“Glorified Notebooks with Onboard Cameras.”

One of my favorite Radical Readers is Bob Schuetz.  Bob regularly pushes my thinking by leaving provocative comments, and that’s something I really, really dig.

A few weeks back, Bob left a comment arguing that all too often, classroom technology — iPads, Chromebooks, BYOD devices — become nothing more than “glorified notebooks with onboard cameras.”

(click here to view original image and credits on Flickr)

Slide - Glorified Notebooks

That thinking is rolling around in my mind today.  Here’s why:  Outside of the purpose driven learning work that I do during our schoolwide enrichment period, most of the technology work being done in my classroom probably fits into “glorified notebook” status.

My kids take pictures of notes that I write on the board and store those pictures in dedicated folders in their Google Drives.  I hand out and collect digital versions of handouts using Google Classroom.  Videos and still shots of lab experiences are captured and incorporated into final products, replacing the hand-drawn observations that students used to complete in required lab reports.

And while those uses have made life infinitely easier for both me and my students, there’s nothing revolutionary there.

A part of me feels a sense of shame about that.  I’m a pretty progressive teacher who has been experimenting with technology in teaching and learning for almost 15 years.  Why the heck haven’t I figured out something better, right?  How can I be progressive while simultaneously creating learning experiences that are nothing more than digital versions of the same tasks my students were completing a decade ago?

But a part of me wants to remind everyone that nothing has changed about the curriculum that I’m being asked to teach or the outcomes that I’m being held accountable for.

My state standards are still massive, covering more content in one year than is truly reasonable.  Worse yet, the end of grade exam that I am required to give is nothing more than 35 fact-driven multiple choice questions covering isolated details from that massive set of state standards.  Finally, our end of grade exam carries incredibly high stakes:  Student results become a significant part of my annual evaluation.

All of those realities influence the choices that I make as an instructor, y’all.

Of course I’m going to have my kids keep a detailed digital notebook.  Collecting evidence and information (read: completing fill in the blank handouts that are organized by unit and never lost because they are automatically stored in Google Drive) is essential in our state.  Students need something to study from for the end of grade exam.

And there’s no way I’m going to find the time and space for self-direction and investigation in my room.  Self-direction and investigation take time that I don’t have.  Getting through everything that is required is already darn near impossible — and getting through everything that is required becomes a priority when you are held accountable for nothing more than the number of isolated facts that your kids can remember at the end of the year.

So I get it.  Schools really DO need to change.  And technology really CAN help us to transform learning experiences.  

But let’s not pretend that teachers can drive that change in spite of their required curriculum.  Our classrooms and our learning experiences are a reflection of the expectations set by our state standards and end of grade exams.  Until THOSE change, our classrooms are going to look a lot like they always have.



Related Radical Reads:

Lessons Learned from an Amazing Group of Student Bloggers

Why Can’t This Be School?

Blaming and Shaming Teachers for Low Level #edtech Practices



5 thoughts on ““Glorified Notebooks with Onboard Cameras.”

  1. georgecouros

    This comment –

    “But let’s not pretend that teachers can drive that change in spite of their required curriculum. Our classrooms and our learning experiences are a reflection of the expectations set by our state standards and end of grade exams. Until THOSE change, our classrooms are going to look a lot like they always have.”

    I disagree. Would it be better if governing bodies had a visionary view of education? Absolutely.

    But classroom teachers can do a lot with what they have. There are teachers who are doing amazing things within the context of the curriculum and the constraints that exist within schools.

    If we are going to wait for someone else to change for us to move forward, you will be waiting forever. Educators have a lot more opportunity to create something amazing right now. It might not be perfect, but I am not pretending that teachers have more control than they do. I believe the best ones are finding ways to “do their job” while also creating amazing learning opportunities for students. We have to make things happen within our schools. So many, including yourself, have done some incredible things within those constraints. Don’t forget that my friend!

    Keep pushing!

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Thanks for the kind words, George — I really do appreciate them. And I realize that it is possible to do great things regardless of the constraints that we are under.

      But here’s the thing: I also realize that relying on individual teachers to do great things in spite of the constraints isn’t sustainable. That’s not a reform strategy that will result in broad change across systems. Sure, there will be individual classes in individual schools where great things are happening — but until the system is reimagined to facilitate change, those great things will always remain isolated examples instead of the norm in our buildings.

      That’s what drives me nuts about our conversations about change. If we mean significant, meaningful change for a significant, meaningful number of students, we have to see systems and structures implemented beyond the classroom that encourage/facilitate that change.

      I could be wrong about all of this. I’m just a classroom teacher, after all — so my awareness of what happens beyond the classroom is limited.

      But I’ve been working pretty hard at this stuff for close to 15 years and I STILL feel like I’m fighting the system more often than not. That’s exhausting and frustrating.

      Rock on,

  2. Philip Cummings

    You’re exactly right, Bill. What drives me nuts is how many folks don’t acknowledge this reality. They expect teachers to throw themselves on the altar and make the needed changes in the way they do things, but then hold them accountable with measures that don’t encourage traditional practices. #doublesheesh

  3. Robert Schuetz

    Keep bringing the heat Bill – love it!
    Magic happens when learners create something previously nonexistent. (Papertism)
    The maker movement in EDU is being built on the notion of moving learners from constant consuming to producing evidences of learning. Just like your professional portfolio. I dig yoir blog. Hopefully, one day soon, our ideas won’t seem so radical – you will need to come up with a new title for this learning space. Thanks for the mention and the PLN fellowship. Rock on!

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      Hey Bob,

      I’m totally with you on what education SHOULD be and COULD be. I just worry that it never WILL be those things – and that’s a function of the politicization of schools. We are a political football. Some want to protect us. Others want to tear us down. Both groups want “evidence” to support their positions. That evidence is all too often crappy curricula and crappy tests — which force teachers and schools into crappy choices.

      I’m a pessimist by nature, so maybe I’m wrong here — but I don’t see any of that changing anytime soon. And it makes me sad times ten.

      Rock right on,

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