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Rethinking The Cost of Accommodating Classroom Technology

March 7, 2008

Wow… Just read this article in Teachers College Record titled, The Cost of Accommodating Classroom Technology by Michael Bugeja and was blown away – both by his pessimistic view of technology, some great insights and then by his final recommendations which are a little more optimistic and common-sense. Here is the gist of it (really pared down… read it for yourself to get the whole context).

1. Pedagogy has had to change to accommodate technology. This is a bad thing. It should be the other way around. This can be both a good or a bad thing. Certain technologies have a way of amplifying need for more effective pedagogies that education has long been advocating, such as problem-based learning, collaboration, problem-solving, analytical thinking, social learning, high engagement, authentic and situated learning…, use of primary resources, creativity, differentiated learning… And, I would agree that in many cases, pedagogy has changed with the infusion of technology. But, I would disagree that it has HAD to change to accommodate technology. Ineffective teachers continue to be ineffective with new technologies. Effective teachers continue to refine their craft and become even more effective with powerful uses of technology. Yes, there is probably a honeymoon period where any teacher needs to learn new tools on rather low-level tasks to avoid cognitive overload, but they quickly understand the need to scale up their use and their use with their students.

2. Educators are “altering” long-tested learning theories/methodologies to invest in new media touted by for-profit corporations. All I can say here is “Hooey!” If anything, teachers are putting aside less effective, more teacher-centered strategies and replacing them where appropriate with more student-centered, meaningful learning strategies. And, as with technologies like PowerPoint, teachers at all levels have been duped into more teacher-centered practices due to this slick presentation tool that makes stand-and-deliver teaching all that much easier with less knowledge and preparation. But I think (hope) that is changing. I would agree that there appears to be an emphasis in the educational technology community for more constructivist/constructionist teaching methodologies and this needs to be balanced out better with effective implementations of technologies to support the more direct instruction pedagogies. They do play an important role in the classroom with the right students for the right learning goals.

3. Educational institutions at all levels invest in equipping with trendy gadgets programmed for revenue generation rather than for learning. Well, I know this goes on, especially in higher education, but K-12 education is certainly not exempt. It makes me think of the Channel One television programming initiative in schools where students HAD to watch the daily broadcasts, rife with advertising, so that schools could outfit their classrooms with this revolutionary technology – the television. And, one can certainly claim that vendors of all types are foundationally more interested in revenue than student learning. But this does not mean that visionary educators cannot usurp any of those interests for the betterment of their students, teaching and learning. And, there are many commercial-free options.

4. Administrators compromise common-sense thinking in order to fulfill grant guidelines and get the cool gadgets. It happens. Often the cart is put before the horse. Technologies before infrastructure. Tools and opportunities sans support. Technologies before teacher buy-in, teacher training, and downright poor choices of technology to to misinformation or lack of information/knowledge.

5. Any system or body that challenges the technological imperative is doomed… such talk is considered heresy. This statement resonates with me to some degree. Sometimes I feel that educational technologists and technology proponents are too quick to see the “benefits” without thinking about the “tradeoffs” at a deeper than surface level. Get the stuff now and find a problem that it can solve to justify the expenditure. Too often, I think folks like Neil Postman, Larry Cuban, Richard E. Clark, Todd Oppenheimer,… are spoken of as “luddites” without really taking to heart what they have to say.

6. The Internet has destroyed the process of peer review and the scientific method. Just because anyone and everyone has the ability to “publish” on the Internet does not mean these two valuable processes have been destroyed! The issue has raised the importance of new types of literacies in a digitally connected world – data smog, information glut, info-glut, info-garbage… whatever you want to call them. If anything, these processes become even more important as we all struggle with evaluating validity and accuracy of on-line sources of information. Especially students need to be equipped for effecively navigating the digital world of information. I think that too often we have been guilty of not being critical of traditional print resources – especially the highly-based slant present in many textbooks used in K-12 education.

7. Traditional repositories of information (libraries) are being undermined by on-line databases and information archives. We don’t read scrolls anymore (except for those who study ancient writings, and I am sure they appreciate being able to view those original sources on their computer screens). I am sure someone felt threatened by the shifts over the centuries with information technologies (printing press, pencil/pen, newspapers, telegraph,…) What I do understand is that sometimes internet-based information’s shelf-life on line can be rather short… here today and gone tomorrow. However, I think most authoritative and peer-reviewed sources of information that lie in on-line databases and the like will continue to change forms. They will always be findable in whatever form the exist.

