Edutopia Interview: 21st Century Learning Community at BHS

Posted on August 10, 2008


Last night I visited with Grace, a journalist at Edutopia, in a phone interview. She wants to write an article about what we’re doing at BHS with our 21clc team. I rattled on and on as I tend to do when I talk about technology integration, and, having replayed the conversation in my head and had time to think about my responses to Grace’s questions, I’m not sure I conveyed the true spirit of what’s happening at BHS. Conversations sometimes betray me: rapid thoughts fire through my mind, sometimes flowing from my mouth in garbled incomplete strings of ideas, one idea spewing forth cutting off another I had yet to complete. The pen (or keyboard) is more trustworthy. It allows me time to process my thoughts, consider all angles, organize my ideas.


If I could rewind our conversation and begin anew, this time responding with written—rather than spoken—words, I’d say…


Batesville School District is an excellent school. It is a progressive district willing to embrace new ideas that promise to give our students a better education. Our elementary schools have transitioned from traditional ones to magnet schools. Our local newspaper featured a summer tech camp for students at the junior high. Our test scores across the district rank among the top half of the state. Our high school, my campus, was named a Blue Ribbon School just last year. We have good teachers and administrators who care about students.


I want us to be better.


Since I teach English at the high school, I know first-hand that when it comes to technology at our high school, specifically to 21st Century skills and literacy, we are lagging behind where we need to be to prepare our students for the demands they will face when they enter the workplace. Across the curriculum, our students aren’t communicating and collaborating with global audiences on a regular basis. Our students aren’t regularly using digital tools to research and create products that mimic those created in the real world.  Our students aren’t regularly discussing what it means to be a digital citizen in the 21st century. I don’t have all the answers, but I have a few ideas, and luckily, the district is allowing me to experiment with them (see previous posts explaining what we’re doing: here and here), allowing twenty-one of our required sixty hours of professional development to come from our team meetings. I hope this approach makes a real difference. I hope our meeting in small teams periodically over a three year period in an informal setting with me coaching and giving ongoing support and scaffolding to team members–rather than simply having teachers attend a few “technology” workshops—will bring 21st century literacy and skills to our students. I hope our district will recognize the power of this approach and add an instructional technologist (or technology coach) so that we can keep adding more teams until we’ve included every teacher in the high school. I hope the support and expertise of a technology coach will enable teachers to design project and inquiry-based lessons that engage students and lead to genuine learning.


Grace:   What do you plan to do in future meetings?

Me:        Our focus is on 21st Century Learning using Web 2.0 rather than software-specific tools. I want to open their eyes to the resources, conversations, opportunities for collaboration that Web 2.0 makes possible—for FREE. From the beginning we need to understand technology integration is not about using digital tools just because they’re new and cool. It’s about the strategies and habits of mind laid out in NETS for Students: engaging our students in activities that ask them to think creatively and innovatively, that ask them to be critical thinkers, problem-solving, analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating, that ask them to be skilled in researching, evaluating and processing information, that ask them to be safe, ethical, and responsible digital citizens. It’s not about tools, but before we can wrap our minds around what Web 2.0 is, to understand what kinds of activities we can engage our students in, we must first become familiar with some of the basic tools, start using them ourselves to understand what we can do with them. So, thus far, we’ve created Google accounts and personalized our homepage to create a digital desk; set up Google Reader and learned about using RSS to subscribe to web content; searched for and subscribed to other blogs—both edtech blogs and content specific teacher blogs; created individual blogs at Edublogs and subscribed to each others’ blogs; created a 21clc wiki to coordinate team meeting information and house resources and tutorials. That’s it for the tools, at least for now. We need time now to use these tools. We’ll use them to explore, discuss and reflect on 21st Century Literacy and skills, to explore projects other schools are doing at their schools and discuss how we might do similar projects at BHS, to have book studies of professional titles, and at some point, to collaborate and design project and inquiry-based lessons and activities.


Grace:   What’s been the biggest obstacle or struggle you’ve face?

Me:        Fear. Many of us didn’t grow up with technology. To the beginner, Web 2.0 is an alien world with a foreign language: widgets, gadgets, RSS feeds. Many teachers shy away from technology simply because their inexperience makes them feel inadequate and unable to enter this foreign land. I’m trying to be their tour guide, leading them in a non-threatening way, supporting them, encouraging them.


Grace:   What advice would you give another educator who’s just starting where you were about a year ago when you first tried to start this process?

Me:        Have patience and fortitude. I have to remind myself to be patient. I’ve been experimenting with Web 2.0 for about four years now since getting my Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instructional Technology. Since then, I’ve joined the Technology in Education (TIE) Cadre, a team of Arkansas educators using this same long-term coaching model. My own classroom teaching has undergone a complete transformation from mostly me as lecturer to me as facilitator, transforming my classroom to a community of learners where students become both teachers and learners.  But, that transformation didn’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen overnight for other teachers. It happens slowly, one teacher at a time. Just as we sit down with individual students, coaching them again and again, sometimes repeating instructions, and giving them time to practice and experiment, teachers need this same opportunity. They need to be immersed in this new digital landscape with a guide to help them navigate and make sense of it. They need time to play, experiment and learn.


Flashing ahead to 2013, five years from now, BHS can be a 21st Century Learning Community where teams of teachers regularly meet to learn and collaborate to design units and activities that implement best practices and plan ways to improve our school and reach out to educate parents, students, and the community in 21st century skills and literacy.


We’re on our way. Already one teacher has students blogging as part of their summer assignment. Another has transitioned from a traditional newspaper to an online blog for the school newspaper and is purchasing Flip video cameras to put in students’ hands to create video clips to enhance news stories. We’re on our way. One teacher at a time, we’ll get there—to a place where the digital landscape is not foreign by familiar, not frightening but full of possibilities.

Posted in: 21clc, EdTech