Technology Integration: Dealing with Educational Innovations, Fads, and Goblins
by Rob Reilly Ed.D.
More years ago than I care to count there was a movement in education to integrate something called the new math into the curriculum. I was not sure what the purpose of the new math actually was - I was not sure how it was supposed to fit into the curriculum - and, I was not sure how the students would be better off learning the new math. Afterall, I just needed to balance my checkbook once in a while - that's everything I seemed to need to know about math! Come to think of it I'm not sure what practical use the new math had even for mathematicians. The reasons that the new math was important just illuded me, and no one explained why we need this in the curriculum either. So I was left not uderstading why it was important to be able to manipulate number systems of with a base other than 10 (our number system). Well we do use a number system with a base 12 (sorta) - our measuring system is base 12-12 inches in one foot, etc. Hmmm... that may be stretching a things... but you understand my point!
And... then there was the controlled reader. Remember that one? If you don't, it was basically a machine that allowed a teacher to control the pace that reading material was presented to a student. Actually I thought that this was a pretty good idea as far as educational ideas go. I'm not sure why the controlled reader really did not catch on!
Nowadays computers operate on a number system that has two digits-0s and 1s. I suppose that's a base 2 number system - kind of like the new math. I wonder if I'm a digit-handicapped individual given that I'm do not fully understanding how all the 1s and 0s work. Oh well... maybe it was me... I didn't understand how useful the new math could have been either... I did not see how it fit into curriculum from a practical standpoint nor from a philosophical standpoint and the powers-that-be did not explain things. Then again it seemed that no one else understood its value either.... That could be the reason why the new math is not in the curriculum today.
But as I think about other educational innovations, fads, and goblins, it occurs to me that the reason many of them did not reach their full potential, or even reach the first level of acceptance was that the front-line educators did not understand their practical application or philosophical foundation. Even if they did, the time needed to become familiar with the new math or the controlled reader or other goblins was significant. And teachers do, after all, have day jobs that do not include integrating new techno-gizmos or educational innovations into their classrooms by themselves.
In addition to computers we have an education reform goblin. This involves re-engineering the curriculum, which advocates accountability and a standardized curriculum. Maybe it's really an educational innovation.... Maybe it's not a passing fad.... But it seems to me to be a goblin (something that seems great but is less so when taken outside its intended environment or not applied in a new environment appropriately).... So let's call it a goblin for now. We need more evidence before we can change its classification upward to fad or innovation.
The idea of education reform, better learning, and standards are motherhood-and-apple-pie issues and thus they're tough to argue with. However, the philosophical underpinning seems not to be understood by those who advocate reform. But that notwithstanding, the powers-that-be also seem not to understand that there is a need to provide support when rolling-out new fads, innovations, and goblins. Does it seem that there's a theme developing here? Could that theme be that an educational change is usually much ballyhooed in the initial stages but is soon delegated to the rank-and-file members of the school system to implement?
I suppose that the education reform initiatives in the various states will run their course. Someone in a power-position will need to ultimately mandate specific standards but the final manifestation is yet to be determined.... Stay tuned!
Nonetheless, education reform is not the only goblin to haunt our schools these days. Technology integration is the latest goblin to appear. I'm not talking about technology itself. Technology, as opposed to technology integration, appears to be a legitimate innovation that may have some application in schools. But technology has not risen to lofty stature of educational innovation. Actually this innovation just snuck in and fell upon education - it was created elsewhere. Education is now faced with the task of creating a plan to integrate this new artifact into the curriculum. And unlike the new math or the controlled reader, this artifact was created outside the realm of education. And now educators are stuck trying to figure out how to integrate that innovation called 'technology' into the schools. The business world has successfully integrated technology into its way-of-life. Will schools be able to do that same thing? I'm sure thay can. I'm also sure that they seem to be approaching it as they have other innovations, fads and goblins - it's left to the classroom teachers to figure out. It seems to me that the technology integration task is being approached in a manner similar to what it would be like to try to change a flat tire while the car is still moving. Doesn't seem to me that it should be the responsibility of the driver to change the tire (integrate technology) while the vehicle (school) is in motion.
But much to their credit most school systems attempted to address the "technology integration" issue by hiring a technology coordinator. The technology coordinator position appears to be a masterstroke. It could provide a mechanism by which to integrate technology into various parts of the curriculum. The position would really be that of curriculum coordinator for school districts that did not have one, and for school districts that did have a curriculum coordinator then there would be a team composed of a technology expert and a curriculum expert. This plan could, in one fell swoop, raise technology integration from its 'goblin' status to status of "educational innovation." But... the road from "goblin" to "innovation" took a severe detour. The technology coordinator-the curriculum coordinator of sorts, if you will, quickly became the "electronic janitor." Research studies bear out the fact that 85-90% of a technology coordinator's time is spent fixing, repairing, and mending broken technology. So... we are still in the situation where technology is an innovation and technology integration is a goblin; and goblins usually go the way of the new math.
The new math is gone, I'm not really sure what ever became of controlled readers, and Education Reform has yet to reach a conclusion or perhaps even a mid-way point - who knows? There is little that the average classroom teacher can do to impact the ebb and flow of Education Reform, which is far too political, often overly-adversarial, but never a dull issue.
So where are we? And what are we to do in our classrooms in regard to technology integration? We are having computers befall us and there is an expectation that they will be used to improve learning.
Well, just look around and you'll find as many technology-in-the-classroom magazines as there are Web sites with lesson plans aimed at integrating technology. There are rafts of conferences that suggest this techno-gizmo and that techno-gizmo as the answer to specific issues in technology integration. What's a classroom teacher to do?
Let me make a few suggestions:
- Don't give up, don't become dispirited. Take singular steps to improve your curriculum-don't try to overreach, you don't have the time, the resources, or the background. Your goal should be, at least at first, to find one, and only one, thing a month to integrate into you classroom.
- Approach technology integration with the philosophy that the technology MUST adjust to your needs and the needs of your students - it must support what you want to do rather than you adjusting to the technology.
- Start off by not falling into pen-pal quicksand
- Don't start a pen-pals project.... Don't start a collaboration whereby kids from one school send email back and forth - you'll regret it. If it is even slightly successful, it will consume your real day job - you'll be overwhelmed by the workload.... It will take "forever" for each student to respond to even one email message. It's nice to try to have collaborative projects with other teachers and their students, but your first duty should be to integrate technology into your classroom not expand your workload. AND, don't let yourself become the technology guru for others - develop the ability to politely say NO; if you help too much you'll become the electronic janitor.
- Identify a unit - ONE UNIT - from your yearly lesson plan and decide that you'll get online and develop some new and interesting demonstrations or experiments for that unit. Go to Teachers.Net (http://www.teachers.net/lessons/) and search the for your topic. Relax and peruse the material there at a leisurely pace. After doing a few days of searching you'll become more discriminating and learn to be selective. This will assist you in separating the wheat from the chaff.
- Regularly login to the Teachers.Net and select one or more of the appropriate discussion boards. You'll find terrific discussions there, suggestions about lesson plans (e.g., what to do for 100th day event), and just helpful conversation. The URL is: http://www.teachers.net/mentors