Frost on the Brain in October

Is this the moment when I choose a new path?
Is this the moment when I choose a new path?

Yesterday’s first meeting of the third season of Cohort 21 was a very positive experience, overall.  It’s always great to be reassured that no, you aren’t the only one out there doing this edtech stuff, and no, you aren’t crazy for thinking that it can be beneficial for the students in your care.  The people were great.  We were forging new connections, and learning about some great tools for our teaching kits.   All positive, all good.

At the end of the day, we came back together from our breakout groups for a bit of wrap-up and some explanation of the upcoming year.  And then it happened…  The question was posed, ‘So, why do we use edtech?  What’s its purpose?’  And there it was.  The question that I can see on the faces of sceptical colleagues.  The question I am asked during parent meetings.  The question that asks me to look deeper at what I do and at the teacher I have evolved into.  The question that, if I reflect honestly enough, I think might lead me to a professional metamorphosis if I’m not careful (or should that be if I’m lucky?).

This shift has been brewing in my mind for a long time now.  In fact, its initial spark was probably ignited during my B.Ed. as the result of some pretty forward-thinking workshops on the future of education.  It has been smouldering over the course of a decade as I first got comfortable with the requirements inherent in keeping a job, and then began to think about what worked best for my students.  While I haven’t been a very diligent reflector in terms of journaling, I think about my craft constantly.  More recently, it became apparent that there really may be a shift happening in some areas of education when I attended the Building Learning Communities conference organized by Alan November.  There I discovered educators who truly embrace the ‘who owns the learning’ philosophy.  They allow student choice and encourage student voice.  They act as students’ coaches and mentors, completely comfortable with giving up control of the learning process and outcomes to their students.  I was in awe.  It felt so right.

Of course, as often happens when you attend a great conference or PD and then return home to the daily grind, a lot of the inspiration and momentum of that amazing week was lost.  The demands of anxious parents, intense administrators, deadlines and home life left the brilliant utopia of student-centred learning trampled in the dust.  I managed to squeak in some positive changes to my courses, but the overall practice hasn’t evolved.  And now here I am at the beginning of a journey with C21.

Two paths are diverging.

I can see the answer to the question, ‘why is the current educational system flawed?’  By now we’ve all heard about how the industrial model that doesn’t require students to be able to think in order to pass is outdated.  But what’s been done with that knowledge in the last ten or twenty years?  In essence, the methods being used in most classrooms around me are the same as they were when I was the note taker.  Sure, those notes may look sexier because they are delivered via SMART board, and written on a ridiculously powerful machine.  But that’s just using a very expensive blackboard or pencil.  It hasn’t transformed the process of teaching and learning.  Meanwhile the world outside the classroom is moving on, changing at an ever increasing pace.  Although we’ve been given the technology, we have not yet changed our mindset to fit today’s learner.  For that reason, today’s students’ needs are not being served.  They are not being prepared for the world that they will inherit.  Something has to change.

This might be where I take the one less traveled by.

So the question is still hanging there, unanswered.  Why edtech?  What does it bring to the table?  Although I am not certain of anything at this point, I have a hypothesis that I think I’m going to work on this year through my C21 experience.  Until now, I may have recognized that there was a better way to do teaching and learning, but I had no idea how to get there from here.  What I’m beginning to see is that technology is going to be my bridge.  My hope is that edtech is going to take me from a classroom that exists between four walls to a classroom that knows no boundaries and is connected through collaborative projects to classrooms from around the world.  My hope is that edtech is going to allow my students to have a voice that is heard by an audience larger than one.  My hope is that edtech is going to help me put the focus on the students, and let me be the coach.  My hope is that edtech is going to help me give back the learning.

As I consider taking this road that may lead to a complete revolution in the way I approach teaching, I am glad to be in good company with my C21 peers and mentors.  I am also going to be relying on my administrators and colleagues to pick me up and dust me off when I fail but to believe and have faith that each failure will bring enlightenment.  For my part, I vow to laugh at myself, keep an open mind, and try to encourage others to find their own pathways.  This change has been a long time coming, but I think I may finally be ready  to believe in myself and take the first step.  If I can do that, then it will make all the difference.




