Archive for the ‘conflict’ category

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.

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Enough With the Silly Pencil Argument!

February 5, 2008

pencil.jpgOkay, I understand the basic premise of the pencil argument (and here). But, come on now… this is far from an equal analogy! Here is what Doug Johnson had to say about the potential risks that pencils bring into the classroom in the February 2006 issue of Learning & Leading with Technology. It was referenced in Wesley Freyer’s latest post over on his Moving at the Speed of Creativity blog.:

1. A student might use a pencil to poke out the eye of another student.
2. A student might write a dirty word or, worse yet, a threatening note to another student, with a pencil.
3. One student might have a mechanical pencil, making those with wooden ones feel bad.
4. The pencil might get stolen.
5. Pencils break and need repairing all the time.
6. Kids who have pencils might doodle instead of working on their assignments or listening to the teacher.

Now, again, I understand the rationale behind this argument, but let’s compare:

1. Only psychopathic students would gouge out another’s eye… with anything. However, teachers have been known to be violent pencil wielders. Imagine what they could be capable of with an iPod in their hands!

2. A written insult or profanity is seen only by the one who holds the written note. We all fully understand the far-reaching implications of digital bullying!

3. One simply cannot compare pencil-envy with things of high value that create classes of students and do create envy (high-fashion clothing, shoes, and yes… electronics!)

4. In fact, pencils do get stolen all the time. I have rarely seen a student fall to pieces over it. However, if it were a $250 pencil, I could see why that could happen.

5. Pencils break. So you sharpen them again. The “repair” is done in seconds. Electronics break and are repaired with greater cost, time, and learning interruption/disruption.

6. I would much rather have a student doodle with his or her pencil than be consumed with the vast array of on-line distraction. And, most other classmates don’t usually get distracted by one student’s doodling. Not so with a laptop or other electronic device.

So, if we are to present a compelling rationale for issues surrounding freedom to learn and teaching/learning innovation, we at least need to bring valid and sound arguments to the table. To do otherwise only serves to make light of real and pressing concerns of many stakeholders. If a pencil is the equivalent of any other learning device, then I say, let’s stick with the pencils. They are cheaper, easily replaceable, quite reliable, disposable, efficient, highly portable, facilitate collaboration and sharing of information, they have excellent battery life – heck, they don’t even have lead in them anymore, making them environmentally friendly to boot!

But, if there is a significant difference here (and I would agree that there is), then we had better not be making such silly comparisons. Folks might just want to settle for the pencil, then.

Note:
Freyer’s blog post is otherwise right on the mark.

Don’t Blog – Pick up the Phone!

November 17, 2007

telephone.jpgI think that blogging has the potential of falling into the same sticky territory as email does with misinterpretation. Often, when one is passionate (frustrated, angry, disappointed, excited…) about a topic, it is advisable to pick up the telephone and talk to the person rather than email them. As we all know, tone is often not readily apparent and subject to interpretation. Body language is non-existant. And, the opportunity to question/clarify one’s position is seriously delayed.

What made me think about this was all of the hot discussion going on surrounding the Vision of Students video by Mike Wesch. Gary Stager offered his take, others rebutted or supported it, and, as the discussion continues (which is great), Mike Wesch finally has the opportunity to respond and clarify things. It just seems to me that the medium of blogging has stirred up a whole lot of dust for nothing here. Had Mike and Gary just picked up the phone and had a good old synchronous discussion, things may have not transpired as they did. And, I don’t really see any new ideas come out of the discussion, as was part of Gary’s criticism of the video, too.

I think sometimes in the medium of blogging, we are trying too hard to defend or justify our positions simply because of the limitations of the medium. And, at times it feels (to me) like the professional bloggers are circling like vultures, ready to show their stuff.

Anyway, I am just venting a little here. Disclaimer: I am NOT against blogging nor stimulating discussions that blog entries may generate. [I put this in here in case you blogging vultures are hungry :-)] I do love the following statement from Mike’s clarification:

“But while teaching has not changed, learning has. Students are learning to read, navigate, and create within a digital information environment that we scarcely address in the classroom. The great myth is that these “digital natives” know more about this new information environment than we do. But here’s the reality: they may be experts in entertaining themselves online, but they know almost nothing about educating themselves online.”

