Synergy 99 Speech Text Come Together, Right Now:Keynote Introduction: And now I'd like to introduce our keynote speaker. Andy Carvin, a 16-year veteran of the Internet, is new media program officer at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in Washington. He is the author of the pioneering online education resource EdWeb. Named by NetGuide Magazine as "One of the Top 50 Places to Go Online," EdWeb was one of the first websites to advocate the use of the World Wide Web in education. Andy is the founder and moderator of the Web and Education mailing list, WWWEDU, the Internet's oldest and largest email forum on the role of the web in education. Andy and his writings have appeared in numerous publications, including Harvard Educational Review, the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Esther Dyson's Release 1.0, Web Review, and the 2nd edition of The Internet Unleashed, published by Sams/Macmillan. He also contributes a bi-monthly column, 1's and 0's, to the education magazine Multimedia Schools. Andy was recently named by eSchoolNews Magazine as a member of the Impact 30, an annual list highlighting 30 of the most influential people in education technology today.
Forging Educational Communities on the Internet
Synergy '99, Augusta, Georgia
July 9, 1999
Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Andy holds a BS in rhetoric and religion and an MA in telecommunications from Northwestern University, where he received the prestigious Annenberg/Washington Graduate Fellowship. While living in Illinois, he was co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago area arts weekly, Art+Performance Magazine. In his free time, Andy has traveled extensively around the world and has written about his adventures in popular online travelogues. In January Andy premiered From Sideshow to Genocide: Stories of the Cambodian Holocaust, a collection of accounts from survivors of the Khmer Rouge. Most recently Andy has published High Plains Backpacker: An Andean Adventure from Cusco to La Paz. He is also beginning work on Virtual Busk, an online conservation effort to document the 500-year-old Jewish ghetto of Busk, Ukraine, liquidated by the Nazis in May 1943.
Andy: Thanks very much. I'm really glad to be here. Again, my name is Andy Carvin, and I'm at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in Washington DC. Before I get started, a couple of administrative notes. First, for those of you who like to take lots of notes during speeches, you can put your pencils away. My entire presentation is available on the Web, so you'll be able to get a copy of my speech outline from the URL on the screen - http://edweb.gsn.org/synergy99. Later next week, I'll also transcribe the entire speech so you'll have a copy of the speech text online as well. Secondly, as you may have already noticed, my speaking sometimes suffers from a double curse: my family's from Boston and I'm Jewish, so I tend to speak excruciatingly fast. (laughter) I'm going to do my best to slow down as much as possible, but if for whatever reason I get excited or riled up and begin to speak too fast, by all means raise your hand, yell out, or throw a wad of paper at me and I'll know I need to slow down....
(Jean Snyder, from the audience): Can we really throw stuff at you? (laughter)
Andy: Sure; Paper, pencils, whatever... Just as long as it's not something wet and biodegradable like the sandwiches you have leftover from lunch... (laughter) But hey, it's great we're not too large of a group because this way I can yell back at you individually if you decide to yell at me....
So on that note, I'd like to begin with a little interactive survey. Now I can imagine that most of you, if not all of you, have email - am I correct?
Andy: So how many of you have at least one friend or one relative that always seems to be that one person who's always sending you jokes, and chainletters, and good luck messages by email, whether you want them or not?
(entire audience raises hands)
Andy: That's exactly what I expected. I basically have the same thing - in my case, though, I have several friends who do this to me. One of these friends, God bless her, always seems to send me those clever jokes that make fun of the Internet and technology. And one of these emails she just sent was called "Signs That You've Had Too Much of the 90s." It wasn't exactly a Letterman Top Ten list, but it was the same idea. There were about 15 different items listed. Some of my favorites included
Every commercial on television has a website address at the bottom of the screen.(laughter)
You consider 2nd day air delivery painfully slow.
You hear most of your jokes via email instead of in person.
Andy: But there was one that really struck me. It wasn't literally "The Number One Sign You've Had Too Much of The Nineties," but considering what I do for a living and what I like to think about, this one really stood out:
"You chat several times a day with a stranger from South Africa, but you haven't spoken to your next door neighbor yet this year."(laughter, applause)
Andy: The best jokes are always those comments on life you can relate to, and whenever I've ever read this one to people, there's always a certain amount of nervous laughter. In a way it makes me kind of sad. If you look at the Internet, it's growing in all sorts of directions; we're always hearing about it, reading about it, talking about it. But at the same time it's become apparent that in many situations there's a disconnect at the local loop. We always brag about the Internet as a place where you can reach all the way around the world and talk with people, but we don't hear enough on how you can use it to talk with your neighbors.
