Tuesday, February 8, 2011

TCEA 2011 Legislative Update Advocacy Panel

Notes from TCEA 2011 Panel. The speakers words flowed fast and I caputred/paraphrased them as accurately as I could. For an additional take on this event from someone else who also live blogged it, you can visit this post from Bryan Doyle.

Members of Panel:

Representative Scott Hochberg - Houston, TX
Representative Mark Strama - Austin, TX
Mr. Thomas Ratliff, State Board of Education - Mt. Pleasant, TX
Mr. Scott Floyd - Technology Specialist - White Oak, TX
Ms. Melanie Pritchett - Compass Learning, Austin, TX
Dr. Frances McArthur - Superintendent, Lexington, TX

We are on the cusp of exciting times in Texas, using digital content in the classroom. - Jennifer Faulkner, Director of Instructional Technology, Alamo Heights ISD (Moderator)

Question #1: What is your vision for the use of digital content in Texas schools for the next five years and how will that content be delivered?

Question #2: What are the barriers to implementing that vision?

Hochberg: HB 2488 Allows the Commissioner of Edu to purchase digital content and provide it free of charge to all students in the state. Vision includes not replacing books based on bindings wearing out, but purchasing content (EX: Shakespeare) and keeping it. Allows us to make sure errors don't persist for 10 years and to beef up portions of curriculum when needed. Barriers include strong lobby of the textbook industry in Texas. We spend roughly 1 billion dollars every ten years. There is a lot of political pressure not to change the way it has been. Second barrier is lack of access to digital high speed connections at home. We need to make sure people have a way to access the content. How can we budget for digital access for those who need it without budgeting for those who don't?

McArthur: She has seen the waste of textbooks stored in warehouses. Right now we cannot afford waste in public schools. It is frightening how we are going to make things work under the currently released budget proposals.One size fits all education doesn't work anymore. We need to be able to provide immediate feedback to students.It is most imporatnt that school districts have choice - local communities have different needs. Everyone needs to read the new Vision for Public Education from the Visioning Institute (Available on TASA website). Communities need a voice in these choices and need to be informed on how we are using digital content. Newer teachers and digitally savvy teachers are ready to teach with digital tools. They are able to address standards with more authentic materials. Equal access for children of poverty is an issue. Everyone needs the same availablility. Teachers need to be professionally developed as well to equip staff to move towards this.

Strama: Developed the first technology to help people register to vote over the Internet. 700,000 people registered in 2000. Much smaller than the in-person mobilization to register the same number of people. This demonstrates the transformative power of technology. In public education, we have not seen this transformation. We still teach for an agrarian society in a one to many scenario. We still teach the subject, not the children because we teach them all the same thing at the same time. In Strama's Sylvan learning centers, they run diagnostics on the students, identify their needs, and individualze their instruction. The only way to replicate this in public schools is through technology. The killer app that moved home technology adoption from less than 50% to over 75% in the 90's was email. Web 2.0 came about as a result. The killer app in public schools will be digital textbooks. Shakespeare is free if you have an iPad. We might be able to get value return on savings on textbook purchases in order to provide 1:1 devices. What device? Are tablets ready? Do they have enough interactivity without a keyboard? Barriers are bandwith, hardware, content. The ability to diagnostically deliver the right content to each kid at the right time may be the killer app. Teachers are also a barrier if the capacity for utilization is not developed. There will be wildly different degrees of enthusiasm in the teacher core for this. We can't make it happen with state policy. It has to come from the ground up. State can faciltate and provide resources, but educators have to make it happen. Collaboration through Project Share is a step in the right direction.

Floyd: How you deliver the content isn't going to change the instruction automatically. As long as we keep assessing the way we are assessing, we are going to keep instructing the way we are instructing. Authentic assessment is needed but is expensive and time consuming. We spend rediculously large sums of money to the same companies every few years for repackaged content. We should pull in educators to package open content and use it. Then contract with these people to revise the content on a regular basis to keep the information up to date. Barriers include the system we are in and the fact that teachers don't send lobbyists to Austin. We need to demand opportunities to be more open in our instructional styles.We also need to get telecommunications companies to run fiber to rural areas which they are reluctant to do because it is not profitable for them. There are more small rural districts in the state than there are large districts. Content needs to be portable because of this.

Ratliff: Many members on the state board are living in an 8-Track world, and we need to bring them into modern times. SBOE felt they could control the content of the textbooks; digital content is not as controllable. Kids don't consume content in an analog world anymore. Kids have to power down when they come to school. SBOE needs to determine the WHAT, educators need to decide HOW to deliver it. Universal, ubiquitous formats.State textbook fund should become state learning materials fund.(Side note: leg. will not adequately fund education; courts will make them fix it.) ISD stands for INDEPENDENT school district. TEKS stands for Texas ESSENTIAL (not comprehensive) Knowledge and Skills. SBOE needs to get out of lesson planning and give us standards and get the heck out of our way. Get PTA and booster clubs to mobilize. Fill the legislator's office with letters (not emails). They need to hear from parents.

Pritchett: We are losing creative teachers and engaged students because we are not letting them use engaging technologies. We no longer need to be constrained by the traditional classroom model. Teachers are overwhelmed having to deal with the diverse learners in their classrooms. A range of digital resources are needed to get the job done. How do we get students and teachers excited about learning again? Having hardware and software that helps effectively diagnose student need and place them in learning materials that they need is critically important. Digital and online content will enable this to become the norm. Students can be directed to customized learning experiences ala Amazon. Social media will allow connections between the classroom and personal lives. Solid practices and strategies will survive and flourish in this atmosphere. Textbook adoption processes are a barrier. They are still built for a print based world. We have an issue with teacher training in terms of what effective technology integration means. We need to differentiate teacher professional developmentt.

Question #3: What will we do to overcome the barriers?

Hochberg: Allow educators to experiment and innovate. Seeing 5th graders using iPods in science opened his eyes to the possibilities.

Discussion with audience on what kinds of devices are needed? Audience says should be device agnostic. Also issues with filtering devices when they go home.

Floyd: We are making steps with Project Share as it continues to be changed for K-12. iTunes University is also an amazing resource. There is lots of good stuff and engaging content for teaching already out there. Getting more content out there will help build the base.

Ratliff: If we get the content out there, we'll figure out the devices. We won't get there overnight.

Hochberg: Things that happen in the legislature that are temporary tend to last, so we need to be careful. We need to not just take care of districts who already have the equipment. Shout out to Anita Givens at TEA who is championing these initiatives.

From the audience - Electricity is also an issue in older buildings. Reply from Hochberg: Charge them at home. Reply from audience - Still need electicity to add computers at school and staff to help support additional devices. Reply from Strama - Electric remediation is expensive. Also need robust batteries.

Can't go digital unless there is a connected device everywhere a student goes.

Leverage the content into a way to provide devices to every student.