Reflections on 2017

EdSurge asked me to offer reflections and predictions for 2017. The following  appeared in EdSurge, December 27, 2017.

As someone who has taught high school history, led a school district, and researched the history of school reform including the use of new technologies in classrooms over the past half-century, except for one event noted below, I found little that startled me in 2017. For digital tools in classrooms, it was the same o’ same o’.

Sure, I am an oldster and have seen a lot of school reform both successes and failures but I am neither a pessimist nor a nay-sayer about public schools. I am a tempered idealist who is cautiously optimistic about what U.S. public schools have done and still can do for children, the community, and the nation. Both the idealism and optimism—keep in mind the adjectives I used to modify the nouns—have a lot to do with what I have learned over the decades about school reform especially when it comes to technology. So for 2017, I offer no lessons that will shock but ones distilled from my experience.

LESSON 1

When it comes to student use of classroom technologies, talk and action are both important. Differentiating between the two is crucial.

Anyone interested in improving schooling through digital tools has to distinguish between media surges of hyped news about, say, personalized learning transforming schools and virtual reality devices in classrooms from actual policies that are adopted (e.g., standards, testing, and accountability, buying 1:1).

Then one has to further distinguish between the hyperbole and adopted policies and programs before determining what teachers actually do in their classroom lessons. The process is the same as parsing hyped ads from the unwrapped product in your hand.

These distinctions are crucial in making sense of what teachers do once the classroom door closes.

LESSON 2

Access to digital tools is not the same as what happens in daily classroom activities.

District purchases of hardware and software continue to go up. In 1984, there were 125 students for each computer; now the ratio is around 3:1 and in many places 1:1. Nothing startling here—the trend line in buying stuff began to go up in the early years of this century and that trend continues. Because this nearly ubiquitous access to new technologies has spread across urban, suburban, exurban, and rural school districts, too many pundits and promoters leap to the conclusion that all teachers integrate these digital tools into daily practice seamlessly. While surely the use of devices and software has gained full entry into classrooms, anyone who regularly visits classrooms sees the wild variation in lessons among teachers using digital technologies.

Yes, teachers have surely incorporated digital tools into daily practice but—there is always a “but”—even those who have thoroughly integrated new technologies into their lessons reveal both change and stability in their teaching.

In 2016, I visited 41 elementary and secondary teachers in Silicon Valley who had a reputation for integrating technology into their daily lessons.

They were hard working, sharp teachers who used digital tools as familiarly as paper and pencil. Devices and software were in the background, not foreground. The lessons they taught were expertly arranged with a variety of student activities. These teachers had, indeed, made changes in creating playlists for students, pursuing problem-based units, and organizing the administrative tasks of teaching.

But I saw no fundamental or startling changes in the usual flow of lessons—setting goals, designing varied activities and groupings, eliciting student participation, assessing student understanding— that differed from earlier generations of experienced teachers. The lessons I observed were teacher-directed and post-observation interviews revealed continuity in how teachers have taught for decades. Again, stability and change in teaching with digital tools.

Oh yes, there was one event that did startle me. That was the election of Donald Trump as President. I do not believe that his tenure in the White House or that of his Secretary of Education will alter the nation’s direction in schooling–my first prediction. Every Student Succeeds Act (2016) shifts policymaking from federal to state offices. Sure, there is much talk in D.C. about more choice, charters, and vouchers but much of it remains talk. Little change in what schools do or what happens in classrooms will occur.

What is disturbing is the President’s disregard for being informed, making judgments based on whim, tweeting racist statements, and telling lies (Politifact has documented 325 Trump statements that it judges mostly or entirely false) . These Presidential actions in less than a year have already shaped a popular culture where “fake news,” “truthful hyperbole,” and “post-truth” are often used phrases.

Indirectly, the election of Donald Trump—and here is my second prediction—will spark a renaissance in districts and schools working on critical thinking skills and teachers and students parsing mainstream and social media for accuracy. Maybe the next generation will respect facts, think more logically, be clearer thinkers, and more intellectually curious than our current President.

Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under technology

6 responses to “Reflections on 2017

  1. Doug Johnson

    Thank you, Larry, for another year of insightful and rational commentary on K-12 education. I especially hope your second prediction comes true.

  2. Laura H. Chapman

    I too hope your second prediction is realized. Trump and DeVos and their supporters have no interest in public education.
    It remains to be seen how the gurus of technologies that depend on the internet will fare in an era where there is no longer net neutrality and there is an aggressive move to integrate the business of internet service providers with the business of content providers. The last I checked, the status of e-rates for internet access by schools and libraries was uncertain.

  3. Alice Flarend

    I always appreciate your insight into the talk about tech (or any practice) in the classroom and the actual reality of the implementation. To really assess/observe what is happening in the classroom and what the students are doing taking a lot of time and effort. We just had some tech integration guru spend a day in our small district stopping into classrooms (not mine) and talking to teachers (not me). From that (lame) observation the conclusion was drawn that we were not using the iPad in a way that would leverage what they are good for, which apparently is creativity, although that has never been mentioned to me as a faculty member. When I asked what that would look like in a high school science classroom, there was no answer. Again this is the disconnect between the talk and the reality. We need to push for a more valid view of the reality to improve our schools and individual practice.
    And yes I am renewed in my fervor to help my students critically assess information and always look a the deeper, wider picture.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s