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In the mirror…

3124740517_17ef3ccdf8_m This is the first week of the 2nd semester of the 09-10 school year.  The first days of any new term are perfect for looking “out the windshield” in eager anticipation of things to come.  I also find “first days” like this to be a great time for reflection… taking a peek in the rear view mirror, if you will.  I’ve done a lot of that (reflecting) lately, and want to share some of my thinking about what’s happened so far this year… and in the nearly 4 years since I packed up my lesson plans and gradebook and settled into a cubicle in the district offices.

The following is the text of an email conversation I had with a (now retired) teacher back in May of 2006 (nearly 1 month after assuming my new role in this district).  It’s a long read, but I think it speaks to where we, as a district, were in terms of instructional technology back then.  In future posts on this blog, I’ll write more about some things that have (or haven’t) changed since then… but I’d love to hear your reactions:


I want to respond to some of your questions/points, because I want you to know where I stand as a leader in this organization and what I am doing/hoping to do as that leader.  I hope you are ok with the possibility of using some of your comments as starting points for some discussions in the future.

I found that the easiest way to reply to some of your thoughts was to just interject into what you already wrote.  I hope my font changes distinguish my thoughts from yours (My responses are bold and italicized… like this).

Timothy Hahn
Elementary and Middle School
Technology Coordinator
Lincoln Public Schools, Lincoln, NE

On May 23, 2006, at 6:09 PM, “L” wrote:


NETA and some of our discussion at the last meeting hit a hot button in me. [This is important for me to hear… I am proud to have a group of passionate individuals working with me.  I would be concerned if the discussion didn’t “hit a hot button.” I’ve never doubted that this was true… I hope to hit your “hot button” frequently, because that is how issues get brought out into the open where we can start doing something about them…]
My harangue below is nothing profound and it’s even a bit disjointed, but these are things I’ve thought about for awhile and some of it may be worth discussing. I may come across as critical, but I’m not. I’m not even playing devil’s advocate, I’m simply asking questions.


I can’t say that any one session stood out for me, but I did pick up, through many different sessions, the need for change.

“Digital students@an analog school.”
“Kids come to school from a technology rich environment.”
“The digital media lab is now in homes. When kids come to the
classroom, they’re stepping backwards.”
“The Educational model hasn’t changed in 200 years.”
“6 hours and 21 minutes a day kids are plugged in to media.”
“8.5 hours kids multi-tasking.”
“Technology supports the vision, it isn’t the vision.”
“Multi-learning styles…80% of teaching is auditory.”
“Digital media accommodates different learning styles and abilities.”
“Digital media is an active approach to learning.”
“Technology provides for life long learning 24/7, on/off campus.”
“Games changed the way we teach.”
“Now teacher has to say, “I’m not the expert.”

Talk about preaching to the choir. There needs to be a concerted effort in getting new teachers, teachers in traditional curricular areas, and teachers who aren’t particularly tech savvy to attend. I’m not sure we’re gaining a whole lot by sending the ‘geeks’ year after year. Maybe more importantly where were the central office administrators, curriculum consultants, school board members, community leaders and even parents? These are the people who ultimately have to hear the Word, catch the Vision. To quote Paul Newman from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, “I have vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.” It does little for the technology adherents to go and fire up when all they do is teach.  [I couldn’t agree more… we, as the technology leaders, need to lead this push… I hope that next year, we can evangelize the use of technology enough that there is a waiting line for admission to NETA… while I do enjoy going every year, I, too, feel like I’m hearing a lot of what I already know… I find myself thinking “Joe Science-Teacher should be hearing this” (Joe is fictional… he does not represent a real person, any similarities are purely coincidental)… it would be nice to be sitting here the week after NETA and having classroom teachers calling me saying “I saw…. at NETA… how can I…?”  This is a definite subject for discussion at a TIS meeting…]

I’m not totally on the digital bandwagon (trotting along side). [I hope you are jumping on from time to time so you don’t completely run out of energy and give your legs a rest and re-hydrate…] The digital natives are plugged in with their video games, cell phones, wireless laptops, digital cameras, and iPods, … they’re multitasking. I ain’t buying it. I can be surfing the Web, listening to an album (yes, I still do vinyl) and conversing with “S”, but there comes a point when she’ll say, “Are you listening to me?” No, I’m hearing her along with Bruce exclaiming that the night’s busted open and those two lanes will take him anywhere, while I’m trying to read the reviews on Amazon of the hot new SF novel. I’m multitasking, but I’m not listening. I’m not doing justice to any one task. Ah, but you’re an old fart one may say, you’re an immigrant to the digital age of multitasking. Right, I’m an immigrant, but wrong on the multitasking. I am of the age of original multitaskers. I grew up with the TV on, and KLMS AM radio playing the Nifty-Fifty while I was suppose to be doing my homework. It didn’t work then, I don’t think it works now.

