Are you a Beta-Max?
Now that we are all excited about integrating iPads into the classroom, what’s next? What are we all going to do in 18.. 24.. 36.. months when the next great device comes along? Are we all going to just start over? How do we, as educators, avoid being the next Beta-Max: that flash in the pan that couldn’t scale up and adjust to a rapidly changing market?
While Beta-Max may be gone, the idea behind it – that people wanted to easily access videos and then store them to watch later – lives on in every DVD player, and mobile device, that exists today. If you were someone who looked and saw the big picture idea of Beta as the sharing and storing of videos (or of information, images, video, and data), you may not have been upset by its demise and would probably not be surprised by the popularity of today’s technologies that perform the same functions. Similarly, you would neither be shocked by the popularity of the Blue Ray format that delivers an ever higher quality product, nor by web sites such as YouTube or Vimeo.
However, the person who found comfort in the familiarity of the small cassettes and argued against VHS on principle, as well as out of loyalty, would have seen the demise of Beta-Max as a tragedy and their investment in it as a useless waste of time.
So how does this apply to education? If your 1:1 or technology program is simply the endorsement of a platform, then you might find yourself with the next Beta-Max. What real learning gains have been made with the chosen device? Would this learning be valuable if the chosen tool was retired and replaced by a new one tomorrow? Could you, your colleagues, and your students apply your big picture idea regardless of the technology platform? These question may guide you towards getting to what is truly important.
“Don’t pilot a device… pilot a pedagogy!” – Anthony Salcito @AnthonySalcit0
Teaching with technology is about being able to clearly articulate well-defined learning objectives and to encourage students to leverage the best possible tools in order to communicate their thoughts, ideas, and understanding in complex and modern ways…..
At first glance, this statement may not sound like anything more than good solid pedagogy – and that’s the point. Too often, we talk about implementing a device, or piloting a program, rather than leveraging a new quiver of tools to create more dynamic, creative, exciting, and resource-rich learning environments for our students. The creativity with which students can now demonstrate their understanding as they strive to meet these objectives is what makes modern-day technology so exciting for education.
In fact, it is pretty safe to say that from the time that this was written, to the moment when it is read, several new creative outlets to demonstrate learning will appear. What will not change, however, is this need to direct students towards acquiring understanding as well as effectively expressing their comprehension. Without that endpoint in mind, no app, no program, no website and no device will improve learning. Without that learning objective in mind, and a clearly defined challenge before them, students will see technology as nothing more than the games that it offers them, rather than the learning opportunities that could present themselves through its use.
Beta-Max Prevention Strategies
Now what? As educators, how do we continue to stay on the cutting edge? How do we ensure that with all of the tools, and talk, we don’t lose sight of our big idea? Here are five strategies for preventing obsolete-ism.
- Embrace the fact that we are all life-long learners. Too often, adults forget to keep learning. Read books. Watch the news. Follow a few blogs. Do whatever it takes to continually discover new ideas. Edudemic, Edutopia, EdTechTeacher, Education Week, and Free Technology for Teachers are great starting points. From there, branch out and read the blogs of individual teachers: Kevin Jarrett, Suzy Brooks, Chris Harrow, Katrina Kennett, Keith Rispin, and Charity Preston to name a few. The number of teachers problem solving and experimenting with technology is staggering. Sharing in their experience can help you to grow.
- Expand your Personal Learning Community. Teachers get stuck in their classrooms, but there is an entire world of people online willing to collaborate. You may excel at problem solving, but the world of technology, and the corresponding shift to technology in the classroom, will present you with an overload of problems to solve. You could probably accomplish this yourself if given enough time, but through collaboration, your class, your school, and your students can grow faster. After all, one of our greatest concerns as teachers is time – and how to manage it. A strong Personal Learning Community can weather the minor problems, share successes, and offer support to everyone.
- Failure is not an option… It’s a requirement! Embrace and share both your successes and your failures. While it is good to have a high standard at your school, adopting a new technology will also require you to share what does not work. If classroom teachers are afraid to share what goes wrong, the whole community could be repeating failures that may be avoided. In your discussions, in addition to talking about what goes well, and what you are proud of, make sure to also discuss what goes wrong. There are usually more lessons learned from failures than from successes.
- Don’t be afraid to play! According to Dan Callahan, Instructional Technology Specialist at Pine Glen Elementary, “The most innovative educators are the ones who aren’t afraid to play.” Push all of the buttons. Challenge yourself to try out new tools. See what you and your students can create. You won’t know what’s possible if you don’t try to figure it out.
- Ask WHY questions. WHY follow a particular scope and sequence? WHY assess student understanding with the same essay topic? WHY integrate a new tool? The answer should always take you back to HOW this new tool, technique, subject, etc. helps students achieve desired learning objectives and addresses their learning needs. If you have an answer to WHY, then you have not lost sight of the big picture.