Thursday, May 17, 2012

Difficult Decisions

Within education, many issues linger.  Should students be exposed to social media?  Is BYOD the solution to shrinking technology budgets?  Should high school courses go virtual?  Today’s post suggests several possible strategies and solutions to help solve these dilemmas.

First, should social media be in schools?  Both examples of schools using social media and blocking social media exist.  Some schools are doing an excellent job of integrating social media into the delivery of curriculum.  Stansbury (2011) from eSchool News writes about ten innovative ways that ten different schools utilize social media effectively.  Education World (2012) points out a number of school districts leveraging social media to educate students in a 21st century fashion. 

As I examine the question further, I believe the question is too broad and vague.  Schools district vary greatly in culture and missions within a state let alone the country.  I think we need to analyze whether or not social media will help accomplish the district mission within the district schools.  Some schools have educators who are extremely tech savvy and adventurous while other faculties cling to proven methods.  To some faculties, social networking is unknown and scary which leads to a bad fit for the school district.  On the other hand, others cry out for the privilege of using social media to motivate students.  Before a decision is made either way, a full evaluation should occur of educators, administrators, students, and parents.  Forcing an initiative will only lead to disaster.

Examining another current issue within schools, BYOD, I see a multitude of variables.  Just like with social media, a full evaluation along with site survey offers the best solutions.  Bringing Your Own Device initiative throws variables out in all directions.  How will the teacher now what to do when there are 30 different devices in the classroom?  What will discipline look like?  How do you prevent cheating?  What is the student’s device has inappropriate content on it?  What if a student hacks another student?  Will the network infrastructure handle all the devices?  Is the Internet pipe large enough?  All of these questions plus more must be answered.  Again it comes down to culture and administrative support.  BYOD is an excellent solution for some districts and not for others.  If BYOD is a good fit, then the educators need the proper professional development, so they know how to handle common technical issues.  The biggest issue with a BYOD school would be making sure the teacher focuses on delivering content and teaching a lesson rather than focusing on getting the technology to work properly.

Finally, should high schools offer courses online?  Once again, I say it depends on the culture of the district.  Some districts are not ready to offer online courses.  Many issues could hold the district back from offering the virtual courses from lack of technology funds to poor course management.  If districts do offer courses online, my biggest advice is to make sure there are multiple support systems in place.  The administrators, teachers, students, and parents will all need support in the way of technical help, motivation to stay on task, and motivation to remain on time.  Districts attempting this initiative will require a well thought out plan and great project management.

I realize that each of these questions could have a book written about them.  I also realize that there exist strong opinions on both sides of the argument.  Most importantly, I think districts should make these difficult decisions based upon the culture of the district and for the best interests of the students.  The students are the most important aspect to a district and the district must find the best methods to give them the best education possible.



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