Monday, July 7, 2008

One for Us

I spent the last few days of June at the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in San Antonio TX. After that conference I traveled to Washington DC to attend the National Education Association Representative Assemble (NEA-RA). The NEA-RA is the largest democratically run meeting in the world with over 9,000 delegates debating, discussing and voting on the direction of the organization. The NEA represents 3.2 million teachers in all 50 states. It truly is democracy in action and I have a story to prove it.

At the RA any member can submit a New Business Item (NBI) that they would like to see the NEA take action on. One such item was proposed by a woman from New Jersey. NBI 67 "That NEA recommends the banning of all student personal electronic devices, especially cellphones, from the classroom". Well I immediately went into tech defender mode. I went a spoke to the woman to see if I could offer a friendly amendment to her NBI, that would remove the word banning. Her response was that they were already going to modify it to except education or medical uses (that would be just about everything in my view). Seeing she was not going to budge, I went to my delegation from PA and asked them to support my amending the motion to read "That NEA recommends the teaching of appropriate use of all student personal electronic devices, especially cellphones". The PA delegation agreed to let me try to amend the motion and speak on their behalf.

The time came for NBI 67 to be discussed and voted on. The maker of the motion asked to modify the motion to add the part about educational and medical, and then got a chance to give her rational. There were a few questions ask, but then came my turn. The Chair, President Reg Weaver said "Microphone 15 Lee Speers seeking to amend, mike 15". A spotlight comes on the red light on podium 15 turns on and there is my face on 4 big screens, and several smaller ones, in front of almost 10,000 people. "Yes President Weaver I would like to amend NBI 67 with the language I submitted." President Weaver asked for my amendment to be placed on the screen. For the first time the delegates at the NEA-RA see the proposal, the room grows eerily quiet and then a slight murmur. The leadership from all of the state delegations starts talking to see if they will recommend supporting the change. President Weaver asked the maker if she would accept the modification (I know what her answer is). After she says no, it is now my opportunity to speak to my amendment. Here is the text of my remarks:
Before traveling to DC I was in San Antonio TX attending the National Educational Computing Conference NECC with 20,000 other committed educators that use technology. While at NECC I attended many professional development session all using technology and many using cell phones.

A couple quick facts about cell phone use. There are currently 3.3 billion active cell phones world wide, that is one cell phone for every 2 people on the planet. There are currently 30 plus countries in the world that have 100% saturation (one cell phone for every man, woman and child), the US is not one of them. Presently in the US 16% of all households have only cell phone service and that number is growing rapidly. In the US there are more active cell phones than home computers. What does all this mean, there is no way to enforce a cell phone ban. So what is the alternative?

Do and will students use cell phones improperly? Sure they do, but they use computers, pens, pencils and even crayons improperly too, and do we ban them? No instead we do what good educators do when students misbehave. We teach them how to use the equipment properly. We need to do the same thing with technology, not, run from it, fear it or ban it, but help our students understand it and use it properly.
The International Society for Technology in Education ISTE has developed National Education Technology Standards NETS. These standards have not only been developed for students, but also teachers, administrators and technology leaders. All of these standards address good digital citizenship when using technology. And who better to teach students these standards than US, the members of the NEA? Please do not stick you head in the sand and support this amendment to NBI 67.

Much to my surprise and relief twice during my remarks I was interrupted by applause and again at the end got a nice round of congratulations from the delegates. The signals from state leadership began popping up throughout the room, most show a positive recommendation. Then came the vote, my amendment had passed and was now the main motion! Several people were called on to speak that were originally opposed to the NBI, but commented that with the amendment they were now in support of it. There was another amendment to the item, basically making more wordy, but in the end NBI 67 passed and the NEA was not recommending banning any technology from the classroom. So now the 3.2 million members of the NEA are not for banning technology in the classroom. Use that fact with your stubborn tech director next time. Who knows, maybe next year there will be an NBI about the use of web 2.0 applications.