Six Questions with: Keith Nemlich, VT educator and technologist
A member of the Tarrant Institute's i-Leap program talks about meeting the tech integration challenge
- By Audrey Homan
1. What do you like best about your technology integration work here in VT?
Over the decades, technology in schools has evolved as it tried to find the delicate balance between expectations and access. There were times when my students had plenty of computer access, but there were no expectations to be met. That followed with less access; however, the state standards set expectations that could not be met. Now we are finally at a point of balance. Our students have plenty of computer access and there are standards that need to be achieved. Now we are at a point where technology integration can truly be realized and is no longer a dream in the distance. And for me, this is the best part....access and expectations can no longer support excuses.
There are numerous others I could cite. We also shouldn't lose sight of the critical daily interaction between students and technology. In many ways, this is where the real technology learning takes place: troubleshooting, learning new processes, learning new processes, accessing the internet when greater information is needed, evaluating website validity, etc.
2. Where do you see technology integration in five years time? In ten?
Technology integration will continue to develop and evolve. It will move from the sideline into the main flow of teaching and learning in our schools. Its importance will continue to swell, as our society becomes more and more dependent upon technology and digitally skilled people. I hope to see our notion of literacy expand to automatically include media literacy and digital literacy, as we recognize the primary importance of process learning over content learning. And ideally, in ten years, technology will be to the point where it is so universal and embedded that we hardly notice it, with few directives from the state or a teacher required.
3. What do you think the biggest challenge facing technology integration here in VT?
Successful technology integration carries a sizable price tag. As budgets fall with the times, this will have a first order impact upon integration. Unfortunately most technology initiatives start with the question "What can we afford?" I prefer to hear those conversations start with "What do you want our students to know and be able to do?" We'll need to develop more creative ways of funding technology in schools. This is no longer a "nice to have" component. And shared technology is extremely limited.
Another significant challenge will be bandwidth. As schools try to make greater use of online tools, resulting in the opportunity to avoid the platform commitment, available bandwidth in the community will become paramount.
For the teacher, the critical aspect is time. As we make greater demands on teachers to increase student performance, the educational emphasis shifts away from learning skills to learning content. Ultimately this is the shift that concerns me the most.
Educators need to recognize that technology integration, after literacy and numeracy, creates the greatest educational point of leverage in the classroom. For Vermont schools, which can be tiny and isolated, this point is critical. But it is not just educators. More importantly it must be parents, having developed their own notion of schooling twenty and thirty years ago, who need to recognize the importance of technology integration.
4. How do you think the field of technology integration can attract and retain more educators?
This is a relatively new field for educators. Some new teachers will be drawn into it and recognize how integration can leverage education. These are the easy ones to attract and retain. I think trying to find veteran educators who are looking to grow is critical.
This is exactly what we did here at MEMS with the eLearning grant.
We identified three veteran teachers who were interested and ready to take the next step with technology. They received the professional development experience supported through the grant. And as a result, their students have benefited. I would also suggest that the licensing process around technology integration be modified or reformed. In some cases, the rapid evolution of technology left the graduate course selection in the field in the dust. Think about this: this realm is changing so quickly that Cisco purchased Flip Video for $590 million only to shut down the operation sixteen months later because every smartphone has a video camera of equal or greater quality. Did no one at this tech giant see this coming?
5. What's the one change or improvement in the field you'd most like to see or make happen?
I'd like to be obsolete. Seriously. When my school no longer needs me and our students are independently accessing technology in appropriate and meaningful ways, then I'll know that I have been successful. What would accelerate this process? Less expensive, yet highly functional devices would be a start.
I also believe that we need to shift our thinking beyond the view of classroom technology as project creators. Integration is just that....a blending of digital tools in the learning environment to be used at will be teacher and students alike.
6. How can educators who are interested in bringing change into their classroom work to make that a reality?
They need to start small and think big. Start with changing one element of their professional routine. For example, try using an e-planner instead of the old paper planner. This is a simple enough shift in routine that produces numerous benefits, many of which are difficult to foresee. Or commit to maintaining a class wiki. At first this should be teacher-driven, but at many grade levels, this responsibility could be presented to students. I would also suggest that they attend a professional development event devoted to technology in education. There is no better way to see the possibilities than to get beyond your building and see what others are doing. Yes, the experience will be overwhelming, yet invigorating.
More about Keith Nemlich:
"This year marks my fourth year at MEMS and my third year as the Technology Coordinator. Prior to arriving here, I taught 4th grade to 8th grade students at Flood Brook Union School and the Jamaica Village School. While the computer is a powerful tool, never forget that it was human ingenuity that turned sand into the computer."