[NOTE: Though I had hair his hair color when I was a kid, I am not Wes Fryer. I’m just a guy who Wes bribed into guest blogging. Actually, I’m Jon Becker and I usually blog over at Educational Insanity. If you subscribe to Wes’ blog and/or you like Wes’ writing, you’ll like mine better;-)]
There’s an activity that I often do with students that I borrowed from Deborah Stone’s book Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making. To demonstrate the concept of distributive justice, I bring a chocolate cake to class. I tell the students that I’ve decided to cut the cake equally into the number of slices equivalent to the exact number of students in the class (plus me, of course) so that everyone can have an equal-sized piece of the cake. From there, I ask the students if they have any challenges to my distribution plan.
[Truth be told, I plant responses throughout the students in the class ahead of time. I usually do that for the sake of time, but the forced drama of it all usually leads to real, active engagement (or, they are just engaged because they know cake will be served soon).]
We discuss alternative distribution plans including distributing pieces of different sizes based on taste preferences. We also discuss the possibility that my plan doesn’t consider important issues such as allergies (i.e. maybe someone is allergic to chocolate and so they shouldn’t be included). The point of the exercise/activity is to explore decision-making where the resource(s) being distributed is limited. Distributive justice or distributive conflict is at the heart of many educational policy decisions and we are able to use the cake metaphor to frame subsequent discussions about policy decisions ranging from personnel to finance.
I was reminded of my teaching and thinking around distributive justice when I read the following Twitter update from John Maklary (a technology coordinator at a K-8 parochial school in Texas):
In my ongoing exploration of how schools support teachers (and leaders) around their use of technology, I have come to a point of thinking of instructional technology support as a limited resource. Especially where instructional technology support personnel are scarce, their time and attention are limited. From there, then, we must question how we distribute that resource (see how the chocolate cake metaphor works here?).
In the aggregate, most of the variance in the level of technology integration in education is within schools, not between schools. In other words, the degree to which technology integration occurs varies more between individual teachers than it does between schools. [NOTE: my data to support that knowledge claim are here.] Furthermore, though I have less evidence to support this assertion, the distribution in levels of technology integration across teachers is positively skewed (see the right side of the graphic below). If you imagine “level of technology integration” as the variable on the x-axis (the horizontal axis), the “enlightened” few (using John’s language), the high-flying tech. educators, exist on the distribution to the right under the tail. The vast majority, though remain under the curve closer to zero.
Related to John’s Twitter update, I’ve been wondering how the shape of the distribution is changing, if at all. On one hand, as technological innovation proceeds at breakneck pace, the “enlightened” (again using John’s language) are doing their best to keep up and to imagine the implications for learning. They are pushing or spreading the tail further out to the right of the distribution. At the same time, the modal (or typical) teacher is doing her or his best to catch up, pushing the mode closer to the mean. The closer the mode is to the mean, the more normally distributed the distribution is.
I don’t know if it is good or bad to have a situation where the distribution of teacher levels of technology integration is “normal.” Technology in education advocates/enthusiasts would argue that we need to head towards a negatively skewed distribution; i.e. where the mode is higher than the mean. Whether the distribution becomes more normal or even negatively skewed, there are still those teachers who exist under the tail; those teachers who, for better or worse, barely move past “zero” on some measure of level of technology integration.
Coming back to John’s Twitter update and my exercise/activity about distributive justice, if instructional technology support is a limited resource (like a chocolate cake), how should we distribute that resource? If we could categorize teachers along the “level of technology integration” spectrum as high, medium and low, where are our limited instructional technology support resources best distributed? What value is there in using that limited resource on the “unenlightened” (i.e. those in the “low” group)?
- Have you considered that some teachers might be “allergic” to technology integration (i.e. it is actually harmful for them as learning facilitators)?
- Have you considered that there are some teachers who will not get the most value from the limited time and attention of instructional technology support?
- Unlike the dictate from federal law for students, are there instances when we need to leave some teachers behind (i.e. No cake for them!)?
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On this day..
- Cautiously Optimistic About Iran and United States Relations - 2015
- Students Teach About Redstone Wiring in Minecraft - 2014
- Summertime and the Learning is Easy? - 2010
- Wanna Hitch? Tether Your Android or Blackberry Phone - 2010
- EdTechTalk: Join our conversation about Netflix-style social networking about books for KIDS! - 2008
- links for 2008-07-16 - 2008
- Digital storytelling ideas from David and Dean - 2007
- Virtual Speed Dating (Web 2.0 style) intro - 2007
- About being Canadian - 2006
- Nixon, Mark Felt, and Peggy Noonan - 2005