Archive for the ‘commercialism’ category

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?”

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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.

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?

Ch. 4 – The Typographic Mind

January 20, 2008

(Continuing with book club idea…)

In this chapter Postman deepens his argument by describing the impact of print information on 17th and 18th century minds. He describes the disciplined minds of the time as being able to sit and attend to 4-7 hour lectures – with relish. In addition, the people of the time were also able to both speak in and comprehend complex sentence structures. Postman contrasts this with what he calls, “people of television culture” who need “plain language” and who would struggle greatly to comprehend the complex text and oratories of the 18th century. I think in our time of information glut that we are in more need than ever for people who can do what Walter Ong called the “analytic management of knowledge.” Postman describes this well with the following words:

“To engage the written word means to follow a line of thought, which requires considerable powers of classifying, inference-making and reasoning. It means to uncover lies, confusions and overgeneralizations, to detect abuses of logic and common sense. It also means to weight ideas, to compare and contrast assertions, to connect one generalization to another.”

I would have to agree that as technological progress has advanced, the ability of our students (who become the mature citizenry) to process complex information both in print and aurally has declined a great deal. Postman contrasts those individuals from the pulpit, from the courtroom, and from politics with the same today and comments that those today could not hold a candle to the typographic and oratorial skills of a few centuries ago.

Postman also observes that “the printed word had a monopoly on both attention and intellect, there being no other means, besides the oral tradition, to have access to public knowledge.” He begins to build his case that a major shift in thinking power has happened as we have moved from a word-centered culture to an image-centered one and a century he describes as the “Age of Show Business”.

Personally, this argument resounds true with me, as I see experience the numbing power of today’s media blitz on a daily basis. Even in schools we struggle to achieve such a basic level of performance and ability in all our students. We have become obsessed with assessment and accountability because of such low levels. We have all looked at the statistics regarding the way our youth spend their time “hooked up” to all varieties of media. Yet, I think we can all agree that most of that time spent is shallow and trivial. Why are we all so enamored by their proclivity to be social and remix content in the virtual sense? Even at the college level where I teach I experience the inability of students to think deeply, speak cogently, write powerfully, and read complex text. I have recognized that in myself at times and that is why I pick up books like this one to read. It is good mental discipline that is all too easily lost. I think such challenges as found in this book need to spur us all on to make sure that new technologies and forms of communication and discourse are used in powerful rather than trivial ways. Sometimes I think we are all too excited to see that students are blogging, creating wikis, developing digital stories, producing podcasts, developing semantic maps or webs – without examining the substance of their narratives, analyses, criticisms, and arguments. I also feel that we have become distracted by trying to get teachers to USE technology instead of teach powerfully with the help of new technologies. The “we have to start somewhere” argument really does not work. We need to start with powerful teaching and then harness all powerful tools at our disposal. I think if more teachers would spend time reading books like this new one called The Strategic Teacher we would see a much higher quality of teaching and student learning than what results from much of the focus being put on technology. That being said, I am one of the biggest techno-geeks out there and strong proponent of new technologies for teaching and learning. I guess I am being convicted as I read this book as well 🙂 I fear, as Postman does, that we are letting technology dictate what is most important more than we might like to admit at times.

Enough said… Until next time

Trying a New Thing…

January 16, 2008

I have been blogging for some time now and have enjoyed every minute of it – both sharing my own thoughts and participating in the thought conversations of others. For some time now I have been playing around with the idea of holding some type of book club within a blog. So, I am going to give it a try. A book club of one (and anyone else who is interested following and perhaps participating in my ramblings). I have been struggling to get started with Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public discourse in the age of show business. (1985. Viking Penguin Inc.)amusingo.gif Yeah, I know what you are thinking – what a dreary choice to begin. However, one must blog for oneself and I have always tried to bridle my natural enthusiasm for technology with the other side of the discussion. Neil Postman has written a number of excellent, thought provoking books. They are hard reads. He writes way beyond my level of thinking, which is why I like to read his work. Reading Postman is hard work, but an important discipline and skill that must be practiced if one is to participate in this level of thinking and discourse. I have found that my involvement in blogging has in some respects taken away from the time that I normally spend reading material at this level. So, I figure this is a way to do both. I will read his book and process his message within successive blog posts. I think that this is good on a number of fronts – especially since when one processes in written form what one is reading, it actually helps process and truly comprehend the information at a deeper level.

So, I am committing to this bumpy ride. Tag along if you like. Even better – help me find clarity and educational relevance in Postman’s almost prophetic ideas. Camille Paglia writes in review of this book:

“As a fervent evangelist of the age of Hollywood, I publicly opposed Neil Postman’s dark picture of our media-saturated future. But time has proven Postman right. He accurately foresaw that the young would inherit a frantically all-consuming media culture of glitz, gossip, and greed.”

Stay tuned…

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.

The Digital Gym

October 12, 2007

Wow… even physical education programs are seeking ways to integrate technologies in the battle against increasing obesity in children. Heart monitors and analysis software were at one point cutting edge. Now, we have the emergence of video games… in the gym!! How so? A recent article by the Orlando Sentinel describes how students are decreasingly motivated by traditional games and

exergaming.jpgexercises, but the convergence of video gaming and dance has developed, resulting in a new movement called “Exergaming” – students dancing to the music and the video on the screen, trying to follow the correct foot motions on a sensor foot pad. There are a variety of levels to complete, with increasing difficulty. If it is helping a inactive generation get active, then I guess it is a good thing. But, what if we think a little more deeply. Is there just no way to help today’s youth appreciate the simple things in life… to find satisfaction in personal achievement… to set a non-digital goal and strive for it? Is this type of initiative simply feeding a digital-only generation? Will this type of initiative get kids “hooked on an active lifestyle” as the article quotes, or will it further entice kids to a digital lifestyle? Will the next generation no longer play soccer on the field and opt for a virtual soccer game instead? Will they no longer explore the beauty of nature in person but rather through a 3-D headset and a host of other sensors? What is it with a good (not highly competitive) team sports game that kids are not interested? Is that worth investigating?

I am no luddite. Rather, I am a huge tech geek at heart. But at what point to we stop embracing a digital lifestyle in efforts to bring balance to life? Change will happen regardless of what we think – and change can be very good, of course. But are we guilty at times of helping to accellerate change at an unhealthy rate and in unhealthy directions in the name of a highly digital economy and society? Of course, I am sure no P.E. program is advocating a 100% digital curriculum…I hope. But if they could, would they? Should they? Am I just way off in left field here? Are we really still in the “dark ages”, as Steve Sanders, director of the University of South Florida’s school of physical education and exercise science, is quoted as saying here? Should we be in even more of a hurry to digitize life and leave traditional ways of existing, knowing, understanding, finding beauty and satisfaction, … behind? Am I just having a bout of nostalgia here today?