A year ago, I changed jobs. I worked in my prior position for almost 7 years – I was a Technology Specialist for an Adult Education program run out of a California County Office of Education. For the past year, I have worked in a small (4 schools, 5500 kids) high school district located in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am a Technology Projects Director – I oversee a number of bond-funded new instructional technology initiatives and network upgrades. Although it has been a wonderful opportunity -- one that I am immensely grateful to have welcomed into my life – this job has not been without its challenges (growth opportunities, I hope!)
In retrospect, one of this year’s greatest professional challenge for me has been making the shift from thinking about Educational Techology as the primary vehicle for administrator managed instruction and assessment to thinking about Educational Technology as something that provides opportunities for learners to develop and grow their own knowledge base and skillsets. Let me explain.
In my prior position, we used a highly structured computerized curriculum to provide instruction to adult students who entered our program with different skill levels and goals. Our students were assessed at entry using a series of diagnostic standardized tests (we also received funding based on student attained benchmarks in these tests) . Students were then enrolled into our online curriculum based on the results of these tests – we would entoll a student into one of a series of instructional threads, and then the student would be further pretested (from inside the CBT) to identify particular areas of skill/knowledge deficiency. The CBT would automatically assign instructional materials to a student based on the results of the pretest. After completing the instruction, students would be posttested – if posttests were passed, they would move on, if not, they would receive further instruction.
In this scenario, “instruction” involved the student passively interacting with a curriculum that was entirely defined for them. If a student didn’t understand something in the tutorials, they would ask the teacher for help. The teacher would assist the student with interpreting the curriculum – in some cases, the teacher would provide some differentiated instruction that would occur outside the CBT – this often looked like a tutor working with a student.
Our program principals and coordinators received monthly reports that indicated the numbers of students who attaining the standardized test benchmarks, which enrollment levels were commonly assigned, how many posttests were passed on the first go-round, etc. etc. etc. As technology specialists, we created many charts, tables and graphs – and spent inordinate amounts of time working with our teachers, coordinators and principals on how to interpret these datapoints in order to improve our programs.
In all ways, we were a model of a standards-based, accountability driven educational program – although we were not K-12, we were funded by a large institution (Corrections! Prisons and Jails!) in the state of California, and, therefore, we had to constantly prove our “efficacy” in supporting the mission of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (we were part of the R part of that acronym) to better the lives of offenders (and, as a result, those of their families, neighbors and other community members) in the state. So, although we did not have to adhere to large accountability driven models such as NCLB, we created our own “mini” version of it that was entirely predicated on the financial viability of providing education vs. incarceration in California. Education was repeatedly proven to be more cost-effective (for some offenders), by the way.
But, our students (and teachers) did not vary from this highly regimented script. The instruction that they provided was “proven” to be effective in increasing the knowledge base and skillsets of our students, and therefore, had to be followed to a neatly crossed T. It was a form of highly explicit direct instruction that provided a strong mechanism for data collection and review by administrators and teachers.
In my next post, I will describe the role of Educational Technology in my current position – where the emphasis is on fostering creativity and other upper levels of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy – for both the teachers and the students.