Monday, August 30, 2010

“What the fuck is the Internet?”

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And so the quote ushered in by Jay in “Jay and Silent Bob Strikes Back” reminds us that not everybody has the same access to technology.  Take Jay.  He’s a stoned slacker that has issues with authority, trash-talkers, and his working knowledge of technology is relegated to the pay phone that he uses to make drug deals.  He would not be considered a “digital native”.

What I’m finding is that many in the public education world also fall into Jay’s technology paradigm.  At Ukiah High School, teachers fall into three categories; want to know, refuse to know, knowing while learning more.

A vast majority of teachers at my school are “want to know” teachers.  They have a decent grasp of e-mail and browsing, they can assign lessons that incorporate the use of a computer and the Internet, and they are waiting to learn how take the use of the computer into the 21st Century.  Blogging and social networking sound cool and the new world before them is exciting.

“Digital Natives” have a firm grasp of technology and use it daily in their classroom.  Phones don’t exist much anymore because everyone is e-mailing (which is passé), social networking, or using Skype.  Classrooms are only tools in the process, as websites are the norm and students keep track using Twitter, RSS feeds, and other Push technologies.  Natives know a lot and are more concerned with filtering through everything to find the most efficient way to teach, not necessarily incorporating new hardware and software.

Then there is the “refuse” crowd.  They refuse to learn about the computer because it is too complex anyway, and communication should be in person or by phone.  E-mail is a waste, Internet gives nothing to teaching that you don’t already know, and any extra energy that you give to something not directly related to teaching (ie technology) is wasted.  “Refusers” are usually older, nearer to retirement, and don’t want to take the time to learn something new after doing it a certain way for decades. 

Our school has these three groups, and while I feel I’m in the “Digital Native” crowd, most fall in the category of wanting to incorporate Classroom 2.0 into their teaching.  The problem is that, not unlike standardized testing, we can’t seem to find the resources to move those “basic” teachers into the more “proficient” category, while saying that we really are the entire time.  For the most park, the Classroom 2.0 model is arriving in a time when there is no money, little technological expertise, and intense public demand to prepare kids for the next generation of jobs.  During the remodel of the high school we received new fiber-optic cable, received money for new routers, and kicked into gear some new server equipment along with classroom projectors and hook-ups for a variety of media.  The problem?  There are very few cars for this Autobahn, and many of those are Datsuns.   I have a laptop that is my own, that I refuse to let anyone touch, and that is a decade older than almost anything at the school.  The newest acquisition has come in the form of an Apple grant that provided buildings with Apple Laptop carts.  However those are only for “trained” teachers that jumped through the grant hoops, and the carts are in huge demand.  Most of the computers in the labs are at least ten years old and very “used”.  Software that is purchased by the district can hardly be handled by the 256 mb of ram in the computers, and when it comes to selecting functioning software, well, whatever.  The projectors are nice, but if the bulbs go out we are totally screwed.  Replacements are hundreds of dollars and don’t currently exist on campus. 

I can’t say I blame anyone in this situation because a corporation would hire a technology specialist at the district and every site, and have the machine humming along.  Of course, that specialist would probably make twice the salary I would make and have the latest technology.  I feel for the current tech guys.  They make standard teacher level (sometimes less) salaries and deal with kids popping letters off of keyboards during the day.  No wonder most don’t stay around.  And our union would find some way to say that the tech guy was not a good investment, except that a good tech guy has the potential to make a teacher’s life much easier. 

Frustrations aside, Digital Natives do have it nice when it comes to using the tools in the classroom.  The district’s primary concern right now is the access to information for students online.  The district has provide a format and asked that teachers use it, but doesn’t hassle students that find a “better” way.  Professionals with good skill set are allowed to be professionals.  That’s cool. 

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