Teaching to the . . .

In another great blog,”Teaching to the App,” Steve Taffe, who writes the Blog-Ed Indetermination blog, hit the nail on the head (mostly) regarding technology in education. And I am guilty! Oh, I’ve known better for a number of years, yet I have allowed myself to get caught up in teaching to the application.

In his blog, Steve relates teaching to the test, brought on by NCLB high stakes testing requirement, to teaching to the application. His criticism focuses on taking a too narrow a view of the education process. In the case of teaching to the test, test results are so critical to a public school’s funding and reputation, that they are willing “to prepare students for these tests to the detriment of a broader education.” Independent schools, e.g., Catholic schools like mine, while not required to take these tests, might be guilty of adopting a different kind of examination, that of “teaching to the app.” The following is a list of examples Steve provides:
• how to set margins, create footnotes, track changes, add comments, and so on in Microsoft Word
• creating formulas and charts in Microsoft Excel
• creating an Apple iMovie
• creating a podcast in Apple GarageBand
• editing photos in Adobe Photoshop

• making presentations in Microsoft PowerPoint

In addition to being the school’s Technology Director, I teach three courses in an inner-city high school, two of which are technology rich. The basic technology freshmen course focuses on four subject areas as stated in the syllabus: keyboarding, word processing, spreadsheets and presentation. The other course is all about Web 2.0 technologies, sharing and collaborating. However, and sadly, each course is taught as Steve describes above and is unrelated to other-courses content. I’m a tool teacher! I have made the process (the tool) more important than the outcome. He proposes framing the instructional content more broadly so that “Users are free to choose their own tool or tools, focusing more on the outcome than the process”:
• word processing
• spreadsheets and graphing
• moviemaking
• podcasting
• photo editing
• presentations
I have done so in the syllabus, but not in practice. How can this be turned around?

Two reasonable approaches come to mind. The first has been shoved at us over and over, with limited success, and that is to integrate technology into the classroom and curriculum. This supposedly is the ideal solution, however, one not readily achievable in the short-term in many schools as it requires:
1) students who have progressed through ISTE’s NETS at appropriate grade levels,
2) technology resources often beyond the schools’ ability to purchase and sustain,
3) a long-term commitment to technology professional development (teachers and administrators), and
4) redesigning the core curriculum to include technology tools.
The second, more affordable and simpler to implement approach is to leave the old computer lab in-tact and to integrate core content into the “computer” teacher’s lab and curriculum. Core subject teachers submit requirements/projects that compliment the technology curriculum, the computer teacher integrates them into her/his curriculum and upon completion they both assess results.