Category Archives: technology

Grumpy Old Lady – Part 1

I reviewed several draft blog posts, and they definitely fall under the category of Grumpy Old Lady rants. Some are of them are of the “you didn’t think of that you young whippersnapper” variety. Others, however, are more serious as they take on inaccurate ideas or practices that have become embedded in the culture of edtech and seem impossible to shake. That makes me grumpy because I feel like people doing the work of ed tech should know better and do better.

Case in point: using the term digital native as a factual concept and the basis for using technology with them in the classroom (“the kids are all using it and love it so teachers have to use it to appeal to them”). I was a little surprised to hear it being bandied about during a recent webinar on AI in K-12 education having thought the community retired it some time ago. I tried a little pushback via a question about equity and access, but the bandwagon had already left for the parade, so the commentator badly paraphrased my question and the speakers mostly dismissed it.

In case you missed it, digital natives, in contrast to digital immigrants, was a thought experiment from 2001 proposed by Marc Prensky, who famously, or rather infamously, suggested that young people were not only naturally better with technology but their exposure from an early age had changed them into fundamentally different human beings. The rest of us were digital immigrants who might learn to eventually speak the language but would always have an accent. The article was pretty quickly debunked and continues to be questioned. But, despite that, the concept evidently lingers.

Admittedly, part of the reason it does so, is because it resonated in 2001 as we were making the big shift from analog to digital technologies. It did seem like young people were more comfortable with digital technologies, with the kids often being the ones to program the VCR or set up the printer. In fact, the first Internet provider in Middlesex County where I was teaching built on a bulletin board network set up by two brothers, both in high school. When I asked them to give a presentation during my technology class, they were in front of their old middle school teachers. Prensky’s article in the flesh just a year or two before it was published.

Then, however, I remember the fourth grader who was on a panel with me and some of her classmates in 2012 or so at a regional conference. We wanted to hear from these “digital natives” and talk with them about how they used technology both in and out of school. One young woman, when asked about her use of tech at home, smiled and said, “I don’t use technology when I’m not in school. I like to be doing things outside.”

I also picture my 89-year-old dad editing digital video for his church and using Bard, Google’s AI bot, to write song introductions to use for the parties he leads at the retirement community. He is also teaching others how to use it, excited about this new frontier.

That neat dichotomy starts to get blurier, doesn’t it?

And then there’s me: a denizen of the analog world who seems able to navigate digital technologies with no problem, often in the position of teaching those much younger than I how to use tech professionally and personally to be more effective and efficient. How did I get where I did considering my frighteningly advanced age?

Support and access:

  • a scientist for a father who encouraged exploration and education with gifts of a chemistry set, a model airplane and an early Atari;
  • friends in college willing to show this English major how to access the mainframe computer to type her papers;
  • a quick transition from a typewriter to a desktop computer during my first job out of college; and
  • early access to a personal computer via my prized Tandy 1000.

All this access made me comfortable and ready to tackle the computer in the English department office when I began teaching high school in late 1980s. There were also a few desktops available in the library for student use. We were able to do basic work processing and early desktop publishing via The Print Shop software. In a first attempt at technology integration, I helped my students make reading schedule bookmarks to guide them as we read Romeo and Juliet and Great Expectations together. In 1988, I did my first technology workshop when I taught my colleagues to use FrEDWriter.

But, there needed one final step: I married a computer scientist who had early access to this new thing called the Internet. (That’s only one of the reasons I married him.) I was able to leverage the knowledge I gained via his connections to get a grant to provide access to my middle school students in 1996, just as the World Wide Web as we know it was taking off. Many of my students, living in a rural, lower to middle class community did not have gaming systems much less computers and, of course, not the Internet. It was about five years before Prensky described digital natives with this very age group in mind. Perhaps their children would fit the description, but for now, their lack of access kept them from the digital transformations he imagines.

I am neither native nor immigrant, but someone who was fortunate to have support and access to technology, which allowed me to explore and gain comfort and experience with it, leading to my lifelong pursuit of and passion for learning and teaching about educational technology.

Sadly, what Prensky was really describing was the birth of the digital divide. Students living near Cambridge and Palo Alto were able to get the kind of early access that I had that they could leverage to their benefit. Meanwhile their counterparts in less affluent areas often had to wait until they left home for college or jobs to get similar access, playing catch up in this new digital world.

Digital natives has its appeal as do most such generalizations. They are shorthand for larger concepts, glossing over any complexity or potentially varied perspectives. In the webinar, the speaker did not define or explain the term, using it in a way that assumed not only a shared understanding of the concept but, and this is more important and potentially dangerous, a shared belief in the rightness of the concept. Decisions about everything from curriculum design to technology purchases to professional development are being made based on an inaccurate concept. It is an idea that, in the end, can further widen the digital gap by masking inequities.

Local News

One of my graduate students was a sport writer focusing specifically on high school sports in a small town. So, I had to share the news about Gannett Newspapers pulling back from their use of AI to write their news stories. Gannett, of course, is not loved by small newspapers and local journalists as they take over and big layoff usually follow. What suffers when that happens is the local news, and it is local news that led to the pull back.

