Can We Afford to Wait Another 15 Years?

CLASSROOM 21 | by Greg Limperis

How educators can avert déjà vu by waking up to today’s social media reality.

Fifteen years ago, I began teaching in a state-of-the-art school. Back then, it was a $40 million, first-of-its-kind elementary and middle school. An inner-city K-8 facility in Lawrence, Mass., it housed about 1400 students on opening day, and with a gymnasium, auditorium, cafeteria, library, television studio, art and home economics rooms—it was huge. It also housed three media rooms, and every classroom was outfitted with five student computers, a printer and a computer on every teacher’s desk. Every teacher was also issued a laptop, and all the computers were networked to the district intranet. There was a television in every classroom, and a library-based video center that piped out videos to any classroom upon request over the school intranet. The resources were impressive.

As a first-year teacher, I refused to let any of this go to waste, and quickly decided (with little help or support) that I would make full use of this technology in my classroom. As a homeroom teacher, I had students conduct research and present using the computer. My second year, delegates from around the world toured my class to see our daily integration of these tools used with inner city youth. By year three, I had done so much to integrate technology into our school that my principal requested that I become the school’s very first Technology Facilitator.

Over the next few years, I trained and mentored various new employees, assisting them in becoming Technology Facilitators as well. After six years, I was transferred to another, brand-new state-of-the-art school where I’ve been the Technology Facilitator ever since.

However, since leaving my first school, their tech integration has taken many steps back. Teachers aren’t trained. They have little experience with the best resources to integrate technology. Further, very few colleges do a great job of prepping teachers to integrate technology. If they do, many move into buildings unequipped to provide for these “students of the future”. Some still resemble turn-of-the-century schools. Technology very often goes unused. If it is used, it’s limited use.

Fifteen years of teaching and technology integration hasn’t progressed much further than when we first started. My new school actually has less computers per classroom, and more technology that goes unused for various reasons—not for my lack of skills or desire to train others.

In fact, two years ago, I even founded a professional learning network on Linkedin, Ning, Twitter, Diigo and Facebook to help share my skills. Though we now have thousands of members worldwide, very few are employees from my district. Why? I’m not certain, but I do know that I’ve shared the site and encouraged them to join. Instead, many teachers in my district are consumed with improving test scores. While ARRA money has been given out in the millions of dollars—and I’m sure some has reached our district (urban; 85 percent Hispanic; 85 percent at or below poverty)—for fifteen years we’ve hovered near bottom in state standardized test performance. Millions of dollars in state, federal and grant money later, little has changed.

So you ask me: What’s the future of education? What’s the influence of social media on that? My answer: the only way social media will result in any significant change to education over the next fifteen years is, if we as educators express our desire for change. Enough is enough! What we’re doing isn’t working.

As quoted in “Teaching for America” (New York Times, November 20, 2010), U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated in a November 4,  2010 speech:

One-quarter of U.S. high school students drop out or fail to graduate on time. Almost one million students leave our schools for the streets each year. … One of the more unusual and sobering press conferences I participated in last year was the release of a report by a group of top retired generals and admirals. Here was the stunning conclusion of their report: 75 percent of young Americans, between the ages of 17 to 24, are unable to enlist in the military today because they have failed to graduate from high school, have a criminal record, or are physically unfit.

We aren’t even preparing these students to enlist in our Army. According to the same New York Times article, the U.S. now ranks ninth in the world in college attainment.

Meanwhile, I use social media in my classroom, and I’ve polled my students on whether they enjoy using this medium better than the standard way they currently learn in the classroom. Just about every one of them has said, “Yes.” They want change. Unfortunately, we’re not providing them with any meaningful change. Yet of all the times change is possible, we’ve never been more ready or more set up to succeed than right now. With millions of dollars earmarked for education and specifically technology in education—we can’t afford to get this wrong.

How often will we be able to say this will happen? Will we do what is right for our students? Will we lead them into the future in a way that is meaningful for them, that uses cutting-edge technology to not merely enhance, but to help drive their learning? Will we give their teachers the skills and support they need in order to make this happen? Or, will we just throw all kinds of new technologies at them with little follow up and support, only to see the technology once again be used with very little purpose and even less meaningful lessons?

Where will our educators go for models of great teaching? Who will supply them with needed support if the school district does not? This is where we as educators need to make things happen for ourselves. If those in leadership positions cannot, do not, or even refuse to do it for us, we still have a tremendous opportunity to use our social networks to facilitate large-scale change.

Nonetheless, with all the teachers in this country and around the world, a professional networking group like mine shouldn’t have just 3,000 members. Classroom 2.0, the juggernaut of all social networks, shouldn’t have just 60,000 members. We should all be involved in these efforts—globally.

Our students, our countries and our future can’t wait another fifteen years for this change. It has to be swift. It has to be decisive—and change in education has to be meaningful for all students. We need to prepare our students for tomorrow today—providing them with the same tools we use in our professional lives. I would like to look back fifteen years from now and say with tickled amusement,“Hey! I remember when we used to teach that way!”—and I think our students would want that, too.


Greg Limperis is a Middle School Technology Facilitator in Lawrence, Mass., who founded the very popular Technology Integration in Education professional learning network, reaching thousands of educators worldwide. He has shared with others what he knows and they have joined him in sharing their insights as well. Join them in bringing about change using your 21st century skills.


One comment

  1. Wanna play? About five years ago I got drawn into a local district – I’m more of a freelance researcher and policy wonk than teacher, having taught at a few colleges (good ones) as well as in some weird teaching settings (from jails to summer). I did a little study on “vulnerable teens,” and discovered district with a 25% retention rate of 9th graders. the Principal later gloried in how that rate gave his school the “highest gain score from grades 7 to 10 in the state!” and I called him a fraud, a cheat, and a scam artist as bad as the worst of his students. He quit. As did the guidance director and the Superintendent. Time to move on, I guess.

    In their wake new folk addressed the problems they’d caused: huge retention, and equivalent dropout rates, particularly among the poor. In a gentrifying district that might be fine, but then we hit a recession, and the yuppies were trapped. So their successors actually solved the problem: early diversity, early support, prevention and a host of other 21st century tactics replaced the former braggadocio.

    Beyond that wave, however, and much closer to your point, they’ve now begun a process of creating multi-disciplinary portfolios of video, sound, and other documents that show students in their best light. And, perhaps just as important, are using the rubrics of the SCANS Report and Dr. Arnold Packer’s Verified Resume project to establish comparable portfolios – that can be updated as students move to jobs and college, and compared over time and across kids, disciplines, years, and languages.

    This strategy does not confront any of the 21st Century skills shibboleths. Nor does it address – or ignore – schools’ (and states’ and Secretary Duncan’s) obsessions with tests. It merely documents – in often quite brilliant fashion, incorporating the advice of peers, teachers, and parents – how good these kids are; how much they do to change the world; and how they measure their own effectiveness, impact, and aspirations.

    Don’t fight the small stuff when there are big things to do. And you might register that this entire project is designed – specifically and deliberately – to respond to Talent Search goals of higher postsecondary enrollment, with higher levels of financial aid delivered to higher ratios of low and moderate city residents. And one of the partner districts might well be Lawrence. So keep in touch. We can still change the world. Technology is the key, but, like old fashioned keys, best kept on a ring rather than around your neck.

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