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Digital Directions Senior Writer Michelle R. Davis is managing a social-networking project with the aim of identifying the top 10 problems in educational technology and determining how to solve those problems. Join the DD Expert Network and participate in this lively and ongoing discussion with other ed-tech leaders at http://digitaldirections.ning.com. Following are edited excerpts from the online discussion:

Mike Souden, Educational Technology Consultant, Oakland, Mich., schools

PROBLEM: Addressing Social Web 2.0 issues in a constructive and responsible way. While students should not have to unplug from the online world when they enter school buildings, schools do have a responsibility to keep students safe.

SOLUTION: Find safe sites and build countywide access to online offerings and software programs such as Moodle and WordPress. Work with districts to revisit their acceptable-use policies and highly encourage parent training and involvement as districts revisit their filtering policies.

What Ed-Tech Problems Are Difficult to Solve?

DD Gathers Input at NECC 2008

>> Keeping up with what is new

>> Getting teachers to integrate technology as opposed to using it apart from learning

>> Finding the right combination of educational products to introduce to teachers without overwhelming them

>> Getting the IT people to think about education as much as they do about networks

>> Simplicity in technology

>> Time for teachers to be trained in technology integration

>> Finding time to keep up with the information flow

>> I am just discovering podcasting, wikis, and blogs—help!

>> Lack of technology knowledge of our teachers and their refusal to learn

>> Lack of administrative support for change

>> Affordable bandwidth

PROBLEM: Putting technology in schools for the purpose of improving student achievement continues to be an issue even though schools are a place where, if students were given the opportunity, they could learn to use information-literacy tools to improve their ability to achieve and to learn how to learn well.

SOLUTION: Oddly enough, this problem is closely related to the social-networking issues. The tools for ongoing learning and working with free online tools that address specific content are ways that student learning can be addressed. Google Docs and writing are very good examples.

PROBLEM: As school funding decreases in Michigan, technology directors, library media specialists, and technicians are losing their jobs. The result is that the huge investment previously laid in educational uses of technology is being wasted.

SOLUTION: Regional centers have to become more assertive in working with districts to expand their professional-development opportunities and share resources to maintain equipment.

Dave Solon, Instructional Technology Coordinator, Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13, a regional education service agency in Pennsylvania

PROBLEM: Utilizing Web tools for collaboration in and among our local districts. The Web filtering of blogs, wikis, Google Docs, and other useful Web 2.0 tools seems to be the main hindrance in both classroom and for interdistrict collaboration. Some districts block everything, others pick and choose, while others are more open because they understand that these are powerful learning tools for today’s students and teachers.

SOLUTION: Chat with district technology directors to get a concrete list of “allowed Web 2.0 technologies” so we can start to collaborate on both the county and global stages.

PROBLEM: Lack of bandwidth in schools. To this day, some of our school buildings still have inconsistent and slow wireless connectivity to the Internet. I’m not talking about wireless laptops, I’m talking about the school building relying on wireless antennae for whole building connectivity. (If the wind blows too hard, the Internet is down!) It is hard to introduce bandwidth-intensive learning tools when the information flow is like a kinked garden hose.

SOLUTION: We are writing a grant to try to obtain funding for high-speed fiber connectivity to all buildings.

PROBLEM: Changing the culture of teachers’ acceptance of technology integration in the classroom. In previous years, many have made the mistake (myself included) of trying to introduce technology in the classroom for “technology’s sake.” I believe this approach has turned off many a teacher from even considering the idea of introducing technology to their classrooms. We must strive to choose only those tech tools that will make a direct impact on the learning process and forget about “technology for technology’s sake.”

SOLUTION: Simply work harder when analyzing teacher and student needs for classroom technology integration. If paper and pencil work, then forget the SMART Board, unless that specific teacher will truly utilize the SMART Board to bring an added dimension to learning not available through pencil and paper. You’d think this would be a given when it comes to good instructional technology implementation, but I think we need to refocus on using fewer tech tools for greater learning gains.

Troy Patterson, Principal, Woodworth Middle School in Dearborn, Mich.

There are many issues that education currently faces in terms of technology.

1) Technology moves faster than schools. Let’s face it, schools move slowly. This has to do with a variety of things. One is the issue of budgeting. Dollars are budgeted on a yearly basis. This makes it difficult to have technology be introduced, figure out how it works, and verify that it is effective.

2) The rarity of educators who understand technology and can make decisions. This one is absolutely huge. There are many people who understand education. There are many people who understand technology. There just aren’t that many people who understand both. This is much more pervasive than most people think. Even much of the software that is developed doesn’t work the way that educators need it to work.

3) The establishment of excellent models. Sorry, but there just aren’t that many examples of excellent uses of technology that I’ve seen. Some of the things that are touted as excellent aren’t. We need to establish a wide range of excellent ways to reach students. These need to be differentiated for teachers as well.

4) Reality vs. theoretical. The theory of kids using technology is very different than the reality. It is easy to talk about what we want kids to do with technology. It’s a different thing altogether as to what they will actually do.

5) Education would need a major shift in the educational paradigm. This is unlikely given the current legislative position in the United States. It’s also unlikely until training takes place for the educators.

6) The availability of technology. In many cases, we are missing that last link—the technology in front of kids. Kids have access to a variety of technology pieces at home (at least a good number of them do), but we don’t have the kind of technology (computers, hand-helds, etc.) in place in the numbers needed. We also have situations where some kids have access to the latest and greatest, while others have nothing in their homes.

7) Training for teachers. The vast majority of our teachers are digital immigrants, not digital natives. Teachers, in general, are very comfortable with how they were taught. In the end, that is the fall-back position for teachers. The first time a teacher works up that great lesson that has students using computers and the network is down, or the computers aren’t finding the wireless access point, is probably going to be the bellwether event that makes one teacher decide that “technology isn’t for me.”

8) Professional development. It should go without saying that professional development is a big part of implementing technology. Where do we find the time?

9) NCLB. The fact of the matter is this: We are evaluated on how well students do on a multiple-choice test in language arts and math. Yes, it is more complex. But that is the bottom line.

10) Technology and why it is developed. Technology isn’t generally developed with education in mind. Rather, generally technology is developed to make money. The technology companies will tell us that things will do x, y, and z. In reality, it rarely works that way.

Vol. 02, Issue 02, Pages 12-13

Published in Print: October 20, 2008, as Join the DD Expert Network
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