Whoa Nellie! Are we getting ahead of ourselves?

Smiley with Ringeye Nellie

I have had three Whoa Nellie! Moments this past month, which made me realize that this BC ED PLAN world I live in is still pretty isolated from the main stream of educational thought. All the tech here and tech there and personalize this and personalize that talk, is lost on many. It is like no one has even invited them to jump on the bandwagon or perhaps, people might not want any part of the new and improved vision of education I have been immersing myself in.

These moments have by no means, dissuaded me from forging ahead and becoming more entrenched in the world of digital driven personalized learning movement but they have certainly made me stop and think about where I am at, in relation to where the real world resides in their thinking.

The first Whoa Nellie! moment was when a parent of one of my International students popped in to see me about their child’s first term mark. I had given “Johnny” an “I” because very few of his assignments were completed. The parent was puzzled because I had not given any tests and that, “where they come from”, the test is all that matters. Assignments are essentially ignored, seen as “extra” work if the student doesn’t understand. Johnny was waiting for me to tell him what to study for the test and had no intention of doing the assignments. It would have been nice if he had expressed his view of how learning is achieved during the term when I asked him “what is up?” but…

What I realized at that moment, is that there are still people who subscribe the old school ways of learning. Take notes – memorize material – take test. Up until that moment, I had naively thought everyone had at least moved past this very Old School view of education but apparently I was wrong.

The second Whoa Nellie! moment was when I popped my head into my school while on medical leave. I wanted to make sure that everything had gone to hell in a hand basket without me … Which of course it hadn’t. In fact, I think the kids enjoyed having a real teacher for a change.

When I popped my head into my office, Stewart Baker and Alex Kozak (co heads of the iPad cohort) told me that 6 students signed up for next years incarnation of the iPads In The Classroom project. Only 6 kids out of a student body of 1500+ had put their name down for our iPad cohort. I was gobsmacked! After all the work we had done getting this thing rolling and now, come course planning time for next year, we manage to scrounge up a paltry 6 kids? What in god’s name did we do wrong?

Once we look into things a little more, I am sure we will have a clearer picture of why kids have not signed up in droves. Undoubtedly there will be a long laundry list of things which brought about this overwhelming lack of enthusiasm for the project. What it does tell me right off the bat however, is that 1494 students and their parents have not bought into, what the likes of me are selling. The panacea of a digitally driven classroom is not a part of most people’s view of education, even when the opportunity is right there in front of them.

The Final Whoa Nellie! moment came from three guest lectures I did for an Educational Technology class at the University of Victoria. One secondary and two elementary cohorts of up and coming teachers, had to listen to me drone on about iPads in the classroom. I was thrilled to do it. I felt like I had made it to the big leagues, called up from the minors to take three short shifts for my old Alma Matter.

In the short time I spent with these new teachers. I quickly realized that although I was talking to an Educational Technology class, these young teachers were not as technologically savvy as one might think. Once again I fell for the false notion that under 20 = digital native. Now I freely admit, I didn’t spend enough time with these students to truly gauge their level of competency but they definitely were not operating at the level of competency and acceptance as seen at the BCEDSFU conference, held at the same time I was doing the lectures.

Together, these three Whoa Nellie! moments, brought me back to reality. They made me realize that those of us who are behind the move toward the digitally driven, Twenty First Century learning space, are living in our own little world.

Each of these moments made clear a single very important issue which needs to be addressed before Twenty First Century learning environments ever become a reality.

First issue is that, many people still view education in very traditional ways. A place where teachers are seen as the gatekeepers of information, rote memorization is central to “learning”, testing measures understanding & percentages are seen as the only measure that matters. These old school hallmarks of what education should be are still very much a part of the general public’s understanding of what good teaching and evaluation is all about.

As long as the traditional educational paradigm remains as part of what the majority believe in, the Twenty First Century learning model will continue to be a fringe educational concept

Second issue is that, digital tools have not been fully accepted as part of the learning environment. They are still seen primarily as a means of communicating and being entertained. If devices such as laptops and tablets were considered a critical part of the educational experience, we would not be having difficulty getting kids signed up for next years iPad cohort. Second to that, if digital tools were truly seen as essential for learning, we wouldn’t need to create a cohort at all. Kids would just simply have them in their back pack as commonly as kids carry binders or pencil cases.

We are slowly seeing more and more kids bringing laptops and tablets into the classroom on a regular basis but at this moment, digital tools are not seen as must have classroom accouterments. In time this will change but at this moment, we are struggling to make it a reality.

Third and final issue is that, if things like the BC ED PLAN are going to succeed, it can’t simply be a decree from above on a glossy image rich document. All levels of education need to be in on the changes necessary, to create the learning environments we are envisioning. It can’t simply be assumed that everyone is on board and everything will fall into place from Kindergarten to University. As it stands, the drivers behind the 21st CL movement are a small enthusiastic group of educators who think they have it right but most people are on the outside looking in.

