This post needs a bit of a disclaimer in the beginning. For several years I was a member of the Board of Directors of the New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education, NYSCATE an ISTE affiliate. Like many Educational Technology organizations its mission is to promote the use of technology in education. This organization is similar to many other State wide organizations of other states with the same basic purpose. The leaders of these organizations are volunteers, some paid, most unpaid. These are people who work hard for long hours in support of these organizations and the mission.
That being said, and this being my post, I am going to openly reflect on technology organization stuff. These are my reflections as an educator and a former director of an educational technology group. If it were a lesson, I would assess, reflect and then change things as needed to become more effective. Since I don’t lead any of these organizations, I guess I stop at reflection. I have no ability to change things.
Technology in Education has always been a sticky subject. It requires understanding, training, modeling and innovation in order to be successful in the system. Some districts have recognized this and have had great successes. It is still a lesson to be learned in many other places. The mission of the Educational Technology organizations however, goes beyond a few forward-thinking districts. That term “forward-thinking” itself implies that technology is the future in education and not the now. My question to start would be: If the purpose of Educational Technology Organizations is to achieve ubiquitous use of technology in education, how do we do a formative assessment of that mission? Technology is always evolving, but many of these organizations were formed in the 70’s and 80’s. After over 30 years of striving to promote Technology use in Education, how close are we to ubiquitous use. Yes, we are using more Tech than ever before, but many places are still debating its value in education. We may also be using more technology because there is so much more to use, which has little to do with the influence of these organizations.
“Top Down” and “Bottom up” are two of the ways Technology is adopted in schools. As a classroom teacher, I was always partial to bottom up stuff, because it came from other teachers who used it successfully with kids. Top down to me meant it was a product that an administrator was sold on, with limited knowledge of how it worked, or what was involved for the teacher to make it work. Mandates are rarely successful. My experience has taught me that people need to be lead and not directed. Leaders cannot demonstrate a product and overwhelm folks with bells and whistles and tell them that they will use it from now on. We lose the required understanding, training, modeling and innovation in order to be successful. If you doubt that, look at the Interactive Whiteboards placed in schools all over the country. What percentage of these expensive boards are being used as Video, or PowerPoint projectors.
Now we need to consider the leadership of these organizations, as well as, who participates in their conferences. Being a leader in any of these organizations requires a huge amount of time. Time to a teacher is not negotiable. The flexibility of time is more in the domain of the administrators. It stands to reason that it is easier to provide release time to an administrator than to a classroom teacher. Therefore, it stands to reason that more administrators than classroom teachers run these groups.
The perspective of the teachers in the organization is; “how do I get kids to use this technology to learn?” The Perspective of the Administrator is; “how do I get my teachers to use this Technology?” both of these perspectives must be considered, but it must be in balance. As Administrators monopolize the leadership, that balance seems to be lost. There is almost an elitist air about these organizations. Classroom teachers are the very people we need to attend these conferences. If you ask a classroom teacher if they would attend an ISTE Conference and you then explained what ISTE was, the response would be simple. “I don’t teach Technology, why would I attend that conference?” It is my observation that some of the leadership of these organizations shift focus. The focus shifts from the success of the mission to the success of running the group. To some that comes down to the success of the conference in attendance and buzz. Attendance is measurable, Buzz is not.
A goal should be to involve as many classroom teachers in the synergy that is evident at any of these conferences. It would be hoped that while they were pumped up with the conference high, they would advocate for tech with their fellow teachers. That would be “bottom up”. Who really attends these conferences anyway? I do not even know if that data is tracked. I do know from personal experience I saw a great many administrators repeatedly attending the conferences year after year. Not that anything is wrong with that, but if a majority of the attendees each year are the same administrators who deal with technology as part of their job, where does that leave the classroom teacher and the group’s mission? It should not be an elite club for technology administrators.
Before everyone starts to run to the comment box to blast me on the elite club comment consider this. If these organizations were not being perceived this way by a large group of educators, why are Tech camps springing up all over? Teachers have been filling the void. They are doing their own mini conferences. They are providing sessions on the Internet. They are involving educators in technology in greater and greater numbers. PLN’s for teachers are providing information and collaboration that these organizations have not provided to the classroom teacher.
Educators are striving everyday to be relevant. That is why Professional Learning Networks are expanding by the minute. When we talk about education Reform, relevance is a big part of it. We need relevant Educators. The same can be said of Educational Technology Organizations. They are needed and necessary. They need to focus on their mission and not their organization. If they put the mission first the organization will succeed. Again this is not an attack, but a reflection. If we cannot see where we are going wrong we cannot adjust to correct it.
Now you can run to the comment box and blast away!