I've always wondering why this was the case. Interestingly enough, I once had the opportunity to ask Bill Gates this very question. (A full account of my Encounter With the Man can be found at http://edweb.gsn.org/encounter.html.) About two years ago Bill Gates came to DC to inaugurate the MLK public library's new Internet lab. One of my online colleagues who works with the library contacted me and said, "Hey, Bill Gates is gonna be here." I wasn't on the guest list or anything - hey, I wasn't even supposed to be there. So I walked in towards the press check-in desk, flashed my driver's license really quickly and said, "Andy Carvin - CPB" as if I was expecting them to be expecting me, then started to look around the room impatiently as if I was running late and really needed to get in there. They were so embarrassed that they couldn't find me on the list they eventually let me in and had me sit right up near the front row, where I was soon surrounded by Mayor Marion Barry and the DC Control Board. (laughter)
After a while Bill Gates comes out, and he's surrounded by a group of students all standing on a set of risers. He was dressed up just like the rest of the kids so it was almost like he was the valedictorian getting ready for his graduation speech. So Gates gets up and does his shtick for a few minutes, talking about how the Internet is going to revolutionize the lives of children. And then a woman with a microphone gets up and says, "We have some time for some questions from the press - do we have any questions?"
There were a few "real" journalists who were there and they started to ask their questions. But I then started to think frantically: "If you had the opportunity to ask Bill Gates one question, what would it be?" I struggled with this for a few moments - besides, there wasn't enough time for them to get to me, but it seemed like it was a worthy mental exercise. What I didn't realize was that during this exercise I had my right hand up in the air just like this. (laughter) The next thing I know there's a microphone in my hands, and I hear that woman say, "There's time for one last question." Bill Gates is looking at me, Marion Barry is looking at me, the entire press corps is looking at me. So I said the first thing that came to mind - essentially, the very question I've raised here:
"We hear about the Net as this revolutionary tool in which you can reach all the way around the world to communicate with people, yet at the same time we're never hear about how the Net can be used locally, how it can be used in our communities. Why is this the case? What is the role of the Net in our communities?"Well, initially he started by answering with a canned Bill-Gates-of-Microsoft kind of speech: "Microsoft is committed to working with America's communities, yada yada yada..." (laughter) It almost caused me to tune out completely. But then he paused for a moment, with the gears going around in his head, and then he said, "Let's go back a few years and think about how the Net spread on college campuses." I thought, "Aha! Finally, here comes an original thought!" (laughter)
(audience member: I think you were being optimistic... (laughter)
Andy: You'd think so, but here's what he had to say. He said something like this: Think about the way the Net first appeared on college campuses in the 1980s. Initially it was made available to professors, researchers and grad students. They used it to exchange research and post reports - basically, it was for a bunch of science geeks. No one else really used it. But then these geeks began to tell their friends about it, so some non-Geeks gravitated towards it. And then the non-Geeks called their other friends and family and said, 'this is a great way to keep in touch with each other.' Within a few years, the majority of US colleges had ubiquitous Internet access. And when this ubiquity arrived, that meant the students no longer had to think about whether or not they had access to the Internet. Instead they concentrate on what they could do with the Internet. You quickly saw a change in the way people used the Internet. Instead of using it for purely academic reasons, you started to see students planning group intramural meetings, parties, class assignments. This development of Internet communities happened all on its own - they didn't have technology leaders or reformers encouraging them to do it. It all happened because Internet access was ubiquitous....
Now don't forget, this was all coming out of Bill Gates' mouth. He ended his comments by saying if the rest of society reaches the point where we have Internet ubiquity - if everyone has Internet access - that's the point when you'll start to see real community activity online. Whether or not he meant all of this, he raised an interesting point. Unless you have a group of people all online, all comfortable with the technology, it's not going to be used by all of them in revolutionary ways. So just about the same time Bill was telling us this, the Net was really coming into its own as a hip, trendy concept for schools. We really began to hear everyone saying it: "Let's wire the schools!" If it worked well at the college level, it would probably work at the K-12 level, right? So what's happened in the couple of years since then?
