I went over to school yesterday to see how my educational proposal was faring.
Earlier this week, I sent in a proposal to the academic dean, the new head of school, and the head of the IT department, explaining how I wanted to use wikis and blogging in the classroom using MediaWiki and WordPress. I explained that these software packages were free, that they encouraged kids to build research and research citations into their projects, and that both created formal ‘digital trails’ that allowed you to figure out what work each kid had done on any given project.
The new head was off at a meeting (where, I found out later, he laid off a friend and junior colleague of mine, though at least with the possibility that after mid-year admissions are done, he might be on staff again). The academic dean was enjoying a Friday afternoon with his family and friends at a house he owns, because his house is rented for a year beginning Monday. So two of the people I wanted to engage on this subject weren’t available.
The IT head was, though. I found him setting up two new Xserve servers, installing Leopard on all our Mac machines with his deputy, and making the school’s computer network ready for another year of school.
He was blunt. “It’s a great proposal. I’m not going to install anything without direction from our new head. If he signs on, nothing else matters. If he gives the OK, no one else matters.” He gestured at his new machines. “We’ve got the tech to give you blogging and wikis now anyway. Don’t have to install that other software.”
OK, I thought. I can work with that. “If you give me a username and password, I’ll start putting some of the content I plan to use onto these servers.”
“We’re trying to set it up so that if you have a valid username and a password, you’ll have access,” he said. Implying that it’s not currently set up that way. “Besides, you still need the head to buy in.”
[Digression: Then he showed me our two new COWs: Computers On Wheels. These are Holstein-painted laptop computer carts that can be rolled classroom to classroom for digital workstations. There’s a five minute process to sign out a cart for your classroom, and you have to do a five-minute process to sign it back in at the end of your class. Plus there’s a procedure to hand out the computers, and get them handed back in again, so none of them go missing. A class is only 45 minutes long, and we’ve just wasted fifteen minutes on command & control procedures. I understand – my computer was expensive, and I’d have a hard time working without it. Really I do understand.]
I understand. My new head and my academic dean are every bit entitled to enjoy the remnants of their summer vacations. Really they are.
But I need a yes from somebody I’ve already asked, and from whom I’ve gotten no answer. School starts in two weeks… am I going to be able to plan to do something new? The things I’ve gotten excited about at conference after conference? Or am I going to be doing the same old things on paper that I’ve been doing the last twelve years?
Last February, I was urged to make radical changes in my teaching style. So I learned about the latest tools, and prepared to make radical changes. I may not be ready, but I’m eager to try, at least.
But it feels like, having committed to making radical changes, I’m being asked to make do with the same old tools: papers, pencils, chalk and chalkboard. And a COW, of course, that might produce great milk if it can ever be liberated from the paper-trail that follows it night and day.