Tag Archives: tech integration

Diane Ravitch and learning technologies: Here we go again

What if all students had EQUAL access to incredible learning tools?

I have previously expressed my concerns regarding Diane Ravitch’s denigration of the power of digital technologies for learning and teaching. Her blog gives her a very visible online platform and I think that she should be a little more careful with her wording and claims, particularly given her self-professed lack of computer fluency. Although she’s been relatively quiet on the technology front lately, I believe that a couple of her recent posts about digital learning tools are worth responding to…

Tablets are not real computers

Diane labels a post from Red Queen as ‘one of the best posts ever.’ She quotes Red Queen:

We all know this about tablet “computers”: they are not real “working” machines. When I proposed buying a tablet for my student the dude behind the counter told me: “Don’t do it. You’ll have to buy a keyboard, it has way less memory and no ports, a smaller screen and slower speed: it’s just not what a serious student needs. By the time you’re done adding on, you’ll have a machine almost as expensive as a real computer with far less functionality”.

Any parent will have received that advice from just about any computer salesman. And while there are a few serious students out there who no doubt feel otherwise, I think it’s a fairly safe bet that the word on the street is: tablets are no substitute for a computer; students need computers.

Red Queen goes on to say that tablet computers are ‘frivolous electronics‘ and Diane includes that quote too.

Of course this belies actual reality. Tablets and smartphones continue to become both more powerful and more popular with every iteration. It is projected that sometime this year total tablet shipments will begin to surpass total PC shipments. Schools and educators that are using tablets are finding that they are quite robust computing machines, often able to do things easier or better than is possible with the larger, heavier, and often clunkier form factor of a laptop or desktop. While many people still may prefer a more expensive and robust computing device, it is ludicrous to say in September 2014 that an iOS or Android tablet isn’t a ‘real computer’ or that ‘serious students’ only should use laptops or desktops.

Finland and South Korea and Poland don’t have digital technology in their classrooms

In another post, Diane cites excerpts from Amanda Ripley’s new book, The Smartest Kids in the World:

The anecdotal evidence suggests that Americans waste an extraordinary amount of tax money on high-tech toys for teachers and students, most of which have no proven learning value whatsoever. . . . In most of the highest-performing systems, technology is remarkably absent from classrooms.

Old-school can be good school. Eric’s high school in Busan, South Korea had austere classrooms with bare-bones computer labs. Out front, kids played soccer on a dirt field. From certain angles, the place looked like an American school from the 1950s. Most of Kim’s classrooms in Finland looked the same way: rows of desks in front of a simple chalkboard or an old-fashioned white board, the kind that was not connected to anything but the wall. . . . None of the classrooms in [Tom's] Polish school had interactive white boards.

There are numerous issues with these types of quotes. For instance…

  • The unstated assumption that performance on standardized assessments of low-level thinking is how we should judge educational success. I agree that if our goal is better bubble test achievement, we can drill-and-kill kids all day without any technology whatsoever. We’ve had over a century to perfect the numbing of student minds in analog environments. But if we want to prepare students to be empowered learners and doers within current and future information, economic, and learning landscapes, it’s impossible to do that while shunning technology.
  • The disparagement of digital technologies as ‘toys.’ Digital tools and environments are transforming everything around us in substantive, transformative, and disruptive ways. They are not mere toys unless we choose to only use them in that way. It’s a sad indictment of us as educators and communities that it is taking us so long to awaken to the educational possibilities of learning technologies and the Internet.
  • The equation of interactive white boards (and, in a later quote, student response systems) as the sum and substance of educational technology. Those of us who decry such replicative technologies agree that those are insufficiently empowering of students and thus unlikely to make much of an impact. But putting powerful digital tools into the hands of students that let them create, make, connect, collaborate, and make an impact, both locally and globally? That’s a different story. We need a different vision, one in which we don’t merely use digital technologies – and rows of desks in tight formation – to broadcast to students while they sit passively and watch or listen. And we need to stop pointing at those lackluster wastes of learning power and saying, “See? Told you technology doesn’t make a difference.”
  • The nostalgic yearning for the simple classrooms and schools of yesteryear, uncomplicated by modern learning tools (or, apparently, grass in the schoolyard). Ah, yes, remember when life (supposedly) wasn’t so complicated? Does anyone really want to return to 1950s beliefs and worldviews about learning and society? And if they do, what disservice do we do our youth when we prepare them for 60 years ago rather than now and tomorrow?

