I love computers and technology. My first computer was a Commodore PET. It used a cassette tape player to load programs into RAM. (This was before hard drives were common.)
One of the first things I ever did with that computer, other than play Space Invaders until the keys broke, was to convert one of my hundreds of Star Trek manuals into an electronic book. I learned how to type by typing that book onto the screen and saving it on a cassette a chapter at a time. I was longing for the day I could simply talk to my computer to put my ideas (or in that case someone else’s) into an electronic format. (By the way, that sentence was dictated using Mountain Lion’s built in dictation software.)
For goodness sake, the first word in the title of my blog is “Geek” for a reason.
Computers in the Classroom
I love technology. I love using technology in a classroom. There’s hardly a day that I don’t use the Internet in my classes to incorporate examples to illustrate my teaching points. If you’re a teacher who doesn’t use YouTube to illustrate your ideas, Facebook to facilitate social interaction between your students (for adults anyway), Twitter to encourage shy students to participate and ask questions during lectures (assuming you haven’t “flipped” your classes yet), and Google or the AVL to demonstrate research when questions are raised, frankly, you’re not doing your job.
Technology is a wonderful tool that can assist teachers in increasing classroom participation, addressing a variety of student learning styles, improving peer learning and encouraging intellectual curiosity about topics that might not be the actual topic for the day. Technology can encourage critical thinking.
But like any tool, technology can also interfere in the learning process. Teaching a literature class, where one of the primary goals of the class is to encourage critical thinking and engagement in civil discourse about a reading assignment, in a computer lab is frankly counterproductive. Hiding behind a computer screen allows students to disengage from a discussion. We still, perhaps more today than ever, need to teach students how to look a person in the eye and communicate an idea in a clear, concise way. Technology interferes in that process.
And so I support the idea to put technology in every student’s hands, but the superintendent’s defense of this decision clearly demonstrates that he is not a teacher and has no understanding of the educational process.
Take a look at how he responded to a parent who dared to ask questions about the implementation of the district’s “digital conversion.”
Dr. Wardynski’s responses show that he’s truly feeling empowered to insult parents who question him, now that the board has removed any requirement that he answer questions from parents from his evaluation tool. Furthermore, he makes the claim, “uh, I’m an engineer too.” Here is his application for the superintendent position from last year: Wardynski HCS Superintendent CandidatesRed. Do you see any evidence that he has a background in engineering?
First he dismisses the questions and concerns by claiming that “the FAQs address almost every one of those” questions.
This isn’t true.
The FAQ did not answer the question concerning Facebook and Twitter in the version of the FAQ that I downloaded on August 19th, three days after the superintendent reprimanded this parent for “listening to rumors.” The FAQ has since been updated to include this information (they’re up to revision six). While it’s certainly important for the district to update their FAQs as new frequently asked questions are raised, it would really be nice if we had a superintendent who could manage not to take offense when a parent asks him a question. Wouldn’t it?
He goes on to call that parent’s question about the digital conversion “absurd,” and the parent should simply realize, “this is the way that we’re doing business.”
Yes, there are results. This is not a pilot program. This is the way we’re doing business. The idea that paper is the technology forever is, frankly I’m an engineer too, is absurd. Paper’s run its course, and it ran its course a long time ago.
First, education is not a “business,” but I suspect that’s a battle for another day.
Second, again, it would be nice if the superintendent were confident enough in himself not to have to offer his resume and not to insult the questioner when defending his ideas. I suppose that’s just too much to ask.
Third, the idea of a “paper-less” office has been in circulation since a marketer came up with the idea in the 1960s. In just the last two decades of the 20th century, paper usage doubled. Each office worker in the US produces approximately 130 pounds of paper a year. While paper production had plateaued during the early part of the 21st century, paper document production will stay the same, increase, or significantly increase at 74% of companies.
So much for paper having “run its course.”
If in fifty years even the saintly corporation hasn’t managed to “go paperless,” I wonder how long it will be before Wardynski’s prediction will come true for the schools? I also wonder how many of those CEOs would appreciate being called “absurd” by the superintendent?
Pearson Is AMAZING
Let’s look at what else Dr. Wardynski had to say to one parent who dared to ask a few questions.
