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IWBs and the Fallacy of Integration

This is a reflection that started as a comment in Miguel Guhlin's blog.

Miguel asks, If teachers can't integrate computers into daily instruction, do you honestly expect them to embrace a complex interactive whiteboard?

I find a paradox there. At first sight, IWBs or LMSs are, in my opinion, the traditional teacher's promised land. How can a standard blackboard compete in motivating your students? IWBs are such a heads-up approach.

Take LMSs. You can administrate materials and check students actual use of them like never before. You can even tell the time spent on the platform. Look at how much they study outside class hours. Super. Let's buy that.

I can hear you Miguel. You have evidence of the contrary. You know that there is another use of the same technology. Far more meaningful uses. But that's a difference in ideology, not technology.

These two technologies have based their marketing strategies catering for traditional teacher's needs. Namely, two things: motivation and control. One seems to need the other, apparently. Keep the students motivated and you are a great teacher in control of the learning process.

But we miss the point. Motivation has a short-term effect. New things will be old again. If we equal motivation with learning we will cling too much to it and direct our best efforts (and school budget) to gaining back control. A useless cycle that can lead us to consider extremely double-edged ideas like paying students to keep them learning.

The point is learning, unlike motivation, has a long-term consequence. We need students who are not seduced by classroom procedures which act like motivational fireworks. We need students who develop a genuine love of discovering, gathering data and discussing it with their classmates, teachers and real field experts that might join them via Skype, for example. We need autonomous, self-motivated students in love with the process of how humanity has learnt.

So far, for the classroom level. But the classroom is inside a school. The tree is not the forest. And yet.. What happens when the school decides to spend money in technology?

If there is anything to gain from the acquisition of technology on the part of schools is the revelation that success is not tied to budget. Success awaits in the adoption of the new. And I mean far and wide adoption.

Last week, teachers at my workplace were introduced for the first time to an LMS the school has bought and expects them to use. My manager told me the questions at the end of the session were mainly concerned with a sensation of losing control by going paperless. I was puzzled. I asked my manager: Can you imagine if you had introduced them to blogs or any other open technology where the world can know how you teach and post unexpected comments to it? That is more like losing the control comfort zone, don't you think?

I find your question, Miguel, is fairly similar to mine last Wednesday. Now, after reading your thoughtful post, I see we are both wrong.

There is a underlying idea in the framing of our questions that needs unlearning. The belief that there are "levels", layers of complexity, hierarchies that we can detect and... well, control. But wait! Isn't that the very old way we want to truly change with new technologies?

We already know it's about shifting power. Tight teacher control is a hindrance to foster empowered students who own their learning paths. We need to be aware of the old way finding its way to surface in what we question.

There are no levels, but purposes or procedures which are valid or not. Tech is tech no matter what it does. It's innovative in its nature. We can tell by the huge resistance to it. If there is no resistance in the process, we are probably facing improvements and weighing their gains in efficiency points. Good enough, only it is not an innovation. Innovation is not about "more or better", it's about "different".

Innovations need more company than just a pioneer teacher adopting it. I've learnt a lot with blogging in the last four years. However, I must accept that there is a limit to how much I can continue growing as a teacher if my school context at large bases decisions exclusively with top-down approaches. Success to me looks like a constant flow of ideas and implementations that do not need the red-tape approval process required in pyramidal structures.

What is the school picture today? What does my working context look like?
I see an illusion that technology is to be bought, taught, used in class and then we can expect everyone to be happy. This false assumption seems to be guiding managerial decisions. This is the same old story behind the idea of technology "integration".

The technology integration fallacy goes hand in hand with that of digital natives. It's hard to believe in one and not the other. If technology is to be integrated you don't need to ask teachers, you just buy it. Then you decide that training people is necessary. They need to catch up or they will be ashamed or powerless in the classroom unable to speak the language of their digital savvy students.

As regards training, I doubt formal courses can make people adopt informal ways of learning. Courses could change teacher behaviour and leave their mindset untouched. If people are not convinced, the model is not sustainable. So courses are just a piece in the puzzle. Courses cater more for the toolset, not necessarily the mindset.

What are students in my classroom really like? To begin with, students are not digital natives. They know very little about educational uses of the technology they have been using for entertainment purposes only. They are quite ready to resist thoughtful, time consuming uses of the same technology. Particularly if they have had no part in choosing or deciding together with the teacher how we would use it. On top of that, they love a traditional class, classroom friends and a teacher they can admire and trust. Good teachers who have never used technology know this.

Achieving meaningful uses of technology in education will take more than school investment followed by leveling or catching-up-with-the-hype courses. Yet this is what most schools do. Now money has already been invested. There we have the LMS and the IWBs used as bigger screens. So? What's next?

First things first. Stay out of the tug-of-war. It is not a moment to think if the school is wrong in imposing it and teachers are right in resisting it. It's probably the moment to get together and go ahead purposefully. This is short-term thinking, though. Somehow teachers need to communicate to managers that the buy-don't-ask is an unhealthy approach from now on. Managers jobs also need to learn from these experiences.

Ideally, we should envision a future where authorities engage teachers in conversations before buying. In top-down approaches, school leaders tend to ask editors and companies first. The quality of the decision-making process can and should be improved in order to save money in adoption courses as well as saving school manager's time and energy justifying investments.

Innovative teaching practices require innovative management practices. Let's think of adoption models that rely on having one-to-one conversations with teachers, experimenting together, asking them how far they feel they need mentoring, identifying what makes teachers happy at work. Although time consuming, in my opinion, these are more long-term effective adoption models than countless courses for each new gadget so as to keep up. To materialize this vision, we need managers who are committed to an idea of success that translates to people learning, not just tools working. It takes a deep understanding that these people are professionals whose current competences count.