This is where I feel that the Fin’s have it right. Their education plan has involved everyone from the ground up.What is more is that the Government has clearly stated their plans and outline their commitment to students, to teachers and to the Nation. This is not to say every school jurisdiction needs to follow Finland’s lead but it would be wise to at least come to understand how it is they came to have the best education system in the world.

There is certainly much that can be learned and experienced as we move toward a new educational paradigm. Undoubtedly there will be some bumps along the way but those of us who are galloping fast and furious into unknown pedagogical pastures, might want to reign in good old Nellie and take a look around and see who is on board. If we keep riding Nellie full speed ahead, we might end up flogging a dead horse.


  1. MommaYomma

    Thanks for your comment, I really appreciate it. To answer your question, “where I am at, in relation to where the real world resides in their thinking” Curious about this statement. Do you think that the world should reside where you do in relation to this idea? Do you simply want to reflect on the location of both and see how you can get them a little closer?

    1. Post

      I would never expect or assume that everyone would want to get to “where I am at” but I would like to get to a point where people could see my vision of where the digital classroom can take us but this will take time and some will never get there but that is to be expected. The problem I am seeing right now is the likes of me running headlong into that digital learning space and not doing a very good job of sharing our vision and how we are going to achieve it.

  2. Anne-Marie Holmwood

    You make many valid points – thanks for a thought-provoking piece that is a good start for talking about change.
    Like you, I have presented on digital technology and changing perceptions of teaching & learning to my K – 12 colleagues, education undergrads, and college faculty. I think the technological learning curve combined with philosophical change prevents more long term ‘buy-in’. When I talk to educators about this, one thing is abundantly clear – many educators today are simply overwhelmed by the massive (and growing) number of expectations placed on them. Perhaps if there was ‘breathing room’ in the day-to-day job educators would have the time to embrace the exciting possibilities that technology allows.

    1. Post

      I don’t think anyone who hasn’t made the time investment to be truly “digitally literate” has any idea what is involved. Actually that is not quite true. Traditional teachers who see what is required to get themselves up to speed on digital literacy, look at it and like you say are “Overwhelmed” They understand what will be required to be able to run a digital classroom.

      To carry out the BCedplan, more than good intentions will be required. professional development in the form of courses, mentoring and technical assistance will be required but I don’t think the powers that be are prepared to provide what will be required to make this thing fly.

  3. Devinder Deol

    The 1494 students sound like pretty normal teenagers to me. From what I can see, you have an exceptional iPad program and are candid about documenting its successes and shortcomings.

    Any number of things could be causing the reluctance to sign up and the reality is that probably a lot more than 6 students are interested in the project. I’m wondering if a deficiency of tech skills and some laziness is holding students back. In past years in the DL world that I work in, thousands of students eagerly signed up because they thought DL courses were “easier” than brick-and-mortar courses.

    Fortunately, this misconception about DL seems to be fizzling, but the lesson still holds: [some] kids are actively seeking easy.
    Now your program sounds like it has an expectation that students will use technology to demonstrate learning in non-conventional ways.

    For us, that’s excellent contemporary educational practice. For a kid, that probably just sounds like a lot of work, especially if they don’t have any previous training with blogging or video production tools.
    I know that in my courses, students cry bloody murder anytime I ask them to use something unconventional .

    Last week, I had a brilliant grade 12 student who has been accepted to 3 Ontario universities. He was to present his Law 12 report on prison reform via Elluminate. Guess what? He phoned on the day of and asked if he could just do it on the phone (without visuals) because he was terrified of using Elluminate. If he’s struggling, I wonder what the rest of the kids are thinking.

    On a separate note: It’s evident that BC needs A bcedplan, but I’m not sure if the current bcedplan is the next step that we’re all seeking. Clearly, it has the potential to be transformational, but as I recall, these types of movements only endure if they have buy-in from constituents….(that includes teachers!). Instead of muddying waters with the contention that teacher contracts are an impediment to the bcedplan, why don’t we just focus on learning? It’s mindboggling that the bcedplan is being put forward in the midst of showdown between teachers and gov – this creates real risk that many educators will dismiss the plan as little more than the latest in a series of government-inspired pendulum shifts.

    1. Post

      Hey Devinder, thanks once again for dropping by and taking the time to comment.

      Yes the “easy” this is the bane of modern education. If school work isn’t easy, entertaining, engaging, relevant… It isn’t good worth learning. Actually it isn’t that it isn’t worth learning, it is usually seen as a sign of a bad teacher.

      Unfortunately we have ingrained into our children that if learning gets any harder than the effort it takes to cross the threshold of the classroom and take your seat, then it isn’t worth their time. As a result, as you mention in your comment, technology is seen not as a way to learn more material or gain a better understanding of the material, It is seen as a way to make things easier.

      This is without a doubt a HUGE stumbling block we need to address in the integration of digital learning tools into the classroom. Far too many people are looking at digital learning environments as a place where virtually no effort on the part of the student is required beyond showing up for class.

