Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dissecting the NETP- Part Three, Teaching: Prepare and Connect

This is part two of a new blog series where I want to take a closer look at the newly released National Education Technology Plan. I outline my plan for this series in this post.

Part Three: Teaching, Prepare and Connect

Section Goal: Professional educators will be supported individually and in teams by technology that connects them to data, content, resources, expertise, and learning experiences that can empower and inspire them to provide more effective teaching for all learners.

We now get to how technology can be used to transform and revitalize the teaching profession. This section is the one I have connected to the most, thus far. I felt it made a lot of solid points and paints a good picture of the ability of technology to improve teaching as well as the quality of life for those with the hardest jobs of all- classroom teachers.

What I liked
  • I like the ideas centered around connected teaching. Technology really does allow us to connect and grow in ways never seen before. The chance to connect to other teachers in your field as well as content experts is a big deal. I definitely like how this entire section pushes educators in this direction. We all need to be heading this way, and those systems that figure this out sooner will be ahead of the game.
  • Now, it's not enough to simply connect. There has to be depth behind the connections being made, if they're to have any real impact in the classroom. That's why I like the time this section spends on the reflective process. I feel that this is where blogging can have such a large impact as a growth area for teachers. The chance to publish their reflections on their practices is a huge component to growth and will amplify whatever professional development is already in place. If I ran a school, we'd all be blogging together and inviting each other into our thinking.
  • This section focused a lot on teacher prep programs. I strongly agree that this is one area in education that needs a lot of attention, especially in the realm of effective technology integration for learning. I liked this passage because it's something I've seen with my own eyes on a near daily basis: "Young teachers are similar to their students in that they have grown up in a world where laptops, cell phones, and handheld gaming devices are commonplace...They are as comfortable interacting with digital devices and accessing the Internet as their students are. Still, this does not mean they understand how to use the technology of their daily lives to improve their teaching practices." (p. 44) This is very true, in my experience. It points to the fact that before we worry so much about effective technology use, we need to make sure new teachers are strong teachers...period.
What I didn't like
  • There is a movement mentioned in this section that makes me a bit queasy. On p. 47, the plan mentions that "colleges of education will be held accountable for the effectiveness of their graduates..." I've seen this idea floating around for a couple years now- that there will soon be studies that show the effectiveness of teachers, delineated by their alma maters. Now, I want to be clear- I actually think the underlying premise of this is strong. It would be interesting to see and be able to compare how certain colleges prepare their teacher grads. I think if it were done right, this could be a powerful motivator for schools of education across the country to really start doing things differently. The problem I have is that, once again, I'm sure the "accountability" mentioned will be based pretty strongly on standardized test scores. You can't use something as broken as standardized testing to measure effective teaching strategies. You just....can't. It flies directly in the face of everything this particular section says should be happening in the teaching profession. It makes no sense to measure effective teaching with rote, fill-in-the-bubble tests.
  • The other major problem I had with this section comes on page 48. In three short paragraphs (half a page), a section on "closing the technology gap in teaching" is addressed. Well, I'm sorry- but folks, this is the single greatest challenge we have in utilizing effective technology integration in schools. There are simply a ton of teachers that do not feel the impetus or do not have the SUPPORT to tackle technology effectively with their students. Without support, leadership, and perseverance, all of the wonderful things in this plan will fail. And there is half a page on this issue. That ain't good.
I felt like this section really described a powerful model for teaching in the 21st century. I like the focus on connecting with other educators and learning and reflecting together. I think the plan is right when it takes a hard look at teacher prep programs. While I had some misgivings in this section, I feel it was the strongest yet.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dissecting the NETP- Part Two, Assessment: Measure What Matters

This is part two of a new blog series where I want to take a closer look at the newly released National Education Technology Plan. I outline my plan for this series in this post.

Part Two: Assessment- Measure what Matters

Section Goal: Our education system at all levels will leverage the power of technology to measure what matters and use assessment data for continuous improvement.

Measure what matters. Such a simple truth, but seemingly so elusive in education these days. Why so elusive? Well.....what matters? Ask 100 different teachers and you might get 100 different answers. Therein lies the main problem with addressing assessment from a large-scale, pushed-down-from-the-top model such as the one we're currently a part of here in the U.S.

