The aggregate impact of individual choices

[cross-posted at LeaderTalk]

Individual choices add up. For example, at the moment when I eat something unhealthy, it seems like a fairly trivial thing. Over time, however, those calories and pounds add up and one day I look in the mirror and have to admit to myself that I seriously need to lose some weight.

Individual choices have collective impacts on society too. For example, the decision of an individual family to move from the city to the suburbs may be a completely rational decision, made in that family’s self-interest as it looks for a nicer house, a bigger yard, etc. But over time, the collective impact of those choices in most cities is white flight and a concentration of economically-disadvantaged families in city neighborhoods and schools. Similarly, as this PowerPoint shows, individual family choices to have a student attend a new magnet school can result in other schools having greater concentrations of students with lower social capital (because the other students’ families often don’t have the means to navigate the magnet school choice system).

We see the same thing when it comes to technology usage by teachers. A few days ago I asked this question:

Given the realities of our modern age and the demands of our children’s future, is it really okay to allow teachers to choose whether or not they incorporate modern technologies into their instruction?

Many of the comments to that post rightfully insisted that teachers must make the decision whether or not it makes sense to utilize digital technologies for an individual lesson or unit. No one wants teachers to use technology for technology’s sake and no one wants digital technologies used in inappropriate ways.

But the collective impact of all of these individual teacher choices, often made by teachers with little pedagogical fluency with digital technologies, is much like my weight loss example above (or Mike Schmoker’s example of the ‘Crayola Curriculum). Any individual choice seems quite rational and/or trivial at the time. At the end of the year, however, we look back and see that most students have little meaningful or substantive interaction with learning technologies, which of course is of particular concern for disadvantaged students who have limited opportunities outside of school to use technology at all, much less in creative, interesting ways.

So I think we need to be more purposeful. We need mechanisms for reminding ourselves that being relevant to students’ technology-suffused, globally-interconnected futures is important for schools, and we need a greater shared commitment to make deliberate, intentional choices to seek out opportunities to integrate digital technologies into lessons. Sure, we can teach any individual lesson or unit without incorporating much technology. And, to be honest, for many teachers this would be much easier and more efficient / effective, at least in the short term. But if we don’t pay more attention to this issue and change our practices and our mindsets, we will continue to look back at the end of each year and realize that we let our students down yet again when it comes to their 21st century learning needs.

5 Responses to “The aggregate impact of individual choices”

  1. I disagree with your comparison of not using technology in the classroom and your weight loss example.

    Don’t worry. Technology has a way of creeping in everywhere, even if we don’t use it in the classroom on an ongoing basis. Students will learn it anyway (in school or elsewhere), if we like it or not, if we push them or not. Technology is a tool, and when it is helpful, we should use it and embrace it as educators. But if it hinders us, we should stay away. We should never make it the central issue, or central part of our teaching. It’s like saying that we should drive everywhere, no more walking, or biking. Of course the car is a very useful tool, and can take us far; but if we took the car into the forest we wouldn’t see the flowers, the little stream and the squirrels and birds.

    Technology is a TOOL. We should use it as we see fit, and not the other way around. (Plus, I wouldn’t like to learn how to drive a car from someone that is just learning themselves and is paranoid of it).

  2. I have to respectfully disagree with Bogusia. The argument that “they’ll learn it anyway” is specious at best, dangerously cynical at worst; it seems to recommend that educators should wash their hands of any responsibility whatsover for whether students learn.

    I think what Scott’s raising here is the higher-order question of our responsibility to our students. A pithier posing of the question can be found in his earlier post: Are we doing what is best for our students, or are we doing what is most convenient for us? Leaving it up to the discretion of individual teachers relies heavily—too heavily—on our notions of professionalism and hopes that each one will truly “do what is best for our students” and not opt for the easy out. Arguably, the teacher is in the best position to determine what’s best for students. But we also know that individuals are fallible, forgetful, and in so many other ways human. Individuals collect into institutions, and an institution can be a really excellent vehicle for perpetrating and perpetuating inequities and injustices. And meanwhile, the individuals working within it keep chugging along in a pleasant ethical vacuum. Looking at technology integration through a social justice lens suggests that we DO have a greater responsibility here, and a need to be more intentional. Certainly part of that intentionality should include encouraging teachers’ reflection about how their individual instructional choices fit into the gestalt, meeting them where they are, and supporting their efforts to engage challenging and often discomfiting issues. But opting out shouldn’t be an option.

  3. Kids really pay attention to technology enhanced lessons. Unfortunately, technology inservices are usually quick and leave little opportunity for immediate practice. They just expect you to get it and move on. I even had an instructor slap my hand down on the keyboard in frustration that I didn’t know what to do. More time should be spent helping teachers learn to use technology.

  4. I’m not sure how to explain this, but I’ve been noticing how much students learn about other skills needed for the future in their work and personal lives even when they are just using it as a “tool”. For example, by using the assignments feature in Blackboard to turn in assignments, they learn how to label documents effectively and how to attach files. When they look at grades in PowerSchool or link their Powerschool grades and comments to their iCal, they are learning organizational skills.

    We do use the computers for more than these simple tasks, but it’s amazing how much the kids learn from even the easiest things that might just be a means to an end in terms of the learning objectives.

  5. So I see whole districts abandoning technology and its use in the classroom as if computers have gone away.

    As I teased Scott on Twitter, why not go to stone and chisel?

    I agree with Scott and Scott..

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