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What if the technology revolution in schools is really about the simple stuff?

January 18, 2012

The complicated school day is essentially designed so the minimum number of staff are away from kids at any given time. Some folks are trying to combat this with common planning time and other scheduling gymnastics. These attempts are up against a strong opposing priority– students must be with an adult essentially 100% of the time. Not only that, but the middle of a hectic day focused on teaching is not really conducive to reflection, strategizing, and deep planning on a tight schedule. The temptation to use this precious time to put out the days (or weeks) fires instead of the kind of collaboration and professional learning desired is just too strong.

And quite honestly, I think teachers should get space in the day to vent, grade papers, setup their classroom, call parents, and do all the normal “maintenance” required to keep their classes running. The question then remains, how do we create this dynamic space for professional learning, coordination of services, collaboration on lesson delivery, creative thinking about school structures, etc?

I really think that Travis on Stories from School has it right: use technology to make it easy for teachers, administrators, and other staff to communicate and coordinate. There is no shortage of snake oil peddled to “solve” education in America and one of the most persistent memes is the technological revolution will alter classrooms forever. Technology’s real promise is in *schools* and not classrooms1. Sharing assessment results and lesson plans, coordinating with interventions being offered to a student, talking to other teachers who have or have had the same student, and more can all be made much easier with technology. Rather than finding the time to meet face-to-face, faculty members can put energy into building relationships around teaching and learning when they have the time. The opportunity to breakaway the time constraints typically placed on synchronous conversation is huge. The opportunity for rich asynchronous sharing is virtually brand new.2I do not want this to sound like pushing for “social media” for teachers, mostly because the technological innovations involved are not a part of the current flavor of Web 2.0 networking. Even the old tools like email, instant messaging, and perhaps the oldest social tool of all, discussion boards, could be extremely helpful for folks.

None of this is new, most of this has been said, yet it seems like too few schools have found a way to leverage existing and inexpensive technology to implement this kind of communication as an essential part of work culture. That seems like a massive missed opportunity that should not be lost while district officials are distracted by quick-and-dirty 4 week online courses for credit recovery.


  1. There are several reasons I’m not optimistic on technology revolutionizing the classroom. My preferred explanation is that the *technology of learning has not changed, *not to be confused with the technology of human machines, but instead the technology of *the* human machine. Human learning is no different from it was in the past so our technology can only promise new delivery mechanisms for the same thousands of years old approach to teaching and learning. Education can gain efficiencies in delivery that are not to be underestimated. But I think of a revolution as changing a process so dramatically that an observer would barely recognize the process a decade later. The computers and the internet have certainly done that in some fields, but I don’t see this happening in schools. [return]
  2. Ok, so I guess teachers could leave a flyer in mailboxes in the past, but come on [return]