He goes on to write that they may be digitally saavy, but are still naiive learners and that learning has become perhaps more complex in this highly interactive and connected digital age. I would agree. As Mike writes, our challenge has always been to make learning relevant, to inspire our students, to help them question and wrestle with information, to evaluate, to produce, to become active contributors rather than passive, half-present and highly distracted bodies filling seats. I don’t think the good ‘ol stand-and-deliver lecture can achieve this as well any more… even with PowerPoint! Disclaimer: I am not saying that lectures are worthless or are never the best choice of pedagogy. Our world is highly connected and wired (or wireless). Students are looking for a new degree of relevancy and purpose – new opportunities to express, create, produce, contribute… Let us just not put these desires ahead of being learners who seek truth, who think critically and hard, who evaluate at high levels, who produce more than just eye candy, and who make meaning that is not so relativistic or shallow that it is silly.

All this discussion is good, I know. But in the end, I blog for myself. It others are stimulated by my thoughs, I guess that is a great by-product. If others think that I am silly or wrong, that’s fine, too. I wouldn’t expect otherwise. But the minute that I begin blogging to impress the blogosphere, I’m done. And, I should still use the telephone where appropriate. Disclaimer: Don’t take all of this too seriously.

Integrate or Integral

November 1, 2007

keyboard_book.jpgI recenlty read a great post by David on his blog and it struck me that in our efforts to help teachers see and discover the great learning potential in new technologies that we sometimes get frustrated with them for not seeing things our way… that integration is not good enough… that technology use must be integral to everything they teach. I totally agree with him that it should not be seen as an add-on and that really we should be learning specialists who understand the potential of technology rather than technology specialists who are helping teachers teach with it. However, sometimes I think we have been guilty of not understanding where teachers are in their pedagogical beliefs and have not brought those beliefs into the equation. What teachers believe about teaching and learning directly impacts how they will leverage new technologies. For example, does technology help facilitate collaboration or problem-solving? Does technology supply tools that help amplify thinking, spark creativity, or visualize ideas? Does technology empower students and facilitate self-directed learning or the pursuit of unique interests?

Or, in along more traditional lines: Does technology help me generate worksheets, create puzzles, assess quantitatively, present information, create displays, find resources for my lessons, communicate with parents…

We have to understand the pedagogical framework that teachers are working from rather than impose our ideas of how technology use should look if it is integral to learning. What kind of learning? I think that the real issue here that drives technology’s integral role is how we view learning. Because let’s face it – for some, technology is just a pain in the neck and they use it as if they were putting a square peg in a round hole. They use it to please their superiors. Or, they try their best to steer clear of it altogether. So, I think the work that still needs to be done is to help bring vision back to teachers who have lost it, to help teachers no longer excited about learning new things find that spark, to rekindle their desire to connect with students, to help teachers take risks and to make failure safe, to reward collaboration and innovativeness, to foster a community of practice… I think THIS is where technology becomes integral. Any less, and technology, at best, is integrated. At worst, tolerated.

speaker_20.gifListen to this entry as an mp3 file.

Leave the Laptop at Home?

October 5, 2007

Taking NotesHere is yet more news report of frustrated professors having a difficult time figuring out what to do when technology enters the classroom. Often, the ‘solution’ is to ban them from the classroom, as some professors at this particular university are doing. Other institutions have done the same thing. I struggle with this as well, as I teach college students, often in a computer lab full of computers. We talk about the arrangement and type of computers condusive to a collaborative community in the classrom. I like to be able to see everyone’s computer screen rather than have rows of monitors that serve as walls between me and the students. It just makes things easier for me. It also makes things easier for the students, who are able to share with their peers more easily and are able to group in flexible ways in the classroom. Laptops make this even easier to achieve. However, when desks are in rows and students are all facing the lecturer who is lecturing… and laptop screens are up, fingers are busy, and no eye contact is being made with the lecturer, I do think problems begin to emerge. Let’s be real here… there are so many distractions sitting on one’s desk with a laptop… IMing, emailing, shopping, browsing, games,…. If I was a bored student sitting in a boring lecture, then why not?

