This past month my family and I suffered a devastating loss as my grandmother passed away only a few weeks after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Abiding by her wishes not to inconvenience anyone, my parents arranged for friends and family to call an hour prior to the funeral, which was then followed by a short service. Because the funeral was held just days after her death, her two sisters were not able to physically attend the service in NJ. One of my great aunts resides in rural Arkansas while the other lives in Texas.
My wife's family was heartbroken that they were not able to attend the service, as were both of my great aunts. The night before the service we called the funeral home to see if they had the capability of streaming the service over the Internet. This would have enabled family that could not be there to view the service. Unfortunately, we were informed that although the funeral home was currently working on setting up this service it would not be operational in time for us to use it. Even after receiving this news, I still took my Mac Book Pro with me to the funeral home. At this time I still do not know why, considering I was told that there was no Internet connection available.
I arrived early the morning of the service and on a wing and a prayer I booted up my computer to find that there was a strong WiFi signal that I could utilize. At this point, I created a free Ustream account as I had heard about this service through many of the connected educators that I communicate with on a regular basis. After creating this free account, my brother contacted my great aunt in Arkansas and we tested out the live stream. To our surprise, it worked! I then proceeded to stream my grandmother's funeral service live to her sister in Arkansas. She was able to watch the entire service uninterrupted. Afterwards she sent me an email that brought me to tears as she expressed the priceless moment that I was able to provide her. A few days later my grandmother's other sister watched the archived recording of the service. None of this would have been possible without technology.
That night, I returned home as I was hosting the third annual Edscape Conference at my school. It was a bittersweet moment for me as I was still grieving the loss of my grandmother, but excited to welcome 350 educators from ten states and Canada to my school. Using the knowledge I gained the day before, I was determined to try to establish a live feed of the keynote address as well as some of the sessions. Not only was I able to use Ustream to share the keynote address with the world, but I was also able to establish a feed presented by some educators who traveled to NJ from Canada so that their superintendent could watch from their province. Again, something like this would not have been possible without technology.
I have shared both of these stories to demonstrate the potential that technology has in re-shaping school cultures and how we learn. Technology is not just a shiny tool that can increase engagement, but a conduit to endless possibilities that can enhance every facet of what we do in education. It is not a frivolous expense that is not worth the investment that many make it out to be. As I demonstrated above, the inherent power of a laptop, Internet connection, webcam, and a free streaming service were able to touch the lives of people a thousand miles away and leave a lasting impact. Imagine what it can do for schools and educators looking to enrich the curriculum while making learning more relevant and meaningful for students? I see technology as a needed resource in education that can break down the walls of traditional school structures while creating new opportunities to learn.
Technology can engage, connect, empower, and enhance teaching, how educators learn, the work done by schools, and stakeholder relations. The driving question we should be asking is how well do we use the technology that is available to us to improve what we do instead of why should we use it to improve what we do. Even in schools that might not have as many technology resources, time and energy should be spent figuring out how to maximize what is available instead of making endless excuses for not moving forward.
Technology is here to stay, although there is never a shortage of naysayers who question its value. Its value rests in how we decide to use it effectively to positively impact the lives of our students, achieve learning goals, communicate with stakeholders, share best practices, and connect like never before. The results and impact will speak for itself in ways that a standardized test never can. Is it a silver bullet or cure for education in general? Will it eventually replace teachers? Of course not, but one should think twice before claiming that it is not worth the investment as the results of effective integration speaks for itself. Just ask the students, teachers, administrators, parents, and other stakeholders who witness this on a regular basis.