Tag Archives: technology

Living in the Grey Area

There’s been a theme to my reading this week: technology is neither all good nor all bad.  In the midst of all the amazing discoveries with their potential to increase human knowledge, understanding and community, there are negative consequences that we must take into consideration.

It began with an article in Forbes about Technologies That Hurt Us.  The article draws on the work of David Friedman whose book Future Imperfect: Technology And Freedom In An Uncertain World discusses the potential dangers of a variety of technologies including biotechnology, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence.  The ultimate danger, according to Friedman, is human extinction.  Quite an unintended consequence, isn’t it?  The article also focused on more mundane negative physical consequences of technology such as the kid who spends the summer playing video games and then heads to the first day of football practice only to get hurt.  Or, the Wii tennis players who don’t get the breaks found in the “real” game so end up getting a much more difficult workout.  The recommendation from orthopedic surgeons is simple: warm up before you fire up the Wii and, if more sedentary video games are your style, be sure to move around now and then.  As for Friedman and his dire warnings, he says that the answer is not to stop technology:

The benefits of owning a smarter computer than the next guy, for example, are just too great. “This train doesn’t have brakes, and from my perspective at least, the main thing to do is not to say, ‘Should we encourage it, or should we stop it?’ ” Friedman says. Instead Friedman suggests two questions: “Where can we guess this technology will lead, and if we get there, what should we do?”

I was reminded of this article when I read Wes Fryer’s post about the end of his game of Travian.  He described an alliance member who spent so much time playing the game that it took a negative toll on his health.  In the end, he didn’t win but he did get a mention in the letter.  I guess only he can decide if it was worth it.

Then, there’s the whole question of whether the Internet is making us dumb.  Nicholas Carr’s lengthy article in The Atlantic described his concerns about how the Internet was changing his reading habits.  It’s something that Will Richardson has also discussed in response to Carr’s article.  Carr recognizes the grey areas in his argument as he describes the skeptics who accompanied every major technological development: Socrates worried about the effect of writing on memory and humanists worried that the printing press would lead to laziness and revolution.  Yet, these technologies have had amazingly positive influences on human knowledge and learning.  In the end, though, Carr comes down on the side of deep reading.  He writes, “As we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.”  Yet, in a recent New York Times article, Damon Darlin defends the use of Google as a technology that actually frees our mind.  He writes, “Over the course of human history, writing, printing, computing and Googling have only made it easier to think and communicate.” He comes down on the side of the optimists who believe in human improvement.

I am reminded once again that we are living in a grey area, trying to find a balance between the positive and negative effects of the technology that surrounds us.  And, as educators, we need to have these conversations with out students.

Since this post is probably already too long for most of you, I’ll write about my own reading experiences later but here’s a teaser: my own reading still involves books, although they are mostly fiction, and I find that I can still do lengthy reading as long as I can have a pencil, either analog or digital, in my hand.

Using Twitter in Education

From today’s ASCD SmartBrief, a link to an interesting piece on using Twitter in education by Ron Jones in Search Engine Watch.  It provides several examples of how Twitter was used to support teaching and learning, from fostering classroom discussion to writing collaborative books.   He links to several good blog entries and articles, including Educause’s 7 Things You Should Know About Twitter and a list of possible uses of Twitter in academia by David Parry that could easily be adapted to K-12.  If you’re considering the potential for Twitter in education, this is a good starting point.

I do get a little queasy when I hear someone say they gave a “Twitter” assignment since it takes a techno-centric approach, something with which I struggle myself.  The point isn’t to start with technology but to think about our instructional strategies and learning goals and then determining a tool that might help support them.  However, the techy part of me wonders that if we don’t occassionally start with the tool, we may never have an opportunity to explore its use.  And, for someone whose job is to help student teachers figure out how to use the tools in the classroom, I am constantly trying to balance concerns with technology, pedagogy and content.  Part of having my pre-service teachers becoming part of VSTE’s ning community is to give them a place to discuss these issues with practicing educators.

I have not included Twitter as part of my course and probably won’t any time soon.  But I’m interested in what others discover as they do incorporate this tool to support teaching and learning in their classrooms.

A Pragmatist In a Progressive World

This year, I have the opportunity to be part of an online professional learning community.  While I will be taking on the role of facilitator, I believe this will be as much a learning experience for me as well as for the other participants.  And, the opportunity has already gotten me thinking about where I fit into the sometimes confusing but always intriguing world of “educational technology.”

