How difficult is all of this? 

In diving, there is something called a reverse one and a half somersaults with three and a half twists, in something called the free position.  Me, I’d just do a cannonball. Not a pretty image, I know.

When you go into a high end coffee shop, people can order a Grande White Mocha Frappuccino.  Me, I order a black coffee.  Large.  Not Grande.  Just large, like me, thank you very much.

Ok, so what I’m wondering about is the complexity, and perhaps the unnecessary complexity, of all this Web 2.0 stuff and what it means for schools.  Add in the discussion on skills versus literacy versus fluency, personal learning networks, and the changing landscape of classroom instruction and what is now possible, and for the most part, it’s simply overwhelming.  I’m not discounting the importance of all of this of course, just wondering if we make it all too complex.  But it sure is fun to talk about it, isn’t it.

For those of you deeply embedded in connective technologies, do you think, given the context of the typical school and the “typical” classroom teacher, that part of the resistance to all of this is the “entrance energy” required to take part and become a participant in what appears to be a very fast-paced, rapidly changing, and complex, teaching and learning environment?   After all, there is only so much energy…and for those of us working in schools, we know that these new discussions and the new capacities that ultimately may arise from them, are a small part, and in some cases, a very small part, of the overall job of running a school.

Let’s take a step backward.  Take teaching for instance.  What really is the secret of being a good, effective teacher?  Is this a complex question?  Basically, in my opinion, it’s actually pretty simple:  be prepared, be enthusiastic, be honest, be fair, and get involved in their lives.  Nothing top secret here, but generally if you fit that bill, you’re probably are a pretty good teacher.  Not that complex at all.

But we’ve got 21st Century Skills, NCTE’s Definition of the 21st Century Literacies, the National Council for the Social Studies Statement on Media Literacy, NETS-T, NETS-A, NETS-S, the KnowledgeWorks Foundation’s 2020 Forecast on Learning, PEW Surveys, great stuff from Educause, School 2.0, blog posts, new discussion forums, podcasts on impending revolutions, and of course, the never –ending flow of information in Twitter.  A lot of this is absolutely great stuff, and important stuff. UPDATE:  Be sure to read Ryan Bretag’s excellent post “What is Your Department Discussing and Doing” to see additional perspectives from a variety of groups (ACOT, NCTM, NSTA)  not mentioned in my post.

 But just where do you look first?

So, consider this question.  Is this really that hard?  Do you really need to consider all the pieces above?  Or, is it a more simple set of considerations, and are we smart enough already?  What skills do you want kids to exhibit?  What technology tools can serve the learning processes that help build those skills, and extendthe learning experience to a new place, as a result of the technology being included?  How do we structure the lesson, or lessons, so that these skills can be developed?  How do we assess it so that we know what we set out to do?  And how do we make it all replicable?

It’s time to simplify.  This is not that hard. 

Just order the black coffee.

10 Responses to “Degree of Difficulty”
  1. Where to look first? Facebook. It has ~199,999,999 other people. Odds are your family and or friends will be there with those numbers.

    For me? Google Everything. iTunes. Blog. Twitter. Delicious. Flickr. These are the only things that have lasted more than 20 days in my world.

  2. The recent question on Doug Johnson’s blog stating, “What technologies support the practices which improve student learning?” has been my mantra for the last month or so. I think this question can weed out alot of crap and noise.
    I continue to point to spaces where students can receive feedback loops for their work. Blogs are pretty basic today but still extremely powerful. Look at what’s happening in this space right now. A bunch of people, trying to gain some understandings about what’s important. I’d say this is pretty much the black coffee of web 2.0.

    I also think that the term web 2.0 and the impending discussions pertaining it amounts to about 2.4% of teachers. The rest include those who have heard about this thing called the internet and those who really have no clue. But we all know that’s changing fast which is why being able to answer that original question is important for the 2.4% of us to figure out.

    John’s list is pretty solid.

    P.S.I did a quick double take when I saw this show up in my reader. I almost through my neck out. Please don’t do that to me anymore. Blog more.

  3. Henry Thiele says:


    Black coffee is = good teaching


    Web 2.0 = individual voice

  4. Anna Niemeyer says:

    I have to agree with Dean. It’s important to employ the tools that connect to the curriculum, expand or enhance student learning. It’s not hard, just different. It takes some planning, organization and knowing what skills and knowledge you want the students to acquire as a result of their work. The assessments will tell you whether or not they “get it”. I think students need to be able to analyze information, solve problems, collaborate, be creative, curious and take initiative. There are so many tools available that we can’t be all and know all. Blogs, google, delicious are great places to begin the journey and they’re a number of tools to expand it even further. It’s up to us as educators to make the ride worthwhile and be the guide along the way.

  5. Dan Lake says:

    I think it is a simple issue: We are teaching folks to use stoves, refrigerators, microwaves before they have a kitchen!
    We need to focus on a defined “Virtual Learning Environment” and how it works to support learning that is guided by a teacher. It is within this CONTEXT that the functions of Web 2.0 tools play out.

    Most teachers do not have a clear idea of an authenticated learning environment vs. web pages. They take students to many places that require authentication, and that provide nice tools. They create template-driven web pages that give them a presence but not assessable interaction. These “tools” are all over the place.

    We create blogs in Blogger, wikis in Wikispaces, podcasts wherever.
    We don’t provide all the functionality of these tools in a clearly defined “online classroom”.

