From Workshop to Classroom: The Problems of Enacting Professional Development

This past week, I was invited to present an introductory workshop on digital storytelling to a group of teachers in Alpena. Minus some minor glitches in figuring out file management with brand new jump drives, the session went well from both my perspective and that of the attendees. Exit comments were generally positive and, since I will be working with this group again, the suggestions will be very helpful, too.

Yet, in the section of the evaluations that asked teachers to rank items such as the objectives of the workshop being met, the organization, and so forth, all the positive responses were overshadowed by one question that received unusually low marks: “The impact this inservice will have on my teaching will probably be…” Responses here were at least one point lower, on average, than every other category.

This struck me as interesting because, throughout the day, we had been having discussions about access in their schools: access to computer labs and equipment, access to certain websites (such as Flickr), and access to time for planning and implementing such a project. As I reviewed these lower scores, then, I saw them not so much as a reflection on the workshop itself as much a reflection on the school contexts to which these teachers would return the next day.

I write this here not to speculate on any particular way to solve this problem, since we know the digital divide is still evident in all of our work, even in the most well endowed schools. Yet, I found it interesting that a group of engaged professionals who found the process of digital storytelling valuable and wanted to do it with their students felt, at the end of the day, as if this wouldn’t necessarily impact their classrooms due to these issues.

Moreover, I shouldn’t sound bleak, because I know that enacting professional development in the classroom is a long term-process. I wouldn’t be doing this kind of work if I didn’t believe in sustainable change over time.

Yet, these evaluations were a concrete reminder of the very real challenges that even the most motivated teachers will face. This might explain why, at a school that has nearly unlimited technology resources, Patrick Welsh explains why teacher morale is so low. He states:

Of course, the big question isn’t whether teachers like spending their time learning one new gizmo after another, but whether a parade of new technologies will help kids learn. From what I can see, that’s not the case.

A School That’s Too High on Gizmos – washingtonpost.com

I disagree with Welsh’s final claim. What I see is that technologies can help kids learn, if teachers are able to think critically about how to use them.

Yet, even with the time for professional development, sustained inquiry, and collaboration, they walk back into their classrooms with incredible demands on their time and attention that may make digital writing and digital teaching difficult, if not impossible, for them.

Apart from the idea that we give teachers more time or get more computers, what this raises for me is the idea that we have to do to shift our professional focus from “using the tools” to “engaging in literacy practices,” and all the subsequent shifts in teaching and learning that will result.

The problem, then, is how to continue that conversation, while still addressing the day-to-day needs of teaching.

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Economist Debate Series: Privacy vs. Security

The next Economist Debate is coming up soon. Here are details:

Timing & Proposition:

Feb. 5 – Feb 15: “Privacy vs. Security – This house believes that security in the modern age cannot be established without some erosion of individual privacy.”

Should people sacrifice elements of our privacy for the sake of making our world a more secure place?

Expert Debaters & Moderator

Two global thought leaders in security and freedom will square off on either side of the issue.

Livingstone is the chairman and CEO of ExecutiveAction LLC, an international business solutions and risk management company. In addition to serving on numerous homeland security advisory boards, Livingstone has written nine books and more than 200 articles on terrorism and national security and has appeared on more than 1,300 television programmes as a commentator on intelligence and national-security issues.

A former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia (1995-2003), Barr now occupies the 21st Century Liberties Chair for Freedom and Privacy at the American Conservative Union. In addition to teaching and practicing law, Barr serves as a board member of the National Rifle Association and heads a consulting firm, Liberty Strategies LLC. Dubbed by the New York Times as “Mr. Privacy”, Barr writes and speaks widely on civil liberties. Previously, Mr. Barr served as the U.S. Attorney in Atlanta, and as an official with the CIA.

· Moderator: Daniel Franklin, Executive Editor, The Economist & Editor-In-Chief, Economist.com & Editor, The World in 2008

Guest Participants

Additional leaders in this field are serving as guest participants through the course of the debate:

  • Thomas M. Sanderson Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, Transnational Threats Project (CSIS)
  • Scott Berinato, Executive Director, CSO Magazine
  • W. Kenneth Ferree, President, The Progress & Freedom Foundation

Literacy alive and well in computer age – Perspectives – Opinion – Technology

From the Google Reader….

It makes no sense complaining about the decline of the printed word. As it becomes just another medium, we are moving to a kind of multimedia literacy, where capability with print becomes no more important, or useful, than capability with image.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. There is no rule that says that the written word is superior to other forms of media. While some of us are print-oriented and will always remain so, there are people growing up to whom print is of comparatively minor importance.

The vast majority of these people will enter adult life as well educated as the generations before them. But they will rely less on books and newspapers, and more on television and the internet and multimedia.

We are not witnessing the decline of literacy, simply a new type of literacy. It is pointless to make moral judgements about the superiority of one medium over another.

Literacy alive and well in computer age – Perspectives – Opinion – Technology

Graeme Philipson makes a compelling argument for how our culture’s artists such as Doris Lessing and Elton John — both who decry the effects of the internet — need to change their perspectives about literacy in the 21st century. As a topic always on my mind, I found this opinion article a fresh take on the topic, especially the connection that Philipson makes between our thousands of years of oral history that has, only in the past few centuries, become replaced with print. Just because things are changing again doesn’t mean that we are in decline, it simply means that we need to adapt to the change.

This connects with a conversation that I was having yesterday with one of our college’s public relations consultants. She and I were talking about my research interests and how to make “literacy and technology” something newsworthy, and both struggling to find an angle on it. On the one hand, it seems that discussions of technology and literacy should be self evident. Yet, we continue to see school infrastructures and policies, teacher, administrator, and parent attitudes not reflecting a shift in thinking about this, and, as this EdWeek article points out, the fact that what doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get treasured.

So, my question today is thinking about how to make technology and literacy — not just tech literacy, but instead the changing nature of literacy — a key part of the conversation that the media reports on with schools. Clearly, when they publish the box scores for the test results, people stand up and pay attention. Without being punitive, are there ways that we, as educators, can engage the media to get the story of technology and literacy shown to the general public in a compelling manner?

To be more concrete, I want the tone of the conversation in the media to change from “Why aren’t students passing the tests” to “Why don’t students have one-to-one access to laptops for use in their daily reading, writing, calculating, observing, predicting, analyzing, etc.?”

Philipson shows us a way to shift the conversation on the opinion page. Can we think about ways to do it on the front page, too?

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