What Kids Do in Computer Labs…

Posted March 11, 2008 by Stephen Ransom
Categories: boredom, classroom, failure, integration, teaching

Tags: , , , ,

Well, it goes like this: My son, who is in third grade, gets home and is telling me about his day. I know, he won’t ZZZ.jpgbe doing this much longer. He tells me that he had computer lab today. He tells me they worked on keyboarding skills. He tells me they work on keyboarding skills every time they go to the computer lab. He tells me it gets boring doing it for 30 minutes. He tells me that even if you finish the lesson early, you have to go back and do it again. He tells me that every 5 weeks they get free choice. This is his experience with computers at school.

What does this tell you?

Rethinking The Cost of Accommodating Classroom Technology

Posted March 7, 2008 by Stephen Ransom
Categories: advertising, Change, commercialism, culture, Fear, gadgets, society

Tags: , , , , ,

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?”

10.5.2 Makes Me Happy

Posted March 1, 2008 by Stephen Ransom
Categories: OS X, Tech, Tools

Tags: , , ,

Finally – Apple released a major update a few weeks ago and I am just now learning about the changes that go easily missed if you don’t know the specifics of this update. So, I decided to share my favorite enhancements here for those of you who use Mac OS X Leopard.

1. You can finally get rid of the translucent menu bar in the Desktop/Screensaver preferences. I don’t know about you, but I did not like my desktop background showing through the menu bar.

menubar.jpg

2. You can control how Stacks behaves in the dock. Now you can make your stack behave hierarchically in a list like you used to be able to do before Leopard. Just right-click on the stack to make this change or any of the changes in 3 and 4 below.

stackoptions.jpg

3. You can also display the folder as a true folder instead of a stack. All this means is that the folder icon does not keep changing based upon what you put into that folder. I personally found this very annoying. Now my custom folder icons that help me distinguish one from another are back 🙂

4. Further in stacks, you can sort your hierarchical list display in the traditional manner of kind, name, date added, date modified.

If you want to get more information on this update (many issues were addressed here), visit Apple’s 10.5.2 update page or watch the Macworld video.

What Is Our District Offering?

Posted February 26, 2008 by Stephen Ransom
Categories: collaboration, communication, connections, networks, professional development, Social Networking, teacher education

Tags: , ,

Well, the latest discussion happening over on Will Richardson’s blog in conjunction with my prior blog post got me to thinking. What does our local school district offer in terms of professional development for my kids’ teachers? Are they learning about new spheres of practice, learning, communication, participation… Here is the list of what is being offered between February and June.

– IEP Open Lab

– SMART Boards for Beginners (X3)

– Social Emotional Learning Building Team Training

– Best Children’s Literature in the Classroom

– Adult CPR

– First Aid for Coaches

– Music: the Orff Express

– Web Portal Pages

– ESOL Inservice

– Para Support Group

– Implementing the District Lesson Plan Format (That sounds invigorating!)

– IEP Open Lab

– Excel Basics

– Mandarin Training Report Tool

– Building a Caring School Climate through Service Learning

– the Art of VideoStreaming

– Motivating hart to Reach, Uninterested, and Disruptive Students

– Building Circles of Support for Autistic students

– What Talented Readers Need

– Introduction to Computer Animation Basics (Art teachers only)

help.jpgAll of these topics have merit, of course. They are all important. But most are discipline specific and don’t have a wider audience appeal or relevancy. There are few general sessions that could benefit any and all teachers. But what I want to stress is that there are NO sessions dealing with Web 2.0 or any of its related technologies and certainly nothing on empowering teachers to connect, learn, contribute, participate… in larger communities of practice. So, do teachers know they can participate in such new forms of learning networks? Well, they are not learning about the possibilities in our district. So, I think Will Richardson’s estimate…

“But I would still venture to guess that 75% (maybe more) of educators in this country still don’t know that they can have this network.”

…is probably on target.

For those many teachers who can’t seem to make these after-school PD sessions for some very valid reasons (children, other jobs, other commitments or responsibilities, nothing relevant offered, no follow-up support,…), new on-line learning/networking opportunities would seem to make a great deal of sense. Do we just need to sit back and be patient in this regard? Will it come in good time… or too late?

Don’t Fall Off Your Chair!

Posted February 25, 2008 by Stephen Ransom
Categories: classroom, Learning, news, pedagogy

Tags: , , ,

chair.jpgOkay, this is just plain fun.An ex-teacher in the UK has invented an “untippable” chair for classroom use. The problem used to drive him crazy, as many teachers can identify with, I’m sure. The article reports that there are upwards of 7,000 pupils a year hospitalized in the UK as a result of chair-related accidents – of which 70% are related to rocking backwards in the chair.The “Max” chair cannot be rocked more than 5 cm off the ground. Here is a practical application of technology if I ever saw one. What a great physics/math lesson it would make, too!What is most interesting is reading all of the posted comments in response to the article. We have pro-rockers, anti-rockers, pro-safety, anti-coddlers, pro-fitness balls, anti-sedentary learning, pro-restrainters, pro-danger, pro-engaging teaching, “it never happened to me and I did it all through school!”, “rocking helps develop balance and muscle strength”, and the best of all, “Let the kids rock”.Who would have thought that opinions on this matter were so diverse and so passionate. And that’s my point. If we give folks the opportunity to express themselves in relevant ways, they will. As teachers, if we can combine relevancy with meaning-making (which is missing in this example, of course!), we have the workings of powerful learning. Ask yourself how relevant your lessons are to the lives and passions of your students. You might be surprised. Just don’t fall off your chair 🙂