I’d invite you to look at the digital curriculum. Uh, Pearson is the largest educational solution provider in the world. They are not a fly-by outfit. Uh, they are providing us the system, the professional development, the back end analytics, the formative assessment, the e-books and all the stuff that goes in it, to the planning devices, the collaboration tools, the ability to build a library around your class from the Khan Academy to all sorts of other things.
You know, I’d love to look at the digital curriculum, but my daughter hasn’t received her netbook yet. And so she hasn’t even seen the digital curriculum yet and it’s the third day of school. The current estimate for when the netbooks will arrive in her classroom (third grade) is sometime next week. My son hasn’t had access to an iPad yet, and even when he does, it won’t come home with him. So how exactly am I supposed to review the curriculum?
The site that the district offers for teachers to review the curriculum is www.HuntsvilleDigital.com. But that site is basically a sales pitch and a place for teachers to sign up for their training sessions that happened last week. Until my daughter has access to a netbook (third graders were not able to pick them up early), I don’t believe that I will be able to review it.
By Pearson’s own admission, this is the largest conversion they’ve ever attempted. The next largest was a single grade in New York City Schools. They may not be a “fly-by outfit,” but the issues we’re facing this week (and last) suggest that even the supposedly “largest educational solution provider” may have issues meeting this demand.
“Ludicrous” Parental Ideas
Dr. Wardynski continues with his insults:
The idea that we are somehow at the forefront is ludicrous as well. Business is at least thirty years ahead of us. Government elsewhere is at least 15 to 20 years ahead of us. Education has not made the transition, frankly in my mind, because budgetary resources allowed it to continue to do business the old way. And there aren’t budgetary resources to do business the old way anymore. We have to provide good compensation for our teachers, or we won’t have good teachers. That means we have to provide resources that allow our teachers to be more effective because we don’t have resources to supplement them in the old ways.
First he calls a parent’s suggestion “ludicrous.” Then he proceeds to suggest that business has gone digital, and thus “paperless” (which isn’t true), and that other government bodies have done it as well.
Again, the use and production of paper has at least doubled in the past 20 years.
He then goes on to imply that education used to have huge, wasteful budgets.
Once again our superintendent is showing his complete lack of knowledge outside of the message that he was trained to repeat from the Broad Foundation.
Please, can anyone show me a time in the last 30 years (to use his number) when education budgets haven’t been tight?
Our superintendent is attempting to force change on our kids on the basis of a total absence of supporting evidence and history.
And he’s using these new budgetary restrictions (for everyone but himself and friends that is) to justify never “supplement[ing] them in the old ways.” You know, like actually allowing teachers to have a raise.
Wardynski Knows Your Kids Better Than You
This man, whose children are grown themselves, then proceeds to tell parents with school aged kids that they just don’t understand the new world their children are growing up in.
Uh, technology is the world in which our kids are natives. We may not be, and it may scare us. Uh, but they’re natives. And the difficulty of change for them is far less than it will be for people my age. Um, they will work in an environment that a lot of kids around our country and our world are already working in.
Yes, sir. We know that our children will adapt to technological changes with greater ease than we will. That has always been the case. But as ethicists have taught us, just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Just because our children can adapt, doesn’t mean they should have to.
This is a fine example of a “red-herring” fallacy, in case you were wondering.
Replacing Teachers with Videos
Next the superintendent suggests that replacing actual teachers with video lectures from the Khan Academy will improve student learning.
The Khan Academy is one of the leading resources. Florida’s gone to flex-books. The state, this year, came within a hair’s breath of demanding that we do this. Uh, so we’re probably, in our state, two years ahead of the curve. Uh, we’re certainly leading the way, Cathy says three. We’re certainly leading the way in terms of formative assessment.
If you’re interested, you may read more about the Khan Academy and their connections to Bill Gates and Eli Broad as well. Once again, Khan is a useful tool, but it doesn’t replace a real teacher as Wardynski is attempting to do at the high school level with the use of avatars in place of interaction with living, breathing teachers who are in the same room as the student.
Doing Everything “On The Fly”
Dr. Wardynski goes on to claim that the digital assessment actually began last year with the introduction of the netbooks (that still haven’t been passed down to the third grade). He claims:
The digital initiative did not begin this year, it began last with digital assessment. We do computer adaptive assessment at the district level and in our schools, uh, for formative assessment. That gives us instant feedback. The way that people were comfortable with was to learn about it in July. And I call that an autopsy cause there’s nothing we can do about the student’s learning a year late. Uh, we can now intervene on the fly, uh, this week, we changed the textbooks on the fly.
