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Do I Really Have to Lead Technology?

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Computers, Internet, projectors, interactive white boards, response systems, and tablets have all become part of the landscape of our schools. Yet, in most schools, their use remains optional or as an addition to lessons. Those who have mastered their integration are the stars in a dark and vast sky of old time instruction. They are to be recognized, honored, and supported in their work. For the rest of us, the understanding of the use of technology in instruction begins and remains the leaders' responsibility.

Some have learned and added the advantage of technology to our work, embedding, and using this new technology in our practice. However, as a result of a lack of leader understanding, it is next to impossible to lead teachers toward a better utilization of technology in lessons. So, whether some still have the advantage of technology integrators, or the use of technology is left in the hands of the few teachers who can do it, we can unwittingly drift away from its use. The consequences of this drift are large and negative.

Gary Shattuck, the director of technology and media services at Newton County Schools in Covington, Georgia is an advisor at School CIO. He recently wrote a two part blog post entitled 'Technology Integration is Dead' parts one and two. In part two he says,

Every year for the last four years, I surveyed all my teachers about how they use technology in their teaching practices. Every year, 99% of my teachers say they integrate technology. When I asked additional questions concerning how they integrate technology, a majority indicate they only use technology superficially. For example, teachers who lecture regularly now lecture with PowerPoint. This is called first-order change, or change that reinforces current practices. For the promise of technology in education to ever to be achieved, teachers need to adopt technology at the second-order change level, which is change that is transformational.

The transformational change in education must be an instructional one. Being an instructional leader these days is quite different from in the past. Most of us spent time as classroom teachers. The teaching we did, and, now, the teaching we lead, are only slightly different from each other. Then, the technological explosion took place and there we were as leaders...curious, interested, but certainly not experts. The other demands call for our attention. This seems to be getting away from us. Learning and changing practice takes time and who has any of that to spare and invest these days?

PowerPoint presentations, interactive whiteboards, and response systems are all replacements for writing on the blackboard, using a slide presentation, and raising hands. What important questions are we not asking about technology integration? We are willing to bet that most of us have a bias against gaming in or outside of the educational environment. But is our bias based on knowledge or impression? And if it is based upon impression, what other major decisions about curriculum do we make based on such a little bit of information?

We already have a gamer generation in the workforce. In 2006 John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade wrote "the kids are alright" published by Harvard Business School Press. 2006! The book reported on their extensive research on how the gamer generation is changing the workplace. A gamer interviewed for their study reported,

Games give us freedom to be, think, do, create, destroy. They let us change the answer to the question 'Who am I?' in ways never before possible. Games let us reach the highest highs and the lowest lows, let us play with reality and reshape it to our own ends. They give us hope and meaning, show us that our journey through life is not pointless, and help us accomplish something at the end of the day (p.174).

Are there voices in our heads saying 'This is not the real world' or 'Why can't they learn who they are in the real world?' 'Is this really the future workplace?'

College and career ready is our motto. Are we missing a piece? Think about the experience you might have if, after leaving a day at school in which teachers were upset, students' quarter grades were less than you had hoped for, parents were angry with you, and you had brought your best self to the day...you got to enter a world in which your disappointments only served as lessons, you were excited and supported, you had resources at your fingertips to help you figure things out and you had the chance to change the outcome? Not real world, you say, but it is a real visceral, energy, excitement, fascination while learning and developing competence. Who wouldn't want those descriptors to be what our students come to school to experience?

Regarding the teaching of mathematics, Keith Devlin writes,

In my opinion, the time is not very far away when anyone in the business of teaching mathematics at school level will have a professional duty to become familiar with video games. Not to do so will be akin to trying to teach English without being able to read (p.48).

The purpose of writing about gaming here is not to advocate for its use in schools...though we do... but to advocate for the opening of leaders' minds to what exists and to search out the experience that children are having outside schools. Whether we have technology integrators in our schools or not, leaders need to understand this extraordinary panorama ourselves. This is necessary if we are to legitimize our claim that we are leading schools that will help our graduates to be college and career ready. Ironically, even those leading the reform agenda only use technology as a one-way source of information delivery and a two-way exchange for questions and answers. And, the content of the information does not come close to the possibilities of using the reform agenda to bring technology use deeper into our practice. We wonder if they know the creative power that is just beyond their reach.

We have talked about the challenges of making changes to our curriculum, standards and observation and evaluation systems. And they are truly challenges. But a key challenge for the 21st century leader is how technology can revolutionize teaching and learning. Without that understanding, how can we observe classes in which technology is utilized and offer feedback for new ways to facilitate learning? How can we align these learning behaviors with the standards for learning that already exist? The simple answer is that most of us are not prepared.

***

Beginning October 3rd, The University of Wisconsin-Madison is offering a MOOC entitled Video Games and Learning. It is a 5-week course and it involves 4-6 hours a week of time. In 30 hours, before Thanksgiving, you and your faculty can know more and have more to discuss. The challenge may lie in confronting fear. But that has become part of the 21st century leader's work. Hasn't it?

Resources:
Beck, John C., Wade, Mitchell (2006). the kids are alright: How the Gamer Generation is Changing the Workplace.Boston:Harvard Business School Press

Devlin, Keith (2011)Mathematics Education for a New Era: Video Games as a Medium for Learning.Natick, MA. A K Peters, Ltd.

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