As you can see on the chart behind me, in 1994 about one third of US schools (35%) had some kind of Internet access. I should qualify this, though. When schools said they had Internet access, for all we know that meant the principal had an AOL account in her office and no one else could access it. That still would have counted. A more telling stat is the number of instructional classrooms that had Internet access. That stat has a bit more value because at least we can tell if there's access within the classroom. We may not know if it's being used, but the infrastructure is reaching the classroom level. Back then in 1994, only 3% of classrooms had Net access. As of October 1998, 51% of US classrooms had access, and 89% of schools had an Internet connection. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that by the year 2000, 99% of all schools and 88% of all classrooms will have at least one Internet connection. Now whether this will pan out on time remains to be seen. The E-Rate is kicking into high gear, NetDay remains a popular volunteer activity. So I don't know if it'll be 2000 or 2002 or 2008. Whether or not we feel the pace is fast enough, we at least know that over the coming years, all schools will be wired to some capacity. This raises the question of what our priorities are going to be: assuming the schools will be wired, what do we need to worry about now?
Before I tackle that question I want to spend a minute raising a related issue. Despite this progress we still have a major problem when it comes to Internet equity. I know Keith Fulton is going to be giving a speech on this very subject later today, so I don't want to spoil what he has to say, but I just want to make the point that there is a tremendous digital divide between technological Haves and Have-Nots. Those people who can afford access to technology and those who cannot. Just in the last 24 hours the Department of Commerce released a study on this very subject. The report is so brand spanking new that I haven't had a chance to update the numbers on the screen behind me. (laughter) But up until 24 hours ago, these statistics were dead-on. In Low-Poverty Schools, 62% of classrooms had been wired, yet in High-Poverty Schools, only 39% of classrooms had been wired. Not bad, but certainly not great, either. When you look at low-income homes making less than $15,000 a year, 13% had computers, whereas in high-income homes making more than $50,000 a year, 61% had computers. Now again these numbers will have improved somewhat in the survey that just came out, and Keith will give you these latest stats. I could spend the majority of this speech focusing on these issues, but since we have Keith coming in just a few hours I'm going to continue on a different tack: what should we think about as our schools become wired?
This past year Professor Hank Becker at the University of California at Irvine started publishing the results of his 1998 Teaching, Learning and Computing Study. It was really the first major national research study that took at look at how teachers and students with Internet access use it. There's so much rich data coming out of the study they're still publishing new reports, but here are some highlights that I'd like to cite and get you thinking about. Becker and his colleagues looked at schools with high Internet access - we're talking four or five students per Internet computer - but just because schools had Internet access, it didn't mean all the teachers were necessarily using it.
One thing they discovered is that constructivist teachers were more likely to have students use Internet computers than traditional teachers. Essentially this means that those teachers who are comfortable with constructivism - the concept that you want to encourage students to create their own levels of knowledge, you want to give them opportunities to collaborate and be creative - those teachers who were more comfortable with this constructivist style of teaching were much more likely to have students use computers. On the other side of it, those teachers who were much more traditional, who preferred to stand in front of the classroom and give a lecture - like I'm doing right now - and who didn't encourage their students to be creative thinkers were much less likely to have the students use Internet computers.
Becker and his colleagues had another interesting result: Older teachers were more likely to use email to communicate with colleagues than younger teachers. This confused me somewhat at first; you'd think that younger teachers in their 20s and 30s, teachers of my generation, grew up on technology and would be more likely to use technology. In general, I still think that's true, but when it comes to younger teachers using email to exchange their thoughts with colleagues outside of their school, they just didn't do it very much. Hank Becker suggests that perhaps young teachers just don't have many colleagues outside of their own school. They know the teachers on their school campus but that's really about it. On the other hand, if you're a teacher in your 40s or 50s, you may have worked at several schools, may have moved around a bit, so you have a larger potential pool of colleagues you may want to communicate with. So older teachers were more likely to have at least five email exchanges with colleagues during the school year. This raises some intriguing issues as to what we need to do for young teachers coming out of the colleges of education today. What do we do to get them more involved with colleagues? What do we do to make them a part of a bigger community?
Teachers with Internet access only at school were more likely to email colleagues than teachers with Internet access only at home. I also found this somewhat surprising: if you're a teacher and you've taken the time to invest in an Internet computer at home, you'd think you might use it sometimes for work, right? Then again, teachers' lives are busy enough as it is - they need to deal with preparing lesson plans, grading homework, taking care of students - they need to do all those things any other teacher has to do during an average day at school. When you're in school, you're on task. But by the time you get home, you might want to be with your family, watch some TV, read a good book, even get some sleep. For many folks, downtime at home isn't really the best time to be interacting with professional colleagues. It raises the issue of what can we do to provide teachers with more free time in the classroom to interact with their colleagues. Despite all of this, I also need to note that only 16% of all teachers used email at all to interact regularly with colleagues. That means almost 85% of teachers aren't doing this. These teachers have Internet access but they're just not using it in this capacity. It makes you wonder what we can do to improve professional development, to improve professional interaction among teachers.
