Wednesday, June 9, 2010

If Someone Made an Improved Shovel, Would Everyone Go Out and Dig Holes?

Netbooks, Smartboards and Professional Development

I’m a mountain biker. I love to ride uphill for hours, pushing myself to the limits so that I can race downhill, two wheels occasionally on the ground. I have a great bike. It is silly how much it costs and I will never be good enough to justify buying it. I have a family and would like them to mountain bike, to enjoy the challenge, to learn the skills and to understand the spiritual nature of back country biking. If I show them my fancy new bike and show them what I can do on it, will that necessarily improve the chances that they will have a thirst to learn about mountain biking? Will it have any effect on them? Might it decrease the chance of them choosing mountain biking as their passion?

Smart boards are like my big, expensive, flashy bike. Netbooks are like the bikes I want my kids to ride. Of course I want a great bike and I want a Smartboard. If I have to choose, I'd take netbooks over Smartboards. Smartboards are like an entertaining whiteboard. The teacher is still the center of attention and the children are not the producers, they are still basically “setting and getting”. Go for a ride instead!

This morning, I was reading one of my regular blogs by Michael Staton , entitled, "Why Smart boards are a Dumb Initiative". As suggested by the title, the author makes his case for netbooks over Smartboards. Among his reasons, he states:

1) Smartboards don’t change the model that’s broken. They just make that model way more expensive.

2) Smartboards are an administrative cop out. Administrators like Smartboards because when they spend money on technology they need to spend a lot of it and it needs to be on things they can point to and count.

Investing in either technology does not guarantee transformative changes in classrooms. In the book “Disrupting Class”, (Christensen) the author reports that "in the U.S., spending on computers has increased dramatically since 1995. The average public school in the U.S. had 72 computers, by 2003 the average nearly doubled to 136. In 1998 there were and average of 12 students for every computer with internet access, by 2003 that number was down to nearly 4. If the addition of technology to classrooms was a cure for American classrooms, surely there would be evidence of it now. There is not. Test scores have barely budged." The Alberta Teachers' Association report on technology in schools has reported similar findings.

Smartboards can have a positive effect on teaching effectiveness and atmosphere in a classroom. More computers can connect students to the world and assist them to be critical thinkers, creative and collaborative. Neither will result in transformative changes in the classroom without urgent, ongoing and effective professional development. In the book "Transforming Classroom Practice, Professional Development Strategies in Educational Technology" (Borthwick and Pierson), they quote a study by Harris (2007) on the components of successful professional development. Successful PD should:

  1. be conducted in school settings

  2. be linked to school wide efforts

  3. be teacher planned and assisted

  4. be based on constructivist/differentiated learning

  5. include teacher chosen activities

  6. follow a demonstration/trial/feedback cycle

  7. be concrete

  8. be ongoing

  9. provide assistance and support for teacher learning
They say successful technology PD will increase student acheivement by improving teacher content knowledge, changing teachers' attitudes about content areas and expanding their repertoires of technological practices.

Clay Shirky wrote in his book "Here Comes Everybody", "If someone made a new improved shovel, would everyone go out and dig holes?" Would they even know how to use it? Yes, we have to know how to use the shovel, but more importantly, we have to know why digging holes is important. Give me effective PD for 21st century schools and computers and I can change my classroom. Give me a Smartboard and I will have fun doing it.

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