Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Seeing Ed Tech Really Working in Indiana

While this is a fascinating description of what is taking place in Indiana's ACCESS program, led by Mike Huffman and Laura Taylor, it's more than that. (Audio interview with Mike and Laura at EdTechLive.com) It's someone seeing a vision for the use of technology in education that is truly transformative. Not unlike Chris Lehmann & gang's efforts at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, and others.

From the Fedora Education Initiative mailing list, by Greg Dekoenigsberg:


Last month, I went to visit Mike Huffman in Indianapolis. He's in charge of technology in schools for the state of Indiana. He said he was going to take me out to show me how Linux worked in his schools.

I'd seen a bunch of cool Linux labs elsewhere. Good example: I visited Jeff Elkner at Yorktown High School (Arlington, VA) a few years ago and toured his K12LTSP lab. It was essentially a lab for teaching computer skills, in the wealthiest high school in a wealthy school district, with a highly motivated teacher. Impressive stuff, but not what I would call a broadly replicable success.

So on my visit with Mike, he took me to a school in Greensburg, Indiana. This was not a wealthy school; in fact, it was in an economically depressed area. A lot of parents lost their jobs in the past few years when the local plant shut down. Fairly typical story nowadays, it seems.

As we drove out to Greensburg, Mike told me the story of how he came to believe that open source in general was *the* solution to the "computers in education" problems in his state. He told me about how Microsoft was squeezing him at every turn, and yet how the computers he had were sorely underutilized. He really explained to me, for the first time, the ideas around one-to-one computing -- and why open source is ideally positioned to make one-to-one a reality in his state.


I was expecting Mike to take me to a computer lab. Instead, he took me to an English class.
The kids filtered in, chitchatting like kids do. When the bell rang, the teacher directed their attention to the URL she'd written on the board. The kids turned on the monitors mounted underneath their plexiglass-covered desks, fired up their web browsers, and got to work.

The URL was a Moodle quiz. Something about "The Red Badge of Courage" or something, I don't remember. (As so often in my school days, I wasn't paying attention to that bit.) But the kids were done with the quiz in, oh, five minutes. When they were all done, the teacher started to teach her class. The kids would occasionally Google something. The teacher had a supernatural instinct about which kids were working on class-related stuff and which kids were fooling around, and kept the class pretty well in line.

I talked to her after class. "Moodle and Criterion have saved my life," she said. "I used to spend hours grading papers and quizzes. Now, Moodle takes care of the quizzes, and Criterion grades the papers for spelling and grammar so I can focus on the content. This software saves me 10 hours a week -- which I spend building the actual curriculum."

When I asked her about how she created the content, she said "oh, I get help from the other English teachers; we build the lesson plans together." Whereupon Mike Huffman broke in and told me that this was one of the first lessons he'd learned: the absolute necessity of collaboration. When Mike put *one* lab into a school, that lab failed. The teacher was intimidated by the technology, wouldn't ask for help, and the computers would sit unused. But when he put *three* labs into a school, the labs prospered; the teachers compared notes, learned from each other, and ultimately took fierce ownership of these fantastic new tools they'd been given.

The next day, I went to the symposium for the teachers in the state of Indiana, and heard similarly breathless stories. I heard from a teacher of *twenty-five years* who said that her one-to-one lab changed her mind about taking early retirement. "I can focus on actual teaching now," she said.

The common wisdom that old teachers can't adopt technology is clearly wrong. If you give smart teachers the tools to do their jobs, they will use those tools. In fact, the veteran teachers will be *more* effective than the younger teachers, because they've got the classroom management skills to make it work. I've seen the proof.


All of this tells me that a lot of folks have been selling the whole "computers in schools" concept completely wrong. In Indiana, they are not, not, *not teaching computers*. They are teaching *kids*, and they are *using* computers to do it. It seems like an arbitrary distinction, but it is in fact a *fundamental* distinction -- and it's a distinction that so many people seem to miss. Until very recently, myself included. Sometimes you have to see these things firsthand to understand the impact.

So why don't teachers embrace technology? The common "wisdom" goes something like this:

"How can you expect a teacher to learn all this computer stuff when they've got all this other work to do, like grading papers?"

When the success stories go more like this:

"How can you expect a teacher *not* to learn all this computer stuff so they stop wasting their time on grunt work, like grading papers?"



  1. What's interesting to me about Indiana is how it is different than, say SLA. I mean, SLA is an example of what you can do when you start from scratch with great leadership, fresh, inspired teachers, students who want to be at the school, an excellent facility, etc., AND technology.

    Indiana is an example of what can happen when you get the technology and the particulars of the funding and deployment strategies right, even if you have not preceeded that deployment with a systemic progressive reform of the school, comprehensive tech support and expensive professional development, etc.

    That is, if and only if you get the technology and economics right, then it can become "not about the technology" and learning can become the focus.

    We have gotten to the point where the conventional wisdom among educational technologists is that there is nothing about computers that tends to drive school reform, but that, in effect, school reform is necessary to support computer use. This is, I think, backwards, and the direct result of a series of technological choices which made sense at the time (hey, in 1996, I would have bought Windows too), but have been crippling in the longer run.

    Indiana is an example of an alternative.

  2. "The teacher had a supernatural instinct about which kids were working on class-related stuff and which kids were fooling around..."

    This skill is what separates the successful teacher with technology from the ones who try and fail. Many teachers rely too heavily on technology (such as internet filters) to force their students to do work and not play on the computers during school time. What is really needed is to learn correct classroom management techniques. It is no accident that the teachers that have a good grasp of what their students are doing on the computers are the ones attaining the best results.

    Good English teachers for example can incorporate the computer as a tool in the same way as a Math teacher incorporates the use of a calculator.

    What is perhaps most telling is that the district can put a computer under "plexiglass" for every student in the classroom of that teacher. This is only possible because they are using Linux and Open Source software.

    Discussions on the Ohio Educational Technology listserve in the past few weeks have centered on the use of Open Office as a replacement for MS Office. Many have indicated that they are looking seriously at OO as a viable alternative.


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