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“Don’t Trap Technology in a Room” – Change is hard

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I keep returning to The 7 Golden Rules of Using Technology in Schools, an article that came my way last week via a Tweet from Jackie Gerstein (one of my favorite online mentors). The article is written by Tina Barseghian and references an ISTE 2011 presentation by Adam S. Bellow, author of the Tech Commandments.

I’m stuck on Rule #1:

1) DON’T TRAP TECHNOLOGY IN A ROOM. “When I went to school, computers were put in a room called The Lab,” Bellow said. “‘What are they experimenting with in there, I thought.’ Technology wasn’t built into what we were doing. It was farmed off in a room, like it was special. Like we were learning how to code, and in case the Russians came, we’d know what to do.” Technology should be like oxygen, Bellow said, quoting Chris Lehmann, the founding principal of Science Leadership Academy: Ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.”

In my district, due to our current budget crisis, elementary school computer lab teachers have been in and out of the budget cuts. I admit to being conflicted over the removal of this position from our elementary sites. Every job removed = up to 1 full time position per elementary site erased. So, for the time being, my vote is to keep the computer lab position going (omg, it’s painful to think about how many wonderful teachers have been pinkslipped). No, I do not endorse technology as a stand alone subject.  But I fully support the work of outstanding elementary computer lab teachers like Erica Swift, who extend the core curriculum through their carefully crafted lessons, such as her Life Cycle of the Monarch Butterfly lesson.

But I completely agree with Chris Lehmann‘s take that technology should be “ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.” I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Science Leadership Academy twice in the past 2 years (EdubloggerCon 2010, plus last month’s NWP/ISTE HackJam session) – and both times left feeling the need to crusade back in my district to push harder for technology integration within the core curriculum (and dumping MS Office as the measuring stick for “computer proficiency”).

Looking ahead to a time when the teacher layoffs have stopped and rehiring and hiring in back full swing, I will advocate, starting at the elementary level, to stop trapping technology in a room.

And while technology remains a stand-alone, I commit to continuing my campaign against computer time as drill time. I think a reasonable request of site administrators would be to supply me with the research that justifies the ‘drill ‘n kill’ model.  I’ll continue to share the research that guides my push for ALL students having access to 21st century skills, such as the Edutopia reports on tech and ELLs that references  Margaret Hawkins’ (…students don’t really acquire language by performing computer tasks divorced from an authentic learning environment…) research.

In your school districts, is technology still trapped in a room?  If yes, I’d love to hear your take on that situation. If not, please share how your district implemented the change.

3 Comments

  1. Hi Gail,

    I am glad you wrote this post. It has been a terrible year for teachers – especially the ones that work in roles that others foolishly see as “expendable”. I couldn’t agree with you more that we need full-time staff members working on technology integration in schools. It is something that I advocate for in my daily job and in presentations. And Library Media Specialists are some of the most talented people in schools today (for those schools that are smart enough to keep these amazing teacher leaders and resources around.)
    However, the point I was making was not about getting rid of these positions at all – to the contrary a Library Media Specialist and a Technology Training Specialist (in my humble opinion) should be a mandatory part of each school staff. Let’s face it, if we’re going to buy stuff – let someone who knows how to use the stuff properly in the academic setting help work with fellow educators find success weaving it into their teaching. My argument about getting rid of labs was a knock on the concept of housing the technology in one room of the school. It was in no way implying (or at least did not mean to imply) that those valuable educators who work currently in the lab should be cut or put our to pasture – on the contrary they should have a larger role within the school and be able to help more students and teachers. It is just my opinion that keeping 25 computers that are usually bolted down to a desk in a room isn’t appropriate for what technology has to offer today. I would much prefer students being able to form small groups with their laptops or tablets or cell phones and working in a more conducive learning environment, not stuck at a terminal that is usually set up in static rows or a horseshoe desk that is pressed against a classroom wall.

    But again – your point about the educator is not what I was inferring – these roles are vital to the successful integration of educational technology at the school level and need to be preserved, amplified, and respected.

    Respectfully,
    Adam

    • Thanks, Adam, for your thoughtful response. I’m pretty sure I’m on the same page with you. We definitely need the instruction, direction, and support of media teachers – but not the “25 computers that are usually bolted down to a desk in a room that isn’t appropriate for what technology has to offer today.”

      One of the problems (mostly at the elementary level in my district) with the above model is that the computer lab is tied up all day, leaving classroom teachers with limited or no computer access. In the best situations, where the computer lab teacher is working with the classroom teachers around a shared vision of technology integration (going beyond Accelerated Reader, etc.), a few laptop carts can make a huge difference in access to and application of new tools for connecting, creating, sharing, and collaborating throughout the school day.

      Another small step towards the ‘untrapping’ of technology from a room might be changing the job title from Computer Lab Teacher (which already sounds room specific) to title you’ve used, Technology Training Specialist.

      Thank you again for a thought-provoking article.

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