Remember HyperCard? Hypercard was that cool program Macs had that enabled you to build “stacks” of cards that contained content. Did you ever take a class in HyperCard, with the intention of building stacks for your students?

How well did that work out for you?

Teacher Web pages are the HyperCard stacks of 2008.

Rewind to 1992 or somewhere close, I can’t remember exactly. I taught a class, as did many schools, on how to program in Hypertalk, which was the programming language of HyperCard. That wasn’t too hard to do, and teachers could make simple stacks easily enough. Some tried, but it quickly fizzled. It didn’t stick at all.

Why? Teachers aren’t programmers. They never have been and they never will be. So the lessons of the early 1990’s were forgotten when the Web rolled around, and when schools decided that teachers should learn HTML, Web page design, and Web page editing software. How well is that working?

Simply stated, schools that expect teachers to build Web pages are making a mistake, and wasting hours of time and money on “training” teachers.

Does this picture fit your school? You have some professional development day (or perhaps even days), a teacher geek shows you to use some Web page editing software, how to insert a hyperlink, a graphic, and maybe even a table. You learn how to FTP that to a district server, and now you have thirty people that have Web pages that have different layouts, different colors, and some really simple content like a phone number, class schedule, and perhaps a calendar?

Fast forward six months. Not much has been updated, has it? Probably most haven’t done anything. But they’ve got a Web page!

The idea that teachers should build Web pages doesn’t work, and it’s a classic and representative example of why technology has not delivered on its potential in schools. Here are my top five reasons for this failure, and the failure of technology to alter the learning landscape…

Reason 1: Using technology to create and support learning opportunities in most schools is not considered mission-critical. Technology is seen as integrative and not integral. It’s nice, schools have to have some, and if something good gets done with it, well, that’s good. How many schools require teachers to have a Web presence? Or is it optional? And what does optional mean to a busy teacher?

Reason 2: Most administrators have failed to understand technology and how it applies to the learning process on the most fundamental level. How many could accurately and effectively assess the inclusion of technology within a teacher’s lesson so that they could comment intelligently on the added value that the technology brings to the learning process, or doesn’t bring? How many have a true and honest expectation that technology will be used properly by teachers and students, follow up on that, and ask teachers to demonstrate it? How many have worked to provide the proper climate for experimentation and innovation? But what happens when administrators do have a grasp of technology? Ask yourself this question: “When there is robust administrative support for technology, coupled with the expectation of use within the context of learning, what happens to technology use in that school?”

Reason 3: Schools have not provided teachers with the proper tool(s), infrastructure, or support to get the job done. This ranges from not supplying the right tool, or preventing the right ones from being used. Additionally, one staff development day a year doesn’t cut it with a complex tool and process like building Web pages.

Reason 4: Teachers are too comfortable. Why build Web pages? And with Reasons 1-3, they might just have an argument. But in 2008, a class that does not have an online presence to support the learning that takes place there is missing a critical component. It’s a class that could be much better. Too many are too comfortable with doing what they’ve always done.

Reason 5: Teachers have not seen the benefit. Teachers will use technology-I know this firsthand and so do you. But to take that step into technology use, most teachers have to see a return on their investment; they have to see an impact on learning, and this is a healthy expectation. Now consider building a Web page-what exactly could they put on a Web page that they couldn’t put on a handout? Asking them to build a Web page that only addresses productivity issues (contact information, class schedule, homework, etc.) and perhaps links to other Web sites is not enough. But unfortunately, that’s what most will be only capable of. A course presence must be much larger in scope, and include elements that focus not just on information and productivity, but on supporting learning. And please don’t suggest that teachers can link to things like blogging, wiki, and social bookmarking sites to add that component. By doing something like that-joining a collection of independent tools together-the skills and understanding and support required to make that a realistic component to learning is probably beyond most. Sure, some can do it, but I’m interested in doing it system-wide.

So, what to do? Get an approachable and usable tool. Get one that has productivity and learning applications built in. Get one that has type and submit content capability. Get some best practice examples that teachers can emulate. Get a vision, and get an expectation that having a digital component to student learning is absolutely necessary. Make it part of your culture, and support it relentlessly. Extend the learning beyond the hours of the classroom, and begin to extend the learning beyond the four walls of the classroom.

Give yourself a chance…

That’s enough of my rant. Time to fire up my old Mac Classic and do a little programming.

8 Responses to “Under Construction”
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  2. I have my own teacher web page! says:

    David,

    This is hysterical! I laugh because our entire district got a web site revamping over the summer and then we all got teacher web pages. Following mandatory training and an administrative push we all updated our sites and they went “live”. Since then, they’ve mostly just sat there. The only ones that get updates are the front-facing sites for the individual schools.

    You’ve hit the nail on the head! Nice work.

