Ymasumac Marañón Davis is an educational consultant, intuitive life coach and author. This blog is the first in a series around access.
The cloud and mobility in our devices have caused industries the world over to rethink how they conduct business. Education is no exception to this shift in culture. How does a public service industry tasked with the education of minors and often an extremely limited budget create access to the technological revolution for their students?
Addressing access requires a two-pronged approach of technical and cultural change. Both of these require a new mindset where we question our preconceived notions, adapt our perceptions, and reexamine our biases.
When schools begin discussing access, they often begin with devices. Students need them, so how do we get them? And once they have them, how do they get internet access in the classroom, at school, and at home? I don’t start here.
Start with perceptions. To drive change, you must first look at how others perceive the area you want to change and the emotional charge connected to this area. The stronger the charge, the stronger the perceptions they have that will drive their decisions. Whether their perceptions are true or false, it doesn’t matter; the perception will drive the decision making. So we need to engage everyone’s perceptions. All stakeholders need to be included in this conversation.
When engaging people’s perceptions, we need to look at where they are most emotionally charged, because that’s their biggest belief system – right or wrong, this is often where they will stake their flag. With technology, I have found that the biggest emotional charge is fear. Fear of technology taking over. Fear of losing jobs to technology. Fear of people not “communicating” anymore. Fear everywhere.
The problem is that the world today demands a skill set aligned with a 21st-century work and learning culture. We cannot afford to have students spend twelve formative years in a learning culture that is quickly dying. This new learning culture requires all participants to have certain skill sets. Students today need to be innovative, strong virtual collaborators with social intelligence, and insatiably curious with (at minimum) rudimentary coding skills. (More on our learning culture shift to come in a later post.)
I was visiting a cousin recently in Brooklyn, New York. She co-founded a cooperative of small organic farms. Over the years, they have branched out and now collaborate with other small organic farms and cooperatives throughout the world. While visiting my cousin, she informed me she would be on a phone conference at 4:00 a.m. I was surprised by the time. She said it was because the team she was on came from 5 different continents and finding a time-zone that works for everyone has been a challenge. This, I thought, is the 21st-century team – international, from 5 different continents, facing similar challenges and working together to solve them! How, I wondered, are we preparing our students for this?
We know the need is there, so how can we shift perception to give access to all students anytime and anywhere? By alleviating the fears of stakeholders.
I begin many of my presentations and workshops with images of exactly what stakeholders fear the most: kids on their phones “not talking” to each other. We then dive into the perceptions of what the stakeholders think is happening. Usually, this opens up all their fears and concerns about why technology is a detriment to learning. And this is where I get to shift their perceptions. I tell them a story.
I tell them a story of a time when my fifteen-year-old son and I were grocery shopping and he wanted chocolate milk. Being health conscious, I quickly looked at him like he had lost his mind and then said, “Uh, no, we’ve never bought chocolate milk in this home!” I’m holding my phone up with a collaborative list app that has my grocery list on it. My son quickly whips out his phone and says, “I’m pulling up 3 research articles right now that prove chocolate milk is good for runners.”
In that moment anyone walking by is looking at us and thinking: How sad, even in the grocery store they can’t put their phones away! No one talks to each other anymore! Look at them, they can’t even go grocery shopping without their phones out. And of course nothing could be further from the truth.
All of us have a story of how we have used our devices in powerful ways. Engaging all stakeholders in recognizing how their devices can make their lives easier and ultimately allow them to participate in the global discourse is key to changing our learning cultures and addressing access. The sooner we enable stakeholders to leverage their devices, the sooner they will see this as true for students.
Shifting perceptions about technology is important for all stakeholders, especially families. Families are our learning partners in educating the next generation, and we need to be aligned on the kind of learning culture we want to create. If families are not intimately connected to the profound changes happening at school, they can neither support them nor be a part of them. If we want to ensure access for all students, we have to ensure that all stakeholders believe access is truly necessary.
Often, people do not believe technology is necessary because they just see it as an addition, as opposed to a powerful tool for learning; failing to see how technology is able to amplify learning and connect learners in ways not otherwise possible. Yet, when talking about using devices in learning, devices are secondary — they amplify what is happening in the classroom. All of it. If dynamic and innovative teaching and learning is happening, technology will take it to the next level. If low-level teaching and learning is happening, that will also be amplified. Learning drives the classroom culture and technology augments its impact.
If stakeholders don’t understand what students are accessing and how powerful a learning tool devices connected to the internet can be, they will not advocate for access to them. Once stakeholders see that the value of technology equals (and even surpasses) that of paper and pen, they will support purchasing and implementing these learning tools.
Creating equity in access isn’t monetary; at its core, it’s a belief. It’s understanding the why. When teachers, administrators and parents understand why a device connected to the internet will give greater access to developing 21st-century learning skills, they’re in! Of course, just the device and internet do not create the magic, but without them, the magic of learning is fundamentally limited.