We've got all the schools getting wired right now but we're only beginning to think seriously about professional development. The Department of Education recently surveyed teachers and they discovered that only 20% of teachers felt comfortable integrating technology into their teaching methods. We're not just looking at the Internet here - we're talking about televisions, VCRs, laser discs. Only 20% of teachers felt confident in how they integrated the use of these technologies into their teaching styles. Many education technology experts recommend that around 30% of a school's technology budget be spent of professional development. Yet the national average for professional development spending is only around 3%. One-tenth of what's often recommended. Clearly there's something going wrong here.
Even in those schools that do have technology-related professional development, we're finding that inservice activities are usually pretty limited. According to the Milken Exchange on Education Technology, teachers on average receive less than 13 hours of technology training per year, and 40% of all teachers have never received any kind of technology training. It's just not on these schools' radar screens.
Yet even if we give every teacher in America a nice long technology course it's not going to be enough. Teachers need real experience and real opportunities for interaction. We need to start having teachers thinking of themselves as community leaders and community activists - members of communities of educators who are always learning about technology. What do I mean by this? If teachers want to make the best use of the Internet - utilize its interactivity, collaboration opportunities, creative opportunities - the teachers themselves must be open to interactivity, collaboration and creativity. And unless we're able to get teachers so they're comfortable with those concepts, chances are they won't be comfortable having their students do these things either. I want to read a quote from Hank Becker and Margaret Riel from one of their reports on the TLC study:
"Teachers' instructional styles mirror their own interaction patterns.... Teachers who learn from their peers, lead their peers, and present their ideas and opinions to their peers are more likely to have their students do the same in the classroom. They conduct their classes in a manner similar to the way they conduct their professional activities."What does this tell us about teachers? If you're uncomfortable with sharing your thoughts or interacting with your colleagues, you may be just as uncomfortable having your students use the Internet to share their thoughts or interact with their peers. We need to start thinking more about what we can do about expanding teachers' professional development communities, both in person and online. It's not one or the other - it's got to be a two-pronged approach. Let's take a look at some of these communities that are already out there right now...
Assuming there's enough time I'd like to introduce four of them to you:
OII: The Online Innovation Institute; Generation www.Y, which is an really fascinating program based out of the Pacific Northwest in which the students serve as the technology leaders in schools; GSN: Global Schoolhouse and the Global SchoolNet Foundation in San Diego; and WWWEDU: The Web and Education Mailing List
The Online Innovation Institute, which was originally called the Online Internet Institute, was founded at the end of 1994 by Ferdi Serim and Bonnie Bracey. They were at the Tel-Ed conference in Albuquerque that November, and they started to think about what they could do in order to get more teachers embracing the power of the Internet. They recognized that it's not enough to train teachers on Netscape or Excel or what have you; they may learn the basics of the technology but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll know how to implement it into their pedagogy.
Ferdi and Bonnie, along with a larger group of edtech pioneers, developed the OII program, which is in the simplest sense a train-the-trainers model. They work with eager teachers in communities around the country and get them to become local technology leaders who can go back into their schools and serve as mentors for their colleagues. The way they do this, I like to call it Professional Development by Passion. Instead of going in and saying, "Today we'll learn Netscape," they'll get a group of educators together and find out what subjects they love to teach most. "What subjects are you most passionate about?" A bunch of teachers will then raise their hands and holler out things like "the migration of Monarch butterflies" or "How Gregor Mendel put together his theories on genetics." If you get enough teachers together, chance are you'll find several of them who each share similar interests.
So instead of boring the teachers with technology instruction, they can say, "We want you to put together an online lesson plan on Gregor Mendel. Let's find the tools that will help you do it." The teachers learn how the Internet works as it relates to the subjects they care about. They go online, learn how to use search engines, learn HTML, learn about WebQuests and techniques for designing online lesson plans. By the end of the session, not only have they learned the technology, they've also learned how to apply it - they know how to integrate the tools into their personal teaching styles. The teachers also go home with a tangible example of how they can use the Internet in the classroom - and they've done it with a new group of colleagues with whom they can continue to work. So in the broadest sense, that's what OII does. You can learn more about their great work at http://oii.org.
