Monday, June 18, 2007

Diversity in Educational Technology Leadership

Diversity in Educational Technology Leadership

I’ve been pointed to a number of other recent discussions about who is leading the educational technology movement.

It’s interesting to see these folks talk among themselves about technology leadership. I’m glad to the see the discussion, as it’s an issue I’ve been talking about for years, but not in blogsphere (?) But what I saw was an academic perspective. Leadership had to emanate from institutions of higher education and leaders should have PhDs.

It seemed to me to be an elitist viewpoint. It ignored all the projects that NSF and even the US Dept of Education has funded that have resulted in significant and positive improvements in education. It also ignored a number of other organizations that I’d identify as trying to be leaders in at least some parts of the educational technology universe. Here are a couple of examples.

  • COSN is the professional association for school CTOs. I’ve been a member of COSN for many years and on the Emerging Technology Committee for most of that time. COSN has been concerned that there isn’t the diversity in their membership they feel would benefit students. They recognize however that their membership does reflect the diversity in the field, and they have been trying to find ways to improve the diversity of those that strive to become school CTOs.
  • NACOL is the professional association for the K-16 virtual school community. I’ve been a member of NACOL since it’s inception, and I’m currently on the Research Committee. After this year’s conference, I wrote to the NACOL Board and made a specific set of recommendations to increase the diversity of the field and the NACOL membership. I’ve yet to see any movement.
  • NABSE has been slow to embrace technology, but is now moving strongly in that direction. They have a number of other agenda items that they feel are critical, but technology is slowly moving up on that list.
  • NSBA with their T+L Conference has been taking a lead in educational technology and they are concerned with diversity as well.
  • NECC and FETC which cater to teachers are more diverse, and both organizations do take positions on policy.

Even with all this concern there’s still a lack of diversity in educational technology leadership. But then the US still hasn't solved a number of problems with equity and diversity in general.

There are others who are trying to help lead educational technology and add diversity at the same time. I’ll only mention Bonnie Bracey-Sutton because she doesn’t match the PhD academic prototype. She’s a former elementary teacher without a PhD. But she can be found holding her own and educating graduate students, faculty, Congressional representatives, and other policy-makers. She serves on a number of national advisory committees and a Google search of her name will result in many more hits than many of the folks who are the self-proclaimed leaders in educational technology. Did I mention Bonnie is Black and Native American?

It’s important to recognize that there’s a diversity issue. It’s more important to take action. It means finding the leverage points and applying pressure to help make the change.

After all, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Comment on Teaching Naked.

This has been a week for colleagues sending me information about comments in other blogs. One that attracted my attention began with a posting: Teaching Naked: Why Removing Technology from Your Classroom Will Improve Student Learning. The title immediately attracted my attention. I thought this was another attack on technology in general.

What it turned out be was more of an anti PowerPoint position for college faculty. And that was fine, but it also reflected a very narrow view of technology. Seems the only technology applications considered were email, presentation tools, and online education. There was no consideration of simulation and modeling applications, audience response systems, or a range of other technology tools.

I also found the oft-repeated mantra that distance education is impersonal. What I’m finding is that many higher education faculty have not had very positive experience with online education. They have seen online education at its worst and don’t know that many of the problems they identify can be solved by well-designed online courses.

When I was at the Concord Consortium we put a stake in the ground about what we believed to be the basic elements for good online courses. The Concord e-Learning Model identifies the characteristics that make up effective asynchronous online courses.

I’d like to see someone take the time and effort to create and research effective synchronous online courses and identify the characteristics. There just hasn’t been that much thought put into synchronous online education. There’s this belief that what’s happening in the on-ground world is inherently best. Could someone do the research to prove, or disprove that.

Stop Tinkering, It’s Time for Real School Restructuring

A week and a half ago I spoke at the TeraGrid 07 conference. The topic was the role the TeraGrid community could play in educational reform. There were a number of points to the talk. Important to looking at where education is today, is the fact that in 1893 the NEA convened a group of 10 white men, the Committee of 10 to make recommendations about the curriculum that should be offered to high school students. Their basic recommendations, made to reflect their 1893 view of public education, look very like the high school graduation requirements in place today.

There are two organizations that are talking about what is necessary to prepare students for the 21st Century. The 21st Century Schools and 21st Century Skills Project but both of them are only offering minor modifications to the existing school curriculum and none are suggesting significant revision of the program of studies recommended in 1893! Neither of them shows any awareness of the role technology is playing and is expected to take on in this century.

I dont see any of the better known or financed school reform or school restructuring efforts looking to make major changes in the status quo. They tinker around the edges, but accept the basic structure of education as defined in the 19th Century. Does that make any sense?

I'm proposing that we create a new vision for education. That we take what we know about how people learn and what we see as the skills and knowledge necessary to survive in a flatter and more technology oriented world and design an education program that prepares our citizenry for that.

Note that I didn’t say we create new courses or new schools. I believe that even using those terms to describe this new vision starts to put boxes on the vision. I've identified some of the people I'd like to see involved in creating that vision, and I can assure you it’s not just a group of old white men. But I also don’t think that there’s only one "correct" vision. I hope that one vision will lead others to create their own visions, and those will bring about further discussion.

I also believe that by presenting a vision of what the education can/should be like, we’ll see movement toward that vision in the way we currently educate our citizenry.