The Problem of Integrating Technology

I’ve been working on this one for a few days. So it’s a long article.

Several weeks ago, I published two podcasts that featured the amazing work of elementary school teacher, Bob Sprankle, in Wells, Maine. Bob hasn’t had a vacation yet. Since school dismissed, Mr. Sprankle has begun two new podcast programs: The Bobby Bucket Show, for children, and Bit by Bit, a more professional commentary on technology and education. I must admit that I could only take about three minutes of Bobby Bucket. Well, 30 seconds to be honest. (Sorry, Bob. If I were six years old, I’d love it.) But Bit by Bit is much more to my liking, and he’s already posted five shows. The topics mostly orbit around technology in the classroom, and more specifically, podcasting, about which, Bob has much to share with us.

But for his latest episode, Sprankle attended the keynote address for the ending finale of Maine’s SEED (Spreading Educator to Educator Developments) project, at outstanding program and ending conference, for which I had been asked about keynoting. Alas, they informed me that they would not need me after all, and I’m not too unhappy, because they got Angus King. I can’t feel bad when they choose the former Governor of the state, and the master mind behind Maine’s 1:1 initiative.

And, yes, Bob Sprankle recorded the address, and got permission to podcast it. It is an amazing speech, that I highly recommend your listening to. It’s the Bit by Bit, Show 05, July 13, 2005.

Governor King talked a great deal about flatism and urged his audience to read Thomas Friedman’s book before the beginning of the school year. He made a compelling and humorous case, and explained that the legislature of Maine is extraordinarily accessible (“Five letters is an avalanche.”).

But he said one thing that I would like to take exception with, as a way of clarifying something that I talked about in my last podcast. At one point, in talking about an X-factor, Governor Kind said, “the kids (must become) totally comfortable with the technology itself. It’s how the solve problems. It’s the first thing they think of to solve a problem to, work together, to collaborate, to gather data, to present data…”

I am very glad that he said this, and he said it very well. ..and I’m especially impressed that King tied the use of technology in with teaching students to be innovative. But the idea that I want to explore and talk about, and have been talking about for a few years, is what goes between the technology and the curriculum.

Computers are hard. They have sharp edges. The Internet is mysterious. It’s difficult for many of us to wrap our minds around technology. We know curriculum. Many of us have taught it for many years, and the rest of learned it for half of our lives. The place where they come together is not obvious, and it’s slippery. Some ed techers say we need to blog. Other say, collect and analyze data. Others say that instructional management systems are the way to integrate. Where and how does it fit together?

I have often said that we should stop integrating technology and instead, integrate literacy. If you hear this in my keynote address, then you may get the picture of what I’m trying to say. If not, and technology scares you, then you’ve got a big smile on your face because you can forget the computers and get back to reading instruction, something you are comfortable with.

Let me try to clarify here. We have technology, coming up against currculum, and the scraping is irritating not only to us, but to those who pay for it. We need a gasket in there. We need something that smoothes the friction and eases the connections. That gasket is information.

For educators, information means a lot of things. What I’m talking about is its shape. There’s all kinds of information around us. We live in an information environment. But more than anything else, the shape of that information has changed — dramatically.

There are three ways that the shape of information has changed. It is:

  • Networked,
  • Digital, and
  • Overwhelming.

Each of these changes has had a dramatic impact on how we access, use, and communicate information.

  1. When information is networked, then its direction becomes an issue. During most of my life, information traveled in one direction, from points of assumed authority to the consumer. Now it travels in all directions, from millions of sources — from points where we cannot assume authority.
  2. Digital information doesn’t sit still. It glows, grows, shrinks, travels at the speed of light, and in its abundance, information is simultaneously diverse, and at its roots, very much the same. Digital information is also gloriously malleable. With the skills and tools, we can shape information into almost anything we want — or need.
  3. Information is also overwhelming, where managing that information is not a biggest problem. It is having your message compete for attention amongst a growing glut of other messages.

This new information environment is much better. There’s more of it, there’s more that we can do with it, and we can have access to most of it while enjoying a coffee at Panera Bread.

Rather than trying to master technology skills, I believe that teachers should be working to understand this new information environment and the new literacies that it requires. As they seek to understand and harness it, they should teach from that information environment and its literacies. Integrating that literacy will get us further toward making classrooms more relevant to today’s students, than efforts to integrate technology.

Integration Model

This requires an enormous investment. It requires:

  • Visionary leadership,
  • Access to the information environment (appropriate and reliable technology), and
  • Time to reflect and retool.

Exactly 2¢ Worth!

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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.