One of my favorite stories of all time, one I’ve cherished since I first was introduced to it by Father O’Shaughnessy (sp?) in Freshman English in High School, is Frank Stockton’s The Lady or The Tiger. The question is powerful, calling upon us to imagine what a young princess from a semi-barbaric country will do when her lover asks her which door to choose–the one with a beautiful lady, a competitor to her love, or the ravenous tiger that will destroy him. It all hinges on an element of human will–CHOICE.

Stockton puts in this way:

Her decision had been indicated in an instant, but it had been made after days and nights of anguished deliberation. She had known she would be asked, she had decided what she would answer, and, without the slightest hesitation, she had moved her hand to the right. 

     The question of her decision is one not to be lightly considered, and it is not for me to presume to set myself up as the one person able to answer it. And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door – the lady, or the tiger? 

In a similar, agonizing way, Brian Weaver explores the question of Pad or Pipe? Administrators are trying to make a decision that will enable them, when the time is right, to make a choice without the slightest hesitation. Such tough choices are the province of administrators.

The choice he would like us to consider is as follows:

As a teacher I was often told “if a student doesn’t have a pencil, paper, or anything else thats keeping them from working then you need to find a way, at no charge to the student, to get that item in front of them so that they may be graded on knowledge and not responsibility.”  Pencil, paper, and other items are often a hands reach away should a student not have them – how long/how much does this student miss when they sell their laptop or have it stolen before they are given another one?  Who purchases this hardware replacement?

So you decide you’re not going to provide hardware but instead you are going to provide internet access (your pipe) to those that bring their own devices (laptops, netbooks, smartphones, tablets, etc etc etc).  What sort of policy do you put in place for this?  ”Highly encouraged”? “Required”?  Are these words you want to put down on paper in relation to having students bring electronic devices on your campus in an effort to gain access to the resources we should have at our fingertips? 

So… do you provide the pad or the pipe? 

As technology becomes more ubiquitous and necessary to economic survival in schools, it almost goes without saying that unless public schools provide that technology to the masses, the only ones who will survive and thrive will be those who have the technology. It is ironic, of course, that the very schools that should be embracing technology are mired in the muck of failed reforms movements, apathy, outright despair at the morass that traps them in an Industrial Age past.

The question that Brian asks us maybe isn’t the right one. He mentions pencils, paper, and other items that are, of course, by now commonplace in schools. But at one time, they were not. If one chooses to be educated by television media depicting frontier times, children were fortunate to have slates and chalk to write with, and later, ink wells and feathers with nibs cut in them. Once these technologies became “commonplace,” they found their home in those bastions of societal indoctrination–public schools.

I wonder…were these wonderful technologies–pen, pencil and paper–that found their way into schools used as their inventors imagined they would be? What were the best practices for using such technologies in schools? And, would the visionaries of the time have been disappointed the way those technologies were subverted to support the status quo?

Gary Stager’s perspective, as expressed in these excerpts from an article (Kids with Laptops, 1997) he wrote some time ago, is instructive:

The expense of purchasing laptops, providing infrastructure and offering professional development should be justified by the expectation that every element of traditional schooling (curriculum, assessment, scheduling and the role of teachers) should be called into question. In the best settings, laptops provide schools with not only a window on the future, but also a microscope on the past. Past practices and even content are called into question. This provides a rare opportunity to make schools better places to learn, for teachers as well as students…I would like to offer a new metaphor for those of you who can’t survive without a new term for teacher. Allow me to suggest the metaphor of “teacher as learning producer.” All sorts of media and communications businesses employ producers. The producer supervises workers, assembles the best teams, organizes materials and provides the support necessary to ensure the best work possible from her colleagues.

This idea of learning producer resonated with something I heard just yesterday from Kevin Honeycutt at the TCEA TEC-SIG meeting (that teachers should be like executive producers for students using digital tools to create). What’s funny isn’t that these ideas are just not new, but that we have yet to implement them successfully, systemically.

If we truly want to break with our past approaches to using technology, Gary’s advice isn’t off. But knowing what to do and doing it are very different. Back to Brian’s question…don’t worry about it. As technology becomes more “duh, obvious” the change will happen. Parents, society will push this change in our schools, ripping them apart until proud administrators who think they have control submit. The problem is that waiting for the change will be excruciatingly painful for educators–and students–who have discovered that they are creative collaborators who do not need schools to certify their learning experiences…and an economy that rewards their motivation, regardless of degree or certification.

As my favorite author, Louis L’Amour once noted this farewell greeting, “Yol bolsun!” Or, “May there be a road.” The idea of crossroads, making choices have been with us for a long time…certainly, choices are fascinating to ponder. Maybe it’s time schools allowed those choices to flourish, albeit at great cost to taxpayers.

Disclaimer: Everything I write on this blog is experimentation. If you’re looking for a finished piece, tough luck. I’m not sure everything I just wrote makes sense, but I had fun doing it!

Subscribe to Around the

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure