In ice hockey, a team is on power play when it has a numerical advantage on the ice due to one or more penalties given to the opposing team.
In most U.S. K-12 schools teachers, administrators and parents are continually struggling against a “technological power play” which exists on at least two levels. The first level is in IT support: Most schools are woefully understaffed to provide needed technical and instructional support for teachers and students. The second level is in teacher technology mentoring: Many schools either fail to provide or fail to provide in sufficient quantity the certified, technology mentors / coaches / facilitators / hand-holders required to help the majority of teachers effectively utilize technology to support student learning inside and outside the classroom.
In a real hockey game, everyone knows when a “power play” is on. The team with players committing penalties is shorthanded by one or two players, and with only six players on the ice for each team at a time, it’s easy to spot the power play and identify the team with the numerical advantage. Depending on the number of penalties committed, a power play can pit 6 on 5, 6 on 4, or 5 on 4 in an unbalanced sequence of minutes (2 minutes for the pros, sometimes 5 minutes in college) where the team “on the power play” typically keeps the puck in their opponent’s end and unleashes a ferocious barrage of shots on goal until someone scores, thereby ending the power play.
In many schools beset by a technological power play, administrators are likely aware of the reality of the power play but may be ineffectively and inappropriately responding to it.
As Sylvia Martinez shared during her February 2007 TCEA presentation, most school tech support levels are 10% of industry standards, which provide 1 onsite technician for every 50-70 machines. The number of desktop, laptop and handheld computing devices in schools has skyrocketed in the past decade, but most schools haven’t responded appropriately. Without adequate technology support, school expenditures on technology are analogous to the district’s CIO throwing hundred dollar bills into a fiery furnace.
Last week when I was in south Texas, I heard several teachers relate stories of “technology out of control” in their schools, where part-time teacher-aides (responsible for staffing school computer labs) were unable to prevent students from accessing pornography from school computers, bringing pornography and other objectionable images from home on USB flash drives, and printing many of those images on the school printers. In these environments, students appear to be the enemies of propriety and ethical behavior, and technology appears to be their primary weapon in acting against recognized standards of decency and appropriate behavior. The school and its staff members are struggling against a technology power play, and are in many cases “losing” in the struggle every day. Unlike a power play in ice hockey, however, a “goal” scored against the shorthanded team in the school technology power play does not result in balanced sides for the next episode of competition. Instead in schools, the technological power play continues unabated.
Schools do not simply need to address the technical support issues of educational technology, many are also in dire need of appropriately addressing the INSTRUCTIONAL support issues which come with technology. Helping teachers use technology effectively in the classroom means far more than simply providing a technician who can keep computers, printers, networks, and content filters working appropriately. Addressing instructional technology support needs also means:
- Having administrators who understand the importance of students using technology to not only CONSUME content, but also appropriately PRODUCE and SHARE content on the global stage of the Internet in safe and constructive ways.
- Having administrators who expect and require teachers to REGULARLY ENGAGE students in Internet-based collaborative projects throughout the school year, not just at the end of the year when required assessment tests have been completed.
- Providing CERTIFIED TEACHERS to serve as mentors, coaches, demonstration teachers, and hand-holders to other teachers less saavy and with less initiative when it comes to instructional technologies.
All three of these requirements for instructional technology support (in addition to the foundational technical support) are essential, and all are challenging to find in a school environment. This last requirement, the provision of certified teachers to serve as full-time peer coaches, is essential but often ignored or not understood by budget-challenged school boards and other school leaders.
Sustained and effective teacher professional development always follows a mentor/mentee model. Master / apprenticeship learning is the most effective model for learning in many contexts, and appropriate technology use for learning is no exception. Using technology appropriately and effectively with students has nothing to do with whether or not a teacher knows how to properly use their electronic gradebook software program, electronically submit lesson plans to the principal or district central office administrators, or whether teachers know the ins and outs of mailmerge using a word processor and a spreadsheet program. Rather, appropriate technology use means effectively employing technology to support differentiated learning goals for students, often involving collaboration and the production of authentic knowledge products which students cannot “fake.” It is challenging and difficult to teach well, with or without technology. It is much easier to give a lecture, invite students to sidle up to the trough of learning and eat whatever content is being served for the day, and reject any requests for salt and pepper (differentiation) students may have. It is much easier to assess with a bubblesheet than use authentic means of performance-based assessment which students cannot fake.
Is your school languishing through a prolonged technological power play with students? The school year may be over soon, but the technological power play will be back next year with even greater force. Do your school administrators have a plan for addressing both the technical support requirements, as well as the INSTRUCTIONAL technology support requirements of 21st century education? If not, this summer might be a good time to put together a plan. There are many ways to address these issues, but I think more schools need to be looking at the model of GenYes. For more on GenYes and addressing technical as well as instructional support needs in schools, check out the podcast recording of Sylvia Martinez’ TCEA 2007 preso.
Remember “The Great One” of professional hockey, Wayne Gretsky? Gretsky was great for many reasons and on many levels. One of the amazing things he was known for was shorthanded scoring. That means he was able to either score or assist his teammates in scoring when they were penalty killing a power play. How did he do it? He beat power plays by LEADING HIS TEAM. Our schools need great leaders too, who not only understand the “technological power play” but also effectively mobilize the resources in their communities to appropriately address those challenges.
Good leadership makes a difference. It always has, and it always will.
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If you're trying to listen to a podcast episode and it's not working, check this status page. (Wes is migrating his podcasts to Amazon S3 for hosting.) Remember to follow Wesley Fryer on Twitter (@wfryer), Facebook and Google+. Also "like" Wesley's Facebook pages for "Speed of Creativity Learning" and his eBook, "Playing with Media." Don't miss Wesley's latest technology integration project, "Mapping Media to the Curriculum."
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