Our schools aren’t broken, they’re hard

Another blog post today (which i wont link to) about how education is broken and how technology is going to save it. This is a favoured phrase of the consultant who wants to sell you a technology to ‘fix’ said broken system (#techcharlatans). Fortunately for my blood pressure, a good buddy (@kreshleman) posted a the perfect Chesterton quote for the occasion paraphrased to…

Don’t tear down a fence unless you know why it was put there in the first place

Our particular fence (free public education) serves a ton of roles in our society, many of them quite well served actually. The problem (which #techcharlatans conveniently overlook) is that when you pull one string on that system to try and fix it, you tend to tear the sweater somewhere else. SO much easier to just call the thing broken so you don’t have to put your shoulder to the wheel and do long term sustainable change. When the cup is broken, you throw it out and replace it with a computer. Can’t drink with a computer you say? Agreed. A computer isn’t an education system either.

One year anniversary
I’ve been working on digital strategy for the PEI department of education for a year now. I walked into a perfect situation, really. Coming in on the tail end of a massive infrastructure investment by the government in edtech (new wires, wifi, bandwidth and computers for most everyone) the stage was set to try and create some sustainable technology supported education. I’ve been given enough time to dig into the situation here and help put some things in place to try and support some long term change. It’s been very enlightening getting under the hood and seeing just how complex a system provincial/board education really is. A few lessons learned from year one.

Building trust
One of the implications of #techcharlatans is that teachers have been promised a hundred easy, solve all your problem, silver bullet projects in the last 20 years. Those didn’t work.

My first goal was to get a project out the door that solved a problem in the system with technology. The project we ended up launching in September did just that. We’ve saved hundreds of teachers piles of searching time by putting up a system that allowed them to gather all their material into one spot. https://learn.edu.pe.ca was born. It works and its growing.

Constant improvement
Put a system like that in the wild, and people are going to start innovating. And they are. I’ve spoken to parents who’ve been using the system to find out what their kids are supposed to be understanding. They are also using it to find out ‘what’s next’ for their kids in math. Good and bad there. New ways of communicating? Great! We’ll have to track the implications of it and adapt as we go along.

Decision making
Technology projects everywhere tend to cross over different departments and responsibilities. Lawrie Phipps told me that this is called “matrix decision making”. Where a project reports up through multiple decision makers who may or may not have similar ideas of how to get a particular problem solved. Imagine 6 people sitting around a table all reporting to six different directors. It’s a common problem, and we had it.

We’ve moved on. As of a week ago we now have a digital strategy committee (new name pending) that is empowered with making (some) decisions around technology for the system. We’ve managed to pull in many of the people in the know and have some of their time committed to both the planning and the doing of projects that can help the system. Fingers crossed by that should allow us to get piles of work done quickly.

Digital citizenship
Yay! Tech is great! But should we be using that freeware software in our schools? What happens to the data? Has the terms of service changed on that software since the last time we evaluated it? That’s the trick with all this. People want to use new and interesting software with their students, but companies are getting trickier about how they hide their upsells. (I’m looking at you Prodigy Math #nolink)

We’re also trying to update our approaches to teaching kids how to evaluate the internet. We’ve been adapting @holden’s work, to help guide effective searching for instance.

And here’s the rub. All that and I really haven’t spoken that much about how the experience changes for students in the classroom. Those are just a few of the projects we’re running and changes we’re making to try and create a scenario where the change we want to make in the classroom will stick, that it will be fair for teachers, that it will be useful for students.

Project management and wellness
What i really want to do (and I realize i’m two years into saying this) is be part of creating a k through 12 continuum that uses microprocessor type things (microbit/arduino whatever) and coding to teach project management and wellness. Can you make a plan? Do you know what to do when it fails? Can you deal with the disappointment? Can you ask for help? Have you learned anything in the process? Is your planning getting better? Did you find your answers quicker? better?

These kinds of questions allow use the tech to support a creative environment where we can use the awesome creative potential of the tech to teach important life lessons. And, as we go, teach #digciz. To help our students become better citizens. But that’s hard. Really hard. It takes a village.

But that doesn’t mean our education system is broken. It’s not. Citizen building is an huge, complex task… needing constant attention.

Do your democracy a favour. Say no to a #techcharlatan today.

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

One thought on “Our schools aren’t broken, they’re hard”

  1. Parts of our schools are broken. I see the zombie institutional imperatives all around me showing some degree of brokenness. What I tell folks is ‘so what’? It is how we respond at the micro level as system users that matters. You responded with your hit the ground running tech project. Others do it by using tools (analog and digital, tools period) like Mike Caulfield has created (digipo, ebooks). And even those are in constant states of disrepair and maladaption. We have got to get away from this all or nothing, broken or ‘nothing to see here’ states of mind. Let us adapt and if we can’t adapt let us selectively abandon what we can, asking forgiveness when needed. That is where our leverage can come from within the system that constrains us. And on the side, we can all call on the spirit of John Henry to lay down alternate tracks for other, better, oft-times partly broken trains to ride upon.

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