Here’s what I know:

Educational technology is about much more than just technology.  In a way, technology is the easy part.  It’s easy for me to show you how to use a flip camera to capture video or a digital microscope to find Abraham Lincoln on a penny.  It’s easy for me to post a link to a wonderful interactive website.  And while all these things may be cool, most teachers want more than just cool.  They want to know that the time and energy it is going to take them to set up microscopes or plug in projectors or to have them or their students create videos will have some positive influence on their students and their learning.  That’s the hard part: helping teachers figure out how to use these technologies in powerful ways in their classrooms.  So, while I may like to explore new technologies myself, my focus with others is on the educational part.  How/why/when to use those computers and gadgets and websites to improve teaching and learning.  This might seem like an elementary idea, but I still go to lots of “educational technology” presentations at conferences where the heavy emphasis is on the technology rather than the education.

Here’s what else I know:

I have a deeply held bias. I believe that technology offers ways to improve teaching and learning.  Even if it’s only because it engages the kids in ways that textbooks and lectures and worksheets do not.  And, most of the educators I talk to seem to share this two-part belief with me.  Part one: technology engages kids.  Part two: engaged kids are better learners.  But they also share a concern about doing it the right way.  They don’t want to just use technology for technology’s sake.  And, I find myself working with them in very practical ways.  Have you thought about using a smartboard to let your kids interact with a sentence?  Do you know that you can put a video in a powerpoint presentation to show to your kids?  Have you accessed the data from the student response system to better differentiate instruction? Have you considered having your students create a digital video or multimedia presentation as an alternative assessment?

I also use this practical approach when I work with technology coaches and school administrators in helping them to encourage technology use.  I’ve created a presentation called Strategies for the Non-Choir.  It draws from Rogers’ work in diffusions of innovations as well as Mishra and Koehler’s Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) model to provide coaches with ideas for how to approach the early and late majority adopters who, according to Rogers, make up some 68% of the population.  I talk to the coaches about the need to consider the relative advantage of a technology as well as how compatible it is with what the strategies already used by a teacher.  In addition, as part of the workshop, we play the TPACK game where we match technologies, pedagogies, and content areas to come up with ideas for using technology in the classroom.

So, I am very much a pragmatist, trying to work with teachers where I find them, helping them use technologies in ways that support what they are doing in their classrooms.  This is a viewpoint that is often in direct opposition to the visionaries in the educational technology blogosphere.  They tend to be progressives who are looking past the current times to a different world where powerful technologies support student-centered, constructivist learning.  One of my favorites, Tim over at Assorted Stuff, summarizes the viewpoint quite nicely, I think:

The powerful tools we now have available make it possible to go way beyond simple reinforcing what we’re already doing. They provide communications links that enable teachers and students to connect with and learn from the world.

If all we do with the computers and networks put in our schools over the past decade is multiply the status quo, then we’ve wasted a lot of money, time and effort.

I know much of the crap I write is very idealistic, maybe even unrealistic. But while we are making small incremental changes, it would be nice to keep a vision of what education could and should be in the viewfinders.

I don’t disagree with Tim.  And I admire his idealism. I am also always inspired by Sheryl Nussbaum Beach. One of Sheryl’s most recent posts over at 21st Century Learning gives some great examples of how are kids are learning to learn on their own, and she calls to us to roll up our sleeves and get to work on creating a learning environment for them.  I try to keep her vision in my mind and for awhile I move into that progressive world.

But then I go to a school or talk to a teacher and hear about the sorts of barriers–time, access, not to mention high-stakes testing–that they face and how excited they get when someone gives them an interactive whiteboard or even just a projector and the pragmatist returns.   To borrow a phrase from Tyack and Cuban, we are “tinkering toward utopia.”  I think I’m more the tinkerer, standing with a wrench in my hand, rather than the utopian, envisioning the future.

Does the Chalkboard Still Have a Role to Play?

As part of a course I am taking this semester, I’m exploring the Horizon Project, mostly focusing on their process for coming up with their technologies.  I’ve been having lots of fun exploring the wiki, checking out some of the examples they provide for each of their technologies.  One example of collaboration webs–a technology that will be mainstream in a year or less–is a very cool use of Pageflakes by the Writing Program at the University of Southern California.  It’s an interesting mix of old and new.  The content is old: the “topoi” are lenses for viewing an issue and they originated with Aristotle.  The pageflakes site is very new and incorporates video, RSS, text and images.  It would be a useful site for beginning writers outside USC.

I watched the classroom discussion video related to the topoi and laughed out loud as the camera panned outward:

Pageflakes - Mark's The Topoi Flakes
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

It’s a chalkboard! A good, old-fashioned chalkboard! The writing prompt scribbled on the chalkboard is about comparing the coverage of news stories through the web and the mainstream media. But it’s scribbled on a chalkboard.  I guess it’s a good lesson about using the technology that is available but it just struck me as an odd juxtaposition to the very 21st century technology being used to display the video. Here I sit in Virginia watching a video of a USC professor pointing to a chalkboard.  Really a sign of the times in which we live where old and new exist side by side.

