The Educator's PLN

The personal learning network for educators

On January 15, 2014 my Blog will be three years old. With this post included I have written 223 posts just for my blog. In addition, I have done several dozen guest posts for other blogs. On a week-to-week basis I strive to write something new about education, or at least a new take on an old subject, but there are some subjects that linger with very little change.

Social media’s influence in education is a great example of slow change under the influence social media itself on education. The acceptance of social media in our culture has allowed social media’s slow acceptance into our school system as a source of branding, collaboration, and communication. The idea of blanket banning of students and teachers from all social media, although, unbelievably, still existing in some less enlightened districts, has been a declining practice. There are far fewer posts about that narrowly considered practice. At least this is progress.

Technology’s acceptance in education however, seems to be a never-ending subject amongst bloggers. Many refer to the fear factor involved with educators and technology. I do not understand what there is to fear from technology. It is what we all depend on to drive our civilization at this point. It is part of our world, and will continue to be so into the future. Our kids will use it and rely on it more than we do, as we used it and relied on it more than our parents did.

There is no longer a choice as to whether or not educators should incorporate technology tools for learning into education. That boat has sailed, that train left the station, that genie is out of the bottle, and that horse got out of the barn. Time to close that barn door and get on with it.

If there is nothing to fear about technology, why are so many educators fearful of it? I have often read that there is a technophobia among some educators. Could it be a fear of being replaced by a computer? I doubt it, because educated adults, especially educators, should be able to recognize that as a myth perpetrated by science fiction. Computers cannot replace teachers, but they can make teachers more effective and efficient.

I think the real pushback on technology from educators comes not from fear, but rather a reluctance to give up time and effort to have to learn something else. Teaching is not an easy job to begin with. It requires not only subject or content knowledge, but education knowledge as well. It requires mastery of two areas and that comes with a price. It requires more than a specialized degree, but additionally, an ongoing struggle to stay relevant in a society that is undergoing continual change at an ever-increasing rapid pace. Learning about technology and how to incorporate it into learning specific to one’s class may be a bridge too far for many educators.

This dilemma, as pervasive as it seems to be, is not totally the fault of the educators. Many educators have taken to learning on their own. They have personalized their learning to address their needs, as well as the needs of their students. As educators we know that self-motivation in learning is not a common commodity. It also holds true for educators who are learners as well.

If our education system requires that our educators maintain their relevance through education than the system should have a responsibility to provide the support and security to do so in terms of time and access to learning. Professional Development needs to be more than an occasional workshop that can then be checked off of an Administrator’s list of things that need to be done for the year. PD must be prioritized and supported on an ongoing basis. It must be part of the workweek. In addition to providing access to new ideas, technology, and methodology, time must be afforded for educators to collaborate on what they have learned. Educators need time and support to put into practice what they need to learn.

In an ideal world every educator would pursue relevance on their own as life long learners. They would seek out the latest and greatest methods and technologies to enhance their teaching and all would benefit. All would be right with the world. Unfortunately for us, we do not live in that world. Educators are strapped for time and money as much as anyone else. Fear of learning something new is far less a factor than time or inclination to do so. If we want to incent people to learn more, we need to prioritize it with time and money. It always comes down to this.

Professional Development for educators for the most part has been left to the individual educators. The hours spent on PD are often mandated by the district, or state and described in teacher contracts, but the learning often comes at the expense of the educator. This is a model that does not work. We are a system obsessed with assessments, yet we fail to assess many of the things that would really make a difference. Try assessing the effectiveness of PD in a district. Is it making a difference to the entire system, or are only a few educators benefitting? If your system’s method of PD does not do what PD is supposed to do, than maybe you need to change the way you are doing it.

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Comment by Oscar Marin on January 22, 2014 at 7:49pm

One thing I liked about your blog is the professional development for educators which had been left for the most part and this needs to be mandated. The whole model needs a revision. Assessing the effectiveness of PD is important and we need to make changes to them. 

Comment by James Dean on January 16, 2014 at 3:34pm

Thanks, Thomas for a very well written piece.  One comment that really stands out to me in your blog is the blanket PD that is required for all educators.  It reminds me of how we use to give students the "pre-tests" in a new chapter of material, evaluate them on this, but still teach from page to page of material even if our students showed mastery of the content already.  Teachers can become frustrated with blanket PD when they already know the information.  If they could demonstrate or have shown mastery let's allow them to move on to more meaningful PD.  This personalized learning ultimately benefits the students.  

I look forward to reading more of your posts and comments of this community.

James

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