WOW. I have never been to an International Society of Technology and Education (ISTE) conference before. In fact, I have never been a member of ISTE until now. You see, ISTE is mostly a K-12 organization, so there were very few of us University Ivory Tower members there mixing with the hoi polloi of teaching.
But, I was there. I was TOTALLY there.
Why? For the simple reason that K12 teachers are the change makers, the developers, the directors of the educational experiences our students have before entering college, and I wanted to see what they were up to, technologically. Also, frankly, I have somewhat lower expectations for what Higher Ed faculty are up to, technologically.
Innovation, Thy Name is K12.
I have come to the disturbing realization that most of the higher education establishment is dragging its heels on technology, and instead of being out in front of education (as we should be) and leading innovation, we spend our days hunched over the yellowed pages of bygone syllabi or lost in the netherworld of Learning Management Systems.
It is difficult to explain to “Dean Scowl” (a.k.a. almost any Dean I have ever met) how important it is that I have adequate WIFI in my classroom so my students can build a PLN in Twitter, when Dean Scowl has never used Twitter (and doesn’t want to), doesn’t know what a PLN is (and doesn’t want to know), and spends our valuable 15 minutes together lecturing me on the importance of student confidentiality and the danger of using the internet. Sigh.
It was liberating, to say the least, to know that there is such a thing as a “Technology Coach” in K12, that those Technology Coaches are making real change possible in our school systems, and that both faculty and students are demonstrating daily (not just lecturing) that learning is a life-long process of: [innovate-attempt | innovate-fail | innovate-succeed | Repeat]. I would love to know when Technology Coaches are going to become something in the PostSecondary (i.e. HigherEd) world. (I have the distinct impression that my skill-set is about five years ahead of the jobs–unfortunately!).
The Problem of Differentiation in Higher Education
There are two problems with differentiation in Higher Education: One is that Higher Ed frowns on anyone who is out of their “niche,” . . . and the other is that the niches are ill-defined.
Let me explain. First, I am always out of my niche (you guessed that, right?). I’m SUPPOSED to be an English Professor. That means, of course, I should concern myself with literature and writing . . . but there is the problem. Literature and writing have spilled out beyond the pages of books and onto screens. It has morphed from text on a page to transmedia works with interactive content, artistic renderings, graphic illustrations, social media experimentation–and it’s all part of the writing and literature we see every day.
Can you, with a straight face, imply that writing is still something done with a pen on a page?
Can you really postulate that literature is found only in tomes of paper and paste?
(Of course you can’t.)
Just as text moved from pages to pixel; pencil to ink, dot-matrix, to laser; and text to graphic — literature has moved with it. Writing has become multimedia, multimodal. This is why you will find some of the most ardent technology users in the English and Journalism departments of our schools, colleges, and universities. We live by the word, and we know where it’s going.
Meanwhile, our Administrators, most lost in some 20th Century Business Model that doesn’t even exist in the business world, are concerned about us following the word where it leads us. Why can’t we just stay where we belong? Teaching students about communicating in the 21st century, they implore, should be the same as teaching them about comunicating in the 20th century! Students need BASIC SKILLS!
But this isn’t 1980, and BASIC SKILLS go far beyond paper and pencil. Basic Skills now include software, clouds, blogging, and mobile communication. I have said before, and I will say again and again and again: teaching students without technology is a form of educational malpractice.
So what does this have to do with differentiation? E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G
I’m supposed to be an English Professor, but that means I am also a technologist. That makes the administration nervous. After all, it used to be that they could say that I didn’t have “real world skills” they could compare with professionals outside of academia, requiring them to compensate me beyond the imaginary wages they deemed worthy for someone teaching the necessary skills of English Composition and literature (i.e. laughable and, yet, sad).
I am TOO differentiated to teach English (Translation: I make everybody nervous).
So, what do they do? They attempt to contain people like me, corral us, and accuse us of trying to be something we are not. But that isn’t enough! They have the consipiratorial assistance of “old-world” Professors who, scared of their lack of technological skills, and frightened by the prospect of changing their teaching style to accommodate today’s students, join in the shunning. Thus, I am not a “real” English Professor–I am some sort of technology-crazed evangelist who is hell-bent on destroying the very basis of the English Language! English departments become war-zones between the old and new, the “traditional” and the “crazy.” (I’m one of the “crazy,” by the way.)
I, my dear audience, am a Literary Apostate, an Anti-5-Paragraph Composition Zeolot. I have denounced the sacred 30-minute pencil-and-paper essay exam to drink the foul draught of digital!
But wait! I’m not done! I’m also not differentiated enough. That’s right! Because, if I wanted to get a job doing something else at the college–say technology coaching–I wouldn’t be qualified to do that. Yes, it’s true I am proficient with about five different LMS systems and at least 100 different applications for teaching and learning, but doesn’t matter because, as you are probably unaware, an “Instructional Technology” person is the only one who can do instructional technology at the college, and that person deals with the nuts and bolts of technology–not the prettified puffed-up ready-to-use in the classroom technology.
Right now, if I want to get a job in Instructional Technology (IT) at a college or university, I am expected to know how to program, network computers, and run a “help desk.” College IT is a serious and important job (as overwhelming and thankless as teaching English, but pays a lot better). For most colleges, this is the only type of Instructional Technology that exists.
I like to differentiate between “hard” IT and “soft” IT. “Hard IT” is that which deals with hardware, and “Soft IT” is that which deals with software. Right now, colleges are still stuck in the “hard IT = IT” bubble. They haven’t yet realized that there is a whole world out there that isn’t being utilized because the “Hard IT” department is too afraid of security threats, overwhelming their WIFI networks, and containing their professors, staff, and students to single-sign on LMS systems.
Enter the Disruptor!
So, I want to be a Tech Coach/English Professor and help my fellow faculty members understand, use and teach with technology so that they can move into the 21st century, but there isn’t really a place for me yet. I am between jobs, at present, and looking for that fit that probably won’t exist. So I’m left with a question:
“Should I leave higher ed and move to K-12?”
Well, I can’t really do that either. Even though I have taught a lot of the classes that Ed Majors need to take, I would be required to go back to school and get a bachelor’s degree in teaching to become a K-12 teacher. Yeah, yeah. I know that there is supposed to be an “alternative credentialing system” for moving into K-12, but it doesn’t really exist. It is just a lot of nice words for politicians to mouth when parents complain about the lack of qualified teachers in the school system. If you actually apply for a K-12 Job (and I have) you will find, as I did, that my 20 years of teaching experience isn’t considered because I wasn’t teaching in K-12. Yeah, really.
So, I will probably misfit myself into another Lecture position and bide my time to wait for Higher Ed to catch up with me–but I won’t just stand by idyll for long. You see, there is a huge tsunami of K-12 students moving toward higher ed with an already ingrained understanding that Education=EdTech. They will be arriving on campus this Fall, next Spring, the following Fall, and probably for the rest of recorded time.
Just drop me a line when you need a technology coach!