“I turned minecraft maps into google maps, and then using some python code…”

Back in September, iNACOL hosted a “teacher talk” webinar by Chris Aviles, a teacher at the Fair Haven school district in New Jersey. I’ve never met Chris, but his webinar, website, and twitter feed all show experience, energy, and a solid grounding in reality. His blog post titled “the makerspace is doomed” struck me as right on target in calling makerspaces “shop class 2.0” and predicting that they are a fad that will soon fade. In the webinar Chris described all of the innovative ways that he is using Google apps in his district that has adopted Chromebooks, to create what he describes as a blended learning environment for his students. The webinar suggests to me that he is a rock star teacher doing incredible work and truly creating a 21st century learning environment. He has solid ideas for how to use the technology, he is focused on students, and the webinar demonstrates many ways in which he has adjusted his techniques, as he gets more experienced and better understands how his students are interacting with him and the technology. He explains, for example, how when he first tried a new tactic it didn’t work very well, but he adjusted and made it better. He also discusses how recording videos of lectures is not a very good way to use technology to engage students.

This is all good. And yet…the single most striking phrase in his webinar, to me, was him explaining how he “turned minecraft maps into google maps, and then using some python code…” Listening to that section, I was instantly struck by the idea that I was hearing from a teacher who was operating at a level that the vast majority of teachers will never reach—nor should they be expected to. So on one hand it’s wonderful to hear from an incredibly dedicated and talented teacher and learn about what he has done. On the other hand, he is describing a process that is clearly not scalable nor replicable, as it’s hard to imagine that standard teacher professional development is going to start focusing on python coding.

The webinar reminded me of a conversation at a discussion session I moderated at the iNACOL symposium back in 2013. The topic was developing online content versus acquiring it, and one woman talked about how she had developed the online content for her math course, and how well it was received by students. People in the audience were clearly impressed, which was appropriate. But quite a few of them missed when she said, quite quietly at the end of her explanation, that she slept five hours a night for most of the fall semester as she developed her course for the spring semester.

Rock star teachers are often the leading innovators, the early adopters. They are using technology to amplify great teaching. But advocates for blended learning who are aiming for far greater rates of adoption have to ensure that the transformation that they seek is grounded in realistic levels of effort by existing teachers.