A small quote from Dangerously Irrelevant on the topic of Technology Directors (the writer is one).
A technology director ought to be a bit of a rebel, a diplomat, and a life long learner. Today's technology directors have to work together with curriculum directors and technology integrators to make sure that today's students are really being prepared for the twenty-first century. Today's technology directors must be agents of change, they have to envelope pushers but at the same time they have to work with other professionals who can shape curriculum. No one can do everything and certainly not everything well without help. We are bridge builders who should be familiar enough with the building blocks that underpin our networks. We have to be open to change too.A rebel? Ensuring preparation for 21C? Agent of change? Envelope pusher?
I couldn't agree more. I completely understand the logistics and the pragmatism that must accompany any kind of technological capital investment. I get that, I'm not oblivious to dollars and cents. What I don't get is resolved defeatism and negativity. What I don't get are decisions to put a stranglehold on access out of fear of abuse. (I'll address this again further on below.)
On a campus with almost zero tech integration in the classrooms, almost zero student access to basic Web services (never mind Web 2.0 stuff), why are items like ten new IWBs heralded as a crowning achievement? Shouldn't our number one priority, at this point, be how to increase the student's access, both at home and on campus? Shouldn't we be figuring out solutions that allow more students to tap in the potential of the internet from their chair (probably on their own internet-enabled device)?
I've wrestled with why it has been so difficult to get a lot of the students to buy into the idea that having a central hub (my course website) for all of their materials is far better than the old alternative of making 100 copies of each worksheet, having trays and folders for when they inevitably lose them, having to update and make corrections (in class) when the assignment sheet gets off track or out of date... etc. It has taken me an entire year to realize that it just is not in their culture (and I'm severely bucking the trend) because it isn't in the school's culture. It is that simple. Most of their other teachers, through no fault of their own, are relying on 20th Century instruction methods because that is the culture of our school. I know this because I look down at the desk of one of the rooms that I teach in and see a pile of printed out emails. How do you combat a culture like that?
My answer? Open more eyes. Decide to take a more active role in shaping the tech conversations. I've made it a point to have some sort of tech and education integration discussion daily with my building principal; not out of some misplaced subversive nature, but because I'm genuinely interested and genuinely concerned for the lack of preparation we are giving to our students. I'm hosting a tech workshop this Thursday on the untapped potential of Google Apps in the classroom (beginning with simply creating Google accounts, to using Docs, their wiki-sites, blogs, and even Wave to its fullest potential). I'm going to make myself available to ANY of my colleagues this summer, at any time, to find better ways to integrate 21C skills into their classrooms while continually finding ways to improve my own. I can't change a culture on my own, I can't change a culture overnight. But that culture will change eventually because it must change.
Now, a couple of loose ends to tie up.
First, I promised to return to access and fear of abuse. One of my colleagues was shocked (and in turn, so was I when she told me this) that none of our students can currently access any of Google's services while on campus. No gmail, no Docs, no blogs, and I assume no Wave. What possible reason could there be for blocking such a powerful (and free) suite of web based apps? Every single time that I hear about frustrations with firewalls and access (again, pragmatism also applies here) I think of Princess Leia's response to Admiral Tarkin (yes, I'm a huge geek, deal): "The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your finger,"
Translation: the students know how to bypass most of the firewalls already. They have access to their email through their smart phones and other devices. They even know how to get on the very limited, but there, wireless network that is in select areas of the campus. Restrict first, ask questions later. That old paradigm needs to come down now. Yes, you need to restrict certain things (although I'd even argue that Facebook should be let through, but I know that is an argument that you can't win).
Lastly, as I looked up while shaking my head at that pile of printed emails, I saw quite a few of my students taking out their iPod touches (and a couple of other devices) ready to start going over the story of Echo and Narcissus.
The culture can change because it has to change.