Barriers

As educators we realize that some students will thrive in spite of their schooling. Unfortunately, many learners aren’t able to thrive. It is obvious we can’t continue to ‘do’ schooling the same and meet all learner needs. The need for change is evident.
Can you think of a classroom that needs the opportunity to change? Does your classroom meet all learner needs?
Too often the answers to both questions are, No. Many times the answer can be changed to a Yes by making changes within our control. Barriers, fears and lack of knowledge how and what to do.

I catalyze movement by providing thought leadership that challenges the status quo; I help identify barriers and fears and reduce, minimize or help eliminate them. I support colleagues to take the risks necessary to design learning opportunities to today’s learner.

It all starts with a conversation grounded in meeting the needs of learners. There are four key aspects to move the discussion to learning and the learner:Quote from John Cotter on Leading Change

    Provide opportunities to transform existing learning potential.
    Anchor to learning skills or capacities to transcend the content.
    Identify and remove barriers
    Identify and work through fears

Our district is rich with opportunities and a cadre of leaders modeling the potential, IML is the anchor; however, we still have barriers including fear that stop changing classroom practice.

A large part of my role is in conversation with teachers and administrators. In those discussions, some common barriers have arisen :
In Listening to concerns or reasons not to design learning that captures the transformational opportunities, there are a few real or perceived barriers that are erected by the system or the individual.

    I’m too busy teaching reading to …
    Every student has to do their own work …
    They need to pass the provincial …
    We don’t have enough for everyone …

I’m too busy teaching reading to …
Sometimes it takes provoking to create a dissonance with the status quo and what needs to happen.
Knowing I have a relationship with the teacher involved, I can usually retort with something like – You are too busy to teach them to read for today’s society?

Our Ministry of Education changed the definition of text about 8 years ago. IT now specifies including electronic media. This means that to teach reading and writing, digital must be included.

Together we can identify a literacy activity where technology can either do something better than analog, or something not possible. Often meeting the needs of diverse learners is an entry point to change. Students struggling with reading improve when their oral fluency improves. Oral fluency improves with exposure to oral language; which is possible through either another recorded reader reading to them, a digitally generated voice reading to them, or as they progress recording themself, listening and self correcting their reading.

The barrier was an incorrect perception. You can’t be too busy to teach the curriculum. You may not have the knowledge or skills, but that is a different barrier.

Every student has to do their own work
I enjoy exploring this concern from teachers as this opens opportunities for to discuss assessment and differentiation.
The three advantages to students sharing devices to learn together includes: collaboration, conversation and making the learning goals central to the assessment.
Breaking the requirement of every student having their own product, also breaks the traditional methods of assessment.
The barrier is a self imposed barrier. Every student does not need to be the sole author of all work to demonstrate learning. Learning is social and interactive. This this conversation is a great entry into discussing assessment practice. How do I know they have learned if they didn’t make the final product? The question highlights a view that summative assessment is prime rather than learning. Students actively engaged in learning learn better and retain their learning.

We don’t have enough for everyone
1:2 vs 1:1 technology use
We need to create learning opportunities that are not individualistic. There are times students may work individually; however, when the class is learning towards a goal, I prefer 1 device : 2 students. Sharing a device forces the conversation between students. It has many other benefits including twice as many ears to hear instructions. Most importantly, the learning is shared learning where the process is more important than the final output.
Having explored technology in my teaching with students for 17 years, I have had to deal with thousands of troubleshooting requests from students trying to complete the learning task. When there are 1/2 as many devices in the room, it also reduces the troubleshooting requests with less devices and a second set of ears to hear and apply every instruction.
There are many ways to manage a class so that students all learn the technology processes and stay active in the learning processes as well.

The barrier is based on a perception that you can’t learn unless everyone is touching the device. I find that this barrier is eliminated with modeling a cooperative learning lesson with students.

Highlighting the value of IML helps to identify existing barriers within the school infrastructure, the staff development, and the support systems. While there is a continued need to work on the foundations to provide a sustainable and equitable access, the biggest obstacles will be school climate.

In addition to barriers are fears that act as another barrier:

    The equipment is really expensive …
    It takes too long and something will go wrong …
    Students will be distracted
    Students will be unsafe
    It is a lot of work for me to learn all of this
    They need to pass the exam
    The equipment is really expensive …
    We can’t compromise the stability of the enterprise system…

The equipment is really expensive …
Value of Hardware
When technology is put on a pedestal and considered so special, it gets locked up or made impossible to integrate. The hardware isn’t really worth that much; Learners are priceless.
If the cart of iPads requires 15 minutes before learning can start, the technology has been made more important than learning. Adding up the lost learning time is 1 hour per day or 5 hours per week. A whole day of learning is lost each week. To quantify the learning, If you paid a teacher $200 a day, to make up for the lost times 40 weeks the result is $8000 a year wasted.
It is cheaper to have 1 or 2 broken or stolen a year than waste learning time this way.
For the same reasons, we encourage teachers and schools to take reasonable risks. Take iPads or digital cameras on field trips (where you believe it will be respected and returned). Use them for learning. They are only devices.
Providing loaner equipment and encouraging risks such as taking on field trips, sending home over weekend, is more valuable to the learner and learning than having equipment sit idle but last longer.


