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Are You Comfortable with Change?: Understanding What it Takes to Make Change Happen

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

I am just back from a conference in Mitchell, South Dakota, where I was sharing some of what we have learned in Maine as well as things learned from working with other one-to-one laptop efforts across the country. Because South Dakota is, like Maine, largely rural, the 350 or so educators attending the conference were receptive to my message.

In one of the luncheon keynote speeches, Rick Melmer, South Dakota's state secretary of education, gave a wonderful talk on the need for his state to move toward ubiquitous-computing environments, citing everything from increasing student engagement by providing the kinds of tools today's students see everywhere else in their lives to breaking the isolation inherent in rural settings by providing access to unlimited and diverse curriculum materials. He acknowledged the challenging nature of the change the educators of South Dakota will face but maintained a clear insistence on meeting those challenges full on. The change, he insisted, must happen.

Now, I already get the importance of the one-to-one-laptop thing, so I have to be honest here and tell you my own story of South Dakota change, and my oh-so-very-human resistance to it. It may be worth reading, as those of us who work as agents of change reflect on how much changing we are asking practitioners to do.

I got my driver's license in 1972, and ever since then, driving a car has for me had four basic steps: 1. Get in the car and use the key to start it. 2. Drive somewhere. 3. Park the car and use the key to turn it off. 4. Put the key in your pocket as soon as you exit the vehicle to assure its availability the next time. (The inclusion of step 4 in this list as a fundamental component is based on the importance of the key in step #1 above.)

Well, when I arrived at the airport in Sioux Falls last Saturday, it was time for a little change! The fellow at the rental-car counter informed me that I was getting a brand-new Nissan Altima, and that it had no key. "Hmmm," I thought. "Cool. A chance to try something new!" I was told that the keyless fob simply needed to be inside the car in order to allow me to step on the brake and push a button to either turn the car on or turn it off.

And off I drove. But as soon as I parked and got ready to leave the car for the first time, I became aware of a subtle disquiet. You see, because I did not have to turn the key to turn the car off, I got out of the car and found myself nervously searching pockets to find the fob before I locked any doors or secured the trunk, for fear I might be locking myself out.

Now, the car and its keyless system are probably designed not to allow such silliness, but my discomfort was very real. Yes, it lessened as I experienced six days of driving the car, largely because I got used to dropping the fob into my front shirt pocket, but I never completely got over it. I always found myself unwilling to close the door or latch the trunk until I held the fob in my hand.

So, I'm thinking that starting and shutting down an automobile either by using, or without requiring, a key is a fairly simply exercise. I should have been able to get over this one pretty easily. But it stuck with me, and in so doing caused me to reflect, once again, on the degree of change we ask educators and students to make in their practices when laptops come to school.

How about you? Are you able to change some things easily, and not others? Is it easier when you just have to change because there is no choice? I'm thinking that if car keys just became a thing of the past, we would all move beyond them pretty easily. Perhaps part of my challenge was that I was continually comparing my current driving situation to the normal way of doing things back home. Please share your similar experiences, and let's try to better understand just what it takes to make change happen.

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

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Mitch Ravitz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a kid, way back in the 50's I remember my friends parents having cars that took a key, but didn't require the key to start them. There was a position on the ignition switch that allowed the key to be removed, though the ignition was not locked and the engine could be started.

So, conceptually this is not new.

We have become acustomed to a certian anxiety over security. It must have first appeared when cars changed and the key became a requirement for starting the engine.

As a teacher the Mercedes S class is not likely to be in my near term future, but those automobiles have had the keyless start option for a while.

Most of us resist change. To support teaching binary as a part of my computer science classes I have a Binary Counting Decimal (BCD) clock in my classroom.

At first it was difficult to "tell the time" but now it is easy. Much like when we all learned to "tell time" on an instrument that counted to 60 for somethings and just to 12 (or 24) for others.

While mentally I resist change, change is constant and we should be promoting change by suggesting that the use of imagination and creativity drives it and our futures.

Kristen K.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Excellent analogy about the fact that change is hard...even for change agents! I think it is important as educators and change agents that we humble ourselves once in awhile to have these experiences and help us remember just how hard this change in pedagogy is for some teachers. What we ask teachers to do is so hard for some of them (to infuse technology into curriculm so that it becomes a transparent learning tool), just as what we ask students to do (not us technology at school, or use it very little) is so hard for them also!

