Looking Forward?

I am a big fan of all of the ed tech visionaries out there. My Bloglines account includes the likes of Will Richardson, David Warlick, Chris Lehmann, Vicki Davis, and about 50 others. Plus, in the last few months I have grown fond of Twitter (other than it’s regular downtime) and have followed what I will call the “conversation” that drives the cutting edge of educational technology as it currently exists. I respect the insight and discussions about where we should go shared by all of the edubloggers in extended (blogs) and abbreviated forms (Twitter). However, in the last few months I have begun to start asking myself where are they/we all going. The need for change is blaringly obvious – to me and most of those who are part of that community, but for most teachers, I don’t think they even know there is a conversation taking place. You certainly have your exceptions – Chris’s Science Leadership Academy sounds like an amazing place to work. There are a collection of teachers like myself who integrate these ideas into our classrooms and then share those experiences with the world through workshops and our blogs, but it isn’t enough to change the world.

There is a great quote from the movie Gandhi that I have been thinking about for the last few months (I have done some research and haven’t been able to confirm if he actually said this, but I know he believed at least in the spirit of the quote that appeared in the movie). Here it is:

This Congress (the Indian National Congress) tells the world it represents India. My brothers, India is seven hundred thousand “villages” not a few hundred lawyers in Delhi and Bombay. Until we stand in the fields with the millions who toil each day under the hot sun, we will not represent India – nor will we ever be able to challenge the British as one nation.

The plight of education differs significantly from the independence movement in India, but there are some parallels (While I won’t delve into the comparison between colonial Great Britain and NCLB, let’s not overlook that fun observation). There are a growing number of us (educational technologists) both in and out of the classroom who are participating in this conversation about how to bring technology and skills that will be valuable in the coming years to the classroom, but despite the explosion of educators participating there are thousands who aren’t. Those thousands of classroom teachers are literally bound by state standards, limited/no access to technology, a lack of institutional support, little/no understanding of the importance, and even an outright reluctance to break with our industrial revolution model of education (it was good enough for me….). You start talking about blogs, wikis, social networking, and podcasts with educators in anyone of those categories and most of it will be lost (or at least filed away) when they return to their classrooms. I think in a lot of ways many of those who talk about Web 2.0 and widespread technology integration are as disconnected to the real situation that most teachers face as the British-educated Indian National Congress was to the rural population of India. I don’t know that we have Gandhi in our midst. Plus I don’t think hunger strikes will get teachers to start a blog, but hey – who knows? Any takers? I’ll write about it.

There remains no simple solution. Really widespread institutional change needs to occur within the educational system. I do not believe I will see that level of change in my career. We have too many standards, tests, textbook companies, federal acts, and even unions. So now what? We do the best we can. We recognize our limitations and work with them. We will not see these changes permeate all classrooms in the immediate future, but hopefully the movement will grow. Certainly it won’t be fast enough, but it will have to do.

I know this sounds a little pessimistic. As a history teacher I’ve come to recognize that many great ideas that should be implemented are often ignored, corrupted by politicians, or lost amongst bad ones. I have the spirit of an idealist and the mind of a pragmatist. Sometimes I hate myself 🙂

I have another post in draft form to follow up on what I think we should do.

10 thoughts on “Looking Forward?”

  1. Mr. History Teacher,

    I do believe some of the slow uptake of web 2.0 technologies in the classroom is generational in the teaching profession. Where I teach (rural Wisconsin) over half of the staff is still learning how to navigate the Internet. When I mention blogs, podcasts, and wikis as possible teaching tools, I am literally speaking a foreign language to them. As time marches on and the new generation takes to the teaching ranks, they will bring web 2.0 skills to the classroom. However, it will be slow and those skills will be common in society. Certainly today’s students will not benefit from this organic process.


  2. Dan,
    It seems like every blog post I read about getting teachers to use Web 2.0 says the same thing. Your post is no different. It is just another example of how widespread this issue is. Until recently I thought teachers in my region were behind the curve because we are in western Nebraska. As you probably already know Nebraska is an ultraconservative state and things here don’t change much. It is hard for me to believe that even teachers in California are not involved in technology.

    A new version of the Nebraska Reading/Writing standards is supposed to be adopted this year. The state BOE has put it off and after reading them I can see why. People have criticized the board for not adopting the draft immediately. There is a strong emphasis in digital literacy. Starting as early as the primary grades and continuing throughout high school students will have to be able to do such things as create and evaluate podcasts, participate in a social network, maintain a blog, use online conferencing tools, and about a dozen other things. There are two issues that I see right off the bat. First of all there is not a school in the state of Nebraska that has an AUP that allows most of the activities called for to take place. Since policies can be rewritten overnight and filters removed with the click of a button this is a very minor issue. The big problem lies with the teachers. I would guess that maybe 1% of the teachers in Nebraska are ready for these standards to be put into place. The state board is not dragging their feet because they do not see the value in the standards. I think they are putting it off becuase they know the are facing a certain backlash from teachers across the state.