Two years ago Marc Prensky was the featured speaker at NETA. While he wasn’t as entertaining as other speakers we’ve had, his presentation was more challenging and in some ways disturbing. His contention was the digital native’s most intellectual stimulation comes from the video games they play. It is the challenge and eventual mastery of the games that hook them. I disagree. If that were the case, why is the hottest selling book at our student book fairs the one that offers cheats and codes to ‘master’ the video games? Why do kids spend countless hours on the Internet searching for these cheats. I contend that attention spans are limited (partially due to the digital/media age,) kids get frustrated over not quickly progressing through a game, go the ‘cheat’ route (a part of the get-it-free mentality the Internet fosters) and then on to the next game. It’s not the challenge or mastery, but the glitz, glamor and hyper activity of the multimedia format that hooks them. It’s not the content, it’s the presentation. Having said this, I acknowledge the digital native is growing up in a world that is different than what they find in school and we as educators have to adjust to this difference. We have to join the digital age. While I may cringe over the ‘dark’ side of our digital world, I know there is no returning to Mayberry and we’d better adapt in order to re-connect the digital native with education. [This is an interesting point… here’s another thought to add to it… what if the fact that “cheat books” are the most popular purchases at the book fairs is some kind of indicator that the kids have a desire to manipulate their environment (an environment that can be manipulated much more, and to much different ends than ever before) because what they are doing when they are putting in those codes is being “programmers.”  How do we capitalize on that mentality (if it is, indeed, a mentality)?]

In respect to technology and education, we “need transformation not integration.” This was stated by the presenter at CISCO’s, The New Schools Imperative: Using Technology to Transform Education, session and I agree wholeheartedly. Integrating technology into teaching is nothing more than grafting a branch of one plant onto the stem of another. Both grow and function, but it is simply one attached to another. Technology and education must become symbiotic in their relationship, no even beyond that, they must become one. [You’re right on… it is my feeling that technology is no more a tool for improving student achievement than your legs are a tool for running… as Kirk has pointed out many times, if you go into any business in the “real world” and ask how they are integrating technology, they may laugh and say “I’m not integrating it… I couldn’t do my job without it…” Hopefully, we can get over the “integration” hump and get into the mind set that it is “integral.”] This doesn’t happen by techie teachers pushing out, it happens when those in power see the need for revamping education, realize that it isn’t going to be an inexpensive change, and go for it. I’m not into Reaganomics, but the trickle down theory works here. It’s the only way change is going to take place, start at the top and trickle down. [I agree… and I see my roll as part of initiating that change… I am currently working with administrators in the buildings to get them on board.  As a teacher, my perception was that administrators weren’t necessarily on board… that they didn’t necessarily share the vision… in this new role, I have a different perspective… my experience, thus far, is that the group of building administrators, for the most part, are very much on board and share the same vision… but the devil is in the details… scheduling, funding, personnel… we’ll get there, but it is going to take some time… probably some significant time… in this time of data driven decision making, and research backed strategies, we have to “prove” that it works… and we’re getting there… Right now, as I’m writing this, we have a model of a TIS working in a couple of elementary schools.  We are gathering data from those schools in an effort to help make our case… additionally, we are (as I write, again) working on figuring out what the TIS looks like in a middle school and trying to figuring out ways to fund this initially… until others (those with money) see it as essential and choose to dedicate funds to it’s continuance…]

“T” made a comment about the elimination of computer teachers down the road. Gad, we can only hope. We’re not ready for that yet, but only when that happens and technology isn’t taught in isolation, will we be headed in the right direction. Dan, in his session, made a comment almost in passing, but it’s a thought I’ve had for a long time. While it doesn’t sound politically correct, it is reality correct. Multiculturalism can’t be outside the curriculum or as a unit within. It can’t be a special month or day. It must be part of the whole and taught as such. We shouldn’t research black or women scientists, we should research scientists (all scientists, all genders, all races.) The same is true for technology. Computer skills can’t be taught in isolation of what goes on in the English, science, or social studies classroom. Every teacher must become a technology teacher. We can’t separate the two anymore. I’ll go one step further, the TIS and media specialist roles must merge into that of an instructional specialist. There is no point in having separate roles if we’re striving for total transformation. We’ll not see any of this to any great degree until the digital immigrants die off (well retire anyway…) and the digital natives begin to enter the profession.  [I hope, for children’s sake, that you are wrong about this part (about the futility of trying to get older educators to “see the light” with out “walking toward the light”)… I hope that there are those in the “immigrant” population that see that they are teaching a very different child than they were… I hope that we can reach educators across the spectrum… and it has been my experience, in this short amount of time working with such a wide range of teachers, that that is possible (without driving them nuts enough that they decide to retire) to help them see different ways…]

(Hmm, maybe NETA needs to become, NAE, The Nebraska Association of Educators with enrollment of all teachers.)