I prefer to keep away from the idea of levels as we know it. People who have dedicated years to a teaching profession are committed to something. Let's find out what that is. They want to learn. They have a unique viewpoint towards whatever disrupts their teaching. Resistance is to be expected. Wouldn't it help if they had a say in the decision to buy new technologies? Sure. Just help, not solve. I imagine that implementing those conversations in a school context would unveil deeper conflict and resistances we cannot foresee today. Worth trying, though.

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You are correct, in your comment here about how similar our ideas are: http://pairadimes.davidtruss.com/choose-your-battle/ We could actually combine our posts and the ideas would be unified enough to give the impression of a single author. That said, you add much more to what I've said, (thus the liberal quoting I did of your post in the second comment).

I especially like what you said here:
"Ideally, we should envision a future where authorities engage teachers in conversations before buying."
I just went through an interesting process of presenting my tech proposal to my school's owner (I'm now at a private-for-profit school), and although I told my staff my intentions ahead of time, I must be honest and say I 'told' rather than 'consulted' them... hmmm.
However, the main part of my budget will go to LCD projectors and netbooks for teachers so we are not talking about IWB or the like... rather we are talking about what I would call 'essentials'. Still, you post made me realize that I should have involved my staff more in the decision making. Thank you for the leadership lesson!

One final thought, I'm not a fan of IWB's - I think they are too expensive for a 1-student-at-a-time-tool. But then, my only real experience seeing them in use has been as LCD projectors seldom used even as a touch screen... (which a touch-pad netbook can do for 1/10 the cost). When you spend so much on the tool, (and on the limited budgets schools have),it is hard to also provide the necessary training to use the tool effectively and to it's potential!

I understand your priorities. Your budget distribution ideas make sense to a networked mind. The decisions we see at most schools are teacher-centred.
Now, I remember a conversation once with Silvia Tolisano. I was telling her I would not recommend a blog to give students homework. Yet I see the idea taking on in many teachers new to blogs. Silvia told me something that still resonates:
-"It's a start."

Sometimes the most difficult step is the first one. It may seem like a long way to go after a teacher has settled on the idea of giving homework through a blog. Perhaps it'll be harder to make them explore other uses and stretch the comfort zone.

IWBs is the title of this post because that is what my school bought. That's going to be the first step for my colleagues. I believe there are no levels. The cycles of resistance and adoption of the new still apply.

Three years ago I had 3 computers in a lab for 10 students. It was difficult. It was a start. Now the lab is equipped with 10 machines and an IWB. I would have spent the money in having computers in every classroom instead of an IWB I must book a room to use. I have my netbook now. Once I asked for a bigger screen to be used to review wikispaces features before they worked on their own at home. It was simply perfect. Everybody went home and posted the homework immediately.

My guess is we will still see many bloggers posting the same story.

"It's a start"... indeed... but... to use your own words,
If there is no resistance in the process, we are probably facing improvements and weighing their gains in efficiency points. Good enough, only it is not an innovation. Innovation is not about "more or better", it's about "different".
I did a presentation, "This my blog has taught me" in Boston at BLC08 a couple years ago. In it I assumed the reasons that someone would come to the presentation:
A) You are a blogger
B) You would like to be a blogger
C) You would like your students/staff to blog
After questioning the audience and getting feedback, I then said:
If A or B then C, but if not A or B then go to http://www.go2web20.net/ and find another tool!
I understand we need to start somewhere, but I think a blog as a homework board does not promote 'different'... and in fact may promote being 'stuck' in old paradigms. Perhaps in an ideal teacher-learning environment that teacher would be guided to 'start' somewhere else. :-)

(Jackmate in this blogging chess. With my own words. Sighs.)

I didn't agree with Silvia then. That was last year. I had been asked to prepare a short intro to blogging to be used in the forced swine flu break. I had been asked to teach them to use the blog for simple things such as giving homework. The course could not be done. Swine flu won and we had to close the school.

But now, thinking that there are not levels, the metaphor would be the carrousel I mentioned in your blog comment. Because it has the play element and the possibility to hop on at any point.

There are other uses to promote different. Granted. But we are not teaching to become bloggers. It's connecting we are concerned with. Mindset, not skill set. Minds are changed in conversations like these based solely on our blogging voices. (Just in case someone gets the wrong idea we have met f2f to make this dialogue possible.)

I still need to reflect on this. A year ago I would have said you need to know some html to tweak your blog a little. I would have measured adoption by the reduced use of email, which could be replaced by RSS, Twitter, Delicious, etc. Now I would recommend Posterous to blog from your email and save time tweaking to go directly to analyse blogging examples. Take geeky aspects away and learn to have a voice.

Wow, this is a deep conversation. I think part of the process needs to be one where teachers are exposed to the possibilities technology can bring for them and their students. Seeing the possibilities is a first step towards taking some risks to try new things.

The focus though needs to be on learning, not teaching. Teaching should be a means to encouraging, facilitating, and sustaining learning. Technology has a role in this for efficiency, variety, individuality for both the teacher and their students. It should open doors to new ways of learning that aren't ordinarily possible without the technology. We like to talk here about transformative uses of technology.

The other key to success we've found is a very thought-ful approach to staff development. Embedded action research, in our experience, has worked very well for teachers. Add design teams of educators and principals to the mix when introducing a major change, and the recipe really works.

Great post Claudia.

Thank you for your detailed comment. You use several phrases that set me thinking:
"transformative uses of technology";
"Education is about opening doors";
"Thoughtful approach to staff development is a key to success".

Interesting to see them mentioned in that order. I view this list as a never ending cycle diagram.

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