Last week I attended the National Rural Educators Convention and Research Symposium. It was the 103rd gathering. And, well, after attending and presenting at numerous technology related conferences, this was an eye opener. It was attended by a small group of educators maybe 200 in attendance. Rural is the key word here, very small k-12 populations, anywhere from 500 to 2000 kids made up the entire population. I was very curious and excited to be sharing how technology can play a seamless role in advancing global collaboration.
I thought here is the perfect audience to advance the use of free collaboration tools and personal networks. What a great way to share the world with small town USA. I was letting my imagination run wild. Virtual field trips, pen pals from across the globe, Skyping with students to learn another language, reducing cultural differences and so on, the possibilities were endless. Then after a few small conversations my thoughts were dashed. I soon realized I would be answering to a whole different set of questions.
It seems that there is resistance to using technology! The biggest concern is fear and proof. Fear of the unknown and fear of how the press portrays social networking, fear that students will know more than the teachers (that is not an unknown, that for the most part is true). They are afraid that something ‘bad’ will happen. The second concern echoed throughout is proof, proof that students will advance their knowledge. Proof that students will be safe, proof that students will pass the test!
I am not sure how to change their mind in a simple way. The transformation that needs to take place is more of a mind set, a new delivery of information. We are educating students for the factory model, which no longer exists. Students need to be creative thinkers and problem solvers; surely standardize tests encourage those skill! Rural communities must take advantage of the technology that is free and widely available. It is time to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s world. That includes educating the community leaders, the district administration, and the teachers who are in the trenches. It is time for professional development to support the changes needed for our students.