Just as the hardware buying binge of the late 90s quickly brought tons of equipment into schools, the learning environment building craze of the late 00s will bring a flurry of excitement and activity to school districts across the country. Remember how computers were rolled into rooms before the networks were built? Remember how professional development wasn’t even a twinkle in the eye of administrators who were only too proud to boast of their student/computer ratios? It didn’t matter that the pedagogy wasn’t there, it didn’t matter that the bandwidth wasn’t there, it didn’t even matter that the teachers did not know the difference between stopping their vcrs from blinking “12:00” and setting a default printer; the public thought computers were good and the schools got computers. We’re done, right?
As much as we can hope that we’ve learned from our past, we have to realize that this is public education and most school districts across the country will probably fall into this trap again. Since the public wants school and teacher web sites and homework assignments posted online, the school districts will provide it to them without any planning, foresight or concern for real learning. Those same administrator chests will puff out again at PTA and school board meetings, “did you see our school’s web site?”
Well if you did, you would find three teachers out of 70 who actually have anything on their section of the site. You would find a basic template that tells you and your children as much about the personality of their teacher and the class as a hallmark card tells you the true emotion of the sender. You would find that the calendar hasn’t been updated since August. The basic shell of the site will look fine, but as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, “there’s no there, there”.
Yes, there are many exceptions to this rule, but that misses the point as well.
School web sites are web 1.0, one-way streets of information dissemination, there is no interaction between administrators, teachers, students and the community. Just as the hardware payoff was not realized by rolling a machine into a classroom, the school web presence payoff will not be realized until learning environments are built.
And there’s the rub.
Perhaps the only significant decision in the hardware binge was platform. After deciding on Windows or Macs, the only thing left to do was sign the check.
This step is not so easy. There is a overflowing font of learning environments. There are free tools like blogs, wikis and Moodle and a host of corporate products, eager to cash in on the ignorance of decisions makers who do not trust and do not know much about the open source alternative.
Administrators and decision makers are excited by these tools and have a sense of how they can be used in classroom, but they do not really have the sort of working-level experience necessary to make important decisions regarding how the environments should be constructed. Teachers are also excited, but need a much more immersive professional development experience to tinker with them in order to figure out exactly how they can be applied to their particular classes. And to complete the triangle, the IT folks have little sense of what goes on in the classroom or the day-to-day work of teachers.
At some point, school districts will decide what sort of the learning environment they will make available to their students and how that environment is connected to their local community and the outside world.
The architecture of these learning environments is as important as the architecture of the buildings themselves. How many buildings do we have? What do they look like? Who is allowed to work in them and who do we allow to tour our facility?
Those questions are easy for us when we are physically constructing an addition to a school because everyone has a complete working knowledge of how those physical buildings work. But few people have spent time in the type of “buildings” we are talking about. Until administrators and teachers communicate and collaborate in these environments, they will be ill-equipped to design them. Although they could easily navigate “Windows or Mac”, do they know the difference between a blog, wiki or forum?
Here we go again.