I can speak out of both sides of my mouth. I can sound like a Luddite and I can speak like a geek. Technology and computers in particular haven’t lived up to the promise and hype for education. That’s not to say it isn’t coming, but it’s been a long time coming. We got caught up with the new toy, spent thousands and thousands of dollars in amassing more toys, never really clear on how to use them and how to support them and then they took on a life of their own. Computer technology in education is like the plant in Little Shop of Horrors, “Feed me! Feed me Seymour!” It’s ever growing, ever demanding on resources, talent, and time.

There was a bit of a discussion at our TIS meeting on old equipment and how was a mult-media teacher suppose to teach multi-media with the old limited number of cameras (s)he has. The cynic in me says, “So what’s the point.?” Is it that important for a student to be able to put together a multi-media extravaganza? I see kids caught up in the process and presentation of a project at the expense of the content. This goes back to Prensky’s implication that we’re loosing the digital native due to presentation. Do all kids need to be able to put together a PowerPoint presentation, build a web page. Smartboards are way cool, but do they truly and profoundly impact teaching and learning? I am amazed at the energy and funding that goes into the Beast when an older technology that has a much more immediate impact on students’ lives goes ignored by education today. That’s the car. We’ve pulled out of it entirely except for a few auto mechanics classes for the gearheads in industrial tech. We leave it up to parents and commercial ventures to teach the terribly important skills that are necessary in order to operate a 3,000 pound bomb. Even when we did teach driver education, a kid got a semester’s worth of class when (s)he was fifteen years of age, and then ran off six months later, got their license, and hit the streets. How scary is that!? Yet we spend years and years and big bucks to teach a student computer literacy. Again I ask, “To what point?” Basic computer literacy is the easiest thing to learn, most kids have that tied down very early on. Is knowing web development, multimedia production, etc. going to be of benefit to students later in life or are these skills simply additional ways in dealing with multiple learning styles? These are questions that we should have answered long ago. I don’t see where we can make much progress until we achieve clarification on these issues. The one quote above, “Technology supports the vision, it isn’t the vision.” is what we all have to come to understand.

For too long in education computers have been in the hands of the propeller heads with the mentality of this is great, how can we work it in? The thrust or drive has to come from within, from administrators who understand the amalgamation of education with technology and from teachers who see the need.

This is a difficult situation we’re in. We’re on the spinning ride and can’t get off. If we get off, there’s no catching up, yet how do we control the momentum so the ride proves to be of value.  [I hear ya… and the days of buying, buying, buying (software, hardware, etc…) are over… only when a clear connection to curriculum and achievement can be made will dollars be spent…]

Enough, thanks for listening.


Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts… what I take from it is this… we, as a group of individuals who work with children daily and have their well-being and growth as our top priorities, need to talk more about what role technology plays in helping them improve their achievement, as well has helping teachers become more adept at using technology… my role within this organization is to make sure that the focus stays on that… I will do my best… I look forward to continuing this discussion in many different arenas with many different people…

Have a great finish to this year!

So I ask you, my valued readers, what has changed since “L” made these observations back in May of 2006?

[Thanks, A6U571N, for the image from Flickr]

Posted in What I think.

11 Responses

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  1. Larry Dawson says

    The Lincoln Journal Star’s article, “Nobody really knows how technology affects kids” (1-25-10) made mention of an upcoming Frontline, “Digital Nation” (PBS, 2-2-10/9-10:30pm). It may well be worth watching (or DVRing for those of us who are in bed by that time…) The article basically asks lots of questions and acknowledges not much is known yet as the research in this area is still new. Rachel Dretzin, the producer of the program, states, “We are all in the middle of a great social experiment.”