8. Social networks serve to sell and surveil its mindless victims. Again, I don’t think that we have been critical enough of some of the social networks out there… free services with many hidden agendas and advertising imperatives. Commercialism and consumerism are being infused into social networks targeted at younger and younger children (Webkinz, Club Penguin, NickTropolis, NeoPets, Disney XD, imbee,…). Are we largely ignoring the tradeoffs with our exuberance for social networking? However, there are many new tools out there to customize social networking in educational settings with the option of being free of advertising and consumerism undertones (Ning, Elgg…). And, it is a reality that our students are using these social technologies. We should not be ignoring them. They need help learning how to swim in these new waters.

9. We are losing fundamental freedoms “due to an ill-informed populace distracted by rampant consumerism.” Just read Neil Postman and others. They make some very valid points. Are you reading this stuff or just ignoring it? I think it is critical to read the work of others who might be in direct or somewhat direct opposition to what you believe, as they can be very instrumental in bringing balance to the conversation as well as enlighten you on some things that perhaps you have not considered.

10. Technology has caused a loss of free time for family and friends in a 24/7 work-day. There are some folks out there with technology addictions. There are folks who can’t ever get away from the office due to the office being in their pocket now. But there are also folks who are able to free up time spent commuting, traveling, and are able to create flexible schedules and work from home, in the end, spending more time with children and family. There are many technologies that save time. It is even more important today with all of the distractions and data smog that we become more highly skilled at managing information. RSS technologies, as one example, have brought so many advantages to this discussion. There are also many technologies that are bringing people together across great distances, whether they be family, friends, colleagues, experts or others. Distance education has been a lifeline for many who simply cannot take advantage of the great institutions and teachers out there due to their geographic location.

11. Technology addiction kills (cellphone drivers & iPod pedestrians). It sure can. But, we can’t single out “technology addiction” in this argument. There are many addictions out there that can kill and do kill with so much greater frequency. Welcome to an imperfect world. All the more reason to educate our youth and adults alike on leading healthy and balanced lives.

12. Education believes we need technological devices no matter what the cost. You will run across some who seem to believe this. However, I think that there are a great number of administrators who really make the effort to be informed and make wise decisions regarding instructinoal technologies. I think absolutist statements like this are unnecessarily derrogatory and don’t help in this discussion. But, I think there is a huge danger when we have I.T. personnel making such decisions that directly impact teaching, curriulum and data flow without the input of the folks they are supposed to be serving and supporting. I have run into so many [bad] situations where these folks know they hold the power over you and weild it proudly!

Here is the advice presented in this argument. It’s pretty good for the most part, I think.

  • For starters, they should stop celebrating technology and start seeing it as an autonomous system so as to introduce it responsibly into the classroom.
  • Digital technologies can be used judiciously to supplement and enhance [what about transform??] many but not all educational endeavors. That is why assessment before investment is more important now than ever.Educators must ask fundamental questions before adopting devices, applications and platforms that may erode rather than promote critical thinking, such as:
  1. How will this device or application enhance or detract from my learning objectives?
  2. How will [or should!] my pedagogy change, if at all, if I adapt the technology into my lesson plans?
  3. What is the motive programmed into the interface, template or application, and how can I adjust for that in the classroom, online or in-world?
  4. What are the risks—privacy invasion, online harassment, restrictive service terms, etc.—that might trigger controversy or code violations?
  5. What type of learning curve is required to use the device, application or platform and what am I willing to sacrifice during class or office hours to make up that loss of time?
  6. What will the new technology drain from the existing IT system in terms of bandwidth and/or upgrades and support to existing computers, devices and services?
  7. What new costs will students incur in addition to any texts if I require use of any device, application or platform?
  8. What will the cost be in workload to my colleagues if a new course is created to accommodate the device, application or platform?
  9. Has the new course been assessed in terms of effectiveness and student demand in an existing module such as a seminar, workshop or independent study in the course catalog?
  10. When, where and for what purpose is use of the technology (especially mobile devices) appropriate or inappropriate?

“If we practice these tenets, we will model the behavior we wish to see in students so that they develop new awareness of technology and its power, cost and limitations. With such awareness, they will be able to accommodate technology effectively into their lives.If we fail to practice these tenets, students will accommodate technology to such extent that it will use them, complicating their lives with government surveillance, impulse buying and constant distraction.”

