Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Turning the Tide

Over the past two years I have seen some dramatic shifts in an effort to transform New Milford High School into a 21st Century institution of teaching and learning.  With a change in mindset and a great deal of support, I have been able to successfully empower my staff to integrate a variety of digital tools, including social media, to engage learners.  The other day USA Today writer Greg Toppo highlighted some of the advances we have made in his article entitled "Social Media Find Place in Classroom."  I'm not going to lie, I was a very proud principal reading this article as it clearly showed me how far we have come in terms of creating a vision for learning and communicating that is more in line with societal shifts.  This vision has now become our reality.
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The problem though is that a large majority of stakeholders throughout the world think that the integration of technology is not essential in the classroom.  Furthermore, the perception out there is that educators and schools who are utilizing 21st Century tools for teaching and learning are doing a disservice to learners.  Here are some of the specific comments from the USA Today article:
  • It is a shame they don't worry more about the kids not knowing how to read or write. Most of the high school grads don't even know their time table.
  • Stupid educators teaching stupid kids, sad.
  • More evidence of the "dumbing-down" of society. Stupid media like USA To-shmay buying into it, of course. Put the cell phones and calculators aways, stay off the waste-o-time websites and GET TO LEARNIN'!
  • Okay, now I have heard it all. Digitally literate is not the same as having literacy skills that are useful for employment or in our greater society. This just encourages illiteracy in the skills that are most important to make these kids productive members of society.
  • Lowering the bar yet again. I would say that they'll pay for it in the long run, however, I'm finding that the employers are dumbing things for the dumber workforce they are getting. And the sad thing is, they'll never know or care what they are ignorant of.
  • Nothing like a digital kid showing up for a hands-on job.  Makes for great humor.

Unfortunately the comments above represent the never-ending battle that passionate educators face across the world who understand the pedagogical significance of effective technology integration.  I know I am preaching to the choir, but it really angers me that people who have no background in education, have never stepped foot in a school on a regular basis, and are so disconnected from the real world, can make assumptions that ultimately inhibit change.  In terms of the context of the USA Today article, social media is NOT replacing anything.  At NMHS we place an emphasis on sound pedagogy, and only after this is ensured technology is integrated.  All one has to do is read THIS POST to see all that NMHS is doing with and without technology in order to provide our students with a quality education.

It is time to turn the tide!  Technology is a tool, just like a blackboard, pencil, paper, or transparency, utilized during the teaching and learning process.  The difference though is that it is a dynamic tool that allows students to communicate, connect, collaborate, and create like never before. It allows teachers to measure and schools to promote.  Schools will become irrelevant unless they evolve and stay in line with societal shifts.  To do so, we must open our eyes and better understand today’s learners.  I am proud to say that my school, and many others, are up to this challenge and will continue to ignore the naysayers.  If you need even more rationale for effective technology integration in schools read this post by Scott McLeod.  George Couros does and exceptional job highlighting some concrete examples of successful technology integration in his post entitled "Tell More Stories."

I hope to expand this post and submit a piece to the Huffington Post.  Please consider providing a counter-argument to the statements above in the comment section.  Let’s collectively send a powerful message about the important role technology and social media play in preparing all students with a blueprint for success.


  1. Eric,

    I am going to push back a bit here on what was written in the USA Today article and I will be honest, I can understand why many of the people commented the way that they did. I am not saying that they are right, but based on the way that the article was written, it did not give an accurate or descriptive picture of how technology is being used to improve learning.

    One of Chris' quotes, "Being literate in 2011 means being digitally literate", means nothing to the average person that is not in school or has not been in school for a long time. The article almost has the feel of, "If we can't beat them, join them."

    If you really want people to understand why this is important, it is essential that concrete examples of how this technology is being used to improve learning. Saying things like "Collaborate, connect, and create" does not mean anything to many people. What does it look like with those actions? It is cool that USA Today picked up this story, but they probably also have stories about cyberbullying, sexting, and other things that also use technology. They also give concrete examples (such as cyberbullying related suicides by gay teenagers).

    Want to push the thinking of stakeholders outside school? Show and discuss examples of how this has really improved learning. Buzzwords and just saying "we are using it" does nothing.

    Just my thoughts.

  2. George,

    Isn't this what we do on a regular basis through our blogs?

  3. I think phrases like "Literacy is digital literacy" are a bit misleading. Shouldn't it be "Digital literacy is a form of literacy? It's not like you aren't also helping your students become literate in the traditional sense.

    As for the comments, it's not even clear to me that they really understood the article. Their comments have limited reference to the article itself, I think they are just trolls who find any example of something they don't understand and post a negative response to it.

    To someone who is not academically literate, a reasoned critique of something looks a lot like complaint or negative comment.

  4. I find often that people who comment on news articles are commenting without knowledge of the subject on which they are commenting. Many time the term "troll" has been used for these people. In the case of the comments highlighted above these people clearly have no grasp of what it means to integrate technology into the curriculum. They appear to believe that any form of technology in a classroom is wrong. Little do they realize the benefits of technology and digital media in the classroom.

