Archive for the ‘society’ 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?”

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?

Ch. 7 – “Now….. This”

February 16, 2008

Continuing on with my reading – and thinking/blogging – about Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, chapter 7 continues to lay out the argument that the rapid-moving format of our television culture is duping us all into being satisfied with shallow, fragmented, and decontextualized ways of “being informed”. Postman attacks American news in particular in this chapter – news as pure entertainment, delivered in tantalizing disconnected chunks, interspersed with commercials, music, and other eye candy. I agree wholeheartedly. That is television. However, he does make a few points that really made me stop and think hard about our digital “natives” and their proclivity toward multitasking, remixing, ubiquitous socialization tools, mashups, and other schizophrenic-like behaviors.

The result, Postman writes, is that “Americans are the best entertained and quite likely the least well-informed people in the Western world.” He goes on to write:

“What is happening here is that television is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation… misleading, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information – information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing.”

and…

“In presenting news to us packaged as vaudeville, television induces other media to do the same, so that the total information environment begins to mirror television.”

So, this all got me to thinking about our “digital natives” and us, those adults who have embraced new ways of expression and communication. I think that in this new world of data smog, info glut, and info garbage, it has become even more critical than ever to help our students learn deeply, to see information transformed into knowledge that is deeply connected, grounded, and complete. I am not so sure that the emphasis on multi-tasking, mashups, remixes, and the like qualifies here. Expressive, it is. But, are we becoming satisfied with shallow learning wrapped up in impressive packaging? Our national obsession over testing has certainly railroaded any movement toward depth over breadth. However, I think more than ever before, we must help our students become well-informed, be highly skilled at navigating through the data smog, and produce learning artifacts that demonstrate a deep understanding and mastery of knowledge. We have more tools than ever to gain a broader cultural understanding of ourselves and of the world – past and present. Lets not let these tools trivialize it. Lets help students focus on a task and exhaust it. Lets not, as Postman writes, “let the information environment mirror television.” Is a college-level course taught on YouTube or a course taught over the cell phone head in this direction? Yeah… the digital natives love this stuff. And as a tech geek, I think it is all quite amazing. Does something of value get lost along the way? Are we heading in the direction of learning as a mirror of television?

What do you think?

Need Information Anonymous?

February 12, 2008

squirrel2.jpgDo you ever feel like you just have to keep up with all of the information out there… and are drowning? I feel like that today after spending about 2 hours on things that were not a priority yet were calling to me.
The first step to admitting information addiction is to admit that you have a problem. Here are the first 2 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps a la 2.0!

1. We admitted we were powerless over the amount of information—that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

So, what is that power? How does one tame the beast in us that feels like we must be connected to a hundred zillion other folks using every possible tool out there – that we can’t miss one blog post, article, tweet, wiki update, ning contact, e-mail, IM, Skype call, UStream broadcast, slideshow, video…. for fear of being “left behind”… Alone. Uninformed. Ignorant. Does your RSS reader make you feel ashamed for not giving it the attention it deserves? Can you not look it in the eye and say “I love you.”?

Where is the time for deep reflection, peace, quiet,… Has your insatiable “need” for connectivity and information robbed you of something quite valuable? Are you unable or unwilling to unplug when necessary? Or, if you do unplug, do you feel the beast gnawing at you?

Do you dare silence the twittering birds? Or, is the tradeoff worth it. Has the world changed in such a way that we are required now to live this way?

Please share either your “Power” or your need to find that “Power”. Perhaps we can help each other here.

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

Ch. 3 – Typographic America

January 17, 2008

(Continuing with my book club…)

In this chapter, Postman recounts some of the major changes that occurred in America with the introduction of the printing press… Yes, books. But also a ravenous hunger for newspapers. He describes the general public as being quite literate and hungry for the written word, as there were no other informative media available other than the public orator who would come and speak in public forums. They were very well attended.

In the 1770s, even the poorest of common folk could read. Reading was not considered an “elitist” activity at all. This really made me think of how things are today, where literacy rates often decline in relation to socio-economic status. Is this in part because of the competing new media (movies, video games, television…) that discourages traditional literacies ? I think this may be a direction that Postman heads in future chapters.

I found incredible parallels between the emergence of newspapers in the late 17th/early 18th centuries and blogs in the 21st century. Postman describes how in the late 17th century how newspapers became so important in Boston to “combat the spirit of lying” that was going on in politics. However, the second edition of the Publick Occurrences never happened, as it was suppressed by the Governor for being too truthful (truth hurts!). Thank goodness for our freedoms of speech. By 1730 there were seven successfully published newspapers in the 4 colonies. By 1800, 180 papers were published.

Newspapers were referred to as the “spring of knowledge. The general source throughout the nation, of every modern conversation.” Per capita at end of 18th century, there were more newspapers in the US than there were in England due to America’s newfound freedoms.

Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “Parties do not write books to combat each other’s opinions, but pamphlets (and newspapers), which are circulated for a day within incredible rapidity and then expire.” He goes on to write that just as the firearm equalized nobility with the “vassal”, so did printing and the post (just like blog posts). Can you imagine if the common man of the 17th/18th century had access to some medium to easily publish his/her thoughts to the culture of the times? Information has truly revolutionized our society. There are now somewhere between 50 and 150 million blogs out there.

Today, anyone with Internet access (or a cell phone) can blog. Bloggers have changed reporting and the speed at which information reaches the masses. Blogging empowers the ‘common man’ who does not have access to publish in conventional information outlets (news, published books/articles, magazines,…). It has helped, just like the firearm and newspaper, as de Tocqueville put it, to “equalize nobility with the vassal” (YouTube debates?). Along the same lines, it can empower students and give them a voice like never before. Of course, with such power needs to come responsibility – and that also must be taught in parallel. Cyberbullying, for example, is related to this newfound power of youth minus the responsibility.

I don’t think that Postman was thinking about such parallels when writing this chapter since his book was written in 1985, long before blogging, podcasting and the like truly took off. I wonder what he thinks about such forms of communication that empower the individual like never before. I don’t think this type of activity would fall in his thesis of “amusing ourselves to death”. Of course, these new information tools can be used for trivial purposes, no doubt. Our challenge is to educate our students and colleagues on the empowerment that comes from having a powerful voice without boundaries. If we have important things to say, they are not merely relegated to the bulletin board, hallway display, or faculty room/water cooler chatter. I think a major hurdle is to shift from the thinking that we either have no voice or our voice does not matter to participating in global conversations about what we are passionate about. If we have nothing to say or are not passionate about anything, that says something, doesn’t it?

Anyway, it’s amazing what this one chapter sparked in my mind. I look forward to more such tangents.