Monday, February 8, 2010

Access for Everyone

It's Sunday night and eyes all around the world are focused on the Super Bowl.  Quite a few members of my PLN are working steadily on sending out links and resources via Twitter with one eye on the game and providing updates on their favorite commercials.  I'm no different, except now I find myself preparing the pre-game show for Tuesday night's #edchat.  I regret that class will keep me from participating Tuesday night, but I want to express some of my thoughts now anyway.

One of the topics in this week's #edchat poll is How can we guarantee equitable access and use of technology to ensure tech literacy and to support meaningful learning for all students?  In my opinion this issue itself should drive the need for classroom instruction embedded with technology more than the workforce's need for 21st Century workers.  Why would I say such a thing?  I'm glad you asked.  If you do not embed technology in your instruction, many of your students will NEVER, I repeat, NEVER, get exposure to, much less develop skills with, the technology.

Now for a disclaimer.  I realize that I may have initially misinterpreted the question.  My first reaction was to read this question in terms of economic access in the home setting, i.e. outside of school.  Shelly Blake-Plock  (aka R. Richard Wojewodzki) has begun quite an interesting conversation about this over at TeachPaperless.  That is certainly an issue worth debating, but that's not my task for this post.  Upon further reflection, I think the intent of the question relates more to equitable access WITHIN the school, not outside of it.  That also is an issue in this day of limited resources.

Regardless of how one interprets the question, I think the answer lies in the notion of embedded instruction.  Yes, I'm using that term again.  Most of the people who will read this post will agree that the use of technology in the classroom should be transparent, or unseen, because it is a natural part of what happens there.  Technology is not just a game day in the lab or special art project on the laptops or our once-a-month-do-something with the iPods.  It is used as an appropriate tool for the task at hand.  So, how do we make that happen?

First, appropriation of funds have to change.  Our county took a 90% budget cut this school year in our technology funding because of the state government's own economic woes.  That's screwed up thinking.  Technology should not be a line item.  It should be part of instructional and curricular materials.  As a side note, there is rumor we will delay updating and changing the standard course of study because we cannot afford to buy new textbooks.  Another example of misguided thinking - textbooks (and their publi$her$) should not drive curriculum changes.  

Aaron Eyler has written an excellent post about how we could rework our budgets to begin to bring more technology into the schools.  I don't think his proposal is all that crazy.  Here are my ideas. This is a pic of a mini laptop cart that was put together by our tech facilitator.  Total cost:  about $2700.  You might could do it cheaper - our district quote sheet is lame.  Get one for every class.  Quit buying new textbooks every time the standard course of study changes.  Find a good solid text with the essentials in it and purchase a classroom set.

Will every class need the same amount of technology?  It should need some, even the PE teachers. My friend David Hines uses a wiki with his weight training class.  At the risk of sounding elitist or trying to make the rich richer, outfit those who already use the technology first.  Tell the others their cart is coming and in the meantime get them trained and get them using it.  At a local high school the principal gave an LCD projector to every teacher who took the Intel Teaching Essentials class.  Amazingly, he had almost 100% participation.

In terms of training, provide REAL professional development.  Don't bring in someone with a cookie cutter approach that demos all the Gee Whiz features of their product.  Have real live actual teachers show how things can be embedded (there's that word again).  Have math teacher share with math teachers, science teachers with science teachers, etc.  Provide a demo at every faculty meeting so teachers can see examples from other content areas and cross pollination can occur.

I go back to the need.  One-third of my students do not even own a computer at home.  Roughly ten percent were unable to process simple tasks like sign on to their school provided email address, change their passwords, etc. at the beginning of the year.  If I (and I mean I- not many others are providing that opportunity) do not provide access to the technology, these students will never touch a computer, or an iPod, or whatever gizmo we use.  Whether we like it or not, schools have become the guardian of civilization.  We have access to the students.  Let's give them access to the tools.

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