It’s been a difficult couple of days for the district as they continue to push their technology initiative.
Finley Remains In Madison
First, the newly hired Coordinator of Technology Education, who was hired in a nearly private, specially called school board meeting on Friday, has decided that she doesn’t really want to be involved in the district’s move to the digital nirvana that the superintendent and his team have been promising us for the past couple of months. Monday, the day after being hired by Huntsville City Schools, Dr. Finley decided that her talents and skills would be best kept exactly where they currently are in Madison.
Dr. Fowler seemed genuinely pleased to have her back.
I have no knowledge of why she decided to change her mind and stay in Madison, but I’m sure that as she hears about the first day of teacher training on incorporating technology into their classrooms that she’ll be THRILLED that she stayed in Madison.
Tuesday, across the district, our teachers had their first training session from Pearson at a cost of $1,353,771 for this year alone. Some of the district’s teachers met at Columbia High, some at Lee High/New Century, and some at Huntsville High. These three schools were chosen because of the size of their auditoriums and each of them have “completed” their digital upgrade: their network systems are completed and ready for the first day of school.
Or so the district believed.
At 8:00am yesterday, the superintendent and a Pearson representative were at the Huntsville High meeting holding a discussion of the digital conversion and to kick off the training session. The discussion and the initial training was supposed to be distributed from Huntsville High to Lee/New Century and Columbia via a video teleconference.
VTC has been around since the 1970s, and it’s typically a great way to conduct a city-wide meeting without having to find a location large enough to hold every teacher in the district. They’re great when they work properly.
Yesterday’s VTC, however, was a disaster.
Even though the training began promptly at 8:00am at Huntsville High, the teachers sitting in the Lee/New Century auditorium and the Columbia auditorium were unable to participate because their screens were dark. Their audio was silent.
For those at Columbia, these technical difficulties continued until about 9:20am when they finally got the video. The audio didn’t kick in until about 9:40am. When it finally came through, I’m told that the video and the audio were out of sync for the remainder of the conference.
An hour and a half of the million dollar training was spent sitting in the dark.
But the fiasco didn’t end then. No, that was simply beginning.
Approximately 900-1000 elementary teachers sitting in the 800 seat Columbia auditorium were divided up into groups of 30, sent to separate classrooms and told to log onto the Pearson website to take a quick a preliminary exam on their technology knowledge, after the teleconference ended.
The pre-test shouldn’t take long; it’s simply a tool to evaluate what level of instruction the teachers needed.
Except when the 900-1000 teachers tried to get on the Internet, they found that they simply weren’t getting through. They couldn’t connect.
The wireless network, the backbone of the new digital initiative, could not handle the network load of having 900-1000 people trying to browse the Internet.
And this was a problem, as I understand it, at all three of the schools.
Periodically, someone would come over the intercom asking people to disconnect from the internet so that enough IP addresses could be freed up to allow others to complete the pre-test.
They continued to rotate through the groups of 30 until, finally, everyone had managed to complete the test.
Suffice it to say, Dr. Julie Finley’s decision to stay in Madison looks brighter and brighter all the time, doesn’t it?
Computers Are Tools
Attempting to convert a district of 23,000 students and several thousand teachers to a digital learning environment in a period of basically two months isn’t ambitious, it’s reckless. It’s another example of change for change’s sake that the Superintendent likes to engage in.
Technology is important, but it isn’t more important than reflection, consideration and planning. Technology is important, but it isn’t more important than personnel, and personal interaction in the teaching process. Technology is important, but it isn’t more important than a teacher who can use the technological tool to enhance learning. Technology is a means to an end; it is not an end in itself.
In order for that to be successful, you must have clear planning, along with a strong commitment to education and to teachers who implement a clear curriculum to help students make connections between what they know now and what they need to know.
Despite the superintendent’s desire, technology cannot replace the wisdom that a teacher brings to the classroom to excite a child to learn. And that wisdom only comes with experience.
For the past two months, we’ve heard nothing from the Superintendent, the board, and their chosen partners except how hard it is to excite a “21st student” to actually pay attention long enough to learn something. They have claimed that the only possible why to teach a 21st century child is with new technology.
I’ve taught students during both the 20th and 21st centuries, and you know what? They are both difficult to engage and excite. They are both easily distracted. They both struggle with higher order, critical thinking.
Students haven’t changed that dramatically in 12 years. They’re still interested in the world around them when they have someone to point out interesting things. They’re still moved by great stories when the stories are told by interesting storytellers. They’re still driven to find answers to difficult questions when they have someone to show them the relevance of the question. They’re still passionate and curious when they are surrounded by people who value passion and curiosity.
It isn’t any harder to get a 21st century student interested in learning than it was to do so in the 20th century, or the 19th. And what worked then still works today.
If you pair a student to a teacher who is free to get to know the student, discover and incorporate the student’s passions, interests, and talents into a curriculum, that teacher will teach and the student will learn.
Computers are tools. They’re quite useful tools, but they’re still tools. For a tool to be of any use at all, there must be a person who knows how to best make use of the right tool, at the right time, in the right manner, and for the right reason.
Without that person, the tool is at best useless. At worse, it’s dangerous.
Dr. Wardynski’s obsession with technology is hurting our district. By focusing so narrowly on a single tool to assist in the process of education, he’s failing to pay adequate attention to filling our classrooms with human beings who can inspire, encourage, cajole when necessary, discuss, challenge, and love.
There are no short cuts in education. It’s difficult, and it has been for a long time. But throughout those years, there remains one constant in education: people, not standardized testing and not computers. People, in the form of teachers, are the central, necessary element to education.
Hopefully now the superintendent understands that investing in people, while certainly expensive, will pay countless (uncountable) dividends. It’s well past time that our district began focusing on people again. Technology isn’t adaptable when new situations arise, but teachers are.
Maybe now we can start investing in people again.