Attended a very interesting and engaging event over the weekend:
ETIS, the symposium of the educational technology industry, here in San Francisco. It is one of my favorite events, because it provides amble opportunity to mix and connect with the greatest minds in educational technology.
Carrying home a stack of cards from new won friends and enjoyed reconnect with old ones. Also carrying home: Two thought reverberating in my mind.
For one, it was exciting to see the call for personalization gain momentum. This is something that's at the very core of LearnThat.org, and it feels great to meet allies and people who share our passion for anytime/anywhere learning.
The voices are getting louder, the crisis more dire.
When will the avalanche take off?
Secondly, I engaged in many conversations around professional development and user adoption, partially triggered by being nominated as an innovator company for our Pay-Per-Result personalized payment concept we introduced on our site. We developed this concept in response to administrators asking for guarantees that our technology works, so we designed a concept that provides 100% guaranteed return on investment, supported by 24/7 customer service/chat. You literally only pay for gained, measured learning results, so in essence: We assume responsibility for it working. We don't tell people to trust us based on our marketing... we know that it works, so we give people the option to only pay for measured results.
Some impressions of the problem:
***Programs that were sold to millions of users, yet their analytics show less than 100,000 unique monthly visitors. This seems common in many products. Looks good---strong sales to administrators---low adoption by teachers---does not trickle down to the student.
***Many programs that are lauded as successes, gaining lots of investor support, but that don't have user traction. Are programs not evaluated with basic analytics, like the Alexa toolbar or Google analytics?
***Colleagues stating that 20% first year adoption of their amazing and userfriendly solutions is common in public schools (Quote: "It's different in private schools, because there is more control. In private settings, teachers have to implement what the administrators decide.")
***Our own experience with public school adoptions, taking unreasonable support effort and long start up cycles to implement -- and we tested our software with focus groups of elementary students, so it's not our user interface.
We have still thousands of licenses in our system, paid for years ago, and never claimed because the teachers never came on board.
Everyone is citing "professional development" as the problem (in any other industry, you would call this training, but it has been pointed out to me that teachers take affront with that term).
"We need professional development and more mentoring" is the common chorus.
Honestly, I don't think teachers need any more "professional development" or "training."
How many hours/weeks/months of professional development should it take to teach the teachers?
The majority of teachers I met so far are capable, smart professionals, passionate about education. They could figure this out in 5 minutes and implement new technology like they do their online banking, facebook social lives and other areas of technology.
What teachers need is an open, honest discussion, respect, and participation in designing 21st century education. They don't need "training" and "mentoring". They need to take ownership of this movement, because they will benefit the most.
If chronic problems don't go away, it's nearly always because too much attention is given to the symptoms, not the underlying causes.
Teachers need assurance that the changes that happen so rapidly (and commonly top-down) are designed to improve their job, not eliminate it.
Currently, public school teachers are disrespected and underpaid, left insecure and vulnerable, criticized by society for evils they did not create. Understandable that under these conditions their tolerance for change is low. They have no reason to hope that new technology will be anything but another painful yank on their chains.
The school of the future has to ensure -- and teachers need to know and be able to trust -- that when all is said and done, they will still be the center piece of education, and society has to make a clear decision and commitment to our teachers.
Personalized education has the power to transform the teaching profession and teachers will be 1,000 times happier and more effective because of it.
Professional development should not focus on the use of products and procedures.
There are many educational products on the market and in any area there are stunning examples of wonderful, user-friendly implementations. Every elementary student could explain these programs to the teacher, if training was really the problem. The problem is that teacher find the very essence of why they chose this career in the first place eroding and threatened. "Professional development" time and resources should be spent to envision the future of personalized learning and to involve teachers in the transition from the traditional classroom to being a mentor of a student on a personalized learning path.
Personalized learning and the promises technology hold are a dream come true for the teaching profession. Once teachers understand how wonderful teaching in such an environment is, and that they're safe to venture into this new territory, we will have teachers spearheading the movement.
Teachers who are just doing "a job" might find the transition too troublesome. Resisting change is not tolerated in other areas of society; it should not be permitted in schools. If you're tired of it all (it's understandable) and can't find the energy to engage yourself, find another job or retire. Excuse me, but this is about our children and the future of our society.
Personalized education allows teachers to really spend time and get to know each student, accelerate their progress appropriately, nurture their talents, and provide learning platforms to bring students together in ways that are creative, relaxed, effective, and rewarding for both teachers and students.
My daughter was fortunate to enjoy such an environment: it's very powerful, and it works.
I hope that more and more teachers and students will start to invest their time, power, and voice to facilitate this change and claim and define their role in this process.