Eureka!

The proportion of distracted students drops off significantly when there is a challenging and engaging dialog going on as part of the lecture… when students are more than just scribes. The few that choose to tune out for whatever reason should experience fairly immediate natural reprecussions – bad grades. But, this is not a fair analysis when one is a lecturer in a hall of 100-200 students. Then what? Is it time to rethink this particular model of instruction? What drives it anyway? Is it economics and the dollar, or is it sound pedagogy? Why is it that somehow we can leave sound padagogy behind in higher education because ‘it has always been done that way’ or “I did just fine in my class of 150 students.” or “It separates those who can and those who can’t.”, or “It teaches discipline and memorization of your content.”, or is it some combination of all of the above? I have been thinking about this for some time now. Do we just accept that some institutions of higher education are businesses… Learning factories? Will students begin looking for other alternatives in the near future? And, if class size is not the issue here and laptops are not welcome in smaller classes, then what is the issue – really? If a lecturer wants a quality class discussion, free of clackity-clack on the keyboard, why not just say, “Close your lids.” Any thoughts?

The Blame Game!

September 28, 2007

Blame

I can totally identify with Chris Lehman’s post last week on his blog, Practical Theory. At times I have been guilty of putting too much blame on individual teachers for failing to innovate their teaching pedagogies and adopt current cultural technology tools. (Check out http://despair.com for more great satirical posters like the one presented here!) I still feel that part of ‘being a teacher’ is being a learner and continually looking for ways to keep fresh and identify with his/her audience in powerful ways. There is certainly no excuse for avoiding personal and professional growth. However, Chris brings a great balanced perspective to this dilemma, as there are powerful systems in play that more than not discourage innovation and ‘outside-of-the-box’ thinking. In many cases, technology aside, we have been struggling to achieve basic reforms of pedagogy that have been laid down by the ‘greats’… Dewey, Vygostky, Bruner, Gardner to name a few. If is very hard to ‘buck the system’ in K-12 education. Teachers are overwhelmed with everything on their plates and have little time to think outside of the box. For those critics who always say that teachers are overpaid, work only 8 hr. days for only 180-200 days a year, have great benefits,.. well, live just a day in their shoes. Sure, there are some teachers out there who shouldn’t be in the classroom any more as they have lost their ‘fire’ for learning and teaching. But their are folks like that in every discipline and profession. Most teachers that I have known and worked with have been the most dedicated folks I have ever known.

I am not making excuses for failure to innovate, as many teachers continue to do just that in spite of the systems that they work under, or as a result of fantastic building principals and district administrators who have vision, are not afraid to take risks, who support teachers and create learning climates that encourage innovation,…

So, hats off to all of the terrific teachers out there who buck the system every day, who turn their classroom lights on every morning to try again, who seek to grow at every opportunity, who de-escalate volatile situations, humanize and bring dignity to every child who crosses their path (Hiam Ginot) – hats off to you! Start a blog to share your experiences with the world 🙂 Upload some photos to VoiceThread and continue the conversation, create motivating and inspiring montages with RockYou or MixerCast. Start a wiki with a colleague on some area of common professional interest. Find a classroom outside of your state, country, or continent to collaborate with using Epals. These are some fairly easy things to do to begin connecting with your students and colleagues in new ways.

See also: http://thefischbowl.blogspot.com/2007/09/is-it-okay-to-be-technologically.html

New Twist on Social Tagging?

August 31, 2007

Okay, I know just about anything can get out of hand. But do we have to ban it carte blanche when it does? Here is a story of a few schools banning the time-tested game of tag on the school playground tag.gifbecause of misunderstandings during the game and some children getting chased when they did not want to play. Parents complained. Tag is banned. Having supervised children on playgrounds for many years, I have come to know that molehills can be made into mountains by children and just about anything can be made hazardous or annoying. Hence, supervision. If children get too physical while playing soccer, do we ban soccer? If pushing ensues during a hopscotch game, do we ban that too? If a student misuses internet privileges, do we ban internet use for all? Somehow, we have to address the roots of undesirable, hurtful, or destructive behavior, no?