04 March 2013

When will the classroom get with the times?

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately. For the last 6 years I've been providing professional development opportunities to teachers on various topics related to Web 2.0 tools, Google Apps, Moodle, Course Design, Blended/Flipped/Online learning. What I find interesting is that while the trainings certainly improve and the tools become easier and easier to use, they are still relevant.

I thought that at some point the need for those kinds of services would go away and I'd find myself back in the classroom only to have the opposite happen. The topics seem to be in more demand than ever.

After some reflection on my own methods I've come to the conclusion that it has less to do with me and the accessibility of the tools/devices than it has to do with Education in general.

Assume for a moment that a teacher does have access to professional development and some time built into the schedule to develop some of these strategies (in many cases however they still do not). What keeps progress from happening? I have a few ideas.

1. Technology is not being used to transform lessons but to simply replace a broken model.

SmartBoards are rarely used as anything more than glorified projectors. We have simply replaced the chalkboard/whiteboard with another panel up in the front of the room where everyone's attention is focused at the same place at the same time. Even if we have students coming up individually (or in pairs) to interact with the board, what are the other 30 students doing in the class? The same things they've always done. Some will do nothing, some will pay attention to what is going on, some will wish it was them up there and some have fallen behind and don't know what is happening due to no fault of their own. They're a novelty and an updated device that enable a broken model of instruction.

2. Time with PowerPoint is time wasted.

How long would it really take to make an effective PowerPoint (is there such a thing) for instruction? Quick, think of the last really interesting and engaging PowerPoint you saw? How many class periods are wasted asking students to create PowerPoints that look terrible? If a PowerPoint is created, then what? How will it be shared with students? Don't even tell me you'd upload it to your LMS for a student to download. It's a waste of time and that's what teachers need to avoid more than anything else. I know that some districts give overviews of the tools available (like Google Docs or Moodle) and then leave people to their own devices. I can guarantee that this won't go anywhere. There has to be a plan for use and a demonstration for what kinds of things can be done simply and quickly.

3. Choosing the wrong tools.

Google Docs isn't the solution to everything, nor is Moodle. If people don't understand the tools then they are used ineffectively and inefficiently. Recreating things the right way after significant effort was spent to make it at all is discouraging.

4. The shift is not in the teacher's zone of proximal development.

It's just too large of a leap between what they are currently doing and what is currently possible. Even with examples of where new methods of teaching are in practice I am often met with the response that it just wouldn't work in their cases. I've not found any consistency in terms of a teacher's age or experience. Often I find that teachers nearing retirement are more receptive to new ideas as it allows them to stay connected to the classroom part-time after they retire.

I could probably go on for a bit longer but I'm trying to work on some solutions to these problems which I'll be posting about soon. I post this not to discourage others in my role but to warn them and hopefully help them from becoming discouraged. It's worth sharing strategies that work and that's what I hope to be doing here over the next couple weeks.