A Snail's Pace

I always enjoy reading JDub’s Technospud Blog. She does a lot of reflecting about technology and education, and frequently asks some great questions and provokes some wonderful discussions. Earlier this week, she commented on teachers’ reluctance to use technology. She’s frustrated by the perspective that her teachers have of technology as an add-on. It’s one more thing they have to do. They don’t voluntarily use technology in their teaching, or in their professional work, even though it can be a rewarding experience for both students and teachers.

Snail picture by Monosodium at MorguefileThose sentiments sound familiar. It’s been more than a decade now since we put computers in our elementary classrooms. We’ve had Internet access in every classroom in the state of Ohio since 1996. Teachers in my district have had email accounts since 1997. Yet they’ve been very slow to embrace technology.

We used to say that it would take a generation. A lot of these older teachers are set in their ways. They’re not going to change now. We just have to wait for them to retire, and when we get some new blood in here, things are really going to take off. But all those people have retired. I’m in my 15th year in education. Half of the teachers are younger than me. We should have the critical mass by now.

I first used a computer in the fall of 1981. I was in fifth grade. No one had any idea what to do with them, but our school had a few Apple IIs. So we played around with programming in BASIC. But there wasn’t anyone to teach us because no one knew anything about programming. I remember playing lots of math games. I think they had some other “educational” software, too, but mostly it was math. After a few trips to the computer lab, we stopped going.

Twenty-six years later, our students are still going to the computer lab to play math games. Sure, the software’s a little better. But the teachers aren’t any more involved than mine were. We use Successmaker in our K-3 schools for reading and math instruction. The software provides instruction, helps the kids practice basic skills, and provides an assessment tool. We’ve had it for years, and stopped upgrading it several years ago. Two years ago, we took a comprehensive look at instructional software with the hope of replacing it. We wanted something that would assess the students, program instruction for them to meet academic standards, continually assess their progress, and provide enrichment and remediation as necessary. We also wanted the product to be engaging, and to allow access both at school and at home. And it needed to be less expensive than hiring teachers to do the same thing. We found that the product didn’t exist. I’m sure I’ll have lots of vendors contacting me now, so I’ll add this: we ended up spending the money on other things, so we’re not in the market anymore.

For the labs, we ultimately decided that our current Successmaker license could be used as needed by the classes in the labs, but that the labs should really be used by the teachers with their classes to do other types of projects. They all have the Office suite and Internet access. They have graphics programs and audio programs and hypermedia tools and keyboarding software. This is a great environment for doing interdisciplinary projects, and helping to address 21st century skills. Plus, the students would gain better technology skills at the same time. But the adoption rate has been glacially slow. The computer lab has been a place where we let the software teach the kids. Anything else we do with it is adding more work.

A big part of the problem is that I haven’t pushed it. Unlike Jennifer, I am the technology coordinator. I should be doing professional development, and working with teachers on projects, and fulfilling the role of the supporter/helper/facilitator. But with all of the hardware/network/security/email/website issues forcing their way onto the priority list, those things rarely get done.  I also know that the teachers have been in many situations where the technology hasn’t worked, and that tends to diminish the credibility of those championing for its adoption and use. So I’m focusing on the basic needs — get the technology to work reliably. Then, we can move on to the more productive applications.