ITRT Mini Conference Keynote: Fred Scott

Here are my notes from Fred’s excellent keynote.  (Now, I’m sitting in his breakout session.)

ITRT Mini Conference
Keynote Speaker: Fred Scott, Manager, Instructional Technology, Chesterfield County Public Schools

Hardware? Software?  No…Let’s Connect With HUMANware

Humanware refers to people.  We have been investing in hardware, software and webware, but what about the people?  We need to invest in the people in order to improve instruction with technology.  We need to connect humanware to school goals, student goals, etc?  When our kids leave the school system there is a whole world out there.  They may not stay in their community…we have no idea where they will be and what they will be doing.  Fred’s framework asks how we connect IRTRs with the humanware: teaching, coaching, training, and learning.

Where does humanware fit in?  Alignment for success:  are you aware of your technology master plan in your district? professional development; curriculum blue prints; if teachers are only going to teach the SOLs, then we are still behind.  The last piece is school improvement so you should be aware of the school improvement plan.  How do we get connected with those people?

Data Wise from Harvard University includes 8 steps that begins with organizing for collaborative work and ends with acting and assessing.   He has a matrix of tools that will help the team be effective.  He aligned the school improvement process with technology tools.  The ITRTs need to understand the school data such as the report card.

Training:  Rich Allen, Train Smart, 2001  Five Pillars of Training:  Engage, Frame, Explore, Debrief, Reflect
Engage: Prepare the mind, you have 5 minutes to establish the connection with an adult; teach people NOT content; teach WITH people to understand the content
Frame: establish relevance, you have one minute to establish relevance, what are you going to help them learn, why is choice good?  Because then people can make connections, now you have the next 30 minutes to involve the key concepts
Explore: Learning + Enjoyment = Concepts; people remember the good and the ugly
Debrief: Consolidating learning: how are they going to apply it to the real world?
Reflect: Embed Learning: give them stories.

Quotes Confucious: I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.

Teaching:  connect the goals and objectives, what are we doing and trying to get across
The ABCD method of writing objectives
Condition: how should they be able to do it?
Degree: how much should they be able to do it?

Time Dependancy

Discusses Marzano’s strategies:  we don’t see it as much as we should
The nine strategies are very powerful: the top three are reinforcing effort and providing recognition, summarizing and notetaking, similarities and differences

New book: Using Technology With Classroom Instruction the Works

He outlines planning question and instructional strategies.

He suggests applying the Madeleine Hunter model: from purpose to closer
Hal Portner, Workshops that Really Work

Showed the A Vision of K-12 Students Today

Coaching: NSDC says that effective coaching means you are with a person one on one.    In the coaching model, there is some risk.  There are three major levels of risk; are you going to be conservative, moderate or aggressive?

Kimberly Ketterer, “Coach, Nurture or Nudge?”  L&L

Coach:  there is a paradigm shift from a traditional classroom to one who integrates technology.  The adult is now a risk taker who trusts the coach.  They are willing to embrace the information and collaborate.

Nurture: The adult is not confident and are still learning skills and applications.  But they are willing to try.  this adult lacks the confidence and they want to watch you do it.  They will say that time is a major problem.  They like small achievements.

Nudge: This is the person that is satisfied with the way things are.  These people are uncertain and anxious.

Learning:  How do ITRTs connect to the learning process to get adults to learn?
Showed a graphic of the basic neuron types:  what does it take to help teachers understand the make up of the brain and what’s happening inside.  He talked about Howard Gardner and multiple intelligence theory.  http://literacyworks.org/mi/home.html  You can assess your learning style here.

Marcia Tate: Sit & Get Won’t Grow Dendrites:  she talks about adult learning and strategies and activities for how to work with adults.

How do we connect Humanware to Web 2.0 for professional development and learning?  He pointed to
•    http://www.wetpaint.com
•    http://talkingletter.com
•    http://www.wonderfile.net
•    Center for Learning & Performance Technologies http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/recommended/top100.html

Here’s what ITRTs need to do:
•    We have to know the goals and objectives of the school.
•    We have to develop collegial relationships.
•    We have to recognize that the adults have the expertise.
•    We have to align activities with the curriculum.
•    We have to help them understand that technology can help improve instruction and delivery.

We must provide our children the best possible learning environments to foster critical thinking, innovations and problem solving to better our society.  Fred Scott

ITRTs Lead Out Loud: http://www.leadoutloud.ca

To get results with technology integration, we need to invest in people…nurture, cultivate and develop them to ensure that tools make a difference in learning.

Remember, FRED:
Educate and

They did a share fair at his school division for the school board so they could understand the ITRT position.

http://fredwscott.edublogs.com  for downloading the presentation