The Pine Curtain
Merriam Webster dictionary defines innovation as “a new idea, method, or device” and disrupt means “to interrupt the normal course or unity of”. (Merriam-webster.com., 2017) If we allow these two terms to describe one idea it would be ”a new idea, method or device that interrupts the normal course of how something has always been done”. The fact that most school districts now have access to affordable technology opens the door for this type of disruption to occur.
There are two main reasons that innovation in schools is necessary. First, technology and connectivity would allow all students access to quality instruction regardless of location. Students would no longer only be limited to instruction available in their own district, but instead would have access to many sources and experts in many different fields. Individualized and personalized instruction is another reason that new, innovative practices are necessary in public schools. Technology can create the ability for each student to learn how and at what pace best suits his/her needs. This type of personalized attention opens up the possibility for students to take classes that a school cannot offer, recover credits and experience topics taught in multiple ways or that are not familiar to a teacher.
In the same way that every student has a different educational need, I believe that every district also has a unique need for disruptive innovation depending on what constitutes the present norm. For example, a district that has had devices for several years and whose teachers have a general understanding of sound pedagogy when it comes to technology will have a much different view of disruptive innovation than a district that is just beginning to use devices with students. The existence of the technology itself is innovative to the latter district, where the former district’s idea of innovative practices would involve using the technology in a way that promotes deeper thinking.
The term “blended learning” involves the mixture of online, personalized learning with face to face learning in a school setting. Although blended learning does require a student to, in part learn online, the most important aspect of blended learning is that students have control over the time, place, path and pace of the instruction. Sometimes people overemphasize the technology in this type of content delivery, which can lead to a false belief that simply having access to technology is the same thing as blended learning. However, this assumption is wrong. The computer, internet and programs are simply tools that make personalized learning possible and more accessible. I believe there are two reasons that this false assumption about blended learning is prevalent in education. The first is lack of understanding about what true blended learning is and the second reason is that buying the technology is the easy part. Learning the appropriate, most effective uses of technology requires that school leaders get out of their comfort zones and consider new ways of doing what is known and accepted.
I am from a small, rural district that exists behind what I refer to as “The Pine Curtain”. The Piney woods of East Texas is a beautiful, scenic area to live. It’s true that we generally do not have some of the problems that larger, more urban districts deal with and that overall our students are “compliant”. (this term is often used by administration to describe our students) However, it also means that a vast majority of school districts in this area lag about 8-10 years behind when it comes to new, innovative practices.
I would love to come blazing in with my new, awesome ideas for blended learning in my district, but I also know that the majority of the teachers in my district have never even heard of blended learning. Therefore, my approach to innovation must start with teaching district leaders and teachers how technology can be a catalyst for learning in ways that have never even been considered before. Innovation in my district will look much like it did in some other larger districts 10 years ago. My teachers must first understand the pedagogy behind using technology and be given practical ideas that solve common problems just to convince them to use technology with students. Therefore, my goal will be to demonstrate how student access to various technology can positively influence learning and how teachers will need to change their ideas about their role in the classroom. To an outsider this goal may seem a little ‘less than innovative’, however, I am only one person trying to enlighten many about a concept that is foreign to most.