Friday, February 18, 2011

The Platform Wars

I don’t understand why conversations about technology for education so often digress into conversations about platform. The decision for my school district to standardize with PCs several years ago was a financial decision based on the belief that we could offer quality technology for learning, and for working, with PCs at a significantly lower cost than we could with Macs. It was a financial decision based on the reality that a technology department can be much more productive if they focus on one platform with as few different hardware parts and operating system versions as possible. It was an educational decision based on the belief that we are deluding ourselves if we think we are teaching today’s students specific hardware and software for use in their future jobs. Technology changes too fast for that. In addition, in a world where most of what we do on computers is web-based, PC or Mac becomes largely irrelevant.

I can honestly say if someone asked me which platform I wanted for my work computer, I would respond, “I want the newest, most powerful computer you have to offer. I don’t care what the platform is.” I guess that’s why I find the often warring PC versus Mac camps perplexing. I’ve worked with both over the years, and I think they’re both great.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Course Content is only the Beginning

I’ve been thinking a lot about education lately. While I get entrenched in technology and its value for education, I also think about what was the most valuable to me when I was a student. I have strong opinions about that.  Here’s what I know for sure:

1.       Music taught me to think in a different language. It taught me to collaborate with others. It taught me the value of working hard to accomplish a goal. It taught me that progress isn’t always apparent until you look back. It taught me to tune into my heart. It taught me to get up in front of an audience and share my talents.

2.       Debate taught me to gather information, to evaluate, to synthesize, and to organize that information to build opinions based on facts. It taught me to see both sides of an issue and realize there can be merits both ways. It taught me to collaborate. It taught me to disagree without being disagreeable. It taught me to share. It gave me the confidence to speak in public.

3.       Literature taught me to feel. It taught me to look at the big picture. It taught me that writing can be therapeutic. It taught me that humans are humans, and when it comes right down to it, we have more in common than we have differences. It taught me that if one has a book, one never has to feel alone.

4.       Sports taught me that competition can be entertaining. It taught me sportsmanship. It taught me to deal with both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. I was a fan. Had I been an athlete as my children have been, it would have taught me in addition to the above, teamwork, the value of hard work, the importance of physical fitness.

5.       Relationships with my teachers taught me self-confidence. It taught me that there are lots of people out there who care whether I succeed or fail and who will help me on that journey if I only ask.

6.       Leadership opportunities in school taught me to work for consensus. It taught me to build others up to motivate them long term rather than to rule with the threat of sanctions, which only works in the short run.

All these things taught me problem-solving skills. They taught me to create. They taught me to collaborate. They taught me to take charge when others are thirsting for leadership and to follow when what’s needed is someone to get the work done. They taught me to set goals, and they gave me the self-confidence to work towards those goals even when there are significant setbacks that require a change of course.

Yes, reading, math, and science are important. Yes, I did very well on standardized tests when I was a student. Yet, I have no doubt in my own mind that the importance of even these subjects is not in the answers one gives on some standardized test. I’ve no doubt that I would do very poorly on that same test today, but that’s because the tests don’t measure what’s important. The value in those subjects over time is the same as the value in what I’ve listed above. The value is in the skills for thinking and learning and working with others that those subjects offer.

Let us not get so caught up in standards and assessments and data that we lose sight of the other things we learn in school. It’s true, that “smart” students could run through the information in courses in a tenth of the time we offer courses in now, and they could perform very well on the standardized tests, but what else in education would they be missing? Sometimes the time spent is an important variable, because it isn’t just the “information” one is learning. It’s so much more.