I wouldn't be nearly as effective a teacher if it weren't for my LCD projector and computer. In fact, I went out a couple of years ago and bought my own classroom computer because the one the school provided me with was substandard. I rarely keep hard copies of things, and with the advent of, most assignments my students complete (even many basic worksheet/study question type assignments) are submitted and graded digitally.

I hate overhead projectors, and I hate handwriting. I always have, both as a student and as a teacher. Handwriting has always been a physically painful and frustrating experience, and I much prefer the speed and organizational assistance computers provide. I'm our techie teacher, the one with the class webpage and the online, parent-accessible gradebook.

That said, technology for technology's sake is lame. All too often, technology-purchasing decisions are made by people removed (to varying degrees) from the classroom. As part of our ongoing facilities modernization, many teachers have received interactive whiteboards in the past few months. Only two of us know how to use them, and I'm not sure who else besides me uses theirs on a daily basis. As is par for the course, no training or inservices were offered on how to operate these devices, and the teachers who were given the whiteboards were not consulted first to see if it was something they would want/use.

Four years ago, I received a brand new LCD projector to use in my classroom. However, the district tech head, in his infinite wisdom, bought neither a ceiling mounting device for it, nor replacement lamps. Six months into my possession of the new projector, a student "accidentally" knocked over the projector stand, breaking the lamp within the projector. Those things were $450 to replace, and everyone pointed the finger at everyone else as to who was supposed to replace the lamp--the English department said it was the admin's job, the admin said it was the tech department's job, and the tech department said it was the English department's job. The projector still sits in a closet in the principal's office, and, as far as I know, still doesn't have a new lamp.

What a waste...