So, where does that leave us? I think cautious optimism is not a bad thing. The tone of this article is that we are all doomed! We are all being duped! I don’t think so. When I look around and see what so many amazing teachers are doing with information technologies and other technologies, it is truly inspirational. We need to celebrate these examples more. Are there some less-than-stellar implementation of technology? Sure. Are there some serious issues to consider and wrestle with? Yes. More than ever we need a highly-skilled and informed citizenry. Our preservice teachers are not being prepared for this new world to the degree necessary. Our inservice teachers are struggling. Many are refusing. Many are faced with so many obstacles. And many are excelling.Let’s continue to celebrate and communicate excellent examples of technology to support learning. I applaud the educational technology community in doing this so well already. Ustream.tv, blogs, wikis, Elluminate, TalkShoe, Skype, podcasting, – these are technologies that have been celebrating, teaching, empowering, connecting, and building a highly professional network of like-minded educators like never before. These tools are simply the vehicles by which all of this is happening. Opportunity to learn has increased exponentially.

The bigger question we should ask folks who are dragging their feet is, “Why don’t you want to learn?”

Wii Are Nuts!

November 11, 2007

wii.jpgWell, this morning I did something that I swore that I would never do. I got up early and lined up at a local Target store to try and get a Nintendo Wii for my sons for Christmas. It has been sold out everywhere and virtually impossible to get. We are not a big video game family, although my kids are more interested because they are growing up with friends who are steeped in the video game tradition. I am so thankful that my kids love to read and play and sing… We just felt that they could actually use a good bout of video gaming and the Wii provides a great experience.

Anyway, I heard it through the grapevine that a local Target was getting a shipment to be released Sunday morning. Those waiting in line would be rewarded at 7:00 AM with a “golden ticket” (it was pink, actually) that would guarantee them a Wii any time until 12:00 noon. Well, not being a fanatic about this, I woke up at 6:00 A.M and was outside of Target by 6:40. There were only 7 people in line. I could not believe it and was totally prepared to turn around and go home at the sight of a huge line-up, some who had probably camped out all night! It turns out there was only a couple – grandparents at that – that got there at two in the morning and were quite annoyed that no one else was there. They had woken up to make this pilgrimage for nothing! So, they went home and came back again at 3:30 A.M. only to find that they were still the only ones there. It was funny to hear their annoyed tone as they recanted this tale to those of us in line. I was eighth in line. A few more folks arrived and by the time the Target offical came out at 7:00 to pass out tickets, there were perhaps 15 of us in line, all shivering as it was a cold upstate New York morning. The guy beside me (ninth in line) was worried that there would only be eight tickets passed out. Apparently, this was his third try to get one of these. I assured him that this would be his lucky day.

Well, once we had our tickets (it turns out they had 57 units to sell!), we all left for coffee or something. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Tim Horton’s, quite proud of my accomplishment as a early morning line-up capitalistic greenhorn. I came back just before eight to see about 30 folks all mobbing the front door. As they let us in, they all went running to the electronics section. It felt as if I was running with the bulls in Pamplona! I was just hoping I would not be gored. I felt quite giddy as I let everyone rush past me – as I had a ticket. They did not.

They made us form two lines. The line to the left was for ticket holders. The line to the right was for those found wanting. Now I felt like I was living in the south a hundred years ago with one bathroom for african Americans and one for us whities. Not trying to make light of serious history here, this whole thing was very strange, indeed. Oh, the looks on their faces as they fretted and whispered to one another and pointed to us in the ‘good’ line. We had it made.

Well, to end this story, I bought the Wii console and an extra controller with a charging station and went home to my wife and kids, feeling like I had conquered something of significance. I had to tell my kids that I went out for a newspaper and coffee (which was true), as they were quite curious why I had been gone so long and so early on a Sunday morning. What do I make of all of this? I’m not sure. It feels like I have sold my soul somehow. I had only seen such craziness on the news and chuckled at those ridiculous people. Now I am one of them. I will have to reflect further on this and post more later. Merry Christmas, kids.

Branding our Youth?

August 17, 2007

A recent study undertaken by MTV, Nickelodeon and Microsoft is concerned with better understanding news3.gifthe relationships between youth, culture and technology on a global plane. It surveyed 18,000 kids from 16 countries. While many of the findings are quite interesting from an education perspective, I am amazed at the commercial targeting going on. If I was a good artist, I would draw a picture to represent what I felt after reading it. Since I am not, I will just express in words what it would look like. I see some sort of social engineering machine in the shadows hooked up to thousands of children as they go about their daily lives, all connected synergistically to it, yet unaware of its presence. I can’t help but think when I read this report that commercialism and advertising are shaping our future way too much. Advertising and branding is nothing new, but the scale on which it is reaching youth today is astounding. When new technologies are released by big tech and entertainment industries, I think we need to take a closer look at whose agenda is having the biggest impact. In education, are we merely the remoras riding on the big whale shark? How to we educate kids on the predatory nature behind the very tools they desperately rely on? Sorry if this is a downer… it just opened my eyes a little bit to what I knew was already there.