Nonetheless, the NETP tackles the issue of assessment and how it can be enhanced and customized through the use of technology. There are some good, substantive uses outlined and also a few items that left me scratching my head. Here are my impressions:

What I liked
  • I really like the Obama quote that kicked this section off, taken from an address to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in 2009: "I'm calling on our nation's governors and state education chiefs to develop standards and assessments that don't simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity." This is a noble and powerful statement.
  • Assessment through simulations. On page 28, the plan outlines ideas for how online or computer-based simulations can be used simultaneously as learning and assessment tools. It speaks of students performing simulations and, embedded within the programming there is code that records the process that students go through when performing the simulated task. For example, a student is given a task to build a bridge across a ravine. Within the simulation, the student tries different materials, records why they did or did not work, tests the bridge, re-applies materials, etc. I like this approach, as it is problem based and allows the student to simulate something with technology that they otherwise would not have an opportunity to work on.
  • There is a good strategy mentioned on page 29 that utilizes classroom quiz systems (where students have clickers and respond to questions). Typically, I am against the use of any technology that promotes a more efficient way of asking rote, multiple choice questions. However, it's all about the use of the tool/questioning. On page 29, there is an example of a teacher using quiz systems to pose a question, then he asks his students to find others who answered differently and reason through why their answers were different. If there is a "correct" answer, this process allows those who answered incorrectly to collaborate with peers to learn from their mistakes. If there is no correct answer, this strategy promotes discussion, reflection, and persuasion.
What I didn't like
  • On the summary page, I take issue with the underlying assumptions this section makes about teaching and teachers. It states "Most of the assessment done in schools today is after the fact and designed to indicate only whether students have learned. Little is done to assess students' thinking during learning so we can help them learn better." This statement is CERTAINLY true of the federal/state testing that is pushed down to schools, but is absolutely false about classroom assessment in general. It's almost as if the inherent assumption here and in the rest of this section of the document is that if the state/fed doesn't force teachers to do formative assessments, they'll never get done. The fact of the matter is that teachers use formative assessments all the time. Just because they're not logged into some unwieldy data system doesn't mean it's not being done, and done well I might add.
  • There is more talk about utilizing technology to assess- by doing formative assessments frequently to take stock of where students are in the learning process. This sounds great in theory, but in practice I fear what it means is that we're going to be forced to spend all of our students' computer time on assessment instead of using technology to collaborate, create, and publish. There is a limited amount of time and a limited amount of computers in schools. We cannot increase the use of technology for assessment without decreasing the use of technology to actually work on the skills students need. It is a trade-off, and I can envision this increased use of tech to assess turning out badly in practice.
  • This quote on page 35 struck me: "An important direction for development and implementation of technology-based assessment systems is the design of technology-based tools that can help educators manage the assessment process, analyze data, and take appropriate action." Isn't this just calling for increasingly efficient ways to maintain a broken system? If students continue to be looked at as data-sets and all we're doing is making it easier to perpetuate this, are we really transforming anything?
I'm passionate about getting assessment right. And right to me is all about student reflection, problem solving, interaction, and growth. And it's not about numbers for me. How the federal government approaches assessment has huge impacts on where schools focus their energy, where teachers focus their energy, and where students focus their energy. Narrow the assessment focus to reading and math and guess what two subjects are pushed to the front of instruction (to the detriment of the arts and humanities)? Utilize assessments based on "correct" answers that address simplistic items or ideas and instruction begins to mirror this. With all the pressure of labeling schools (and soon, it seems, teachers) as failing or successful based on test scores, it's no wonder that instruction is forced to shift toward delivering content in the same manner in which it is tested- boring, rote, and straightforward.

But I'm a hopeful kinda guy. I hear things like "assessment 2.0", assessing critical thinking, promoting digital persistent portfolios of student work, and I have hope. Maybe this plan can help shape assessment so that it truly does "measure what matters"- a lot of the words being used aim in that direction. I'm just looking for more ways to do my part to make these words become classroom realities and I hope you'll join me!

Next week, we'll look at the next section- Teaching: Prepare and Connect