Wrap-Up

So, to sum up, so far Diane appears to be against online learning and digital educational games and simulations, and she shares posts that are against tablet computers or paint all technologies as disruptive and distracting. And that’s dangerous because people listen to her. She and many of her fans seem to ignore the fact that it’s awfully difficult to prepare students for success in a digital, global world without giving them access to digital technologies and Internet access. Railing against computer expenditures and Internet connectivity for our children is irresponsible, especially when those funds come from different sources and thus can’t be spent on teachers, support staff, professional development, or educational programming.

Now, to give Diane some credit, there are a few concerns raised in these posts that are worth noting:

  1. It’s a reasonable question to ask whether school equipment and construction funds would be better spent on upgrading facilities or purchasing computers for students, particularly given the time horizons of both construction bonds and technology obsolescence. That’s a difficult decision and I’m glad that I don’t have to make it at the scale that the L.A. Unified school district does.
  2. I, too, have grave misgivings about the Amplify tablets that are being used in Guilford County, North Carolina, but not just because they’re tablets.
  3. When Andreas Schleicher from OECD is quoted as saying that ‘people always matter than props,’ of course that is dead on. The success or failure of learning technologies in schools always will depend more on us as educators than on the tools themselves.
  4. Diane quotes Carlo Rotella, who says that “if everyone agrees that good teachers make all the difference, wouldn’t it make more sense to devote our resources to strengthening the teaching profession with better recruitment, training, support and pay? It seems misguided to try to improve the process of learning by putting an expensive tool in the hands of teachers we otherwise treat like the poor relations of the high-tech whiz kids who design the tool. . . . Are our overwhelmed, besieged, haphazardly recruited, variably trained, underpaid, not-so-elite teachers, in fact, the potential weak link in Amplify’s bid to disrupt American schooling?” Leaving aside the false dichotomy of ‘we can strengthen the teaching profession or we can give students computers but not both,’ this is a pretty insightful statement. As I noted in an earlier post, we have an appalling lack of technology support and training for our educators. We have to stop pretending that if we insert computers into the learning-teaching process that magic will happen and start doing a much better job of helping educators empower students with potentially-transformative digital tools.

These concerns, however, are more specific and nuanced and aren’t painted with an extremely broad anti-technology brush. If Diane typically discussed learning technologies in thoughtful and careful ways like these, I’d have much less concern. Loyal readers here know that I myself often express misgivings about ineffective technology integration and implementation in schools. But to say that there’s no educational worth whatsoever in online learning, educational simulations, tablet computers, or whatever Diane rants against next is patently false.

Whether we like it or not, digital technologies in education are here to stay. As I said in my earlier post,

the issue is not – as [Diane] seems to believe – that [digital tools] never have any value. The issues are 1) Under what circumstances do these new learning tools and spaces have value?, and 2) How do we create learning and policy environments in which that value is most likely to be realized?

I’ll keep wishing that Diane one day recognizes this. I’ll also keep wishing that Diane one day recognizes the irony (hypocrisy?) of decrying students’ use of digital technologies while simultaneously employing those tools herself to great effect to further her goals and increase her visibility.

Your thoughts?

Image credit: What if…, Darren Kuropatwa

Two cans and a string aren’t enough

Tincantelephone

Over at Education Week, Jenna Barclay describes how she compensated for her 8th grade students’ lack of access to digital learning tools by making do with the analog teaching resources that they had on hand. They simulated ‘wikis’ with butcher paper and colored pencils. They made a ‘table top blog’ using notebook paper, moving around the room and commenting on each other’s paper posts. They summarized an article by passing back and forth paper ‘tweets.’ And so on…

All of the comments on the post praise Jenna for her initiative and creativity. And rightly so. Instead of whining and giving up, she found innovative ways to try and foster the thinking skills needed by her students. By all accounts, she and her students had many successes. But the more I read, the more I just wanted to cry. Here’s the comment that I left on her article:

I think this is a wonderful tale of a teacher creatively ‘making do’ to serve her students as best she can. And, yes, one can teach critical thinking, collaboration, and other essential skills without technology.

