Since my high school days in the early 80’s I have been witness to the transforming effects of technology in my personal life. I anticipated great changes in the way people would learn and imagined a digital world that would transform education. It will soon be 25 years since I graduated from high school, and technology has become an everyday part of my life. I have been involved as an educator for the past 15 years, and I especially initiated innovative technology use in my own classrooms. My oldest child started in the public schools in the fall of 1997, and she will be a senior next school year. Is her life much different than mine 25 years ago?
As I walk through schools today I see podcasts and videocasts hanging on the walls waiting to happen. I see rows and rows of computers with empty seats in front of them, or if by chance there is a student in front of one, they are word processing or playing a game. I watched piles and piles of paper that I burned before I moved over a year ago, and many of the pieces of a “body of evidence” of my children’s knowledge were the same or quite similar to products that I utilized in the 70’s. Digital devices are there, with more power than ever before, and it seems, to me, that they are unharnessed and under appreciated.
Time is always an issue with change and especially learning to utilize technology. Often, there isn’t enough time; however, time marches on and the diffusion of innovation is quickly passing many people by. It is a shame that we can’t make time. Our only choice is to give time; so, what do we give up? I will leave you to answer that yourselves.
When my Dad was growing up, he put up hay with horses and hay rakes. After the hay was cut, teams of horses were driven about the fields raking up the hay and then it was lifted into huge piles that eventually looked like huge loaves of bread. Later, John Deere B tractors were added to the mix, and machinery could be attached to the power take off of the tractor enabling the use of balers. As a young child I remember watching from the hay wagons as crews of young men bucked bales onto the carts and it was carefully stacked. Afterward, it was unloaded and put on an elevator that carried the bales one by one up into a hay shed and stacked again. By the time I became a hay stacker, we had the use of an accumulator on our baler that would create an 8 pack of bales, and a farmhand loader would grasp these 8 packs allowing for mechanized stacking onto a hay wagon and even within a hay stack. Today, my Dad uses a computerized round baler that allows him to single handedly bale and stack all of his hay by himself. Pretty impressive for a 72 year old man!
Much of this took over 40 years of my life to take place, and I missed out on the whole round baler part! How I would have loved to have had access to one of those in my teens! The same goes for today’s computing power, but many teens and younger do have access to this power and they harness it everyday, but not so much at school. Technology still seems to be a novelty in our school systems; however, computers to me seem old hat. So why all the podcasts hanging on the walls? Why not open Photo Story 3, or Audacity and go to work? Students actually are doing it all the time, but most of this work is done at home.
I have worked side by side with students for many years and watched them in a matter of minutes master a program and create many amazing things. Minutes. Literally, it takes them minutes! That is where we can make time. Give them the opportunity, and they can do wonderful things. We must give them the time, by giving up the worksheets, the calendar time that seems to be taught over and over in elementary school from grade level to grade level, or even the note taking and lecture. The time is to do, create, produce, build, invent, and to innovate. The time is now.
My daughter Hannah sat with me at a school board meeting last school year where topics of technology were aired. The talk was about the future, what we were going to do. Hannah asked later how long it would take, and I replied a couple of years. She stated, “That will be too late for me.” Too late! Yes, too late. My first 13 years as an educator had great hopes for the system, and for Hannah, but she has not produced much more than I did with an Apple IIe. Too late?
Technology is frustrating, not because we don’t know how to use it, but because there are so many barriers to having it work effectively. In a school system it is much worse, and I liken it to a horse bit. I worked with teams of draft horses my entire life. Breaking horses, draft or riding stock, sometimes required specialized bits that would teach a horse to know their limitations. The limitations were not to make the horse become completely docile, but to focus the energy that the horse had and to harness its power. As they learned what they could do, the bit was changed, and even removed totally. I have ridden many horses simply holding onto their mane and using just my legs to guide the horse along the way. I have galloped at great speeds across open fields and was amazed by the power and strength that these animals posses. I have witnessed that power unleashed as pack horse carried huge loads on their backs up and down precarious mountain ranges, as draft horses pulled massive loads of feed to cattle on a daily basis, and as riding stock moved hundreds of cattle for many miles and cut and sorted these same animals with just one or a few horses.
It took time to train the many horses I have known, but we made time to do it because it was important to our way of life. Technology is the same, and I will say more important in our world today; however, the razor bits are in our mouths and it appears we can’t bring ourselves to get someone to take them out or even to spit them out on our own when given the opportunity! It is time to get rid of the bits, and unfortunately it really is too late for some: Hannah.
As adults we have to take responsibility for our own learning. Eventually, it is up to the learner to decide what they will learn. My adult life has witnessed a slow changing education system that is not much different than when I was in school, or even when my grandmother taught in a two room school house in the early 1900’s. Granted, the basic standards are much the same. I have Grandma Hokanson’s standards book from Weber Academy, and not a whole lot has changed as far as what students need to know when it comes to reading, writing, and arithmetic; however, the tools that we can use are much different. What are we waiting for?
I learned at a young age that if I would wait for someone to teach me, I was sorely disappointed. Initiative is key in learning, especially as we grow older. We can always blame it on lack of training, time, whatever, but we are the masters of our own learning and any bit that may be holding us back can be removed because as human beings we can! I have been in situations in my professional career where I wondered why, or will it ever happen, or especially who is going to bring the change. I know the who, and that is me! After 13 years as a classroom teacher, I felt I needed to look for another opportunity for myself and my family. I had to rid myself of a razor bit that cut my jaws and prevented my progress, and the progress of my children. I wanted to remove those bits for others, but I knew this was my last shot. It is my last shot, and I know it is probably too late for one very important person in my life.
Regret is a sour pill to swallow. There is no way to completely rid ourselves of such a terrible thing, but there is always a new day to set things right. I want that day to be today. My challenge is that we all take ownership and responsibility of our own learning: Hannah included.
There are so many resources available today, via technology, that there are few valid excuses not to be able to learn how to do something. If you see some podcasts hanging on the walls of your school (The beautiful stories and pictures that decorate the halls of every school!) fire up a web browser, do a Google search, and find the tutorials that can help you. Go to your school website and look under the technology tab and see what resources are there (Try http://www.nppsd.org if you are so inclined!), open an account with Atomic Learning (http://www.atomiclearning.com) and go through the tutorials on a piece of software you have been hoping to learn, take a class, get a degree online (I did!), utilize your technology specialists, ask the teacher down the hall how they did that, and best of all: ask your students to show you because they probably can, Hannah knows.