The next model is rather different; some would say revolutionary. It's called Generation Why (though it's sometimes spelled out as Generation www.Y). Generation Why is a federally-funded program developed by Dennis Harper several years ago in Olympia, Washington. He, along with others, observed that many teachers (and lots of adults in general) just don't get this Internet stuff. They don't see the point of it; sometimes they feel threatened by it. But their students love it; they understand the Internet instantly. And even if they don't have it at home, kids flock to it wherever they can get access to it, and they learn it very quickly. So Dennis came up with an interesting idea: what if we had the students teach technology to the teachers? In some quarters you'd catch a lot of flak for an idea like this - it just seemed incongruous to have a teacher sit behind a desk and have a student get up and teach a lesson about the Internet. But Dennis developed a model in which the idea could really work. Here's how they do it.
At a Generation Why school, students have the option to enroll in what's essentially an edtech mentoring class. In 18 weeks these students are taught everything they might need to know about using technology in the classroom, how teachers use technology, and what it means to be a successful mentor. At the end of these 18 weeks the students are scattered throughout the school so you've got at least one of them in every class during every period. So now they've got the training and skills to serve as a teacher's personal technology coordinator for each class. A teacher can then approach these students and say, "In two weeks we begin a unit on the Emancipation Proclamation. I'm going to need help putting together a web lesson for it." The student will then spend the time working with this teacher, developing this lesson plan. The student will be in charge of the technology aspects of it - helping out with search engines, HTML, etc. - while the teacher is in charge of the pedagogy. So not only does this lead to the creation of effective web projects, it introduces students to what it means to teach, while it introduces teachers to the ins and outs of technology.
Generation Why was funded by the Department of Commerce's TIIAP program several years back, and it's expanded to such a point that it's spread all over the country. Dennis and his students have developed an entrepreneurial model for going into other school districts, consulting for them and teaching them how to implement the Generation Why method. In this past school year alone over 1000 technology-based educational projects were completed successfully in Generation Why schools, with students leading the teacher through the use of technology.
Global Schoolhouse is certainly one of the best known and respected education communities on the Internet. The project was founded in 1993 by Al Rogers and Yvonne Andres after they received funding from the National Science Foundation. Its origins go back even further than that; in the 1980s Al Rogers was the creator of FredWriter and FredMail, two of the first word processing and email software packages for teachers. Global Schoolhouse is an online clearinghouse of education technology projects for teachers. Not only do teachers learn about new projects, they get to participate actively and even develop many of these projects. Over the years they've grown in all sorts of directions, and now receive money from major technology players like Microsoft. Global Schoolhouse recognized early that teachers appreciate all the positive guidance they can get when it comes to Internet projects; by giving these teachers this kind of guidance, these teachers can eventually become technology leaders in their own right.
As you can see on the screen behind me, their address is http://www.gsn.org. It would take me hours to go through all of the wonderful projects they've developed and partnered with over the years, but I'd like to cite some examples, some you've probably heard of. Community Share Web is an Internet showcase for students in which the kids develop websites concerning their own communities. Students will fan out and talk with their community elders, their parents and grandparents, and put together a hypertextual historical record of what makes their town special. GSH serves as the catalyst for these websites, giving students the tools and the framework for creating community websites.
ThinkQuest is personally one of my favorite GSH-related projects. The idea behind ThinkQuest is based on the notion that kids are clearly talented and creative thinkers - why don't we give them an opportunity to showcase their skills, demonstrate their website building skills, and reward them for their best work? So ThinkQuest has become an annual contest in which students from around the world can participate. They don't have to be officially affiliated with a particular school, though - a homeschooler in Florida can team up with a pair of students in Kuala Lumpur and create a website on birth of algebra in Central Asia. Their websites can be as esoteric as they want - all it takes is two or three students with a love of a particular subject, and ThinkQuest provides them with the Internet tools to do it.
The thing that always amazes me about ThinkQuest is the across-the-board quality of these websites. Sometimes they look like a fortune was spent on these sites, as if professionals with a design budget had developed them. ThinkQuest sites have interactivity, elegant graphics design, intelligent hypertextual organization - all the things you'd want to see on an adult's website or even a company's website. I've seen so many situations where a teacher visits a ThinkQuest website and they just don't believe the students made it. They practically have to sit the students down and say "Make me another website right now." (laughter) To me I think the greatest benefit of ThinkQuest is that it teaches thousands of adults, thousands of teachers that they have to trust their students and give them the tools and opportunities to be creative. Kids can really work wonders and these websites prove it. Not too long ago ThinkQuest announced the winners of ThinkQuest Jr., in which the participants were kids ages 12 and younger. These websites were often just as good as ThinkQuest sites at the high school level. It never ceases to amaze me. You can visit http://www.thinkquest.org/ and enter their Library to take a look at these websites. They'll give you a vivid sense of what can happen if you give students the tools they need to be creative.
