Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Year, New Ideas From Literature Review

Winter break was nice. A trip to the mainland always makes me appreciate returning to the islands and to my work. While in the Bay Area, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a friend and colleague who's working in an education policy doctoral program. He's certainly busier than me, but we could commiserate over our respective grad school experiences thus far. We both agreed that's it's really hard as teachers to understand the sterile nature of education research. For some reason, we know that it "just doesn't work that way in a real classroom." So what's the purpose of the research. I find myself, 30 pages or so deep into writing my literature review, asking the question:

What can my school do with the research I'm reading and writing about?

How do I reconcile my own mistrust of numbers and standards based research findings?

How can I, once reconciled, translate the findings into a relevant recommendation?

My plan B project began having something to do with testing the viability of Tablet PCs in our evolving one-to-one laptop program. Four months later, the project has become an observation of our program's current reality and a set of next steps that I'm hoping will be useful in shaping the vision and implementation of 1700 laptop strong program.

An hour a night, I'm building a set of contentions about how a school might start thinking about a program of the sort we've committed to. And here's an attempt at sorting out and presenting some of the emerging themes:

-Technology is changing our culture in predictable and unpredictable ways. Introducing and "integrating" technology into schools will change school culture. There is a capability for transparency and meta-cognition unattainable up to this point in schools. Content is not scarce. Teachers can be bypassed in acquiring information. Teaching becomes more about learning how to learn, and learning how to make sense and meaning of information.

-Most of what schools have done with technology up to this point has been digitizing what they've always done. Social networking, collaboration, and communication are the real transformative technologies. While teaching and learning has been a traditionally isolated activity.

-The barrier between school and the outside world has been broken down. See cell phone videos of school hallways on YouTube; read real-time Facebook updates, for example.

-High expectations and standards can easily start to mean taking on more tasks, since technology continues to automate and cut down the time it takes to accomplish tasks.

-Committing a school to technology is committing to the unpredictable. That's hard to quantify.

-Ostensibly technology in schools was supposed to improve achievement. It's not having that effect, in general. But it is having an effect. What is it? What can/should we do with it?

-The biggest factor in a technology (delete the word "technology" because it's really about teaching and learning) program's success is in a school's ability to provide meaningful professional development and teachers' willingness to embrace school cultural change.

These are not my opinions necessary. They are themes that have emerged across the educational research. Now I have a set of look-fors to carry around with me on my campus. We've said that our one-to-one program will make learning more flexible, collaborative, and individualized. But what does that mean? And how does it intersect with what the research is reporting? How can we contribute what we're learning? The school culture will change? What change are we anticipating and or steering our school towards?

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