Has he not learned in his many years the value of a measured, considered response? Again, just because you can do something “on the fly,” doesn’t mean that you should. I don’t know about you, but most of the things that I’ve decided to do “on the fly,” I have found myself regretting shortly thereafter. The piece of coconut cake I just ate, “on the fly,” was certainly ill-considered.
Changing Textbooks Overnight
He goes on to cite a change in textbooks by secondary math teachers the week before school starts as evidence of the amazing power of this digital conversion.
Our, uh, math teachers in secondary took a look at the book they initially adopted, and decided after they got in the curriculum a little deeper, they’d like to switch it. Try that with paper. If you’ve got a million dollars, you can do it. If you don’t, you can’t. Uh, with digital, you can change the textbooks today, tomorrow, the next day, every year, to meet the kids changing needs and our learning the ability to put the curriculum to work.
Does anyone else find it disconcerting that the textbooks for the year are being switched just days before the school year starts? I’m sorry, but when are those teachers going to find time to review and prepare for teaching with the new texts they’ve selected at the last minute? When I change a textbook at the college level, I ideally need at least a semester to plan for how the new textbook is going to impact my pedagogy. If I don’t have that much time to plan, I am not actually prepared when I step into the classroom on the first day.
On the first day of class this year, assuming that they could actually get onto the textbook site at all, our secondary math teachers were likely reviewing the new textbook for the first time.
Personally, I would prefer my teacher to be a bit more prepared than that time frame will allow.
Really, Wardynski KNOWS Your Kids
Wardynski continues to lecture the parent who dared to ask questions:
Uh, we work in a learning environment; our kids are going into a world of exponential change. Um, we’re moving forward. And it is not a pilot, it’s a full force effort that I think any number of districts are going to copy almost immediately. And one which was led, uh, in Virginia by a district that had tremendous success in raising student achievement by making this undertaking. So, it’s not an experiment. Uh, it’s district wide. Uh, we’ve made a commitment to it. The other commitment we would have had to make was to paper. And we’re not going to commit to paper. We’re going to commit to the world our kids live in, which is digital.
Other districts are shifting to digital. Madison City, for example, is planning to do the shift gradually, a class and a grade at a time to make sure that they are prepared for the issues they will face.
Uh, and when you hear rumors, I suggest you go to the FAQ site, check that out. Uh, when we hear questions, such as the ones you bring to us, we’ll add those to the FAQs so other people can benefit from your questions and our answers. Uh, there’s a lot of learning to be done. Uh, if you want to learn more, Project RED was a met analysis of the use of digital learning in classrooms in K-12. Uh, it’s quite a tome, and I’d invite you to explore that as well. Uh, I think those are the key points that really get at the focus of what we’re trying to do. Um, we have to prepare our kids for the future. We’re not gonna get there using methods that essentially, uh, have brought us to where we are today. Um, we’re going to have to use new methods, and these methods aren’t that new.
Despite the superintendent’s confusing statement there at the end, since he spent so much time promoting the findings of Project RED, it would indeed be worth our while to review it. I will be doing so over the next few days. However, one should note that one company that benefits greatly from the findings of Project RED is Pearson. Another company that benefits as well is HP, as you can see from Pearsons’ promotion of the findings on their website.
It’s always wise to be aware and attentive when someone is selling you something. Pearson, HP, and Dr. Wardynski are certainly selling this idea.
At the end of the really long post, I still believe that technology makes for a powerful tool in the hands of a teacher who has been trained to make use of it.
Our teachers have received three days of training. During those three days, they were often struggling to stay online.
I wonder why Dr. Wardynski is in such a hurry to push this digital initiative through without first establishing the proper infrastructure to support it? I wonder why, as James Whitenborg asked and Dr. Wardynski ignored in his nearly seven minute response, the plan has been rushed through this summer?
Typically when someone selling you something is rushing you toward the cashier, they’re truly afraid that you’re going to look at the product being sold and decide that you really could get along better without it.
If technology is the miracle drug to fix what ails us, why is Dr. Wardynski going to such great lengths to insult people who have questions about it?
Thank you Mr. Wittenborg for standing up to ask questions.