Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Times They Are A-Changin' (Apologies to Patton)

He calls the Xerox a mimeograph machine. He writes in 'Scantron' on the sheet passed around during the faculty meeting about new technology in the classroom. He might even refer to the Internet in the plural.

But he is a teacher. Maybe a great one. And we need him on our side.

Regarding how the Stimulus should be spent in Ed Tech, reader Ms. Chow writes:

The reality is that school faculties consist of a diverse group of people. For the sake of this argument, they will be the divided into the tech-fearful and the tech-savvy. Billions of dollars spent, thousands of hours of man-power/training/logic utilized, and we will still be left with these two groups.

Ms. Chow, thank you for the honest insight. And Mimeograph Man -- prepare yourself -- 'cause this one's for you.

Teachers are on the front-line. We as teachers know that. Whether you teach in a public school or a private school; in the city or in the farmland; in packed classrooms in over-crowded suburbs or as a home-schooler in your own kitchen, we know the front-line.

It is the future. And it is ever closer. Either we approach it or it approaches us. But it is ever closer.

In light of this, we as educators have to make a few things public with regard to the future and with regard to the role of technology in our classrooms.

First: We have to state to ourselves and to the public that the point of educational technology is not to facilitate the use of technology but to use technology to facilitate education. Why do we need to do it via technology? Because that's where the world is. And that's the world our kids need to be prepared to engage.

Second: Long have we striven for 'authentic learning experiences and assessments'; well, in the context of the Digital Age which is upon us, it is inexcusable to ignore the authenticity of technology in the experience of our culture -- whether or not our students themselves are able currently to afford technology or access.

Third: We need to petition our government: Internet Access is a matter of civil rights; nothing produces democracy and growth like the transparent spread of information -- and especially as educators we need to see to it that all of our school-aged children have equal access to a free and independent Internet.

Fourth: We, as teachers, no longer have the luxury of being 'tech-fearful'. I know that there are people on your faculty like Mimeograph Man who swear they are 'against' technology. While I admire their perseverance, and I respect many of them and see that they possess a wealth of experience and have often delivered excellent educations to countless children, I dare say that they do not realize the precipice we stand upon with regard to preparing our next generation of children for a digital future.

The future of the Internet is going to make paper look like the manuscript codex which made papyrus look like wax and clay tablets which were a minor improvement on a stick and wet sand. There are few instances in the history of communication that produce times as important as this: it is a time to either acclimate to the new paradigm or be left disheveled and confused at how the rest of the world passed us by.

This isn't about our 'comfort-level' with technology. This is about the Digital Age being a cruel reality. Things have changed. Our children need us to buck up, come to terms with and learn how to use the new technology, and help them navigate the digital world.

Please understand, I'm talking not from the point-of-view of a tech guy. I'm not some computer whiz. I'm a high school Latin teacher. And I also teach Art History and dally in the art department to the occasional chagrin of my chairman.

I spent most of my time in college translating Plato and Homer and reading about archaeological digs.

I am a firm proponent of the Liberal Arts.

In fact, I think a Liberal Arts education should be the first qualification for any content teacher in America.

Furthermore, I understand and appreciate Ed Schools -- even when I criticize them. I am the product of an M.S.Ed. program and the tutelage of some excellent professors in GT and Reading certificate programs.

I'm not trying to beat your brains in about this Ed Tech stuff because I'm some geeky square with a chip on my shoulder or a means to capitalize on this stuff; I'm trying to express to you my experience and my admittedly limited insights because I really see this as something that is going to have a direct impact on the future of our children. And that's why I became a teacher to begin with.

So help us out, or get out of the way. But don't just stand there over-analyzing and complaining and pretending this Digital Age is not happening. No one is taking away your paper and pencils; no one is gonna force you to learn HTML. We just want to help you get up to speed and we want you to continue helping our kids. Because the future for my children and your children and all of our children depends upon us doing the right thing in this moment.

Lastly, as I've said before: educational technology is not one of the various useless educational theories that have been recycled again and again in endless classrooms and faculty development meetings over the last thirty-odd years. Rather, educational technology is the way in which the education experience will exist within the broader context of the Digital Age. That age is upon us. We don't have a choice in the matter.

So, Mimeograph Man, think about it this way: when your grandchildren sit on your knee and ask you what you did to help your students during the Great Digital Revolution, you won't have to tell them you were busy complaining in the faculty lounge.


  1. I don't remember where I saw this quote but it stuck with me:

    "Technology is a steamroller. If your driving the steamroller, you're just part of the road."

    I think all of your arguments above are valid. I would push most highly for internet access. Television is free. It is a means for spreading information. That has been great for the past 50 years.

    The next 50 years need to have free internet access for everyone. That is the new way to spread information. The next 50 years after that will bring some new technology to dissemination of information.

    I think I'll blog about this. I've got some more thoughts. (

  2. Knaus,

    TV is a top-down industry and always has been -- the information spread is chosen by a select few; the Internet is by nature democratic. Anyone can produce a podcast, edit their own online magazine, sell albums on iTunes, and create their own video channels on YouTube.

    Free Internet Access, Accessible to All! Yes! Looking forward to reading more of your thoughts.

  3. Unfortunately, educators seem divided between Mimeograph Man and those who are living in the Digital Age. I wonder how your very valid points went over in the teacher's lounge at your school, but then again, the ones who would take offense can't find your blog anyway.

  4. I taught high school and started a small private school during 1968-1984. During the last few years of that, one of my daughters was telling me how great computers were from her experiences in the tech lab at her elementary school! (So have digital in the school is nothing new.) Anyway, I remember pooh-poohing the whole thing - "I have a typewriter that works just fine." In 1984 I was introduced to word-processing in my first corporate job as a tech writer (which lasted about 3 months before moving into tech training). Wow! I couldn't believe how helpful that was! Why had I resisted?

    Anyway, I appreciate the points made and understand that the rhetoric helps describe a sense of urgency. I don't know that the two camps juxtaposed helps solve the problem however. In reality, as in most complex issues, people are spread along a continuum, not stacked at two ends. An old truth in social psychology is that the more I put you in an opposite group, the less I will be able to convince you. Many people, myself included, are skeptical about technology in education/training because so many people (corporate CEOs, so-called learning advocates, and yes, school teachers) mistake the means for the goal. Or make, for example, use Web 2.0 the goal, and not education itself. Yes, use the tools, but not at the expense of both real education and achievement.

    So, be careful not to throw the ones who will use the tools cautiously, even skeptically, in the same group with the ones who are just plain pigheaded (which is what the article seems to mean by "Mimeograph Man.")


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