The tortoise ended up winning the race against the hare, right? Slow and steady wins the race, doesn't it? Not necessarily. Let's face it: If the tortoise and the hare were school leaders today, (Just go with me on the metaphor-) whose classrooms would be using a wide range of Web 2.0 resources? Which school would be collaborating online with a classroom in Argentina or Alaska? Which school would be publishing student work online using the latest multimedia applications? That would be the hare's school. The tortoise's school, on the other hand, thinks that it's up to speed because the students know how to add a chart into a Word document.
Who are you? Is your school the tortoise's or the hare's? The following article by Ernie J. Cox in the Sept./Oct. issue of Multimedia & Internet @ Schools made me sit back and consider my own school's place in that race: Tools for 21st Century Learning.
My school is not keeping up in the race. Is yours? I know that some of you are saying to yourselves, "But it's not actually a race. Whether schools are or are not using 21st century tools does not put them in a race against one another." I disagree. It is a race, because if your school is still stuck in Ernie Cox's first scenario from his article (like mine), you are the tortoise and it's not just the hare but the whole world that's passing you by and guess what? No one else is going to stop and take a nap so you can catch up.
I have done a few things that have worked well and have gone a long way toward satisfying my desire to keep moving forward with technology. Last year, I set up an interactive blog on Moodle that the students posted to as they read Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl. The students felt quite empowered by the ability to get their thoughts out there and share them with their peers. The kids expressed themselves on the blog in a thoughtful, reflective manner, and I witnessed quality conversations online. This project whet my appetite for more, more, more!
But the tortoise is still crawling through the hallways here. I am not allowed, at this point anyway, to have my students set up Google accounts. The only students in my k-12 school who have email accounts on the school server are the kids in the Upper School (9th-12th grades). My students cannot collaborate dynamically, and I cannot create the collaborative learning environment that I believe the 21st century demands because of the walls surrounding our beautiful, but very "old school," classrooms. I read a lot of blogs, and I'm so impressed with the kinds of projects and everyday learning that goes on in so many schools today. Classrooms are using everything from collaboration and communication tools on Google to online discussion tools like Ning to MUVEs like Second Life. As Alan November said at the last conference workshop of his that I attended, "You should all be doing this!"
So what is stopping schools from moving forward? As Mr. Cox indicates, for many schools, it is budgetary restraints. The school does not have the money to invest in expensive site licenses or costly software packages. But, ALL of the tools I mention in the preceding paragraph are FREE, as are so many of the resources available on the Web.
I know that budget is not the thing that is keeping my school firmly planted in the 20th century. For us, there are two factors: fear and more fear. Fear on the part of the parents and administration that if the kids have any kind of connection to the outside world at school, they will no longer be inside the Bubble. You know the Bubble. That's the padded, opaque orb that parents have created for their children, the protective balloon in which the kids float through life. Without the Bubble, bad things may happen. The parents don't necessarily know what those bad things may be, but they are sure that they will happen. The rest of the fear comes from other teachers. Are there teachers at your school whose only connection to technology is the Xerox machine? There are plenty of teachers out there who shut their door when class begins, who hope that no one ever visits their room. Teachers who are still using handouts that they made up (or xeroxed) ten years ago. There are plenty of teachers who don't really see how technology can truly enhance their traditional classrooms and engage their students in their world, the 21st century world that is all these kids know.
I'm going to put my best foot forward here and actively pursue change at my school. I spend so much time thinking about implementing these materials, I'm practically bursting at the seams (if a person has seams)! I would very much like to hear from those of you who are moving like the hare into the next decade. What 21st century learning and collaborating goes on at your school? How does it look in the classroom? Do you get pushback from parents or administrators? What barriers do you face and how do you deal with them? Basically, are you a tortoise or a hare?