This week I lost half of my job. The half I formally started this year and was promised to go for another year, the half that gave me a chance to begin to wisen up on ICT, how to ‘infect’ people with enthusiasm for the impact and potential of ICT, the half that gave birth to Moodle and so many other valuable things at our school that have made an impact on the entire school community. Like many of my colleagues working for the same employer (largest in our State…have a guess), I was asked at the start of this job to come up with ways to better engage teachers and students with ICT in ways that are relevant and specific to the context of our school. A number of wonderful colleagues and myself worked hard to do just that this year, only to be…
I won’t bore you with details but here is a sketch. A fantastic programme with a wide scope and support for integrating ICT in teaching and learning locally and meaningfully has this year become a narrow selling vehicle for a pretty ordinary and massively expensive piece of proprietary software (a CMS of a kind) our employer had committed to. (Reduced) funding is now tied to adopting this ‘thing’ plus a few other strings.
Remember those couple of clips about ‘Moodle changing the school‘? “Nah, you can keep your Moodle but no $$ your way” the powers-that-be say, without bothering to even once call, email or, heaven forbid, come to our school and see what we have been doing so well! The official line is that instead of investing in development and strengthening of wide ranging, locally developed and context-relevant strategies at our school, we would be “better off” with 5 people trained in the use of this particular CMS (that is what the funding is for), who will attend the PD and then magically pass their knowledge on to other staff, probably through chunks of formal staff PD. This smacks of conspiracy of convenience, so aptly described by Charles Jennings.
Just as I wrote these first two paragraphs, I got a message from a colleague in USA describing how she and her partner were ‘gazumped’ by the bureaucracy they had worked for. Although from the other side of the world, the parallels were uncannily similar. Developed something wonderful and locally meaningful, often in their own time and following their own passion, only to have their ‘superiors’ outsource the implementation to external parties (no doubt with good intentions). The result was a flop since, in her words, “there was no teacher buy-in” and the two ended up leaving the district.
This isn’t about some silly CMS or a piece of software or hardware, not even about a particular training model. All of these have good intentions and will be successful to some degree (but possibly widely varying) in their mission to improve ICT integration in teaching and learning. It is not about the numbers’ game, it is about something that makes all technology go – the people.
It is a no-brainer that the best strategies for change are reasonable and make people call them ‘ours’. These two things make them ‘stick’.
But what is reasonable? Reasonableness (2) goes beyond the rigid, uncreative rationality of the ‘dollars game’. It is a social disposition to respect others, take into account their views, experiences, the context on which they operate, their feelings, and allowing own perspective to be changed if need be. Reasonableness allows us to arrive at the decisions and judgements we are prepared to own, enact and live by (for example, the implementation of Moodle at our school). Reasonableness is not always the cheapest or most efficient (but can be both!) but it is worth the price in the long run in terms of dollars and good nights’ sleeps because people own it and care about it.
What then is ‘ours’? As I use the term ‘ours’, I have in mind Professor Stephen Heppel’s idea of “us-ness” (if you haven’t seen his keynote to the 2008 K12 Online Conference it is a worth while 40 minute experience). In short, the idea of “us-ness” refers to the age old, powerful sense of community, which can be developed and tapped in so easily and affordably by digital technologies in ways that have been historically (near) impossible to do.
Developing and nurturing a sense of community of practitioners (teachers, students, parents, experts in the field…) who help each other out, struggle, succeed and learn from each other, first on-site then beyond the confines of school walls, is one thing. Another is sending 5 people to a few PD days, assuming they become the ‘experts’ about this ‘new thing’ upon their return, who are then expected to have all the answers (“because they went to the PD”) and then bear the brunt of dissatisfaction when things go awry. Both of these have been done before but I ask you which one do you think is likely to ‘stick’ more.
I borrow the concept of ‘stickiness’ from Gladwell’s well-known “The Tipping Point”. In this age of clutter and info-glut, the most powerful messages ‘stick’ and create ‘social epidemics’ because they address a personal need and people make a personal connection with them. Recipients need to get it at their own level. Any half-respectful theory of human communication will confirm these truisms, so no news here. As a micro example, coming to a teacher and saying a) “Do you think students creating their own classroom ‘wikipedia’ from anywhere, anytime would be a useful thing in your class? Yes? Would you like to learn how to set one up?” is different to saying b) ‘In our PD workshop today we will be learning about the features of the Glossary module’. Again, which one of these approaches will ‘stick’ more with (busy) teachers? Which of these approaches is more likely to see the teacher spending a bit of time playing with and working out that Glossary module, then quite likely helping others with it voluntarily? Which of these approaches will be more reasonable, create greater ‘us-ness’, ‘stick’ more?
Next year, I am going back to full-time classroom teaching (5 instead of 3 classes this year). Don’t get me wrong I love teaching. But this does mean less helping out, nurturing, mentoring, trialling, explaining, embedding of ICT with my colleagues. At the same time, I look forward to creating more useful ICT ‘tipping points’ in my class and hope these will push fellow teachers slightly (but in the right place!) to create ‘epidemics’ of useful, innovative practice that will affect one teacher, one student, one class at a time. Or as a reader of ‘Human’ and a good friend of mine Greg Thompson made a wonderful point recently:
I wonder if continuing to look for external inputs that will ‘prime the pump’ of change in schools is only going to offer more false gods and it is to the internal that we have to look to. Of course this is said completely aware that this is most likely offering another false god. Perhaps the best advice for change is to forget about the world and change one life at a time.
A thought to remember indeed (thanks Greg).
PS If you found this story resonate with your experience (and particularly if you are a local living in Perth or wider Western Australia) you may wish to consider joining EVICTS (Educators Valuing ICT in Schools) – a social/professional network of local and (inter)national teachers in a similar situation, who don’t despair but continue to support and learn from each other.
(1) Source: http://www.investors.com/FinancialDictionary/Term/Gazump.asp
(2) Splitter, L. J. & Sharp, A. M. (2005) Teaching For Better Thinking. ACER: Melbourne.