It takes too long and something will go wrong…

When the learning stops – stop doing

One of my best classroom memories is working on a project with my Grade 7 class. We had created a virtual field trip to the Amazon as United Nations Field workers. The ‘funding’ for their project was being cut. They needed to produce a persuasive video requesting continued funding.

Students worked very hard during the whole experience and they videoed persuasive arguments to be sent to the ‘United Nations.’ At the time we only had 6 iBooks in the classroom and they were bogging down trying to package and post produce these videos. After trying for a couple of days, we ditched that part of the project. Instead we shared the raw video of their best cut with the class.

The learning was about being United Nations field workers, working in other cultures, creating a persuasive argument for something important to you. This was all accomplished before post production even started.

I have encouraged many teachers that it is okay to stop if the technology bogs down the learning or the learning has already happened.
It is very true that something will go wrong. There is nothing wrong with things going wrong. Part of learning is learning how to deal with problems as they arise. We can learn with our students.

The barrier is a perceived fear of ‘wasted time’ but wasted time assumes that no learning occurs through failure, mistakes and unexpected things happening.

Students will be distracted
The mindset of banning new technology, fearing all bad things that can and sometimes do happen can affect educational decisions. The decision to ban digital devices impacts students for the rest of their lives and reinforces that school is irrelevant to their ‘real’ life.

The barrier is perhaps a current reality that students will be distracted. They will be distracted because the learning isn’t compelling enough (yet)

Students will be unsafe
Any tool that is used poorly or incorrectly can be unsafe. Safety lessons are mandatory in Industrial Technology and Science. Yet safety or ethical lessons are not mandatory to use technology.

Information and Media Literacy includes both being a user of technology, and understanding safe and ethical use in addition to being a critical thinker. Students have access to ‘unsafe’ things at home. We are better to teach students how to be safe within school so they can apply the citizenship to the outside world.

The barrier is a false sense of safety. If we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist. Not talking about it doesn’t work for other curriculum and it doesn’t work for digital either.

They need to pass the exam
Research is mounting to show that covering fewer topics in depth with yields better results than lightly covering every single topic. While students may not have been exposed to everything, they are able to recall more and understand the topics covered in depth better so better able to represent their learning on the exam.

I will volunteer to come into their classroom, teach their lesson, but integrate technology. In the end, their lesson was accomplished, technology utilized, students learned, and the teacher was able to see a successful use of technology without loss of instruction time.
It is also amazing to stretch thinking with challenging what wastes time in classes. The question is what wastes more learning time – being irrelevant to the ‘outside world’ or helping develop understanding of appropriate use of technology.

The barrier is imposed based on a potential high risk to the teacher. As leaders we need to reduce the risks taken to improve learning opportunities, eliminate high stakes testing and draw attention to the mounting evidence that deep learning prepares citizens better than cursory exposure.

It is a lot of work for me to learn all of this
It may be true that it would be a lot of work to learn all of it. The reality is that we shouldn’t be an expert in everything. I often amaze people with how I ‘know’ how to fix a computer problem. I don’t really ‘know’ how to fix the problem; I do know how to approach the problem and find additional resources if I need them.
The barrier is the notion that the teacher needs to be the expert. We can learn along side our students and from our students. It is far better that students learn how to learn and you have an opportunity to model both learning and making mistakes along the way.


In addition we need to manage the fears with administration and district levels.

I have worked extensively to advocate for the classroom teacher. I will ask the hard questions. I will push hard to challenge barriers to teacher and student learning.

Sometimes this is pushing the teachers’ comfort zone, sometimes the admin, and sometimes district technical support.
If a barrier exists because of fear, it is hard to negate. It is even harder for a classroom teacher as one of 5000 to challenge the fears. As one of the district leaders, I am able to put myself out their more directly.


Administrators that are concerned about damage to expensive equipment …

We have loaner equipment that can be used without risk of loss to the school. Once projects that empower students occur in the school, the learning is seen as more valuable than the devices and the potential risks.
District Technical Support are concerned about stability of the enterprise system…
We work closely to minimize the concerns as well as consider alternative tools proposed by our technical department that meet the security parameters.

In a large district, we are like the Titanic. It takes time to turn such a large vessel that has momentum. Conversations toward change may take years before we feel we have everything we need.

While I continue to push the envelope with our technical support, I have to provide a shout out that they have developed a stable district infrastructure that supports almost 20 000 devices with a high up time. In addition, I have said to my colleagues wanting to push the envelope further is that we can be grateful to our technical support that we have a system that is so highly functioning that we can complain about not having access to a software title, or an online tool that needs a port opened. Because of their effectiveness at creating an enterprise solution, we have a stable platform to experiment and take further risks.

(When I started in 1997 as a teacher technology facilitator, I managed my whole highschool. I spent many late nights to keep my lab and the rest of the school functional. We no longer have to manage at that level as teachers.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *