Archive for the ‘Change’ category

Moving

March 24, 2008

moving.jpgI am in the process of migrating my blog over to Edublogs, so re-route your RSS feeds over to http://ransomtech.edublogs.org/ and we can continue our conversations.

Cheers!

Steve Ransom

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?”

Re: Chasing False Gods

February 19, 2008

Chris Lehmann over on the blog Practical Theory has a new post that fits perfectly with what I have been reading and blogging about here (see earlier posts) in my book club of one as I work through Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.

Check it out. His challenge to us all is very important. Critical, I think. Easy – no! Media has this sexy, seductive element to it that blurs the line between deep learning and entertainment. Saavy educators are needed more than ever.

Also, see my last post on 20th century skills repackaged. It all fits together.

20th Century Skills Repackaged

February 19, 2008

In a recent eSchoolNews article, it is quoted as saying, “A majority of U.S voters believe schools are not preparing students to compete in the new global economy… the skills students need to succeed in the workplace of today are notably different from what they needed 20 years ago.”

It is also quoted as saying,

“Eighty-eight percent of voters say they believe schools can, and should, incorporate 21st-century skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, communication and self-direction, and computer and technology skills into the curriculum.”

I don’t disagree at all, but this rhetoric is getting annoying. Since when are critical thinking, problem solving, communication skills, and self-direction only 21st century skills? This has been our whole problem – that in the 21st century, we are still struggling to include 20th century learning skills. Of course, this information/2.0 age demands more of us all in these regards and increases the urgency of such pedagogical shifts. But, I think we are where we are due to our complacency prior to the 21st century. Dewey, Vygotsky, Bruner, von Glasersfeld, Jonassen, Papert, Montessori, and a number of others have made sound pitches to this end over the past century. Why has so little change happened in classrooms across America? Yes, it is great that these principles are being brought into the conversation again, but it didn’t really happen then. Why will it happen now? Historically, the change pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other, yet little substantive change has ever been achieved. The article attributes this renewed interest and dissatisfaction with economic anxiety (fear). They mention China. India… Sound like Sputnik to you?

The article concludes with this quotation:

“This is a moment in both the economy and the upcoming election where Americans are looking for hope,” said Garin. By focusing on education and the teaching of 21st-century skills to the nation’s students, citizens and their elected officials can “help lead the country to a promising future.”

Hope. I hope things change. I have been hoping for a long time. Hope is good. But not enough. Change is happening, but in a haphazard and inconsistent manner. Of course, we must respond to economic, cultural, and social influences, but let’s not be fooled. That which is being called for now is nothing new. The tools to achieve it are new. There are new possibilities and mediums – but there will always be such. The urgency is now greater, for sure, but the pedagogical foundations remain. Will we finally begin to embrace them on a national level? Will we follow history and once again allow the pendulum to swing to the extreme? Is a balanced approach still out of our reach?

Disturbed and Angry and Sickened

February 9, 2008

sad face.gifWhat a title, right? Well, I just went through all of those emotions when I read this February 10th article from the Washington Post titled, A School That’s Too High on Gizmos. What can I say… you have to read it to see if you experience the same emotions. In a nutshell, it describes the teachers’ and students’ experiences in a very high-tech school in Alexandria… and most of what is reported is not good. Imagine – a new building, state-of-the art, all of the technologies anyone could want (and it turns out more than most want), and teachers who are disillusioned, turned off, and frustrated. Students who are recognizing technology for technology’s sake. The term used is “administrative technolust” –

“a disorder affecting publicity-obsessed school administrators nationwide that manifests itself in an insatiable need to acquire the latest, fastest, most exotic computer gadgets, whether teachers and students need them or want them.”

Teachers being told that they cannot use more traditional technologies (i.e. overhead projectors, chalkboards…). Technical problems continually interrupting learning. The mourning of face2face socialization and increased depersonalization. I love this one quotation from a student who admits that his favorite teacher

“isn’t into all this computer stuff. All he uses is the board — the whole board. He’s lively, energetic, witty and really knows his math. He forces you to pay attention; you can’t drift off even if you want to.”

I love that. It brings a balance to the conversation about 21st century teaching – that good teaching must precede effective technology use.

Now, there are so many issues to address in all of this – technology before training, unsupported infrastructure, mandated teaching styles, mandated tools, lack of mentorship, technology for technology’s sake, technology as magic bullet, technology diversion, poor leadership, and more… I think this might be the first article that I have read that includes so many illustrations of poor technology implementation. It also brings some insights into the great conversations that happened over on Scott McLeod’s blog Dangerously Irrelevant and Pete Reilly’s blog, Ed Tech Journeys, about whether technology should be mandated or not. And, in all fairness, it is one highly publicized article that I am sure does not capture the situation in a totally unbiased and objective manner.

Anyway, read it for yourself. How did it make you feel? Let me know.

Ch. 6 – The Age of Show Business

February 2, 2008

(Continuing with my book blog club…)

Presidential Debates as Entertainment

In this chapter of Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman begins with the claim that “Television does not extend or amplify literate culture. It attacks it.” He also continues on with his thesis that technologies are merely machines and that a ‘medium’ is the social and intellectual environment a machine creates. If this is so, then the computer and Internet are the “machines” that create a new medium of social and intellectual discourse. Since Postman clearly argues how the television has detracted from intellectual discourse and literacy throughout the world, I want to contrast this with the powerful emergence of the social and intellectual environments created on-line.

