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Long before the course started, I have always believed in the importance of using IT in schools. IT is the language of the new generation and in order for us, educators, to reach them, we have to speak their own language. I also believe that in a constantly changing glob, students should be taught the skills of seeking information, taking the initiative and thinking critically. Integrating technology into education can create lifelong learners who are innovative and able to apply the knowledge acquired to solve real life immerging problems. That, among other reasons made me enthusiastic about the course.
Yet, I have to admit that my primarily notions of how to integrate IT into education were totally different than the ones I have now that I have attended the course and experienced the web 2.0 tools. After the first two sessions and few readings, I realized that all my concepts about integrating technology into education were lacking. They were rather naÃ¯ve and primitive.
As the course progressed, I discovered that the process of integrating IT into education is complex and overwhelming but, at the same time necessary. For a school leader this is rather intimidating especially that there are various obstacles along the way to reformation. In the following pages, I will reflect on the difficulties that I have personally faced during the course. Some of these difficulties turned out to be major obstacles to the full integration of IT into education. The paper also indicates how I intend to overcome some of these obstacles and the baby steps that I have taken towards change. The experience I had was an eye opener and the course served as a catalyst to change and improvement.
The first obstacle I experienced was the teachers' lack of knowledge of new technology skills and pedagogy. Whenever I recall how I felt when I was reading the first assigned article "A day in the life of web 2.0", I could not but life. An alien from another planet would not have felt differently. As I struggled to explore the Web 2.0 tools and applications which I knew nothing about although I am a good user of computers, I resorted to the help of the IT department. To my surprise, they too knew very little about Web 2.0. They, as well as the rest of the teachers, heard about the different tools like blogs, wikis and tweeter, but they have never used them personally not to mention in education. This drew my attention to the changeable nature of ICT technologies. In fact ICTs are continuously evolving technologies that even the most fluent ICT teachers gasp as they try to catch up and remain updated. In my school, the IT staff members who are considered the experts are left behind.
Besides, there are not many if any experts in the field of IT pedagogy in Egypt who would train the teachers on how to properly integrate IT into the curriculum using sound teaching and learning techniques. IT is used in many schools including mine as an adds-on. In fact, all the examples given in the book Critical technology Issues for School Leaders Integration (Brooks, 2006), on how technology based activities are automated by the digital immigrant teachers are found in the school where I work.
I felt frustrated as I was counting on the assistance of the IT staff to carry out staff professional development sessions to introduce the tools and refine the teachers' skills with particular applications. It was then that I realized that I have to rely on self exploration and learning during the course. This set back made me take a crucial decision. I was not going to give up on my initial plan to provide the staff with professional development sessions on the usage of the tools during summer. The IT teachers had to be involved as they will have to provide teachers and students with the needed knowledge related to the usage of the tools. Thus, I discussed the idea of adjusting the computer curricula of the high school the coming term with the head of the IT department. I wanted to add three main tools that I had chosen namely blogs, Flickr and Delicious. This way the IT staff has to explore the tools and discuss them together before introducing them to students and teachers alike. Fortunately, the curricula are flexible and the head of department approve the change.
This is only the first step that should be followed by several other steps. For instance, I intend to include in the teachers training next summer, student centered pedagogical approaches like constructivism. Such an approach allows for collaboration, interaction and reflection to construct knowledge. Next, I intend to review with the teachers the goals and objectives of various disciplines and adjust them to better suit the nature of the new pedagogical approaches and facilitate the integration of technology. I see here the necessity for a consultant who can lead the processes as I am new to the field. Finally, the teachers' training should be continuous to keep up with the pace of the changing technology. This process needs time, patience and evaluation. Many adjustments will occur along the way until using technology becomes an integral part of education.
The second obstacle that I faced was the time factor. Self teaching, discovery and exploration are time consuming activities. It took me hours daily just to know about the various Web 2.0 tools. I have experienced lapses in motivation as when I failed to add videos, links, widgets or gadgets to my blog at the beginning. It occurred to me then that the lack of time could be the worst obstacle to change. I honestly could not imagine that teachers with their entire work load could spend so much time at home or after school learning the Web 2.0 tools or new technology related pedagogy. Even the most caring and motivated ones would not do it, at least during the academic year. Teachers need to be given time to learn, develop and reflect on the technology based learning. Yet, I needed cheerleaders and success stories from the staff to share with the rest of the teachers when introducing the new technology. I sought the help of teachers with lighter workloads, like the Reading program and Character Education teachers. They are enthusiastic about blogs as they believe that as a tool, it is flexible, appealing to various learning styles and allows for self expression.
Introducing change slowly but surely is one of the strategies that I'll adopt to overcome the obstacle of the lack of time. During summer, there is ample time to hold workshops, orientation and discussion sessions. The stress of the job tasks is relieved, thus resistance to change is less. Also, teachers are to explore only few tools with the help of the IT staff members and myself. I will use my blog "Evolution" as a resource where I have posted articles about the selected tools and how to use them in education. More importantly, teachers would be encouraged to use new technologies if leaders are using the tools themselves. So, we should practice what we preach.
Nevertheless, for teachers to use technology in education, new policies should be employed. First, using technology should be included in the teaching framework, appraisals and as previously explained training plans. Incentives should be given to innovative teachers who are willing to go the extra mile. I have already suggested to the Vice Principal a 5 % bonus raise for innovative teachers who contribute the most to the development of their department. I think that this suggestion if approved and announced before the intended professional development sessions would reduce resistance to change to some extent.
Last but not least, culture is among the strongest barriers that we can face as leaders. There is a universal culture that all parents and educators share regarding how schools should be like; Utopias and sacred lands. I have been exposed to this obstacle in my attempt to use the blogging tool in the Character Education program taught to the sixth graders. I was opposed by many teachers including the computer teacher as they thought that students should not be introduced to blogging as we cannot control what they'll get exposed to or how they'll use the tool themselves. I was discouraged and somewhat worried as they had a point of view worthy of consideration. I also found out that the security software in the school is set on a highly aggressive level that it prevents the students and the teachers from enjoying the benefits and the learning opportunities provided by the new technologies. We are living in the age of "censorship" (Solomo & Schrum, 2007) which I am not against. The point is we need to introduce the student to the idea of how to be safe on line anywhere all the time. Censorship will help, but it is temporary. Awareness is what we really need. That is the reason why I asked the Head of the IT Department to add to the elementary students' program a unit about on line safety. Also, Parents' involvement and awareness is another issue that needs to be addressed as they too have a major role to play. As educators we should reduce risk raise by raising awareness and implement moderate security measures instead of blocking and avoiding new technologies altogether.
Finally, exploring the Web 2.0 tools and applications as well as realizing the vast learning opportunities that they provide made the urge for change even stronger. Yet, there are major hindrances and obstacles that face school administrators and prevent them from successfully integrating IT into education. Personally, I have experienced some of these obstacles like the lack of staff technical and pedagogical knowledge and skills, the urgent need for training as opposed to lack of time, and the cultural and security issues. I have also anticipated potential problems like resistance to change. Nevertheless, I realized that certain school policies need to be put in place and others need to be adjusted to overcome such obstacles. I have taken baby steps towards reformation, but the path seems long and full of pitfalls. In spite of all the hurdles that would constrain my attempts, I am determined to bring about change now more than ever. This determination springs from my deep conviction that IT can improve teaching and learning and prepare the students for future challenges.
Brooks-Young, s. (2006). Critical technology issues for school leaders. CA: Corwin press.
Solomon, G, & Schrum, L. (2007). Web 2.0: new tools, new schools. Washington,D.C: iste.