    For example, the students at my school are physically disabled with varying degrees of impairment. For some prior to computers they had no access to the curriculum and their social lives were essentially non-existent. However, now thanks to technology many of these students are able to demonstrate their skills, knowledge, and intelligence. There are many instances when I've been blown away by students who are non-verbal and by visual appearance one would be led to assume they have limited intellectual skills. However, once they are given access to a computer you discover that the student is extraordinarily intelligent.

    In addition, many of our students use technology as their means to socialize. Often you will hear students discussing who they talked with on Facebook or Gchat over the weekend. Some of the people they have talked with live 25+ miles away from them. They are able to share and socialize when previously they would've been stuck at him with little to no socialization with peers.

  5. The problem is that some of the general public views the integration of technology into the classroom as the learning objective or the curriculum. The naysayers I talk to envision students playing on electronic devices - like a child sitting in a basement playing games on an x-box. The trick is to get people to understand that technology integration's purpose is to enhance learning. The best way I have found to get this message across is by having the students themselves demonstrate, write, or tell about how it has helped them learn.

  6. Eric, George, and David,
    I think George has hit on a very important point. The general public does not see how social media connects to academic pursuits. Many think we are just teaching them to use the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, etc, as an end in themselves. Although we as educators are extolling the merits of the "new" tools using social media, let’s face it, we are not widely read outside of our personal networks. We have to be better ambassadors and inform the public with concrete examples of student achievements using social media. They need to understand that like the calculator has replaced the slide rule, social media simply is another tool the school community can use to learn with. I am preaching to the choir here because all three of you do a very good job of doing just that but more of us need to join in. This argument dovetails with the current school reform issues we are facing. I feel we are losing the PR campaign at the moment and we will never win by just saying the other side is wrong and not providing a sound alternative backed by solid examples of how schools should be different than they are now. We need to make that our mission going forward!

  7. Eric,

    We may do that on our blogs but the general public does not read our blogs. People interested in education (the majority) are the ones that read what you, I, and others write. USA Today is not going to have a large following of people in the field of education, but they are going to be near 100% of people who have attended at school. If you want to change the perception by the general public (which is what you seemingly need to be asking), we need to ensure that examples of what is being done are shared and how it impacts learning. People see social media as either a waste of time, something just to be done socially, or something used by business, not for a powerful learning tool. Heck, go to schools that are not using it and ask the kids if they see social media as a powerful opportunity for learning, they will have trouble making that connection.

    It is always tricky when someone is writing an article with a word limit and a deadline that they will get or share the full and accurate story. People don't know what they don't know. Examples are the best way to share, not just theory.

  8. I concur with George. I know how frustrating it is to have ignorant comments posted but the goal should be to educate these folks. Invite them in to see true technology integration in action. High Tech High is a good example of this approach-students have to present their findings to the general public frequently. Of course, having an audience pumps up the purpose for students too. You have every right to be proud---you just need to educate your community as well. :)

  9. I'm sure some of this will be explored at the 140edu conference next week in NYC -- and I'm looking forward to Eric presenting. Schools don't need to teach kids "how" to use social media, et al they know how... but our school systems are redesigned to enable students all students at all ability levels to develop critical thinking skills so that they can learn how to filter their way through content on social media.

  10. Congrats on the article. However, I do not believe the article did you and your initiative justice. I agree with George when he states, "it did not give an accurate or descriptive picture of how technology is being used to improve learning."
    It's hard not to get frustrated and even angry with the comments. I was troubled by them as well but I understand their lack of knowledge in this area. They can only relate to a time when they were in school.
    The best way I believe to counter-argue, besides providing specific examples of how technology is being used as a tool to enhance instruction and student understanding, is a simple thought. Technology allows us to break-down the classroom walls and go beyond what the teacher knows. Many times our students are limited to what the teacher knows and is able to do. As Will Richardson states, and I paraphrase, "With one click of a button, we have the potential for 2 billion teachers globally." Information is more than doubling every two years. There is no way one teacher can stay-up. This is the biggest difference in when many of these commenters were in school.

    I would love to read Will Richardson's counter-argument statements to these uneducated comments.

  11. Eric,
    When I read some of those comments I can see some of the teachers in my school saying them. As you state at the top, we need to create student centered learning communities. As I see it, the naysayers are the people who stil want the students of today to learn like they did 25 years ago, forgetting how much the times have changed.
    People of my generation, I am 40, love Facebook, and will post every detail of their lives on it, but will never see how any social media can be used in the classroom. And moreover, never want to hear how we encourage our teachers to use it.
    Great post as usual,
    PS- my gmail id won't show it, but to let you know who I am, I am the current principal of your alma mater!

  12. Thanks for starting this conversation. Since social media is somewhat new, I wonder if it will just take time to become accepted. I think it's wonderful that you are empowering your students and teachers with digital technology!

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  14. This is a very interesting topic and will continue to be a hot button issue for years to come. I think the part some people have trouble with is hearing from their kids that they are using facebook or twitter for school. The not so technologically savvy adults hear social media and assume their kids are surfing facebook all day and not learning anything. When in fact social media is a fantastic way to engage kids and educate them at the same time.
    I personally feel communities should be hosting social media seminars for adults led by a social media company to enlighten some of the more stubborn individuals in society that look at social media as a waste of time. Thanks for the thought provoking article

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