Thursday, April 03, 2008

“Moving From an ‘Either/Or World’ to a ‘Both/And World”

In February I gave a keynote address in the “Windy City” to an audience of 2,000 at the Illinois NCLB Conference. I titled my speech "Schools That Thrive", which fit well with the conference focus on rethinking, reviewing, reshaping and renewing efforts to improve No Child Left Behind and to “lift the bar” on all student learning.

I spoke about thinking in new ways and the importance of moving from an “Either/Or World” to a “Both/And” World”. “Do you believe your world will ever be entirely paperless?” I asked the audience. Very few hands went up. It may be easy to see that our world will consist of both paper and digital images.

Often you may find yourself taking sides on issues or ideas, which limits other thinking. As educators our goal is to expand our thinking and our students thinking. There are several examples of “Both/And” thinking that are alive and well in the field. The debate about Whole Language raged for years, but creative, successful, and evolved thinkers know it is not either Whole Language or Phonics, it requires both strategies to produce successful readers. Differentiated instruction is another perfect example of a successful “Both/And” strategy that accelerates learning for most students.

The “Either/Or” debate is often heated when it comes to educational technology. It seems as if people believe it is either the greatest educational tool since sliced bread or they believe it is wasting taxpayer’s money. Here is where the creative thinkers, who live by the “Both/And” philosophy for powerful instructional strategy (and search all ways to improve learning), will serve themselves and their students well.

I believe this philosophy has come of age. And, just by coincidence Andrew A Zucker, wrote an article “Smart Thinking About Educational Technology” in the April 2, 2008 issue of Education Week, addressing simplistic thinking as it applies to technology in schools. He believes that advocates often rely on weak arguments such as “ students are digital natives, so we should use more technology” yet critics may warn against excessive hype about the value of computers.

Zucker writes: “It is time to move away from simplistic “either-or” thinking about computers in schools. Instead, we need to focus on key educational goals and how computers and other digital tools can help us achieve them.” Within the article he describes his key goals and gives clear examples of them. You may find his thoughts and ideas helpful in your own technology integration.

I believe there are compelling reasons not to take sides in a debate about educational technology. But our organizations may have set us up for it. Zucker tells of an MIT professor who studies business investments in technology. He found that for every dollar large successful companies spent on hardware, $3 was spent on software, and $16 on organizational capital such as retraining workers and redesigning practices in the workplace. Here may be the place to start.

Many of the folks in Chicago came to believe that new knowledge of technology and its uses in our classrooms could move many teachers, administrators, and board members from an “Either/Or World” to a “Both/And World”.

Ask Yourself:
Do you believe your world will be paperless?

Have you noticed how quickly on-line schools, computer-based testing, and other powerful innovations are spreading, and how significant they are?

Do you need training in bridging time and distance for your students?

Do you need training to leverage the exponential increases in computer power?

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