Friday, March 16, 2012

What is Holding You Back? Part 1

Education often operates in a state of contradictions.  On the one hand, we are preparing students for the future.  On the other, we are one of the most antiquated institutions in America.  We want only the best for our students, but scrutinize every program, every decision, every move with prying eyes to save a dollar.  Most of society agrees that we need to be giving students a world class education, but the community won't support outfitting them with the modern digital tools to ensure that it happens.  We have tons of evidence and research telling us that we need to change the system, yet we still shuffle kids through a system built for an age that doesn't exist anymore.  

In my job, I am often confronted with contradictions of word and deed.  I hear all the time about how far behind the K-12 system is, and how we need to be doing so much more to help students navigate their way in an increasingly digital world.  I have yet to meet a teacher who doesn't care about the future success of their students.  I very rarely talk with anyone who disagrees about technology's importance in their future success.  Yet, I find that very few teachers are willing to put forth the time or effort to learn how to leverage this powerful tool for the good of their students.  It makes me wonder:  why not?    

So, I asked everyone in USD 418 what is holding them back from using technology to teach and learn with students.  I wanted to know:  if they think it's important for students' long term success, and they want their students to be successful, why aren't they doing more to be technologically literate?  

I have made some categories that I believe the majority of the comments fit into, and will respond in general to each category.  Responses fitting that category have been copied verbatim at the end of the post.  Each post in this series will deal with another category.  Let's get this series started, then, shall we?  

Availability of Equipment
It always baffles me when we justify spending billions of dollars on war machines without so much as a blink, and then scrutinize every dollar spent educationally as "waste".  Obviously, funding is the biggest issue with the availability of equipment in the district.  The priorities for spending during years of budget cuts have gone toward keeping staff and programs, and it's hard to argue with that decision.  

We missed an opportunity here.  Before I came to McPherson, there was an initiative to bring laptops to the HS for every student.  It failed, and it failed miserably.  Ever since I arrived, I have asked questions about that initiative.  What caused it to fail?  Who was opposed to it?  Why?  What was said to rally against it?  I have often found surprising answers.  Apparently, there was quite a bit of dissent even among staff about the proposal.  Folks at other schools felt they were being slighted, even though the rest of the High School's tech budget would have gone to their schools and accounted for a large increase in equipment there as well.  There were teachers who spoke openly in opposition to the initiative, for whatever reasons they had.  

In the end, no technology initiative is going to pass a community vote if the teachers don't even want it.  Maybe you should talk with your colleagues about how much having more available technology would help you and your students.  A big part of the reason we don't have more "stuff" could be right down the hall from you.

Survey Responses in this category:

"the number of computers available to each student"

"Some students change web pages to their own interests if they think someone is not watching them.  They quickly switch back if a teacher gets in their area.  As far as using technology without students having individual laptops, I find a lack of experience and training on my part, and a lack of equipment in the room as the main obstacles in the class"

"Ability to understand how to incorporate that technology into the lessons I provide and access to the technology in my own classroom."

"Lack of computers: certain teachers/departments always seem to be hogging the computers and they are not always available when I would like to use them. At MMS, it would be helpful if each department (core areas) had a cart that could be shared among the teachers (or some kind of rotation between departments). It would also be extremely helpful if we could see a calendar of when computer carts/labs are being used so I can make arrangements and sign up for computers ahead of time while doing weekly/monthly plans."

"There is not currently enough computers to use with the students.  When I have asked for computers, I get the old computers that are not able to connect to the newer airports and do not have the capabilities needed to run the programs I would like to use."

"Either we do not have have them or we are introduced to great websites, applications, etc., but there is no follow up on how to truly work and use them."

"There are not enough teachers to cover all of our students to make a technology classes available for everyone in the building.  One to one laptops would help tremendously to give all students access.  There once was a time that notices would go out to inform us when there were ESSDACK events/workshops or other outside trainings to make sure teachers know about them without having to search for professional development in technology. Some of us need more than what is provided in just USD 418."

"What holds me back is that there is only so much time in the day for work, caring for my family, and other obligations.  Learning new technology takes time for exploration, learning, and practice.  I am wanting my students to have a full class set of computers in my room.  I do know how to use those…"

"Laptops to use in the classroom are older so they don't hold a charge long enough and with some of the larger classes the number of lap tops does not equal a class set."

"devises.  the ability to continue work with students when they go home (they don't have computers/internet at home)"

"Some times it's the lack of having it to use. Then other times it's a problem of myself not having enough knowledge to help them. I do feel that are kids are not having enough learning on the technology but we also don't have enough computer to for them to learn on."

"There is absolutely no technology in my classroom. There is not a projector, a screen, anything to use. My kids (pre-k) love when we let them do computer activities, and I know they would love to be more hands-on. We could also project online stories on a screen or Promethean board."

"Never getting a cart checked out when I have asked. Other departments are higher on the list or always seem to be using them.  Also, I don't always know what my plans will be far enough in advance to get the machines reserved.  Limited number of machines available."

"Lack of access to computers; working with preschoolers in general.  I think that at this age the focus is on other skills with just a basic introductory focus on computer skills."

"*Many things are filtered out.
*Taking the time to set up students' emails on each type of technology - it is difficult to collaborate if we do not have that set up and ready to go.
*Sometimes it is getting access to the technology (lab, individual computers, etc.)
*The training sessions available are good but need more time to actually work on setting up the project / and or ideas.  I tend to go home with ideas but have difficulty setting them up after I leave the training.
*Can the lab computers have photo/video capability?"

"The availability of the computers. The frustration of being able to connect to a signal with some computers while others are waiting to load/connect. Lack of money to adequately fund the technology for the classroom. Lack of adequate professional development and time devoted for professional development (unless it is all on the learners own time)."


  1. This is a wonderful resource that will allow everyone throughout the district to express our thoughts about integrating technology into our daily routines. I also think this blog will help the teachers better understand the needs from all levels of education from pre-k to secondary. Thanks for taking the time to help us Andy.

  2. "No one ever said it would be easy, they just said it would be worth it."

    I think this quote is a valid thought for this topic. Integrating technology is not an easy task- students will try to misbehave, resources will be low and hard to get a hold of until we can find a solution for that, for many teachers, they don't quite know how to use all of the technology themselves let alone teach students how to use it. So no, it won't be easy, but it will be worth it. Our students will flourish in the future because we pushed ourselves as teachers and taught our students what they need to know. Any true teacher will not hesitate to push themselves so his/her students can succeed. For me, the look of excitement on my students faces when they learned a new skill was what kept me going every day. Stop for a few minutes and remember the feeling of knowing you just taught your students something important. :)