Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Schools need to respond to the technological power play

According to Wiktionary:

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.

hockey puck in motion

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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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11 responses to “Schools need to respond to the technological power play”

  1. SW205 Avatar

    I agree that schools need to respond, but I wonder how hard it is for an older generation of administrators to understand just how important technology will be in their student’s lives. I think many administrators lack the vision needed to see just how handicapped a student will be if they are never exposed to tech. in school.

  2. David Jakes Avatar

    Hey Wes:

    Enjoyed the post and you are spot on.

    While reading your post, I was reminded of the Gretsky quote:

    “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it is.”

    I think this appropriately applies to your argument for the need of a plan to address the “power play.”

  3. *SEAN*205* Avatar

    I definitely agree with the power play concept. My high school, Grand Ledge H.S., had a lot of available technology but I think that there were a lot of possibilities for improvement as far as how much they implemented it. There was some tech support available in the school and most of the staff was pretty knowledgeable when I was there. Most of the computers could have been updated and I’m sure they probably are by now. There was a pretty good security system set up in the network that didn’t allow inappropriate web sites or certain websites that supported procrastination (myspace, facebook, online games, ect.). The biggest thing I have learned from thinking about educational technology from a different point of view is that with my experience in college with all of the PowerPoint presentations being used it would have been a huge help in high school not only for the students understanding and learning of the material but the easiness of the teachers using it in the class room regularly. A lot of that comes down to the teachers being “certified” and knowing how to integrate technology effectively into the curriculum.

  4. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    I agree that administrative vision is key: Understanding the reasons for appropriately using digital tools for teaching and learning is the first step leaders need to take. Since so many parents and other adults are content with “school as they knew it” the impetus for change in schools can be minimal in many contexts.j

    David, I love that quote from Gretsky as well, and agree that makes a nice extension to this. I heard that first from former Maine governor Angus King. Good leadership on the ice can not only kill the penalty and stop the power play, but it can turn a potentially losing situation into a winning one. That is the opportunity I think school leaders have today.

  5. Kern Kelley Avatar

    I loved that quote the first time I heard Angus King say it, and I still do. I am a tech integrator in a district fortunate enough to have a very understanding administration. We see the shift happening and are doing whatever we can to get our students ready.
    In fact, when we heard the podcast of Sylvia Martinez the first time, we have since been actively working on getting our student ‘Tech Team’ ready. Most teachers have a couple students they know they can ask for tech help, but we’re working on a formal, board approved, policy where those students tagged as Tech Club Members, are THE tech support.
    A teacher who needs to create a blog, a podcast, or whatever would get students who have been trained to work with them. That way, teachers get immediate, non-threatening, tech support. And (more importantly) students get the experience of teaching others giving them all the academic elements we want, communication, responsibility, empathy, etc. plus they learn the subject matter better than we could ever teach it.
    We sent a student to Alan November’s BLC conference in Boston last year and plan to send more this year. The student came back and ‘sold’ the shift to our staff better and easier than I ever could. It’s money well spent. This year Alan asked us to take our new iPods down and interview the attendees from the conference. I can’t wait.

    To listen to Angus King’s Speech:

  6. Carolyn Foote Avatar

    I also think those of us using web 2.0 tools have a responsibility to engage our own administrators and reach out to administrators in general.

    I’m speaking at the Texas Assoc. of Secondary School Principals conference this summer on some web 2.0 tools that can be helpful to administrators, like blogs, wikis, jott, etc. It’ sjust my small drop in the bucket, but it seems like sometimes instead of preaching to “our own” choir, we need to go to where others have the “need to know” and share the vision.

    Your post is a great challenge and a good assessment of the issues on the ground.

  7. Dean Shareski Avatar

    A golf and hockey analogy in a month…I love it! Being a Canadian, it’s hard to resist the hockey metaphor. I did write about Gretzky a while back.

  8. Peter Rock Avatar

    “JESUS SAVES! But Gretzky scores on the rebound!”

    That’s one of my favorite. But be careful of your spelling of the Great One’s name (‘z’, not ‘s’) lest you offend those who grew up in Edmonton watching Him bring 4 cups to Alberta. As well, there is no such thing as a 6 on 5 or a 6 on 4 power play. Technically, there are 5 on 4 and 5 on 3 power plays. We only speak of “6” when a team pulls the goaltender to make an extra skater…usually in the last minute of the game when a goal is desperately needed. And lastly, when a team on the power play scores, this may or may not bring the power play to an end. It depends on if the penalty assessed was a major or a minor penalty. Minors come to an end, but majors (5 minutes) go through the whole 5 minutes no matter how many goals are scored. Regardless, great analogy Wes. 🙂 And now after that useless contribution to your post, I’m going to shut up now…


    A long time hockey (Edmontonian) fan who grew up watching the Great One.

  9. sylvia martinez Avatar

    Hi Wes,
    Power play – great analogy. School technologists who feel like they are playing without a full team should really think about the potential of students as team members. Students are 92% of the population on school grounds, and ready, willing and able to help bring schools into the 21st century if we just show them how to help.

    Students should be participants in education (and improving education) not just passive objects.