Monday, July 1, 2013

Teachers: It's All About YOU

In the Why the Tech Not post, I promised to go through a laundry list of barriers to successful tech integration in adult ed and give each issue their own blog post.  I still will, but many of the comments that followed seemed to add another item to the list: teacher training, expertise, and motivation.

Okay, you got me. I'd left it off because I didn't want to point the finger directly at YOU, my readers or adult educators as a group (except for that snarky PICNIC graphic).  And yet, I know from my own experience that many many people, learners and teachers, were given a chance to realize the opportunity of information technology in education because I stepped up and chose to prioritize it.  The power to dictate the success of technology initiatives in adult ed very much rests in the hands of individual teachers and bureaucrats.  Take my origin story, for instance: 
Back in 2001, I was answering the statewide GED Helpline in Virginia helping loads of people find their local adult education programs (that phone continued to ring on my desk for over a decade).  I could have seen the job as a simple switch-board operator gig, but I didn't. My position at the state's professional development organization, and physically my spot in front of a web-connected computer all day long, exposed me to a wealth of information about online GED resources, helpful TV shows on PBS, and periodic initiatives with incentives built-in.  I wanted to put these tools in people's hands and find ways to help people who were far way from right where I was sitting. 
So I made it my job to expand many simple referrals into quick counseling sessions, and often guided tours of websites with a follow-up hard-copy mailing of my recommendations.  By showing a prospective student a range of options, I could observe their reactions and look for their ah-ha moments where a light-bulb went off that might spark their academic progress.  Those moments were the bright spots of every workday. If I didn't look for it, and didn't see the potential, then they'd just be directed to sit in a classroom, when that might not be what they wanted, or stand in another line, get on another waiting list, and remain dependent on a process that might not meet their needs.  (try to see this as strengthening the learner's network of support, rather than undermining the traditional classroom arrangement at local programs - really, it's a balancing act) 
Eventually, this work grew into the statewide distance learning program that became, a vital program that expanded the possibilities of those who couldn't attend class.  But it wasn't only a government program, because it started as a personal mission that required a unique vantage point:  A centralized provider trying to fill in the gaps in services.

Where are the gaps in services in your adult education landscape?  Do you need to update your own skills to model good practice and lead by example in an increasingly digital world. There are resources to help you. Your vantage point is crucial to developing your unique insight and hopefully inspiration.  Lasting change and solid implementation doesn't rely on managers and administrators handing down policy and procedures.  The initiative to take up new tools and creative solutions is personal as any teacher's instructional approach.  Although it often seems like we educators are hemmed in by a demoralizing maze of institutional barriers, there are some things that we control. And we can use what authority we have over those areas to further our goals, fill gaps... grow.

And it starts with each of us... with YOU.

Commenters: Please post your favorite sources for inspiration, professional development, and cutting edge ideas in the area of educational technology. Here's one I look at pretty often.

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