  2. Dale Holt says

    Once again the thoughtfulness of your post and the comments it has stirred brings me great comfort for the purpose of not only my job but for teaching. Thank you all who are “living” in the world they are talking about (participating in open forum discussions like this). There is a strong model here of people speaking to each other about critical topics and without the “platform” we may not be as connected. I have been thinking a lot about the SPACES we create/allow/give to students to have their own platforms from which to speak in schools and how my work can open more of those spaces up. Until I started riding a bike I didn’t know how to ride a bike. But I am not left with the skill alone, my holistic life helps me decide where I ride to and for what purpose and I attach the context of my world to how I use the vehicle. Does it have to be so different for a student? I tire of, as do many other advocates, the “screwing around” or “can’t do” philosophy that some educators start from. I crashed my bike the first ride. I started out too fast and without confidence and BANG I hit the cracked end of the driveway and slid to the pavement, I mean I did not even know how to properly fall. But I got up, and I was lucky enough to have people around that cared for me and said “Ok, What did you learn from that, and Alright Dale lets try one more time”. I just want to be able to say that we can for the majority provide those spaces and chances to fail with technology, and that we open up the conversation to the people involved i.e. the students rather than constricting it or starting to build from the platforms of “can’t”. Not sure if the Bike metaphor is clear anywhere but in my mind, of if its just January and I just miss riding my bike.

  3. Rich Powers says

    Hmmmm, what’s vinyl? Expanding text on my iPod means I don’t have to wear my reading glasses but I have to scroll for days. By the way, interactive whiteboards are great places to hang up posters. : )

    Bears, Beets, Battlestar Gallactica

  4. rhonda mueller says

    Anymore it isn’t JUST the doctors and lawyers! You need to be able to use technology to apply for jobs – to GET jobs. Technology is necessary for banking, bill paying, applying for benefits. It’s everywhere. Particularly when I look at our Title I population…….they have GOT to be literate just to feel like they fit in at the middle school level, let alone high school, college or the working world!

  5. Lisa Sauer says

    reflecting on “…transformation not integration”…and pondering the thought…

  6. Heather Steiner says

    If you want to keep the kids engaged, you need to meet them in the middle. As I discussed with my students today the concept of digital native vs. digital immigrant I had to think about what steps I was taking to meet them in the middle. I need to do a better job at taking what they already know and do everyday and merging it with what I know and want them to be able to do. We need to face the fact we live in a technological world that changes every minute. Our students; future doctors, lawyers, engineers, graphic artist, etc. will not be practicing these trades they same way they are practiced today. How are we to prepare them for their future if we don’t teach them with what is available in the present.

  7. rhonda mueller says

    Somewhat in the direction I was going Rob. There will always be a gap in terms of where teachers are when we look at how many generations are in the field at one time and how many changes occur within that time. So many factors effect who we are, what we believe and what we do as educators. There will always be that very large spectrum of learning – those getting on, those getting off and those in the middle. Those that find themselves somewhere in the middle of the learning spectrum can look to those with greater knowledge in order to learn and those who are still figuring things out to bring them a little further along.
    In terms of technology and the issue of integration, I believe the definition of integration is often unclear. Another discussion in itself! In the shortest of discussions, integration is to make something part of the whole NOT an extension of. And THAT IS the direction technology education is/should be going.
    College students are already moving to book free environments. Our students need to be able to navigate the world ahead of them and we know what that looks like! Pro’s at gaming, yes. How to use the technology available to learn, practice, communicate, plan, organize, respond………that is what I see as my job. AND to embrace technology rather than fear it!
    Thanks Tim!

  8. Scott B. says

    Always interesting to think about…again. By that I mean that your points are one that we people who believe in technology AND teaching (I like your teachnology), need to return to again and again.

    Also, is your picture a metaphor, or just an homage to Hootie and the Blowfish?

  9. rob mcentarffer says

    I’d say the main idea here (well, my take on what I see as one of the main ideas – that we need to meet students where they are and engage them with relevant tools and material) is timeless, so it hasn’t changed much. Many teachers I know are much more savvy about using computers,etc. efficiently – not just for whiz-bang shows (“Look! Its a Projector! Doing the same thing an overhead used to!”), but using them when they are the best took for the job. Maybe this discussion is as old as teaching, right? What we consider “technology” changes, but the question is the same. There may have been teachers in the 1800s working hard to get other teachers to integrate paper and pens into instruction instead of chalk and slates? (my year may be totally off there 🙂

  10. Bob Reeker says

    BTW…thanks for the good read, Tim!

  11. Bob Reeker says

    Sounds like the same stuff, just a different year. Making technology an integral part of all that is taught in schools continues to be a goal…one that we make strides with each year! The introduction of the mobile labs have really allowed us to get teachers to be using technology with their kids….and not just for enrichment but for meeting standards and objectives, just in a different way.

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