“Houston, We Have a Problem”

CLASSROOM 21 | by Greg Limperis 

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” —John F. Kennedy

Have you ever heard the saying “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”? Well, what if a horse could lead itself to water but when it got there, it’s not allowed to drink? I don’t understand why there’s so much scrutiny today on the teacher and teacher unions here in the U.S., without just as much scrutiny of the leaders of those teachers and their unions.

Can one blame a teacher for not doing their job without first ensuring they were provided the tools they need to get it done? What if a teacher knows students need a more engaging curriculum, technology, and more teachers training, but their administrators-even when asked and encouraged to do so-fail to provide it? Is the teacher still to blame?

Studies show technology is a tool that increases student engagement, but students need 24/7 access. Every student needs a technology device in their hands. Teachers require training on how to use such technology. More importantly, they need to be supported daily with good guidance on proper use that will support what they’re teaching.

And so it follows, then: What the world of education needs now is great leadership. Let’s face it, there are great teachers out there, but some aren’t working up to their potential, thanks to the system. Great leadership can quickly change all this, and with proper use of technology, a great leader can do far more than any education reform that unions could ever do.

We need edtech leaders willing to think outside the box, leaders who aren’t afraid to make tough decisions, who will look at education reform head on and offer options that will meet our goals no matter how unpopular those options may be. And they need to find ways to get technology into the hands of every child, every day.

Can anyone here think of a technology that most students already hold in their hand each and every day? I sure can. Not a day goes by that I don’t see a student holding an MP3 player or cell phone. Look at the amount of cell phones in student hands. Compare this to what schools allow. It’s downright sad.

I know, we could debate the reasons why not-for hours. Number one amongst them? It’s out of control. There’s no good way to monitor how or what that cell phone is being used for at any given moment. But that’s easy to solve. What if a good leader put them in every child’s hand? I’m sure we could find ways to do it. As a supplier, do we not also control how and when they can be used? Couldn’t we get some parental support? They’re paying for them alreday, anyway.

We need leaders who will look for unique ways to defray costs of such an endeavor.

Consider this: How about, instead of giving students a cell phone, we give them a tablet with Skype or GoogleTalk instead-a 3G or 4G tablet? They could make calls. It would be loaded with educational software. We could force them to conform with our guidelines and we could even fit them with web cams for video conferencing. Managing something like this? It could all very well be worked out, but only if we have great edtech leaders who are willing to pursue it.

I know, I know. How do we fund it? Well, how about through sponsorship in education? Would anyone be that upset if a few corporate entities placed occassional ads on these tablets in order to defray costs? Or digital signage in school halls to share events and messages in a school, but also allow for a sponsored company to place an ad or logo? Think of shopping malls. I’m sure this could all be figured out, too, if we had edtech leaders willing to look outside the box, and to lead.

With tablets in the hands of every child, wouldn’t we then be able to find ways to cut back on other expenses? A great leader would entertain options such as that offered by ebookfling (http://www.ebookfling.com), options that would allow the sharing of books and texts in school, therefore decreasing the need to purchase so many textbooks. A good leader could work this out.

We could also reduce software costs. Cloud computing via Google docs or Micrsoft Live’s new offerings would greatly reduce licensing fees. Pushing school email and software out to the cloud has been shown to greatly reduce software overhead in schools.

Network maintenance and computer infrastructure costs could also go to the cloud. We could find companies willing to take responsibility for maintaining our networks, especially if the numbers warranted it. I’m sure security issues could be worked out.

Now, without constant support and excellent training, it’s all useless. So, understandably, we need leaders who can show teachers how technology as a tool can enhance their curriculum, leaders who ensure 24/7 help and support for our educators.

We need to create great trainers available to help teachers integrate technology into their teaching. Specialists who can help bring about the use of technology in the daily curriculum of our students. We need to look closer at the use of video conferencing, webinars and cloud computing to bring about better collaboration on a daily basis.

We need leaders who are connected, leaders who can bring together corporations and education and find ways that we can help each other out. We need leaders who put to use web 2.0 and sites such as Linkedin in order to develop connections that bring together some of the best minds in order to solve some of these tough issues.

We need great edtech leaders who are blogging, discussing, maintaining a digital presence in the digital world. We need great leaders coming together in groups, leaders looking not backward to the past, but ahead to the future. We need leaders unafraid to pose ideas such as these, to work toward solutions that will support these ideas.

I’m not saying that my ideas are perfect, but I am willing to talk about them, to bring them up. I’m willing to lead. Are there others out there willing to look past blaming unions or bad teachers? Are there others willing to look at leading?

As Gene Kranz said in Apollo 13, “I don’t care about what anything was designed to do, I care about what it can do.” We need great leaders who will look outside of the box and not look at what technology was designed to do for education, but instead look at what it can do for education.


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.

Visit: http://www.technologyintegrationineducation.com

One comment

  1. We had a demonstration of 11 electronic student portfolios yesterday at Somerville High School, not 40 miles from Greg. They ranged from brilliant to good, but virtually all of them were at or beyond the level of comparable college proposals on other websites.

    Given that most of ours were on Google Sites, WikiSpaces, or Posterous, and that the Digication software does less and costs more, one does begin to wonder what schools will do when kids discover how they can do it themselves. Teachers are – or can be – remarkable resources, but we may be sliding toward “Mark Hopkins at one end of the log” as an education paradigm if schools continue to regulate, regurgitate, and then renew.

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