26 July 2009

Push It

A couple of months ago, I was sitting in a meeting where the quality of the image being projected was awful. We were supposed to be able to read a document---and even though it was in focus, the contrast was terrible. After I realized that everyone else was just going to accept things as they were, I waited for a break in the action and went up and adjusted the projector. Voila! Now we could actually read what we were provided.

The reaction from other participants was...interesting. Grateful as they were, it had never occurred to any of them that they could make things better themselves. I must, by default, possess some mystical knowledge of LCD projectors---I had a magic touch. The truth is much simpler than that: I'm just not afraid to push a few buttons. The image already sucked---what was the worst that could happen by pushing the "menu" button and navigating via the arrow keys? The machine wasn't going to blow up. No people or animals would be harmed.

Is it really so terrifying to play? Is it so much to ask that when faced with a situation or decision, that we stop for a moment and ask ourselves "Is there a better way of handling this?"

I have come back to this theme in my mind a couple of times since the Great LCD Projector Event of 2009. I was sitting in (yet) another meeting a few weeks ago where several players needed to coordinate a calendar of events. Their solution? Develop a calendar in Excel that they could e-mail to one another and update. Okay, so that is one way to accomplish the goal. I happen to think it's a rather poor one. How do you know who has the most updated version? Who "owns" the document and communicates changes? What do you do when more than one participant needs to work on the document? We weren't going to put any secure information on the calendar---merely due dates for the different people and elements involved. Wouldn't it be better to use something like a Google Calendar that everyone could have access to at once and update/edit/view?

I watched several teachers struggle over the last two weeks with what are (to me) some very basic elements of Word and Excel: adding rows, wrapping text, inserting graphics, editing headers, and so forth. We didn't ask the teachers to do anything fancy, mind you, but as I watched some of them labor over trying to do things like add a row to a spreadsheet or table...I realized that my future job will be much more challenging than I first realized.

How do I move teachers into using web-based tools and other technology when their mindset is not based around "There must be a better way."? When they're either not curious or are afraid to just push a button?


Dorothy Neville said...

I found this post troubling and came back to see if you had any comments. I was hoping you would. See, it's not just the technology aspect it's the curiosity aspect. Every good teacher I have known has had a good amount of curiosity and every horrible teacher has had none. Curiosity, flexibility, a sense of humor, a willingness to fail, to try something new. Without those traits, you have a dull or worse teacher.

Jenna said...

There are several teachers at my school who are luddites when it comes to anything with computers... they aren't bad teachers, just busy with other interests. At a small district where everyone is asked to do three jobs in one, have a family and occassionally mow the lawn, something has to give. In working with computers programs that are consistantly changed from year to year as the "official tool" I can see how some teachers just don't want to waste the time.

Personally, I've built four different classroom sites - one was deleted when the district changed programs (for the third time in three years!) and all the information was lost because they refused to port information over (too costly). The other three still exist, but are almost never used by students. What is the point? This year, we'll be using yet another district website program this year, yet another calendar program, etc. More than likely we will not get any training and only allowed access the day before classes start... if the district doesn't deem it important, then why would teachers waste what time they have learning yet another "new and wonderful tool" that will just be abandoned in a few months?

The Science Goddess said...

Excellent points---we have definitely seen lots of things implemented without much thought...then dumped at the first opportunity. This is an animal unto itself and, in my opinion, bigger than EdTech. Schools are far too much bandwagon and too little long range planning/support.

However, when I think about "basic" tools like Word or Excel (or Apple equivalents), these are a fairly stable presence in schools---and are put to very poor use by most teachers.