    As we try to use Moodle or NING, to purchase Blackboard or Angel, we look toward this goal. But few of these systems come with ALL the tools we like.. yet.

    We need to establish the “kitchen” before introducing the “appliances”. Otherwise we are still experimenting and just learning the tools and developing separate (but useful) models of good practice. But these models need to fit into a “place” online, managed as a learning place, easily, by EVERY teacher.

    That is my opinion, anyway!

  6. Yes, I think that the “entrance energy” (part perception, part reality) is a major part of resistance to much of this. The best adopters, from where I sit, are the ones that 1) have a goal to DO something with students and 2) choose a solution (insert tool of choice) that meets that goal or part of the goal.

    No, it’s not rocket science or even sexy, but it is effective.

  7. Scott Meech says:

    I think you make an excellent point David. Isn’t it just important that school districts have a focus period? Too often school districts try and fill a five pound sack with ten pounds of stuff. Every aspect of a school (district) has their own agenda and focus and often times these agendas conflict with each other. Time is such an important commodity so where do schools focus? Regardless of the skills, standards, foundational learning strategies, or whatever you call them, I think the point is to at least focus on something.

    I think you start with your questions, “What skills do you want kids to exhibit? What technology tools can serve the learning processes that help build those skills, and extend the learning experience to a new place, as a result of the technology being included? How do we structure the lesson, or lessons, so that these skills can be developed? How do we assess it so that we know what we set out to do? And how do we make it all replicable?” Once again your voice will continue to be echoed by me to our teachers. I think it would behoove a lot of us to revisit your thoughts on how to make technology “sticky” in our districts:

    The average classroom teacher should start by having the opportunity to meet with an expert like yourself. Every school district needs to have people in their school district, like yourself, to meet with and collaborate on these specific questions. I don’t think this is the norm actually to have people on staff who are expected to help our teachers filter through the “edubabble” regarding EdTech. Basically, in my opinion, you are the starting point! The average classroom teacher is too often set adrift to figure out how this all works and fits into their school districts philosophy, if they even have a central philosophy.

    I think Ben Grey’s district is on to something as their administration and key staff members are putting together a cohesive focus for their entire district: A district’s philosophy needs to be top down and well defined in my opinion. Why would or should we leave this up to the classroom teacher to define by themselves?

    Once again, you make an excellent point. We tend to over complicate things as good teaching is good teaching. Your black coffee is just fine but as you imply, all the variations make it much more interesting to talk about!

  8. Gordon Shupe says:

    It seems to me that the barriers that prevent “the typical” classroom teacher from moving forward is “the entrance energy” amplified by (in order of intensity)
    a data drivendecision model that puts emphasis on the measured outcomes emphasized by state testspersonal time sacrifice to learn new things- which is necessary when our typical professional development model doesn’t provide enough paid followup timeteaching as we were taught is the easiest, least risky method of doing our job, our pre-service teacher programs that are practically connecting new technologies, globality, and typical learning objectives are very uncommonhardware and infrastructure challenges- we often need digital sandboxes to practice in, in much the same way that we have fences around our playgrounds and don’t let the children play in the street in front of our school campus

    In the danger of being a pessimist, I fear that the 10% rule seen in many organizations is reflected in our efforts to transform education. 10% of the organization’s members contribute 90% of the organization’s resources for progressive change. It often seems a though roughly a tenth of the faculty are really willing to move the ball forward, except in those rare situations where an entire school staff is built from individuals that were hired with these expectations in mind.

    As a matter of fact, it would be an interesting study to see if the leadership in large school districts follows this 10% rule as well- do you think that more than 1 out of 10 principals exhibit leadership styles that encourage technology literacy? I would guess that less than 10% of the principals at schools that I have provided professional development for have attended more than 10 minutes of the training I am providing. Seldom was it a case of them exhibiting mastery in the content or skills I was facilitating.

  9. Debbie Coffman says:

    I see alot of “black coffee” teachers. They are good teachers but limit their instruction to “traditional” practices which include almost no technology. This is mostly due to entrance energy discussed earlier. They are conscious of the need to use tech tools to move student learning, but are totally overwhelmed by the tools and resources available to them. Some are afraid to ask for help from colleagues. This is where building a professional learning community on their campus (one that was built on trust and respect) could provide them collaborative opportunity to discuss, plan and demonstrate how these tech tools can be used to help students attain required skills. Teachers need a “safe” place to take their basic tech questions in a collaborative environment. While black coffee is good, a little cream makes it richer.

  10. Lori Hudson says:

    I am currently working my my Master’s degree from Walden University – Literacy and Technology. This is all new to me, I have to admit. I’ve created a couple of WebQuests; I use the Smart Board regularly. Heck, I even have a teacher webpage through the school email. However, I am standing alone. I am challenged to not only learn enough technology to challenge and engage my students (who obviously already know more than I do – or probably ever will), but I also have to convince that other teachers, administrators, and school board that technology is knocking on our door – all we need to do is open the door and explore. My district is considering buying new textbooks for our English department; I, on the other hand, think we should be investing in training our staff to become more computer literate and technologically savvy. Next year we will be in a new building with much more technology. Between now and then, I tend to explore this new world with rigor and gusto. I’m anxious. I’m curious. I’m excited and intimidated.
    Besides “black coffee,” what are your suggestions on how to get started? I’d like to start with two things this year and do them really well. I want to master a couple of things at a time. What do you suggest?!! Keep in mind, I’m a baby techie.

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