One last example from Global Schoolhouse is K-12Opps. As the name suggests, it's a listserv for teachers on new K-12 opportunities. Teachers from all over join the list for two reasons - they want to hear about new projects and they want to talk about new projects. Teachers can use the list to learn about new projects or even propose their own ideas. So if you're a middle school life sciences teacher with four Internet computers in your classroom you can join the list, find other teachers with similar interests and circumstances, and come up with exciting new ways to work together on projects. Even though K-12Opps is just an email discussion list, all sorts of new and wonderful ideas are shared here.
The last example I'd like to present is near and dear to my heart; I've got to admit I'm plugging it because it's mine (laughter). WWWEDU, the Web and Education list, though we like to pronounce it as "we do." WWWEDU is similar to K-12Opps in the sense that it's an email-based community for teachers interested in using the Internet. In this case, though, our focus is very specific. We focus on how the web can be used in education. We don't talk about how to install PC card modems, we don't talk about the latest educational CD ROMs or video discs. The list exists as a place to talk about the World Wide Web and how it impacts learning.
Now that's not to say our topics aren't broad. WWWEDU discussions will include premieres and reviews of new websites, people asking for constructive criticism about their websites. The merits of Acceptable Use Policies and filtering software are fair game. People discuss participation in Web projects like ThinkQuest or the use of free websites like GeoCities and Koz in the classroom. We also love to debate political issues, which admittedly can get dicey at times. Now these political discussions, mind you, are still tied to how teachers and students use the web: mandatory filtering requirements, the rights of teachers and students to publish materials online, and so on.
WWWEDU, unlike many other educational lists, isn't a simple question-and-answer listserv in which people ask basic questions, get responses, end of discussion. The list is a forum for sometimes loud and boisterous debate on web-related issues.... I can see Jean Snyder laughing in the audience because she knows I'm telling the truth about this... (laughter)
Jean: It's certainly contentious sometimes....
Andy: It certainly can be...
Jean: But that's what makes it a wonderful listserv
Andy: And it's not one of those lists that pummels you with 50 or 60 messages a day. If there's a major debate going on we might see as many as 25 or 30 messages in a day, but on the average day we see around 10 to 15 messages, give or take. We're also not an American group. Though we have members from all 50 states we're up to around 40 or 45 countries represented as well. It's sometimes hard to tell where people are from because email addresses don't always give it away. An email address ending in .uk is clearly from Great Britain but you may also get addresses like highlands.net which might be in Scotland but you just can't tell automatically. But from what we can tell we've got at least 40 nations represented on WWWEDU.
Before I wrap things up I'd like to talk about some of the issues we need to consider in order to start getting teachers to become more active as community members.
Professional development. Spending only three percent of your technology budget on professional development just won't cut it any more. Otherwise we're just throwing away money at technology - these tools won't be used properly, or even used at all. If you take a look at recent trends in wiring schools, the US alone has spent billions of dollars to wire classrooms and provide Internet computers. Many critics have argued that we're jumping the gun on educational networking and that we need to spend more time thinking about why we're doing all this and what we hope to do with these technology tools. In some ways they're probably right; we've wired the schools but too many of us don't really know how to take it to the next step. What are we going to do about it? How are we going to get teachers better prepared? No matter how you feel about professional development methods, whether it's an OII model, Generation Why model, or something more traditional, we need to spend more time and money thinking about implementing quality professional development.
Teachers need to be taught adaptive leadership skills instead of technology skills. What do I mean by adaptive leadership skills? As I said before, if you teach an educator how to use a technology like Netscape but don't show them to adapt it to their own teaching styles, all they'll understand is how to use Netscape in a controlled setting. You must learn to be adaptable with technology, learn to be comfortable with the types of tools that are available now and open to learning about tools that may be coming around the corner. You need to be willing to share your adaptability skills and knowledge with others. If you're a teacher and you're comfortable with going with the flow of new technology, chances are you'll be better prepared over long haul as better tools become available to you. It's a matter of becoming a lifelong technology learner. On the other hand, if you don't learn to adapt, you'll eventually lose patience and perhaps even give up. Too many teachers burn out at an early age, and frustration with technology often makes matters worse.