  3. David Jakes says:

    We have to help teachers find the value. I remember a teacher coming up to me and saying “I put all of this time into my site, and no one visits.” Well, what kinds of materials were put there? Was there a reason to visit? Did the teacher make it a place where there was specific content that couldn’t be found elsewhere? Was the site promoted to parents?

    So, its not enough to put a Web site out there. Successful sites, like anything in education, are created by proper planning, and maximizing the ability of the interface to do what it does best, and that’s deliver digital content.

    Thanks for the comment.
    David

  4. Good, let’s stop pretending that teachers have to “get it” to allow students access. So what if teachers don’t program or build websites. That’s no reason to assume that students will have the same fears and prejudices (unless we teach them that “programming is too hard”.

  5. David Jakes says:

    Sylvia: I think teachers have a responsibility to “get it,” just like they are required to understand lesson design, classroom management techniques, and assessment. Moreover, I think that the use of technology must be framed within a sound pedagogical design for it to be effective, and that means having a teacher who knows how the technology works and when to apply it.

    The kids I work with need that. Not every student is comfortable behind a computer in all things.

    That being said, there are many teachers who “don’t get” and don’t want to. As a result, their students lose. How do we make sure they get the technology skills necessary to be successful?

    I was just working with five classes on Google Earth, showing them how to use an online HTML editor to create content for placemarks. None of the kids had done any HTML programming (I asked) but they were not intimidated in the least when I demonstrated how it worked to generate code. The teachers in the room participated as well (embedded professional development) and did well (they are both younger, so no big deal for them either). So, I agree with you-let’s get it in the hands of kids, and right now, and let them build.

    Based on your comment, I’d be interested to understand how you might think that scenario (student access without teacher involvement) would play out in schools.

  6. Hi David,
    I too would like it better if teachers used technology in sound, effective ways. I don’t, however, think that the ONLY way to achieve that is “traditional” professional development that happens outside the classroom. What I hope people can see is that there are other alternatives; that we can “let a thousand flowers bloom” when we think of professional development.

    It reminds me of the joke about a policeman seeing a man looking for something in the street. He stops and asks if he can help, and the man tells him he lost his glasses. The policeman says, “where did you lose them?” and the guy says, “over there in that alley — but the light is much better over here.”

    Meaning, we do traditional professional development because it’s cheaper and easier, not because it works better.

    I think the kind of embedded professional development you have described in your comment is exactly what I’m talking about — plus more. Why is it so rare? It seems so obvious that if you treat the whole classroom and all the participants as members of a collaborative learning community, you are leaving the teachers with an invaluable resource, a built-in network of support. How much more likely is it that this scenario will result in classroom use than one in which 5 teachers leave the building, learn about Google Earth, and then come back to try to share the wealth. You also provided a real-time demonstration to the teachers that their students would take to it easily, preventing the teachers from deciding that it would be “too hard” for students.

    I’d like to see other paths to technology use attempted as well. In the schools we work with, students are taught how to work with teachers to assist them with technology lessons. A student works with a teacher partner on a long-term project and helps them build technology into their curriculum. It works because the teachers get support over weeks and months, and have something concrete created for them that helps them with THEIR curriculum, using the technology in THEIR classroom. It’s not the ONLY thing that should be happening to encourage effective technology use, but another way to support it.

    If we look at the whole school (not just the teachers) as an organism that needs to use technology effectively, it starts to become clearer that we can have a larger impact with many different methods, not just one. We send principals to technology leadership events because we know that if we show them how they can be a part of the solution, it’s more likely that it will happen. In the same way, we can teach students that they have a role to play in making education better, give them responsibility, and help them do it. It just so happens that technology resonates deeply with this digital generation, making this a terrific win-win for everyone. If we let them help.

    I provided a lot of background and research for this in my K12Online Conference presentation, “Challenging Assumptions about Technology Professional Development” at http://k12onlineconference.org/?p=183

    Let a thousand flowers bloom…

  7. Dan lake says:

    Dave..
    Exactly what I have been saying and doing… providing a viable course management system so that all the tools, all the activities, are as transparent as possible and in the context we all understand.. a classroom paradigm. That I use Blackboard and not Angel or Moodle is moot! The point is, the environment I supply to my teachers and use myself is a MEANS, not and end. You identify all the attributes, and I applaud your method here!

  8. David,

    You have summed up a lot of my frustruation this year, especially lack of support by administration because they don’t understand the technology. The principal of the school at work at went to a curriculum mapping conference recently. When he came back he said I was not as crazy as he thought because one of the speakers talked about using technology such as blogs and podcasting as tools to support curriculum. Another thing is the web-based solutions school districts use is very user unfriendly. When I did a session on wikis, teachers wanted to know why the website the school uses could not be as easy to use as PB Wiki. In fact, teachers who don’t update their websites are starting to use wikis with their classes because of the ease of use. Good post.

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