BUT… digital technologies and the Internet take all of this to the next level. For example, as great as what Jenna did here is, it didn’t allow for students to expand their voice – and interact with relevant, meaningful audiences – beyond the local. And as creative as students can be with butcher paper, the simple fact is that students can be even more creative when we expand their toolkit with digital creation, connection, and collaboration tools. We can’t pretend that analog learning environments are equal in power to digital learning environments, particularly since nearly all knowledge work done OUTSIDE of schools is done with digital technologies.

So I love what Jenna did. AND I also want her and her students to have access to robust digital learning technologies so that they can be even more powerful and amazing and relevant to what they’ll need when they leave their analog school environment.

Heroic tales of innovation like Jenna’s are wonderful testaments to the creativity of the teaching spirit. But how many school leaders and policymakers will use stories like hers as an excuse to not put digital tools into the hands of students? Too many, I’m afraid.

In a digital, global world, access and equity issues are important. Jenna and her students deserve true power, not artificial, simulated, “look we can pretend we’re really doing this” experiences that sort-of-but-not-really capture the essence of the real thing. We would never say that using two cans and a string is the same thing as actually making a phone call. We would never say that scooting around in a plastic children’s car is the same thing as actually driving. And we would never say that lying on a flat surface moving our arms and legs is the same thing as actually swimming. Nor should we when it comes to learning with digital technologies and the Internet.

Instead of having our hearts warmed by this feel-good story, how about if we do a better job of getting teachers the tools that they and their students really need?

My TEDxDesMoines video: From Fear to Empowerment

Here’s my TEDxDesMoines video (8:19) from yesterday. Happy viewing!

A big thanks to everyone at TEDxDesMoines for a fantastic event, particularly the video editors who somehow turned our videos around in less than 24 hours. Amazing!

rethink. redesign. go.

Back in May I shared our process at Prairie Lakes AEA for hiring our new technology integration team. Well, now our team has a new blog, rethink. redesign.

Rethinkredesignlogo

We’re just getting started, but we’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks talking about who we we want to be, what we’re going to be about, and how we’re going to do our business. Here’s our thinking behind our new name (and our work)…

#dreambigger. #designforit. #perpetualbeta. That pretty much sums up the work of my team and what we’ll be discussing on our blog. We hope that many of you will join us.

Want to work with us? Learn more about our core beliefs and processes. See how we’re using the Influencer framework to help guide our design work. Get in touch!

Van Meter High and North High: Two Iowa schools that are rockin’ it

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is recognizing 25 schools across America as ‘21st Century Learning Exemplar Schools.’ Today we were informed that 2 Iowa high schools are on the list: Van Meter High School and North High School in Des Moines. Check out the case study of Van Meter. Kudos to both schools and their educators and students!

Using technology to reinforce 19th century teaching practice

Graham Brown-Martin says:

why [has] technology, to date, had very little impact on improved learning outcomes? This could be because we continue to use technology to reinforce 19th century teaching practice to meet out-dated assessment models. Most of the world’s curriculum and assessment systems are based around fact recall rather than actually demonstrating that you have learned something and can deploy it within a problem-solving situation.

via http://www.wise-qatar.org/technology-education

Content delivery and assessment v. discovery and empowerment

Audrey Watters says:

Theres a line in a 2011 Wired Magazine article about Khan Academy where Bill Gates calls constructionism “bullshit.” It’s a line that’s stuck with me because it makes me so damn angry, no doubt, but also because it highlights Gates’ dismissal of established learning theories, his ego, his ignorance.

