How do you explain change?

When I try to explain to people, even the most highly educated and interested people, what I am doing in my classroom, I get two distinct reactions.

1. This is way too technical for me. It is fine if you want to try it out (and fall flat on your face when parent/administration/other teachers find out what you are up to), but I am just fine to live in oblivion. Wikis (did I say that right?) are too complicated for my kids. There is no way that they would be able to handle that kind of organization on their own. Your kids are different. You have more access to the technology. You were born into this stuff. I am too far into my career to start learning something new.

2. We tried something like this back in the 70’s/80’s/90’s/a few years ago. It didn’t really work then, but feel free to give it a try now. I was pretty excited about it before, but I think my interest petered out around when I realized that I was doing more of the work than the kids were. I think there are a few teachers in the school down the road who are doing this kind of stuff, so I’m not really sure that it is new or different. I will just sit back and watch you put effort into collaborative tools, but I will not put my own support behind it.

Now, #1 I have made my peace with. If a teacher has decided that they are not ready to try something new yet, I will reframe it as many different ways as I can think of in order to get them on board. At least they accept that working with students around the world, getting instant feedback on authentic writing, and infinite choice in assignments are things that are truly different than the traditional goings on of education.

#2, on the other hand, does not even acknowledge that working with web 2.0 tools is something that is a transformational step. They are so used to educational jargon and methods being repackaged and renamed that they have come to believe that School 2.0 is just a big facade that houses the likes of Project Based Learning or Cooperative Learning Groups. I can’t blame them for thinking this in the light of all that public education has taught them, but for them not to be able to see the drastic difference between writing an essay to one teacher and writing an essay to an entire school (and beyond) to be critiqued and linked to and built upon is something that I just will never understand.

Case in Point: After presenting The Academy of Discovery to a high-level technology coordinator in DCSD, he said that there were pockets of people who were trying this out elsewhere in the district. I was shocked. It was news to me that we just might have the most progressive district in the US and I just don’t know about it. Or, perhaps the problem is that he is having trouble distinguishing between an authentic collaborative student-directed wiki (receiving 50,000 hits in 6 weeks) and doing iSearches with google in order to make posters to put up in the room. Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but I really think that this is an important roadblock to advancing our vision of education. Many educators, administrators, and parents believe that all technology integration is created equal. This is just simply not the case.

So, I guess what I am saying is this: We need something that will distinguish us from mundane “technology in the classroom.” We need to be seen as going beyond what has been done before, not something that is untested or fad-like, but rather something that is essential. How do we make sure that people get that we are not doing something old in a new way? We are doing something new, something that you would never be able to do without the tools of online collaboration and rss.

This is a challenge that I am willing to take up because if we can’t even explain what is going on in our classroom to other educators so that they realize the potential of a school 2.0 environment, we will never be able to explain it to the rest of the world.

0 Comments

  1. Regarding #1: The tools should be easier to use and access to them more ubiquitous. We need OLPC to be a success to make this happen.

    Regarding #2: You need to respect the life experiences of your peers more. In my opinion, your response should not be “but what I’m doing is inherently different,” because it is not, but that the new tools make those goals easier. Better tools mean you aren’t doing more work than the kids are. Take a look at In the Middle. Look at all those frickin’ folders and tracking sheets. The pedagogical goals are EXACTLY THE SAME, but it was too hard to pull off for 90% of the people who tried it. Things still aren’t quite easy enough, in my opinion (see #1).

    Also, don’t underestimate your local colleagues. I see some sixth graders in your district just published a novel. I wouldn’t be surprised if you weren’t the only one playing with wikis and blogs.

  2. Tom:
    Thanks for keeping this post grounded a bit. I know that it is kind of a rant. My major point is that I see web 2.0 tools as a fundamental change in the classroom. I do not see them as doing something old, faster. The reason why I am so solidly convinced of this fact is not because I am one of the only (you are right, not THE ONLY) teachers using these tools. Instead, I am convinced that it is a fundamental change because I see my students fundamentally changed. Not in the ways that In the Middle envisioned. My students have become a networked community of authentic learners that guide their own knowledge exploration. This type of community is impossible any other way (that I know of… I don’t want to make this into to much of a rant either).

    I love honoring the work of my colleagues. I want all good work being done for kids to get its due. I just don’t want School 2.0 to be lumped into another good idea for education. It is that, but it is different. I would love to keep debating this point, though. I hope you check back so we can blog about it some more.

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