Telling the Technology Story in K-12 Schools

The past week or so has been crazy. Yes, busy crazy for me personally, for sure.

But, I am talking about another kind of craziness.

I am talking about the number of teachers that I have talked to who have been fighting filters, trying to get equipment to work, and generally trying to make meaningful use of technology in their classrooms.

After last week’s Teachers Teaching Teachers about infrastructure, and being invited to talk with the group again this week, there are two stories that I feel I need to tell. The first comes from a research project about blogging and podcasting in which I am collaborating with an RCWP colleague, Dawn Reed. The second, from another RCWP colleague, Stacy Schuh who was trying to figure out who to get colleagues in her school to use blogs.

First, Dawn and I have been working for the past few months to create an opportunity for students in her speech class to blog, podcast, and offer peer response to one another. In so doing, she has run into multiple layers of complications in regards to allowing audio content over her school network, having the appropriate equipment in her classroom for students to listen to podcasts, getting technical support, and having parents sign off on a consent form for students to post their work online (or, perhaps, getting students to take the consent form home for parents to sign…). In short, she feels that:

Basically, I need help to get around what our technology is set up not to do.

Now, this is not a matter of Dawn throwing up her arms in frustration at the first sign of a problem. Instead, I feel that this comment speaks to the deep and sometimes unseen forces that school infrastructure — both social and physical — can have on a teacher’s ability (and willingness) to engage in technology-based work with her students. These roadblocks that she has encountered are indcative of how we refuse to change what Tyack and Cuban would call the “grammar of schooling”: the ways in which the traditional school day, quarters, semesters, and years are structured as well as the generally restrictive and skill-and-drill ways in which we view using technology in school. These visisons continue to propel our decision making processes about why and how to use technology, even though the changes are happening faster than we can keep up with if we are willing to innovate, let alone if we are not.

Second, Stacy a teacher at RCWP — who works at a public charter school — has essentially become the webmaster for her school because she was able to get the free Lunar Pages account for K-12 educators. The school didn’t have a website, nor did teachers have email, until she set up the site a year ago. She has had her students blogging this year on a Word Press blog that she installed on the site.

Recently, she wanted to create a blog for her colleagues but everything in her school is filtered (Blogger, Edublogs, etc) except for the domain that she created through Lunar Pages because it is, essentially, the school website. So, as she and I were trying to think through all the options, I just suggested that she install another Word Press blog. She did. And they are blogging now.

As I think about these two teachers and the infrastructure problems that they are encountering, I think that someone needs to help out. Perhaps NWP — or at least local sites — could team with a hosting company like Lunar Pages to make things easily available to teachers that can help them do their work better and empower them to make their own decisions related to technology. Then, teachers would have control over their domains, both classroom and web-based ones.

Students Researching Online

Paul has invited me to be part of an upcoming Teachers Teaching Teachers show about students doing research online. Check out the Google Notebook for the show to get a sense of what will be happening and let me know if you have things that you want to add to it.

My interest in this topic goes back to my time teaching middle school and first-year composition at the community college. At the time, I know that asking my students to keep a list of citations with an online citation generator was considered pretty cutting-edge. Now, however, I wonder if that is A) still cutting-edge and B) enough?

In this age of hypertext composing and plagiarism detection services, I have to ask whether or not our old means of citing sources is good enough. Clearly, there are cultural norms and rhetorical traditions that we have to meet here, so I am not suggesting that we ask students not to cite their sources. However, I do want to suggest that we begin thinking more about why we are asking them to site their sources and how to keep track of them.

I have put some initial thinking in the “Citing our Sources – How and Why?” section of the notebook. And, as always, I would appreciate hearing what all of you think about this issue — what is happening in your classroom? How has the research process changed in the past few years with the emergence of read/write web tools?