Television appeals largely to emotional and visual gratification and entertainment. Television does not embrace conversation, dialog, or debate. The presidential ‘debates’ are not really debates at all. They are entertainment with a little substance thrown. These debates are more about looking good, giving off good impressions, being witty, controlled, speaking well, showmanship, … There is really little room in the televised format for true debate. Issues are brought up, candidates respond within the constraints of allotted time and set format, and then a new question or issue is presented. Issues are not exhausted, argued in depth, or resolved. The media seems more concerned with who beat whom with little in-depth analysis of their ideas or arguments…. because there really was no depth at all. Hillary’s tear received more press than did her ideas. Barack’s slight of Hillary at President Bush’s state of the union address was given more importance than were Bush’s ideas analyzed. During the address, the cameras had to continue with rapid cut-aways to celebrities and candidates, as their visual expressions were more interesting than what the President had to say. Perhaps the cameras could catch something that would be newsworthy for days… an untimely frown from Obama, Hillary dozing off or secretly smiling at Schwarzenegger flexing his muscles, or Kennedy and Obama playing rock, paper scissors…

As Postman writes, “Thinking does not play well on television, a fact that television directors discovered long ago. There is not much to see in it… It must suppress the content of ideas in order to accommodate the requirements of visual interest.”

Americans “do not exchange ideas; they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.”

Then there is Web 2.0…… This is a “medium” that is giving the television world a run for its money. As educators, if we can capitalize on students’ natural proclivity for working and thinking in this environment, we just may have a chance at turning them from knowing the world through the lens of television media to truly understanding the world through personal perspective, through intelligent thinking and meaningful discourse, through communication locally, nationally, and globally with others and getting first-person perspective that does not get filtered through any other lens.

If anything, Postman’s ideas here give credence to this new 2.0 medium that has emerged. I shudder to think about all of the money that has been spent on getting television into schools and the return that it has brought – the advertising that students have been subjected to and the passive entertainment that has been disguised as learning (I am not saying that television has no value in the classroom.) How can administrators NOT get on board with this new environment that begs for intelligent thought, active literacies, collaboration, conversation, connection, creation, reflection, analysis,… Of course, it takes teachers to get on board and orchestrate all of this at some level. But it also takes informed and visionary administrators and I.T. personnel to make it happen.

As an example of the level of analysis and intelligent thought that television will not ever show (since television cannot show thought), check out Wesley Fryer’s recent post over at the Moving at the Speed of Creativity blog about NCLB.

Ch. 5 – The Peek-a-Boo World

January 29, 2008

(Continuing on with by book club of 1…)

Today, I read a new post by Will Richardson on the topic of Twitter and it resounded so strongly with me (you can read my comments there) because I had just finished reading this fifth chapter of Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and found incredible parallels between the influence of the telegraph, photograph, and television to the newer forms of information technology in this last decade . Will is wrestling with the impact of Twitter on his world, and how folks are restricted to communicating in 140 characters or less and others following up to 600 or more tweeters out there. Wow – have we ever changed from information moving as fast as physical people could carry it to seconds after the “post” or “publish” command has been invoked. Postman introduces the idea that this has produced “context free” information which holds merit simply because it is novel, interesting, our curious, “elevating irrelevance to the status of news”. I don’t think I am alone in being annoyed with the state of news in the US these days. In the morning I get 5 minutes or less of shallow news bytes and then 55 more minutes of the best macaroni and cheese recipes, 5 tips to firmer thighs, and where in the world is Matt Lauer. There is now such an glut of irrelevant information out there that instead of finding productive ways of taking action locally in our own communities, we struggle to stay afloat in the endless sea of information that seems important, but so disconnected that in the end we can’t find ways to take action on any of it. The idea of neighborhood has been replaced with “global neighborhood” – one that Postman defines as “… a neighborhood of strangers and pointless quantity; a world of fragments and discontinuities.”

Although Postman’s thinking evolves into a criticism of the television world, I find meaningful connections to newer worlds as well. To quote Postman once again,

“Facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation… Knowing the facts took on a new meaning, for it did not imply that one understood implications, backgrounds, or connections. Telegraphic discourse permitted no time for historical perspectives and gave no priority to the qualitative. To the telegraph, intelligence meant knowing lots of things, not knowing about them.”

As a teacher, I am compelled to help my students make sense out of both the information at their fingertips as well as the impact that the information medium has on his or her understanding and view of the world. I am challenged in new ways to help my students use new information tools in powerful and meaningful ways that do not sacrifice depth and complexity for breadth and glitz. How are we making sense of our world with the presence of such tools and glut of information? Are we struggling just to RSS the headlines and keep up the Jonses… I mean the Twitters? Do we need to be up on every RSSd headline or blog post? Or, are we tackling meaningful projects that positively impact our own communities based on meaningful and powerful uses of information. Are we contributing at all, or have we become so consumed with feeding on information that we have forgotten about our real neighbors and communities? Do we now live so much in Facebook or MySpace that the idea of community service is almost crazy? I mean, I have followers… I have an obligation here to satisfy them and their desire to know what I am doing every moment of the day. (sorry… this is getting a tad sarcastic)

Wow… this is making me think about a great deal. I have no answers at this point as I struggle with all of this. But, I am struggling, reading, and reflecting…, and that is good. What do you think about all of this?