Friday, March 6, 2009

iTeams and Economic Recovery

iTeam members Discuss CalibrationImage by SCSpaeth aka k6 via Flickr

Dennis Harper, the lead developer of the GenYES program, sent a newsletter encouraging their community of users to prepare for the distribution of Stimulus Funds:
Stimulus package contains $650M for educational technology
Get ready, get set - GO!

For U.S. educators, there has been one primary source of funds from the federal government for educational technology over the past few years. It's part of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, Title 2d, or Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT). With the passage of the stimulus bill, there is new, additional funding in the range of $650M that will be IMMEDIATELY shared between the 50 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.

The key word there is immediately - so the time to get ready is NOW. The next few weeks should see a flurry of activity as state education departments decide exactly how to do this. If you've been saying -- gee, if we only had the money -- this is your chance. Watch your state ed tech department closely. This will happen FAST.

Harper's message excited me; he identified a potential source of support for MSAD 75 iTeams to use an evidence-based approach to help enhance the learning of all students in our district and, by example, the state. GenYES clearly has a marketing strategy here but I believe in the approach so, I looked at our state Department of Education's site to learn more. I found several references to EETT but no current activity. Through the grapevine, I heard that the Department may focus on extending the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI statewide 1-to-1 laptops and professional development) from middle schools to high schools. While I appreciate and benefit considerably from the MLTI, we need support for innovations at all levels in the system.

One of my favorite business bloggers helped me put my disappointment in perspective. In "Why the Internet is as important to our recovery as the stimulus package", John Sviokla, a former Professor at the Harvard Business School, recently wrote:
In short, I’m optimistic because the United States has always had two great assets: immigrant talent at a scale and quality unknown to the world ever before and the most liquid market not just in capital, but more importantly in business models. That is, we are willing to allow existing business models to be pulled apart by innovation. this means that we have a constant supply of hungry, smart entrepreneurs, who are allowed to challenge the status quo – who now can find it cheaper and easier to start and scale. It is a powerful combination, and the one that I think will be the real engine to take us out of this malaise.
Sylvia Martinez, GenYES CEO, points to discussion among practicing professionals from whom we can learn:
So all I'm asking, on behalf of the thousands of nerds who could one day change the world for the better, is that we give them access to simple, open, programmable devices; a little time to work on them; and a safe space to work in. They'll take it from there. They don't need adult supervision, or a certified curriculum. If we network them together, they'll answer each others' questions and collaborate on projects we can hardly imagine.
And Clement commented:
Eric – As always, your post is not only insightful but shows incredible wisdom that can only come from years of on the ground experience.
My question to you is – Why would someone with such incredible ideas and professional success want to wait for bureaucrats to take action? Our current environment calls for capable individuals to act immediately. I encourage you to start moving on this idea as a grassroots program instead of waiting for others to do it.
And Eric, author of the original blog post, replied to another commenter who shared his experience March 4, 2009 9:46 AM:
How should we devise a program to network these kids together, even those that go to schools where there isn't (yet) a volunteer ready to teach them one-on-one, as you're doing? To me, this is one of the reasons why we need good public policy engagement.
Personally, I think Eric and others in this discussion are too narrowly focused on a small group of students in just one type of engaging activity. That's not enough. We need to provide opportunities for all students to engage in their learning. As I quoted Diana Laurillard recently in "Tech and Education: It's not rocket science, it's harder"
Change in education is not a matter of a small number of extremely highly educated people moving a collection of obedient atoms form one place to another. It is about large numbers of partially trained people moving minds; millions of them. (p. 320)
Sure, I'd welcome $450,000 of stimulus funds to support a regional effort to empower students to help their teachers to integrate technology in ways that will enhance learning of all students. But if Sviokla and Clement are right we don't need to hold out for that windfall, let's leverage existing resources and act as if we believe in Fosdick's characterization of democracy:
"Democracy is based upon the conviction that there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people." Harry Emerson Fosdick 1926
MSAD 75 iTeam members convince me every time I see them or interact with them online that they are ready to learn and engage in new roles. Let's co-create solutions.

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1 comment:

SC Spaeth said...

Sylvia Martinez wrote a related post in her Generation YES Blog Enhancing Education Through Technology. I appreciate her candor in explicitly identifying the "plug."