The Columbus Dispatch‘s story about a local soccer match opened with this grabber of a lede:

The Worthington Christian [[WINNING_TEAM_MASCOT]] defeated the Westerville North [[LOSING_TEAM_MASCOT]] 2-1 in an Ohio boys soccer game on Saturday.

Opinion: High schoolers can do what ai can’t, Scott simon, npr

It was, not surprisingly, written by AI.

Scott Simon, who penned the NPR editorial, suggests that the news organization could hire high school students to cover what is, and my grad student backed him up on this, a crucial part of small town life. As I wrote recently, local communities are an essential part in many people’s lives and AI has not yet, at least, found it niche.

On a side note, I introduced my students to the Internet Archive and its Wayback Machine last week. The offending news story from The Columbus Dispatch had been taken down but CNN was able to link to the archived version. At least, Gannett had given credit to LedeAI, the bot that wrote what is on its way to being a classic of sports writing.

Not Everyone is Excited About AI, IBM

I am a tennis fan and have been watching the US Open. IBM is a major sponsor and has several commercials about AI on rotation, including one that begins by stating that people are excited at what AI can do for them. Are they? That Pew data I wrote about last week would suggest otherwise: a lot of people don’t know anything about it and those that do are concerned.

Today, I attended my second university-sponsored AI workshop. It was an interesting conversation with very smart people, but at the end of the day, we simply don’t know what the impact of AI is going to be on teaching, learning as well as life and work in general. And, while IBM and today’s panelists expressed optimism, audience questions during today’s Q & A showed real skepticism about this technology. The biggest concern seemed to echo Jonathan Zimmerman’s recent Washington Post editorial: struggling with assignments is what learning is all about. The bot doesn’t just create your product; it does your thinking for you.

From the panelists, there was talk of transforming the curriculum to take advantage of AI and creating AI-aware assignments. Meanwhile, an audience member who was an arts professor expressed fear at what will be lost as AI moves into the fields of visual and musical arts. The answer–that different kinds of jobs will be created for those that are lost–was not reassuring.

Bottom line message: AI is here and, unlike previous technologies, cannot be banned or ignored.

AI, AI, Everywhere

I had an interesting conversation with my sister and my father when we were together last weeked to celebrate my mother’s 88th birthday. I’m working on a blog post about the changing nature of work that I will post at some point, but as I looked for data to support my ideas, I was distracted by Pew Research Center’s collection of data related to Artificial Intelligence. In particular, two recent articles seem to conflict a bit in perspective, a sign that we are in a period of real volatility when it comes to this technology.

One article provides evidence that most Americans haven’t tried ChatGPT and aren’t concerned about its impact on their lives. The other reports on the growing public concern with AI. As for the former, I am reminded of a conversation I had with an early adopter of the first widely used virtual community, Second Life. It certainly had implications for the potential of online interactions, but you couldn’t get your real life hair cut or your real life tires replaced. Local communities were still going to be important. And, even with the rise of AI, I think that continues to be true. At some point, I suppose a robot will cut my hair or replace my tires, but for the foreseeable future, it will be flesh-and-blood Olivia and Proctor who help me with those services.

As for the latter headline, I think we should be concerned when a technology that we only sort of understand undergoes such a rapid expansion. The educators I know are learning all they can about AI, especially within their own fields of study. They are also engaging in conversations with colleagues about how to use the tools for their own productivity and with their students.

Origin Story

I met my students last evening and had fun getting to know them and starting to dig into the course. I worry a little that I tell too many stories of the old days when it took minutes to connect to the Internet, and we were unable to move from our tethered devices.

Last night, it was the story of my middle school that, via a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, had such early access to the Internet that we went for at least two years without a filter as such technology was still being developed. It was early days so “bad” websites were not as widely available, and we talked to the students about responsibility as well as closely monitoring their usage. Remember, this was the mid-90s so access was on desktop computer in labs or classrooms. 1:1 and BYOD were not part of the regular vocabulary.

I have a few memories of accidental, inappropriate access. was a funny parody of and one dear child tried to get to Playboy by typing, which then kept coming up in the address bar. The venerable elementary school principal, a wonderful woman, went searching for pictures for her website and we were all surprised when the first one depicted a scantily clad, buxom young woman sprawled on top of a desk in front of a chalkboard. We had a good laugh and moved on.

Oh dear, I just told a story, didn’t I? I threatened to tell my students the origin story of witchyrichy, my standard username since I joined the Internet, but sadly did not have time. I don’t think I have shared it here either so, dear readers, another story for your amusement.

It is Halloween, October 1996, the year in which my middle school received the afore mentioned grant. I was teaching 8th grade communications skills in a computer lab. Yahoo was two years old and the Google of its day. Everyone wanted a Yahoo account but needed some help figuring out how to do it. When I sat down at one of the lab desktops to create a Yahoo account (I think I had been using a Virginia PEN account but that’s a story for another time), it seemed that many variations of my name were already taken. So, I took a look at that year’s costume choice with pointy black hat and long black dress, and witchyrichy was born.

I am a little embarrassed to admit that I did briefly egosurf in front of my students last evening. As I scrolled, I was reminded of all the various sites that have come and gone over the past 20 years from bookmarking tools to online communities. I think I feel a story coming on…