    I wrote about a possible solution to training teachers in a reply to a response in my post on PLC’s. I’m not trying to get you to read my blog, but it’s 1am in Nebraska and I am really tired.

    BTW…I have enjoyed following you on Twitter. It is great to see another history teacher on here!


  3. Dan,

    In 1985 I made a decision to pursue a doctorate degree. My parents were both life-long educators and I was very familiar with the school systems in the United States. I decided to work with adults and organizations for my doctorate because I was afraid that the school systems could not be “fixed” for many of the reasons you cite above.

    On 9/11/2001, after the terrorist attack in the morning, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the afternoon. I got rid of my prostate cancer (and am still cancer free). At that time I changed my mind about the school system. I changed from helping adults and organizations to learn how to learn and change to work with K-12 students to learn how to learn and change.

    I became a full-time teacher and have been working with English language learners (ELLs). I took a post-doctoral Master of Arts in teaching and the courses for certification as a bilingual teacher and a teacher of English as a second language (ESL). I have brought my insights and learning with me to the classroom and have been bringing research-based best practice into the classroom since 2002.

    Eliyahu Goldratt, author of “The Goal” and other books, clarified the distinction between “common practice” and “common sense.” Collaborative learning with authentic contexts working with technology to explore challenges without quick and clear answers is needed for citizens of tomorrow. Last year my seventh graders worked on the challenge: How does global warming impact Arctic animals and what can humans do about it? Technology was a key component in their response.

    I’m teaching in a middle school and am working with history and social studies–and in multidisciplinary thematic units, including science, math, research, English language arts, ESL, and more.

    At present, I want to be actively engaged in making a difference. The blogs and other means of connections will allow us to make a difference in a small way. The “tipping point” suggests that, when enough small efforts combine, there can be a system change.

    Teaching K-12 is my fourth career. My questions to everyone who is tired are basic: Is change needed? Do you want to make a positive difference? If you don’t make a contribution, who will? Is it important? (Then we recycle the questions.)

    Thanks for your blog. 🙂


  4. As a current student in an Ed Tech class I must say I found your blog inspiring. I plan on being a history teacher as well and fully plan on using Web 2.0 and any new technological advances that are made available to me. I can’t speak from experience since I’m still learning how to use it all right now, but I do feel technology in the classroom has to be used when it’s available and will eventually become the standard.


  5. I agree completely. My university requires an educational technology class. We are able to learn about advances in technology and get hands-on experience using them so that we will be comfortable with them in the classroom. It will take time, but I believe as younger teachers become the majority technology will continue to permeate the schools in positive ways.


  6. Thanks for this post. It’s important to keep in mind that teachers across the country are at different points in adopting technology for the classroom. Rob & Beth both provide good points about the reasons behind this. Still, posting about and discussing the importance of Web 2.0 in today’s schools is the best way to get the word out. This post has given me some good ideas for a site I recently started with the NIFB Young Entrepreneur Foundation. Stop by and give some feedback, if you have time.




  7. Hi Dan,
    I really like this blog. I started reading it a few months ago and I am now beginning my teacher credentialing program. This is one of the blogs that I will continue to follow into my early teaching years because I think technology is the most important aspect of good education in the future. Thanks for taking the time to make this.


  8. I just ran into your blog. I taught history for 35 years in the LAUSD and was fortunate enough to have my own marvelously equipped classroom computer lab. Technology was my main teaching vehicle.
    There are lots of gimmicks and cute techie things but if you really want to get into the future of technology and history instruction you need to take a hard look at GIS. I taught history using GIS for six years and am convinced that this is the future for us.
    Students do not only study history but they can create information that has never been done by anyone. Students can place themselves at the cutting edge of history research. Please take a look at my website, http://www.hmsgis.multimedialearning.org/ to see some of the work my students have done.

    Herschel Sarnoff


  9. Hello Dan,
    Technology is not really the problem. It is what administration wants you to do with what technology offers. Besides the teaching aspect, most pedagogues do not want to become mired in technological record keeping. Though it can be a good tool, there is presently in NYC a strong push to use numbers to verify achievement. To CYA, the administration expects different forms of recprd keeping. This wastes countless hours of data entry. To sum up, it is k
    like trying to fit ten pounds of crap into a two pond shoe. It doesnt really make a diference to the students.


  10. Hey, I’m a history teacher too that happened to stumble across this website by chance. I’m 23 years old and should have a grasp of all this stuff, but you know what? It’s completely foreign to me, and I consider myself to be very proficient in technology.

    I would love more information on smart boards, nings, wikis, podcasting, and the like, but I have no idea where to start. This school year has been crazy and I have now just started a blog for the first time, being Christmas break and all.

    If you have any resources or tips to help me out, I’d really appreciate it. I agree- students need to be exposed to a differentiation of instructional techniques, but firstly, I’m the one that needs exposing.



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