      In addition, I think this sort of thinking is a MAJOR fault in the BCEDPLAN. Very little is mentioned about student investment required to be successful when in reality, 21st Century learning environments will require more effort from the student, then ever before.

      I could not agree with you more Devinder, Easy is not what we are shooting for and kids, parents, teachers, administrators and ministers of education need to come to grips with the reality that 21st century learning will bring.

      Just showing up for school will no longer be an option.

  4. Kelley Inden

    This is complicated. Thanks for your honesty and heart. As a new blogger, I am appreciating the time, work and stretching this kind of writing can involve.

    Students are entrenched, so are parents and so are teachers, as the comments above attest.That is perfectly normal for the human beast. Slow, deliberate steps in the right direction will be needed, and your cohort needs to be protected, nurtured and FUNDED so that it can illustrate to others what is possible. Change takes time, and then at some critical moment, it won’t take time, it will WHOOSH toward change. However, if your project and passions are not supported by administration and money…..

    It is important for administrators and the Ministry of Education, and the Minister of Education to focus on what and where and who are agents of change, not focus on the ones at every level of the system who are not on board, who are maybe even sabotaging the situation, who don’t yet understand. Most people are swamped. They are not evil-doers. Give the time, energy and money where the good work is getting done. There is every indication that grass-roots solutions are the best, but the current situation is driving more wedges… I blogged briefly about this idea here: http://messyprofessional.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/trying-to-boil-the-ocean/

    I myself am still trying to move from philosphical ‘aha’ to practical, on the ground application. I am a reformer. I drank the Kool-aid. However, I am learning as I go. The blog-o-verse, and the twitter-verse are a great help to me. But it is not easy.

    Because it is complicated. I have been working on ‘fixing’ a lot of issues. I can’t do everything at once. I do need more time. I choked on my cold coffee when I heard we were negotiating for more prep time. “Fat chance,” I thought. But we actually do need more time, in particular, for collaboration. PLNs. RTI.

    I also think we need to do some serious thinking about Devinder’s thoughts above. We are also finding students flooding to DL because they think it is ‘easier’. When do we take choice out of their hands?

    Anyway, keep up the good work. Inspiration being modelled is our best tool!


    1. Post

      Thanks for the comment Kelley

      Yes the getting people to drink the kool aid begin to invest time into becoming a participant in the digital learning space is difficult and who can blame them.

      Those who are entrenched in the traditional teaching space have a lot of work to do and spending the time to get out off that space and even get a toe into the digital space just adds more work to their load and without the time it is unlikely to happen.

      Many of us have families to consider on top of that and it just is not possible to invest the HOURS / Days / Weeks / Months worth of time needed to get a handle on digital learning spaces and tools.

      I shudder when I think about how much time I have spent in front of my laptop and often wonder when the tumors will begin to show up from the WiFi radiation.

      Thanks for sharing.

  5. Chris Wejr

    Keith, you once again raise some key questions but I want to comment on the last part of your post regarding the BCEdplan.

    As you have said, it must be from the ground up. In my opinion, the “plan” should never have been a plan nor should it have been marketed as a “thing” that teachers and schools will do. The BCEdplan, to me, is a series of ideas based on some key practices that are already happening in BC learning environments and beyond (you, for example). It is very difficult to argue with the ideas in the BCEdplan but it is easy to argue that this will somehow all be implemented, top down, by a certain date.

    Keep the dialogue going and let’s keep working to create the “ground” swell of progress in BC education.

    1. Post

      Thanks for commenting Chris,

      I agree, the “Plan” was poorly introduced and marketed but I think the Govt has an opportunity here to redirect the plan without losing face, after all of Mr. Abbott’s consultations.

      To continue to force the top down push, is going to result in years of struggle, resentment and poor implementation.

      When those of us who are leading the charge in the schools are saying “Whoa!” I think Govt would be wise to listen to our advice and ideas, rather than riding old Nellie into the ground.

      Thanks again.

    2. Viviane

      I can answer a cploue of your questions. Distance learning (and I think this includes courses through the mail, as well) are courses you can do from your home, where the teacher is a fair distance from where the student is. There are some situations, where, for instance, a whole class might meet in one location, and the teacher is in another, sometimes with another group, and there are video and computer links. People take these classes to fulfill all sorts of requirements and interests, especially when they can’t GET to another location every week or two or three times a week to take a class. For instance, I once took a whole degree where I had to drive, daily, three hours each way to classes, spend all day, then come home, because I didn’t want to relocate altogether. I would MUCH rather have done the whole degree long-distance, but that wasn’t an option at the time. I live in a rural area, and getting advanced courses is often difficult, and all we have here is a community college, so, if I want an advanced class, I have to do something else, and that can be done through distance and online courses. I can’t help you out with any specifics. There are some good online Universities, but I’d be willing to bet there are some scams out there as well. Do your research and make sure you actually can TALK to someone who has taken courses through whatever group you want to send money to good luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *