Stalled on Launch – An Unbalanced Force

In previous blog entries, I mused about the realizations that low-hanging fruit–such as building a PLN, blogging, social bookmarking, wikifying your learning–aren’t enough to change an organization. An object at rest, goes the Law, tends to stay at rest, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force, right? 

Would you agree that most schools are “at rest” in terms of remaining within the firm embrace of the status quo? That status quo involves people doing what they are told, following an agreed upon set of standards and curriculum. It would be unreasonable to change that…some would say only the unbalanced, crazy people would urge technology integration into this picture of static imperfection.


For example, if you want to spend instructional time to do blogging and collaborative document editing/creation activities, connect with K-12 and/or adult learners through social media, you have to set aside the following:
  1. The push to better implement standardized curriculum.
  2. Constant measurement of what teachers are doing to ensure they are teaching the curriculum.
  3. Measurement of how close students are achieving the curriculum objectives.
  4. The stigma that time spent on anything that detracts from items 1-3 is superfluous waste of time, effort and resources.





Achieving escape velocity–moving beyond the status quo–has to be more than just replacing what you’ve been doing. The divide between what edtech-powered educators (the unbalanced force) would do and what the ignorant educators–those that have their nose to the grindstone doing what the federal and state government curriculum documents require for successful assessment–continues to widen, a fact Doug Johnson highlights:

I’m always struck by the disconnect between what I encounter at any tech conference and what seems to be happening in the rest of mainstream education. The big themes this year at “It’s Personal” were implementing cloud-computing to facilitate collaborative learning, using technology to encourage creativity, establishing a BYOD program to improve access to classroom technology and taking advantage of the inherent engagement that technology contributes to the learning process. The big (tech) themes in mainstream education seem to be using technology for testing, for data mining, and for remediation/programmed instruction/intervention. It’s the “learning how to problem-solve” vs. “how to get the right answer on the test” philosophies: the first at the conference, the second in practice.

The reality, of course, is that what’s pushed on edtech blogs is just that–a fanciful tale of change, an inconvenient narrative that challenges the story we are being told to believe in K-12 public schools. Controlling the public narrative of schools, crafting it, is critical, integral to our success. Regrettably, there’s too much money flowing out of schools–a.k.a. cash cow.

Not sure you believe? Take a look at how many external programs your District has invested in and who brought them in. Often, these “proven” programs involve implementing curriculum and practices developed external to schools but that take precedence over the work of individual teachers or teacher collectives. The EdTech movement has its own version of the stories…you probably already have accepted a set of beliefs that perpetuates the status quo, even while believing you’re being revolutionary or subversive.

For example, if you believe the iPad–which provides instant-on access to mobile technology-based learning opportunities in a beautiful package–is the solution, you’ve bought into Apple’s vision of education, which involves every student carrying their device. The same might be said of Google and their Chromebook. In its time, the Palm handheld was the device to have and put in children’s hands. Is this how precious taxpayer funds should be spent? As a taxpayer in my school district, did I really want to see $$$ that should be spent on students flowing OUT of the District to a technology vendor?

Or, take a step back….

On November 13, 2011, Ali Carr-Chellman (@aac3 on Twitter) shared an important and courageous message at TEDxPSU. Her 13.5 minute message was titled, “A Closer Look at Cyber Charter Schools.” Among other things, Ali challenges us to question the growing nexus between non-profit “cyber charter schools” and for-profit curriculum companies. As we continue hear different voices with different agendas champion both charter schools as well as online educational options, Ali’s message is vital…The purchase of commercial curriculum resources by schools isn’t anything new, but the “gold rush” which Ali describes for cyber schools and online curriculum IS. The questions she raises about public funds, public schools, and the ways limited tax dollars are (in some cases) now supporting single-curriculum vendor cyber charter schools are challenging. 

(Source: The Dangerous Nexus of Cyber-Charter Schools & For-Profit Curriculum Companies, Wes Fryer, SpeedofCreativity.org)

Everyone is in the make your own version of what reality is in schools, especially bloggers. The main difference if you follow the money, it doesn’t necessarily lead back to education bloggers (except for the businesses that have successfully jumped into blogging). That’s part of the problem, isn’t it? There is no absolute truth or vision of what constitutes “the public good”…it’s all relative to who’s making money. 

Looking forward, I have lots of questions floating around in my mind. How can public schools serve “the public good?” Is the public good something that we can achieve by pushing technology into schools and getting tech to serve as a catalyst for change?
In the past, I was fond of quotes like this one which represented a version of the school story I was comfortable with:

Ask not what computers can do with students, but rather, what students can do with computers.

For me, this made sense. Students using the technology to create, to do stuff. But this vision falls short in a time when the desire isn’t for students to just create and do by themselves. In truth, for many edubloggers, the vision is for them to create and do with others. For traditional schools, it’s simply to achieve curriculum objectives better, and teachers continue to be highly problematic dispensers of information simply because their thinking gets in the way of their “automaticity.”
We could revise my favorite quote to read in this way:

Ask not how technology can assess students, but rather, how learners can learn independent of formal schooling.

Or…

Ask not what schools can do with students, but rather, what students with tech-based networks can learn without schools.

After all, isn’t that what building a PLN is all about? Being able to learn outside the organization without formal approval? 
There are many unbalanced forces in play. What forces would you apply to achieve escape velocity and launch your campus?

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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