AMES, Iowa -- Scott McLeod bristles at the notion that students should turn off all their digital devices in the classroom. He agrees that they're more plugged in than ever before through smart phones, iPods, laptops, and even video games -- but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
McLeod says that it's about time for school teachers and administrators to embrace their students' technology, rather than block its use in their schools. And the new associate professor of education leadership and policy studies at Iowa State University has dedicated his work to make that happen.
Some national educational organizations are recognizing his efforts. McLeod was recently named one of the National School Boards Association's "20 to Watch" educators in 2007 -- an honor being awarded Tuesday in Nashville, Tenn. He'll also be honored as an "emerging leader" by Phi Delta Kappa, an international association for professional educators, during a Friday ceremony in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
And back in June, McLeod was one of the four educators to receive Cable's Leaders in Learning General Excellence Award -- a national award presented annually by Cable in the Classroom, the cable industry's education foundation, to recognize individuals who are transforming education in early childhood through high school.
Creating tech-savvy school leaders
The awards cite McLeod's work as founder and co-director of the University Council for Education Administration's Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE) -- the first academic program in the country designed to create technology-savvy school leaders. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, CASTLE is designed to turn school administrators into technological leaders using nationally recognized curricula and high-quality, free resources.
His position to embrace today's technology in the classroom is central to his popular blog "Dangerously Irrelevant: Ruminations on technology, leadership, and the future of our schools" (www.dangerouslyirrelevant.org). He also created "LeaderTalk" (www.leadertalk.org), the nation's first group blog written by school leaders for school leaders. Both were just recognized by the George Lucas Education Foundation's Edutopia Magazine as two of the top 10 education blogs in 2007.
"I believe in the transformative power of technology and its ability to empower individuals in ways that were unimaginable a mere decade ago," McLeod said. "I believe that schools are approaching the point of dangerous irrelevance when it comes to preparing students adequately for their digital futures. The pace of change in schools is too slow and the pace of change in technology is too quick. I am a strong believer in public schools, but we need a new paradigm. My work focuses on the leadership necessary to effectuate this new, transformative paradigm."
According to McLeod, current research has found that students use computers an average of only 30 minutes a week in K-12 schools, even though more than two-thirds of them now have access to computers in their homes. He has helped numerous school districts and state departments of education with their technology leadership and data-driven accountability challenges and urges school officials and lawmakers to do a better job of putting computers to use in the classroom.
"In every sector of society, you'd be hard pressed to find someone who's not using a computer in every decent-paying job. And yet schools see it as marginally optional, at best," said McLeod.
"We need to use the modern communication tools we have available to us for modern education purposes, rather than act like they don't exist," he said. "Rather than trying to harness this new technology, we're trying to force kids to learn through our old classroom ways -- and they're bored."
Joining the online discussion
Those modern communication tools might even include joining online social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, according to McLeod.
"Technology is facilitating personal connections more than ever before," he said. "We are getting to know people on much richer and deeper levels than before because they are all plugged into this common space.
"I want schools to change and I'm going to use everything possible to reach as many people as possible," he added.
But while McLeod supports the idea of teaching kids on their technological level, he also preaches moderation. He says that teens and young adults are firmly convinced that they can multitask effectively, but the research indicates otherwise.
"Recent psychological and other research is indicating that they can't multitask, that they actually are less productive and less effective than if they did tasks serially rather than simultaneously," he said. "That said, interruptive technology isn't going away. We have to somehow balance our need to be effective, productive workers with the tools -- instant messaging, Twitter, SMS, e-mail, etc. -- that satisfy our very human needs to be and stay connected with others."
And McLeod is staying connected with the education community to make sure that happens.