By Sara Martin
In my role at my tiny school district in the central valley of California I find myself in a rather unique position. I wear the hats of classroom teacher (computer lit) and tech support and coordinator. I am also an Adobe Education Leader and in that role I have the opportunity to travel throughout the United States as a trainer and presenter. Whenever I am out of my district training I am often engaged in a discussion about one of the most basic frustrations teachers have around the country (these are teachers trying like mad to integrate technology into their curriculum.) Their frustration source-none other than their own district and school technology administrators and tech support personnel!
Why is it that we have become enemies? Teachers all over the United States tell me that they are constantly locked out and filtered out from most, or all, of the fantastic new free web 2.0 tools that are currently available. Not only are the newest and greatest unavailable, they are frustrated because they can’t even install a simple Flash or Java upgrade themselves. In their efforts to regulate and “keep safe” their networks, administrators have made decisions that often ignore many of the very reasons their networks exist-to facilitate learning and prepare our students for their future. Today’s digital natives are already exploring and using Web 2.0 tools outside schools. Isolating them from these tools at school not only sends them the message that we are outdated and irrelevant, it give them further excuses to tune out, or as they tell me often, to power down, when they enter a traditional classroom.
As a person who also is responsible for most of the tech support for our district I also understand the need to protect the network’s integrity as well as filter inappropriate websites at our district. I’ve had a few issues to deal with over the years that have cost me some time and been frustrating. But I view my job as a facilitator; in a position to use technology as a real innovator that can move our education system toward a student centered, collaborative and participatory environment that supports authentic, real world learning. All my teachers have administrative rights on their “teacher” computers, and you know what, they handle that responsibly, because they are professionals. Instead of locking down their computers, I spend time educating and guiding them so they know what and how to download safely and avoid problems.
According to “Leadership for Web 2.0 in Education: Promise and Reality” published in 2009 and sponsored by CoSN “In order to be competitive and responsible economically, politically, environmentally, and socially, U.S. youth must graduate from school ready to thrive in those realities, one of which is the participatory culture of Web 2.0 technology”*. The current findings suggest that we aren’t even close to having the educational mindset to affect our school cultures to align teaching and learning to the needs of 21st century learners. In President Obama’s inaugural speech he said, “…everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act – not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth…we will transform our schools and college and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And this we will do.” I’m glad that our President is so optimistic and I try to stay optimistic too, but until all the stakeholders that support education embrace the need to utilize technology in new ways no real change has a chance.
This issue came to light again this week when the list serv that I belong to (tech administrators for our county) started a new thread concerning Facebook and communicating with students outside of “work”. The implication was that this was immediately a bad thing, and should be monitored, banned, blocked, etc. I found it incredible that no one on the list expressed any value in using Facebook as an educational tool. The originator of the thread expressed his plan of action to issue an “Official recommendation that the district discourage the use of Facebook or any other social networking site to communicate with students out side of work”. His main concern was the hypothetical case that someone might post something that did not positively reflect the teacher or the district. Wouldn’t that be great, if we could prevent all criticism of our districts? Educators everywhere are using blogs and other tools to communicate with their students and avoid the roadblocks the tech guys have laid down-are we going to ban those too? I argue that, again, instead of banning, we educate our professional teachers to use the new tools with caution, embracing their positive potential with careful respect for possible misuse.
Perhaps the cause of this enormous rift in mind set between the techies and the teachers has to do with the fact that most tech support and tech administrators are not educators. I find it interesting in my list serv that the tech personnel refer to our environment as “work”, not school. I know I am at work everyday that I teach students, but I always refer to my workplace as “school”-where teaching and learning is taking place and where I am doing my best everyday to meet the complex needs of my clients, my precious students. The stakes are too high for us to continue down this road. We must ensure communication and respect between teachers and tech administrators. We must work toward the same goals because, as our Presidents so eloquently expressed during he inauguration speech, “we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.” I just hope we don’t have to fight the tech administrators the whole way toward this goal…
Come on tech guys, can’t we all just get along?