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Remote Control


How technology could change who’s in charge of teaching.


By Glen Bledsoe


It’s natural that our vision of educational technology is shaped by how we use it. If we blog, we believe blogging is a powerful incorporation of computers into teaching and learning. If our students publish Web pages, videocasts, podcasts, or wikis, we believe each tool enables our students in new ways.

We are not the only ones, however, who are watching technology and imagining new ways of incorporating it into education. While teachers are singing “create, create, create!” others are chanting “measure and control!”

Glen Bledsoe
Glen Bledsoe believes that he, not some outsider using computer records, should decide how to teach his students.
With growing pressure to raise test scores, administrators will take a more active role in what goes on in our classrooms. They will want to know what you teach, when you teach it, how well you teach it, and how your lessons connect with standards.

A 20th-century principal collected paper-based lesson plans on Friday and reviewed them over the weekend. But soon you will craft your plans digitally on the school’s network, where they might be viewed, along with your meetings and professional development calendar and a record of your parent contacts, at any time without your knowledge.

That’s just the start. Your class demographic profile, median family income, the number of free and reduced-price lunches, ethnic makeup, attendance, overdue library books, past test scores, work samples, and what students buy to eat at school will all be part of the data sweep. Administrators will use technology to aid them in pursuit of this knowledge, believing that the more that is known about a student, the better he or she can be educated.

Strictly speaking, this is not surveillance. The point is not to spy on individual teachers, but to conduct remote analysis and, more precisely, remote control. Mathematical models will search for trends and make predictions of success or failure in student learning. Increasingly, decisions about how you will run your class will be made from the principal’s office, district office, or perhaps even farther afield at the state or even national level. An agency bureaucrat—or possibly a piece of data-driven software—will analyze and direct your instruction. He, she, or it will identify your students’ weaknesses and create worksheets or online sessions to remedy them. He, she, or it may even sample video of your lesson presentations and send you a script with the precise words you must say to improve instruction, along with suggested professional development based on your instructional weaknesses.

You will start your computer upon arrival at school each morning and find your instructions for the day waiting for you. Like a good soldier, your part is not to question but to obey. You will be measurable. Technology will at last make teachers accountable.

A nightmare vision, yes, but will it come true? I’ve described nothing that isn’t technically possible today. School districts already store this kind of information, and I have had chilling discussions with administrators whose vision is to use technology exactly as I’ve described.

Every teacher would like to know what students’ weaknesses are, but no teacher wants to have his or her classroom managed by someone (or something) who has never set foot in the room. The numbers don’t reveal the real story behind the eyes of each of your students. How many times have we seen siblings with identical backgrounds but completely different academic abilities and needs? The data can’t adjust the lesson when your class comes in the door noisy, abused, hungry. It can’t hear your students and interpret their mindset the way humans can. Students must be treated as individuals, and teachers who face them daily must make the decisions—not a software program.

Technology can be a powerful tool for learning, but we must decide how it will and won’t be used. We must not let others decide for us.

Glen Bledsoe teaches fourth grade at Molalla Elementary School in Molalla, Oregon, a small community south of Portland.

PHOTO: DIANE STEVENSON

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20-Sep-06