The New Shiny

Google Plus is here!

This is the tool that’s going to revolutionize education. It’s a collaborative platform with none of the social baggage of that evil Facebook. It allows people to easily organize their friends into circles, so you can keep your professional, personal, and academic lives separate from one another. The image sharing features are very nice, especially when coupled with the mobile phone app. And the hangouts… have you tried the hangouts? Click a button, and you can have up to 10 people in a simultaneous video chat. Try doing that with Facebook. Heck, try doing that with Skype.

As a teacher, it’s safe to friend students now. I can just put them in their own circle. I just have to make sure that the things I post to that circle are school-appropriate. I can still have fun with my friends and be embarrassed by my family, and the students will never see any of that stuff. And that knife cuts both ways. Students can shelter their teachers and parents from some of the content that they probably don’t want to see.

Then, again, maybe this is just another fad. It’s the new shiny. Remember the old shiny? Everyone was talking about tablet computers, and how they were going to be transformational in education. That was soooo 2010. And before that, netbooks were going to change the world. And Kindles, before we figured out how badly they suck at doing anything but displaying text.

For a while, wireless networks were going to change everything. Some people even talked about not bothering to wire new schools with network cabling, because we weren’t going to need it. Once every kid has a laptop, everything will be wireless. That’s really going to transform education.

Student response systems used to be all the rage. In some places, they still are. I can put a question up on the SMART Board and students can enter their answers on their individual remote controls. I can then see the results right there in my software. That’s a great short-cycle assessment. It’s so much better than having the students raise their hands in answer to a question.

Speaking of SMART Boards, they’ve really changed education. We have them in just about every classroom now. The teacher can use four colors of digital ink to write on the board, and the whole thing can be saved and posted online. There are also lots of interactive activities in the accompanying software that let 25 kids watch one kid interact with the board while the teacher stands comfortably at the front of the room.

Transformational change doesn’t come from gadgets. I’m beginning to think that transformational change is actually impossible in the public schools because of the societal and cultural traditions surrounding how schools are “supposed” to work. Parents tend to get upset if their kids aren’t taught the same way they were taught. Just ask a math teacher who has lived through a transition to Everyday Math or Investigations. Change doesn’t come easily.

Real progress comes in smaller steps. As we’ve added technology over the last generation or so, we’ve also changed the pedagogy quite a bit. We’re using more cooperative and participatory strategies to keep our students engaged. We’re addressing multiple intelligences. We’re using authentic assessments. We’re starting to use frameworks like UBD to ensure that our instruction is actually tied to the objectives we’re trying to meet. None of these things require technology. They do require teachers with open minds, principals who aren’t afraid of change, and schools who are willing to let go of some of the traditions in order to improve our students’ future.

Google Plus might help us do that. But it probably won’t. Next month, there will be another new shiny.


 Photo credit: Shiny! by SFDenverLV on Flickr.

3 thoughts on “The New Shiny

  1. Don’t forget school levies and school funding in public schools. Trying to stay optimistic though.

  2. It’s not about the shiny, it’s about the connectivity.
    You and I have known for quite some time that the new shiny loses its luster long before we and the students are able to invest the time needed to fully explore and realize the potential of new technologies; that darn novelty effect. Nevertheless, don’t be so quick to write off Google Plus as “just another fad”.
    You and I have been co-workers for many years, yet yesterday was the first time I had ever read one of your blog entries. So what changed? The answer is “connectivity”. A few weeks ago I added you as a friend on Facebook. Yesterday, while camping in the rainy foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, I sat in my tent and, in between moving my chair to avoid new leaks, used my iphone to catch up with Facebook friends. Wi-Fi in a campground located in the Allegheny Mountains! Connectivity.
    Connecting with friends was what I wanted to do at that moment, and in doing so happened upon your blog. Reading your blog was not some mandated teacher in-service activity (Dante’s eighth circle at least), rather it was something in which I chose to invest time. So here we are beginning a dialogue about something in which we share an interest.
    In the same way, students choose to invest much of their time staying connected through text messaging, and more often through social networking platforms. Students want to maintain a presence in virtual communities. Unlike so many shiny before, I don’t think social networking is transitory; it has become entrenched in our cultural consciousness. Social networking platforms like Facebook have become the means by which we share arts and ideas.
    In the last paragraph you mention that “real progress comes in smaller steps”. Technologies like tablets, SMART boards, Moodle, and Web Assign are all small steps, but they maintain the status quo by asking students to meet us on our terms, to adapt to the environment in which the teacher is most comfortable. It may be that Google Plus is a small step toward facilitating learning in a place where the student is most comfortable. More importantly, learning in a place where they want to be.

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