We need to start re-thinking preservice education. As I mentioned earlier, young teachers often don't have many contacts outside of their school. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. If you go to a school of education, you'll have your professors and fellow student teachers, but eventually you'll get that first job and be placed in a real classroom. In that short period of time you may get a chance to meet some of your teaching colleagues at that school, but otherwise you can be boxed into those four walls of your classroom, with no outside professional contact. It's not exactly the best series of events to get you more involved in educational communities. We need to think about how this can be addressed at the preservice level: what can we do to expand or develop online communities that embrace preservice teachers along with inservice teachers? What can we do so that when these student teachers enter the education workforce they'll already have a community of fellow teachers that they can connect to and avoid feeling isolated? If these new teachers are part of such a group and feel like they're a committed member of that community, the more like they would be to try new teaching tools and teaching styles as they are discussed within that community.
Time is precious, and we have to make the most out of it. I'm sure I don't have to tell any of you that, of course, since teachers, as much as any profession, know just how precious time really is. There's never enough of it, and there's no obvious solution for creating more of it. But we need to find ways to provide teachers with the time and resources to prepare online lessons and actively engage in professional development opportunities. Today's Internet technology, as we know, isn't always smart when it comes to saving time. All of you who've ever used a search engine know that you won't necessarily find what you want on the first hit, the tenth hit, or even the hundredth hit. (laughter) If you're a teacher working late at night to wrap up a lesson for tomorrow, there's nothing more frustrating that wasting away time on the Internet looking for what you need right now.
What can we do to improve opportunities for teachers to find what they want, when they want to find it? If you think about it, it's not just educators who have to deal with this question. Producers of online education content and search engines that cater to education need to take these time issues very seriously as well. If you're a big-time educational website that's just blown half a million dollars designing a new bleeding-edge site, you'd like to think that teachers will be able to find exactly what they want very quickly. That's often not the case. If a teacher can't find the content she's looking for in the first couple of minutes, she may very well give up. We're not going to use sites as long as they waste our time. Website developers need to take these time issues into consideration; they need to get to know teachers better and find out exactly how they work and what their needs are. Just because a producer thinks they've got a quality education website doesn't mean the teaching community will agree.
I'd also like to raise the importance of administrative leadership. If you want technology to work in the schools it's not enough to have one noble, intrepid, excited, early-adopter teacher leading the way. If it happens that way, while his or her classroom may reap the benefits of it, chances are much of the rest of the school won't. We need to have visible leadership at the school level and at the district level. We need to find better ways to reward teachers for successfully integrating technology in their teaching - ways to reward teachers for teaching their colleagues how to do it as well. We need to develop multi-year technology plans that are taken seriously from the top down. If you don't have a strong technology strategy, you'll see your school get balkanized into separate fiefdoms of teachers: some teachers will get really excited and go off to use technology on their own, another group who are curious about technology but are intimidated by the prospects of it, and a third group that will resist technology at all costs and have nothing to do with it. It takes leadership to guide these philosophical camps and prevent them from splintering. Without it you'll soon find this kind of philisophical stratification among your teaching colleagues.
I'd like to wrap things up by having all of you think back to that time so long ago - or not so long ago, perhaps - when you went online for the first time. Humor me. (laughter) Your experiences are probably similar, whether you went online six weeks ago, six months ago, even six years ago. Chances are, when you first went online, you stumbled. You made mistakes. You didn't necessarily do all the things right, and may have even embarrassed yourselves a couple of times. (laughter) Every week now we've got thousands of educators going online for the first time, experiencing the same feelings you did. So that means thousands of these same educators are getting frustrated with their first experiences on the Net.
Think about what you find when you go online. There's too much useless information. There's too much inappropriate information that can cause you to panic when you or your students stumble upon it during class. Search engines lead you on endless wild goose chases so you never really find exactly what you were looking for. And too many sites are frothing with commercial hype yet have questionable educational payoff. For a teacher who's avoided the Net up til now and is going online for the first time, if she doesn't have a community of colleagues to support her, this experience can be frustrating to the point that she may want to give up after day one. Why bother with a tool that's driving you nuts when you've obviously never needed it before, right? There are over a million educators on the Internet right now, yet the compounding of these frustrations makes it all too easy for you to feel completely alone and isolated online.