Sharon NM's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I really appreciate this blog topic. I am a integration technologist and find change as a challenge to conquer and thoroughly enjoy trying and using new technologies in my personal and professional life.

I am constantly expecting the educators I work with to change and use technology tools seemlessly while they teach. This is a huge paradigm shift for them even though students need and expect to use these tools in their everyday life.

I firmly believe that if educators are given the opportunity to learn to use technology as a tool for themselves in their classrooms then they are more easily able to see and integrate technology as a tool across the content areas. This I believe will be a win/win situation for teachers and students.

Dale's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In most cases, I think change is good, even though it can be difficult! Initially, many people seem to resist change. Adding time, purpose, education, and practice to the equation can ease the transition for most people.

Jim Burke's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My mother tells the story of how difficult it was for my grandmother to get comfortable with dial phones. They were totally incomprehensible to her. Her experience had been to pick up the phone and crank the local "real-person" operator. Not only was the technical part difficult for her, but I suspect she felt somewhat of a loss at not being able to do the community-building exercise of speaking with a local friend. The advance in connecting quickly with a person at a distance had struck a blow at local community connections in a rural environment.

Likewise, my mother still has a dial phone prominently mounting on the wall. And yes, it works fine except when a distant bureaucracy represented by a disembodied voice requests her to press 1, 2, 3, or 4 in order to reach the appropriate cubicle. Mom has another phone for this but doesn't like it one bit! She also has an answering machine that time-shifts calls which she despises even more and refuses to use. You know, I can understand this. I would argue that Intimacy, living in the present and kinesthetic connections are dimished in this new digital world. New technology is not neutral. Along with advantages come disadvantages.

By the way, don't even suggest a mobile phone to my mom. It is totally foreign. And the truth be told, though my two daughters are totally comfortable with cell phones, I find myself irritated in supermarkets and public areas when people are jabbering away about what seems to me to be totally inconsequental matters, totally ignoring any interaction with others in the physical common. Again, I would suggest that along with the ease of talking with anyone at a distance at any time or any place also has more than one downside.

Okay, I'll admit it: I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I absolutely love any new gadget, and as a digital immigrant, am astounded at the information and connections that are readily available. However, I worry about the speed of change and the kind of change that is taking place.

To me the issue is not that schools are slow to change in terms of utilizing new technology, but that we are losing important roots and interactions at a local level. I would hypothesize that part of reason that schools are so slow to change is that they are one of the few institutions in most people's lives, at one time or other, where we connect consistently face-to-face in an environment that is relatively consistent in a world that seems to have gone beserk with exponential change.

So . . . rapid technological change without thoughtful social support is the problem, not the solution. The NCLB mindset looks to children as future workers and consumers, and is ready to blame schools for not making the grade instead of taking a close look of the social ills caused by the huge disparities in wealth and income in this country. We need to be more than raw data and future worker/consumers. We are flesh-and-blood human beings who deserve a bit of human dignity. Technology overall has not helped our cause in this area. Data can be deadly.

I would suggest that we need to be create 21st Century Citizens and that doing so begins close to home. We need to work on those emotional intelligence skills and people-working-together skills on issues that matter. We need to work on engaging kids in work and play that empowers them instead of turning them into widgets at the beckon call of multi-national corporations. We need to touch and look each other in the eyes and work together on problems that resonate. First things first.

Neil Postman in his fine speech in 1990 < http://www.mat.upm.es/~jcm/postman-informing.html > sums up my view:

*Here is what Henry David Thoreau told us: "All our inventions are but improved means to an unimproved end." Here is what Goethe told us: "One should, each day, try to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it is possible, speak a few reasonable words." And here is what Socrates told us: "The unexamined life is not worth living." And here is what the prophet Micah told us: "What does the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God?" And I can tell you -- if I had the time (although you all know it well enough) -- what Confucius, Isaiah, Jesus, Mohammed, the Buddha, Spinoza and Shakespeare told us. It is all the same: There is no escaping from ourselves. The human dilemma is as it has always been, and we solve nothing fundamental by cloaking ourselves in technological glory.*

So there is no question that "shift happens", that we inevitably will be part of that change, as difficult as it sometime seems, but we have to continually ask ourselves: What is important? What is being gained? What is being lost? What kind of future do we want? Let's be empowered by technology, not enslaved by it.

janet's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Change is hard! However, willingness is key! Willingness to try new things without fearing failure and accepting the steep learning curve to be experienced. What's fun though, is struggling along with your students who seem not to have the fear.

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