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.