The only way we can get teachers to appreciate the powers of the Internet is to get them to think that they're not just inexperienced surfers or observers. They're now a part of the Net. They're now members of a greater community of online educators. Teachers need to see themselves as contributors and collaborators, as collectors and creators, as members of an active, caring community. Otherwise thousands of educators will just fall through the online cracks, and all of our efforts to embrace these new technologies will just go to waste. Thank you.
As I said earlier, my presentation is online at http://edweb.gsn.org/synergy, so be sure to visit it. I believe we have time for some questions....
Question: You spoke earlier of the need to work with preservice teachers as early as possible in order to prepare them to become better users of technology and members of active professional communities. I'm personally concerned about what we do to get inservice teachers using technology and changing their teaching styles. You also referred to teachers' lack of time, and many teachers who resist technology often raise time as their reason for not wanting to change their methods and use more technology.
Andy: It's a difficult issue. I don't even think it's even a technology issue. It's a personality issue. There are plenty of teachers who are completely comfortable with they way they teach, yet too many of their students just aren't performing very well. It's very hard to get a teacher who's taught for 20+ years and has never had a reason to change his or her style, and tell them, "You've got to use technology. You've got to learn to collaborate." "Why now?," they'll respond. "When I went to school I didn't have computers. Neither did you. And we turned out just fine." There are so many reasons to resist change.
As I said, there seem to be three groups of attitudes, and these three groups, sociologically speaking, exist in all sorts of environments outside of schools. You've got that one-third of people who are early adopters - they like trying new things, whether it's new technology, new teaching styles, new types of pasta, whatever. So whatever is new and interesting and bold, they want to experiment with it, be the first kid on the block to try it. Next to them you've got the one-third of folks who are in the middle. They're curious, they want to know what's going on, but they're fairly comfortable with themselves and the way things are. But if something new comes along and others have shown it's useful or interesting, these folks are likely to give it a shot. But at the end you've got this last one-third of people who are satisfied with the way things are, and they way they do things now is the right way to do it, period. Nothing that anyone else tries to do is going to change their minds.
If this generalization is even close to true, even if we had the perfect technology opportunity - a fully wired school system, plenty of money for professional development, etc. - you'll still have a sizable percentage of teachers who are going to resist change tooth and nail. So this raises the issue of using natural attrition to replace the naysayers. We're now starting to see a serious change in the demographics of teachers today compared to ten years from now. If you look at the growth of the current student population, by around 2008 we're going to need about half a million new teachers to teach these new students. At the same time, about 1.5 million teachers who are currently teaching are expected to retire in the next decade. The teaching population has aged significantly in the last 30 years. In the early 70s the majority of teachers were under 30 and a minority were in their 40s and 50s. Now those numbers have reversed. This means hundreds of thousands of these teachers in their 40s and 50s are going to either retire or change professions in the coming decade. This raises an interesting question: do we really want to concentrate on trying to change the minds of older teachers who are set in their ways, or do we want to focus on student teachers studying at our schools of education, and inculcate them with philosophies of collaboration, creativity, and comfort towards technology use? In the long term that may be the only practical solution.
Question, continued: The reason I asked this question is because many older teachers see current technology trends as a conspiracy of sorts that's be created specifically to get them out of the profession....
Andy: There are certainly a lot of teachers who are threatened by technology but I think there's always been a certain percentage of teachers who feel threatened by teaching styles that aren't necessarily their own. Think about all the tumult that happened over Whole Language versus Phonics, or the implementation of New-New Math in California. Whether or not particular teaching methods survive the test of time, there will always be some teachers who want to resist them while other teachers will be willing to experiment every time a new things comes around the bend. So it doesn't have to be technology that causes some teachers to worry. It's just that technology is currently in the spotlight. But we also see similar resistance over charter schools, site-based management, things like that. In many cases it'll be the same people who resist these and other experiments in change, while another like-minded group of people will embrace them because their new. I certainly sympathize with teachers who worry about using technology and resist it, but I think we need to find good ways to introduce them to it, to adjust them to the transition towards technology we're seeing now and over the coming few years. For some the answer will be adjustment. For others it may be retirement. Change happens. So if new, younger teachers are more likely to be comfortable with technology, we probably need to target them more and get them as best prepared, as early as possible. We just have to be very aware of those teachers who resist change, we need to work with them diplomatically, because it will do none of us good if we choose to fight and anger people.
It appears we're out of time... Thanks for coming. (applause)