7 thoughts on “Frost on the Brain in October

  1. Hi Melissa,

    You’ve touched on, what I think, is one of the biggest questions to ask ourselves as teachers in the 21st century: “why are we using technology?” You should check out Ed Hitcock’s post on the Invisible Refridgerater:

    Understanding and applying the SAMR model is one great way to assess your motivations behind the use of EdTEch, but also the underlying assumptions we have about them.

    Great post Melissa, and I look forward to more,

    Oh, and thanks for posting to Allison’s too!

  2. Hi Melissa,

    Garth forwarded me your blog and it sounds like Cohort 21 will be a very inspiring journey. Your leadership with respect to finding ways to show faculty how to use edtech is recognized and appreciated, and your passion for finding a better way will no doubt led to transformation at our school. I hope you will teach us what you learn and that we can find ways to turn over the learning to students–my question would be how do we manage the sometime need to ‘get-it-done’ against finding the ideal tech solution–also, is tech always the solution? Has tech evolved to provide a consolidated opportunity or are we still in the early stages? These are my thoughts as things unfold today. Thanks for your work in this area.

    1. Hi Mike,
      Thanks for the feedback. In fact, these are the questions that keep me up at night! And I don’t know how to make it work… yet. Your question about how to ‘get-it-done’ speaks directly to the reason why I don’t feel like I’ve managed to change my own teaching over these ten years despite believing there was a better way. My question to you (and to myself!) would be what is the ‘it’ that we seek? If ‘it’ is the transmission of the ministry’s curriculum in its entirety, then adding technology to our teaching is just adding sprinkles to the cupcake. If, however, the ‘it’ is educating our students for the world that they will actually inherit, then our focus must shift. What do we sacrifice if we just push the old agenda through without stopping to consider the outcomes for our students? To your other question, I do NOT believe that tech is the only way to go, nor is it the answer to the question. Rather, edtech is one tool in revolutionizing how we do teaching and learning. The system-wide overhaul has to come first. Helping our students to think critically, to reason and to find problems (and work to solve them!) has to become the priority. Only then can we leverage edtech to help students achieve real learning.
      Thanks for your support of my journey. I look forward to sharing some of my findings and experiences with the faculty over the coming year and beyond!

      1. WOW! Melissa your post (and member comments) were very thought-provoking. Cohort 21 is forcing me to think critically about my use of technology in the classroom. I’ve never considered that perhaps my use of technology has just been adding sprinkles to the ministry cupcake :). I look forward to the shift you speak of! Thanks again for your post.

  3. Melissa,

    Great opening salvo of questions. You remind me of Ruth Eichholtz (13-14) alum who had many of the same questions. I have happy to tell you that some answers and clarity are on the way. Our next F2F is all about the “how” and looks deeply at what engaging and meaningful tech integration looks,sounds and feels like. Judging from your eloquent post you will really enjoy it. For now play with your new PLN tools, dive into Diigo and Twitter and engage with your new PLN. We are building it to support your journey.


  4. I’m echoing the comments left by the people who came before me and I just wanted to add that I’m so happy you get to explore with other ed-tech geeks who are asking similar questions. I think this is going to be a great year of learning and “big picture thinking”.

    Also, check out Meg Wallace’s last post: . While she is asking different questions than you, I think you both are contemplating the same challenges. It might be worth a read and a comment!

  5. Great post and introspective look at your craft. It’s important to realize that all effective edtech is rooted in pedagogy, and you make note of this in your post. It’s not about the glitz and glamour, it’s about moving along the SAMR Model or TIMs (Tech Integration Method). It’s about the shift in skill set that we want students to have in life, and how we leverage the technology to most effectively achieve it, by no means a small feat.
    Check out this article by Edudemic – 4 ways Tech is Changing How People Learn – it’s a good introduction…

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