Kitchen Conferences

Posted February 25, 2008 by Stephen Ransom
Categories: collaboration, communication, community, connections, networks, time

Tags: , , , ,

So, I wanted to attend a few sessions held this weekend at Learning 2.0: A Colorado Conversation. Problem: I am at home with my two kids, activities, lunches, dishes… you know – the stuff that real life is made up of. Solution: UStream in the kitchen! I set up my laptop on the kitchen counter where I could view and participate in the sessions, and presto! The only problem was dirty or wet hands. They are not the keyboard’s best friend. And, even if I could not attend live, sessions and backchannel chats are archived.

But, I think that this type of professional development is so valuable in our busy lives. Many teachers can’t seem to find the time for professional development. Both asynchronous and in this case, synchronous (UStream, TalkShoe, Elluminate…), opportunities have really grown over the last few years. They have helped me out tremendously. However, so far, they have not really taken off in the more “scholarly” educational conference venus like SITE, AERA, NCTE, NCTM, CUE and the like. Granted, some do have a few webcast sessions, but little to no opportunity to “participate”. Of course, things like membership and dues play more of a role here, but how long are we these “fences” to professional development going to stay up in this web 2.0, connected, collaborative world? How much do such fences contribute to NOT attending?

alone.jpgFinally, those not involved in these current conversations are probably not even aware of these types of opportunities. After all, I only found out about them from reading a few select blog posts and from a few tweets that came in on folks that I follow. What about those folks who don’t have developing borderless 2.0 networks? All the more reason to hop on board, I’d say. Teachers NEED to know about these opportunities with such limitations on time, finances, and schedule.

And, just as I am writing this, Will Richardson tweeted a new post that fits like a glove here! My point exactly. No RSS? No Twitter? No Network? Then, you are most likely not to be in the “know”. Will writes:

“But I would still venture to guess that 75% (maybe more) of educators in this country still don’t know that they can have a network….The passionate learning network of which I am a part is an amazing and important part of my life. The fact that most teachers still have no idea that is possible is distressing on one hand, motivating on the other.”

I couldn’t agree more. Teachers need time to talk, share, network,… and that time is often not going to be during the school day when their students are there. But, sadly, I think, as Will writes, that most are not really aware other options. My graduate students are not aware of such options and are so excited to be learning about them in class… one class in their entire degree program. Hopefully I can get some of them to explore these “kitchen conferences” and realize that their professional world and lifeline is not contained in the walls of their school or classroom. 🙂

Twitter for Us Old Folks?

Posted February 21, 2008 by Stephen Ransom
Categories: communication, community, culture, Social Networking, Tools, twitter

Tags: , , , , ,

Stumbled across an article in the NY Times titled, “If You Can’t Let Go, Twitter“. It it, the writer describes her attempt to connect with her 3 daughters (digital natives, right) via Twitter. Let’s just say, it didn’t work. After trying a number of tactics, including giving away money, she consults with a Walter J. Carl, an assistant professor of communications studies at Northeastern University, who said he wasn’t surprised. He is quoted as explaining the problem in the following way:

“You want to use these tools to keep up on others, in a good way, of course, and to let them keep up on you,” said Professor Carl, whose research focuses on social media. “But their perception is it’s surveillance.” One of the main reasons people embrace social media — Facebook, for instance — is to create identities for themselves and control other people’s perceptions of them.”

And then…

“Maybe Twitter isn’t the right tool for that job,” he said. “The people who I see using it are an older demographic, people in marketing or P.R. or advertising, who use it for work, to present themselves as particular types of people. They’ll twitter, ‘I’m traveling,’ or ‘I’m going to interesting restaurants.’ They’re using it to do identity work.”

Isn’t it interesting how this new communication tool that so many adults are using is not considered all that useful with kids… that they are more concerned with “creating identities for themselves and control other people’s perceptions of them”, as happens on Facebook and MySpace. But here’s my question: kids to love to IM and text. They thrive on social networking. One would think, in combination with social networking services, that a tool like Twitter would be “phat“. Huh!

In this new age of information glut/data smog, the importance of being information literate has grown exponentially. How do we reconcile this generation’s desire to “control other people’s perception of them”? Seem’s natural, for sure. But is the digital realm blurring the line between fact and fiction in a way that we must better address in education? Are students more accepting of blurred realities? And, if so, how does this impact one’s ability to value the truth and seek it out?