Thursday, October 20, 2016

Tech time is just a technicality...

Schools love technology, in theory, just like schools like catering to diverse learning styles.  In theory.

Technology is the word du jour in education right now.  Everyone wants to see how teachers are incorporating “technology” into their lessons, by either teaching students how to use it or introducing new programs that are supposed to be the answer to all the education problems we face right now.  It’s even part of teacher evaluations now.  No technology use?  You’re screwed.

But really, teachers get screwed anyway.  Technology is nice, but the reality is that schools are underfunded and crowded.  Who’s paying for the technology?  And how is it going to spread out among the teachers or students?

The last year I was at TCS, the school received a grant that meant it could provide each student with his or her own Chromebook.  In theory, this is a great idea.  Google products are inexpensive and easy to use.  The school already assigned each student a Gmail address, so deciding on Chromebooks was a natural next step.  The problem was the implementation of the Chromebook use.

One problem the school didn’t foresee was that it didn’t have enough bandwidth for that many students.  The network repeatedly crashed for the first two weeks when everyone tried to log on.  That meant registration was inaccessible, and the teacher grade books were also locked out.  It took another $20K to get everything up and running. 

Meanwhile, teachers were now required to make laptop use part of their daily lessons.  But, as any parent knows, giving a piece of electronic equipment to a teenager guarantees that it will eventually get broken, left at home or “borrowed” by a student’s friend who “needed it.”  The IT person was soon swamped with requests to fix student laptops that were frozen, cracked, or infected with viruses.  As a result, students regularly didn’t have their laptops when needed.  So how does a teacher plan for laptop use in the lesson with a third of the class won’t have one?

Furthermore, teachers were now fighting to keep students off of YouTube, social networking or inappropriate sites.  The school didn’t have the foresight to block certain sites or put the students on a separate network than the teachers.  We teachers were told that we were responsible for making sure students weren’t goofing off when using the laptops, which meant a showdown was in order. 

A teacher quit on the spot when an administrator tried to discipline her because he’d seen a student watching Netflix during a lesson.  She said it was ridiculous to expect that she monitor what 30 students were doing on their laptops all the time.  Finally, the school tried to fix it – by blocking 90% of all sites, even the ones that teachers were using.  The students couldn’t even access Google Drive to save their work.  Our appeals to fix the network went nowhere, until the day the superintendent brought some corporate visitors, and tried to show off how much technology we had.  The network was fixed the following day.

All in all, it was a disastrous experiment, but it’s typical of trying to shove technology into the classroom without thinking about the ramifications. 

No one tests to see how this will work, and no one who comes up with these large scale ideas (IPADs for all!) seems to understand how this will work with KIDS.  In Los Angeles, a district gave out IPADs and ended up returning them all because students quickly got around the server block for some sites. 

Worse, most people are not technological geniuses.  Kids see technology as entertainment applications.  Unlike our generation, they didn’t grow up seeing computers as work machines.  They don’t even know how email works, or why they should use it.  I know, because I can’t tell you how many teens don’t understand how to send an email.  But teachers are also not geniuses.  Don’t give us a new software program, tell us it will be the answer to all of our problems and then instruct us to “figure it out.”  Most people can’t “figure it out” without tutorials or explicit instruction – you know, like a TEACHER.   

Tech products aren’t necessarily toys, and they aren’t the de facto solution to education woes.  They also aren’t the key to making students prepared for the workplaces of the future.  What do kids need to know for their life as an adult in the workplace?  How to type, how to compose an email, and how to answer the phone correctly, leave a message, properly complete an assignment or project and get along with coworkers.  These aren’t being taught at school or even at home anymore, with the assumption that students will just “get it.”  

I suspect that education boards all over the country jumped on the “tech” bandwagon in order to show that education folk are hip and “with it,” not out of touch as they’re sometimes accused of being.  Yes, we need tech, but more than that, kids need to learn how to learn, how to study, and how to function in society.  Technology does not facilitate that.  People facilitate that.