And it highlights too, I think, the huge gulf between those like Gates who have a vision of computers as simply efficient content delivery and assessment systems and those like Seymour [Papert] who have a vision of computers as powerful and discovery learning machines. The former does things to children; the latter empowers them to do things — to do things in the world, not just within a pre-defined curriculum.

via http://www.hackeducation.com/2013/07/30/visiting-seymour

The one question I’m asking at ISTE 2013

Here’s my guiding question for the ISTE conference this year (for both presenters and vendors). If you’re at ISTE right now, I encourage you to ask this question too!

Jumpforjoy

Image credit: Because I’ve never told him he can’t fly, Lotus Carroll

Apple features Burlington High School [VIDEO]

I enjoyed watching this video from Apple about Burlington (MA) High School’s 1:1 initiative. It’s very well done. If I remember correctly, Patrick Larkin, then principal of BHS, came to one of our first Iowa 1:1 Institutes before he and his colleagues launched their program. Now they’re rockin’ out!

I especially loved all the shots of the students (and Patrick’s desk!) in the hallways. Hey, wherever they can find a place to stretch out, intermix, and work together!

Happy viewing!

We have a BYOD program, but now what? [guest post]

What now?[Scott: Chris Crouch, Kelly Stidham, and their blog, Working on the Work, are new discoveries for me. Chris was kind enough to offer this vulnerable reflection of 1:1 teaching with us. Happy reading!]

“Our students deserve a 21st century education.” I’ve heard this often during my career, and while I can sometimes name the 4 Cs, I’m concerned that educators are trying to adapt 20th century practices and experiences to the future we can’t even define yet. This phenomenon manifests itself typically by the rapid and ill-advised adoption of any and all technological products, i.e. hardware, software, personal devices, portable devices, and on and on and on. While it is true the technology and expertise necessary to manipulate this technology are important to 21st century skills, we, as educators, must not fall into the trap of imposing our cemented perspectives cured from our fleeting experiences of the past upon the students of the future. In this wave of Bring Your Own Device or Technology, depending on which variant you prefer, (BYOD), the instructional shift that must happen to fully capture the power of this movement is grossly behind the crest.

I’ve personally experienced the feeling of ineptness meeting the needs of my students when my school asked me to pilot a 1 to 1 laptop program. The idea seemed amazing. A small group of my students, one entire class, would be given a laptop, access to the school’s Wi-Fi, and the computer would be in their hands every day, all day. The students were excited. I was excited. We were imagining the possibilities. Paperless classrooms. Interactive blogs. Interactive discussions. Amazing Projects. Digital textbooks. Then, something happened that I had not anticipated. The laptops became a barrier. Not because laptops are bad, or were misused by the students, but because I wasn’t ready for them. I didn’t know how to use all the resources that each student now had at their fingertips to improve their learning outcomes. I tried to make my paper instruction fit into this digital world. I didn’t know how to reshape my experiences, my past, so that I could create opportunities for the students to have new and better experiences. Of course, the students and I made the best of it. We all survived and overall it was probably a good experience for the students. The unsettling part occurred at the end of the school year, when a group of teachers that had the students in the 1 to 1 pilot decided that the technology was not needed. The pilot had crashed and burned.

Fast forward to today, and schools and districts are quickly implementing BYOD to take advantage of these technologies that our students already possess. These policies are essential in transitioning our brick and mortar schools to the digital world and the field of education cannot continue to ignore the fact that most students are already bringing these devices to school with them. What I see lacking is the instructional support that teachers will need to make these types of policies successful. I’m concerned that BYOD will go by the wayside much like my experience in the 1 to 1 pilot. We cannot let that happen. We cannot doom another generation of students to instruction that will not prepare them for their future.

Add the adoption of new content standards, evaluation instruments, and all of sudden, the significance of instruction through technology slips down the list of priorities. What’s even more frustrating is that there are success stories all over the country and we need to focus on these as models for schools and districts everywhere. So, I’m coming to you, the experts. Help me understand what must happen in the classroom in order to help our teachers help students.

Chris Crouch is an aspiring “teacherpreneur” and a literacy specialist in Kentucky. He has been an educator for 13 years and is just now starting to figure out what it really means to be a teacher. Hear more of Chris’ ideas on education at his blog, Working on the Work, and on Twitter at @the_explicator.

Image credit: What Now?, imelda

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