Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Who am I?

I’ve spent my entire life in the field of education in one way or another. I went through the public school system in Rock Island, Il before heading to Yale, where I studied history and received my certification as a social studies teacher. I volunteered and did my practice teaching in the New Haven, CT schools in the late ‘70s. It was quite an experience. After Yale, I taught for a few years in suburban Connecticut. I loved the teaching, but I needed a change of venue and in 1982 entered the doctoral program in what was then called Teaching, Curriculum, and Learning Environments at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE).

I had dabbled with technology a bit as a teacher. A housemate taught me how to write a grading program in BASIC on his TRS-80 Radio Shack computer. The homemade software was a real timesaver, but I was less than thrilled with what the publishers were offering to support instruction. Drill and practice software on the states and capitals just didn’t seem worth the heavy investment the school was looking make in computer hardware. I was barely making $10,000 a year. I thought paying me more would be wiser than buying computers. It didn’t happen. So I entered Harvard with a heavy dose of skepticism and maybe even a bit of resentment about educational technology.

My opinion shifted dramatically after a college friend introduced me to Tom Snyder, a revered teacher at Shady Hill Academy, a highly-regarded private school just down the street from Harvard. I visited a lot of classrooms using technology during my first year at Harvard, but Tom’s stood well apart from the rest. He used one computer to engage students in wonderful group activities. His classroom -- with students focused, talking, thinking, and learning -- mirrored the one I always wanted for myself. And the computer was helping him do it.

I was hooked. Tom and his partner, Rick Abrams, had started a little company on the 2nd floor of a 3 family house in Cambridge. I joined as an intern and within a year was pretty much working fulltime while still pushing my way through the Harvard program. The work slowed the doctoral progress, but I remained productive, churning out a dozen or more educational software programs for home and schools. My doctoral research focused on historical efforts to integrate technology into schools. I looked at everything from chalkboards to overhead projectors, from film projectors to televisions, to better understand the process of change that is supposed to accompany technological revolution but often doesn’t. I finished the doctorate in 1988, long before the educational technology revolution was complete (I think we’re still waiting).

Although I guide product development as the Chief Academic Officer at Tom Snyder Productions, I retain a healthy skepticism about the use of technology for technology sake. I share that skepticism in the design course I teach within the Technology, Innovation, and Education (TIE) program at HGSE. And I respected the balance between technology’s promise and the daily demands of life in the classroom during my nine years on my town’s school committee. I have the best jobs. I get to work with passionate people and curious students in the pursuit of making a difference in the lives of children in school. That’s pretty good.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your blog on teaching vs thinking about history. Cited it in a chapter intro in my book on challenging units for gifted students:teaching the way gifted students think. Ken Smith