Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ah, the Irony!

If you haven't read it yet, take time to read Tom Friedman's editorial in the NYT two days ago. He discusses the necessity for fundamental educational reform--i.e. 21st century skills--if the U.S. is to remain competitive.

Where does the irony come in? I was reading it just as one of our teachers came in to ask if I could unblock YouTube so students could complete a history assignment. We called the appropriate people and were told 'no.' Yet we're a laptop school with a strong mandate for technology. Go figure.

And so much for educational reform. I've blogged about this before, and probably will again. While I think Friedman's column ignores several factors (take the time to read the comments--some were incredibly thoughtful and insightful), he's not wrong. I work with an amazingly talented faculty, many quite tech savvy.

As always, however, there are those who not only resist using technology, but see it as detrimental. They use tools only in the most shallow manner: watch a YouTube video, but we won't take the time to actually create our own. Keep a blog, but only as a personal journal, no comments, no linking. And heaven forbid we go public!

Friedman is wrong to declare we need a country entirely made up of innovators and creative thinkers. That is never going to happen, as not everyone is wired to think that way. Multiple intelligences alone tells us that. Nevertheless, we can do better at teaching students to work and think more collaboratively and use technology in meaningful ways.

Case in point: About a month ago, we finally opened up the education version of Google Apps for the school. I think three teachers are using it. I was teaching (another!) workshop on Google Docs, and a couple teachers basically said it was too much work to use it, when they could just have students work on peer-editing in class.

I agreed, but pointed out that once students were trained in peer-editing, weren't there better uses of classtime? I don't think I convinced them.

Similarly, too many assignments use technology for its own sake. Students in a school where I used to teach worked on rockets, which was fun for them. But there were few curricular ties--no work on propulsion, trajectories, etc. They just put together a kit. How much more meaningful would it be to have them design and test their own rockets, determining which factors most contribute to maximum lift?

We in the library have a special responsibility to guide both students and faculty towards more analytical engagement with content and technology. I'm not even sure my own work with students is all that innovative. As I teach the research process, I basically have two weeks with students (in 9th grade)--not a lot of time to engage them in thoughtful lessons, though we do some useful stuff on working with primary sources and analyzing websites.

Ideally, I would like to see all students in a semester long class. But that's another job in and of itself! How do others deal with this?

Of course, education alone won't solve our job and financial crisis. If education needs fundamental change, so does our national and corporate culture. When did we become a nation that looks only at short term gain? When did we stop caring about general welfare, focusing selfishly on personal profit at the expense of..well...everything else?

Educational change is AN answer, not THE answer.

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