Tag Archives: tech integration

The magic formula for technology failure?

I’m cleaning out my home office and I found this note I hastily scrawled while traveling somewhere:

Lack of vision + inadequate infrastructure + no training + poor implementation + insufficient ongoing support + refusal to change = tech success!

Does this sound like your wishful school or district? Hope not!

When parents want to opt their children out of ed tech

Denial

I had a conversation with a parent a few weeks back during which she said something like this:

My husband and I are worried about how prevalent screens are in our children’s lives. We are striving to maintain some balance between screen time and other time for our kids. However, our high school’s 1:1 laptop initiative has made it much harder for us to do this with our son since he is now expected to bring the computer home and use it during the evenings and weekends.

Even the most ardent technology advocates usually recognize that others may have different beliefs and norms when it comes to children and computers. I found myself empathizing with this mother as she found herself in direct competition with an initiative from the school system that was intended to empower her child but instead was undermining her parenting.

Parents often have opt-out rights for some sensitive course or school library materials (e.g., movies, videos, books or other readings, sex education classes) but they don’t typically have opt-out rights for instructional methods or curricula. Should parents have the right to refuse or limit a 1:1 initiative – or other educational technology usage – for their children? If so, in practical terms how would that work (e.g., would schools be required to provide analog assignments and/or homework)? What do you think?

Image credit: karen’s denial, zen sutherland

Adaptive learning

Unit 1

Teacher 1:

In the past I have mapped out my school year ahead of time. I’ve planned how long each unit is going to take; identified the resources, activities, and assessments that I’ll use for each unit; and then marched students through the content. But this year, I’ve got an amazing idea! Before school starts I’m going to print off all of the worksheets, quizzes, and tests that the publisher sends with the textbook. I’ll also add in a few of my own supplemental activities, and put everything into numbered folders. Since kids like videos, for some units I’ve even got some VHS tapes on which I’ll place Post-It notes with time-marked segments for them to watch. Students will have access to a printed checklist for each unit that shows what they need to read, watch, and do, and they’ll also get an overview checklist of all of the units for the entire year. This way, instead of students marching to my pace, they can go as fast or as slow as they need to. They can even bounce around different units as desired, focusing on whatever they want to work on that day, and can skip stuff if they can prove mastery! I’ll also put some stickers into each folder. As students complete each reading, worksheet, quiz, test, activity, or video, they can put a sticker on their checklist showing that they’ve completed it. It will be just like getting points and leveling up in a video game! We’ll also have tracking posters stapled to the bulletin board so that I can monitor overall task and unit completion for each student, and intervene as necessary if students are moving too slow, need extra help, or are ready for enrichment activities. The system will be entirely student-driven, freeing me up to be a facilitator of learning instead of a ‘sage on the stage.’ I’m so excited to set up this system of personalized learning!

Teacher 2:

In the past I have mapped out my school year ahead of time. I’ve planned how long each unit is going to take; identified the resources, activities, and assessments that I’ll use for each unit; and then marched students through the content. But this year, my school has an amazing idea! Before school starts I’m going to have access to an online adaptive learning system that includes all of the worksheet, quiz, and test items that the publisher sends with the digital textbook. There also are some supplemental activities, and everything is organized into numbered units. Since kids like videos, for some units the system even has some digital tutorials for them to watch. Students will have access to an online checklist for each unit that shows what they need to read, watch, and do, and they’ll also get an overview checklist of all of the units for the entire year. This way, instead of students marching to my pace, they can go as fast or as slow as they need to. They can even bounce around different units as desired, focusing on whatever they want to work on that day, and can skip stuff if they can prove mastery! The system also has digital badges for each unit. As students complete each reading, worksheet, quiz, test, activity, or video item, they get a digital badge for their checklist showing that they’ve completed it. It will be just like getting points and leveling up in a video game! We’ll also have access to an online data analytics system so that I can monitor overall task and unit completion for each student, and intervene as necessary if students are moving too slow, need extra help, or are ready for enrichment activities. The system will be entirely student-driven, freeing me up to be a facilitator of learning instead of a ‘sage on the stage.’ I’m so excited we have this system of personalized learning!

For the purpose of

What is my purpose?

Here are a few session titles from some recent educational technology conferences:

  • Google Apps in the classroom
  • Free and easy screencasting tools
  • Creating a classroom website using Weebly
  • Edit video online for free with the YouTube editor
  • Classroom blogging
  • Google+ and Hangouts
  • Minecraft in the classroom
  • Video on the iPad
  • Podcasting
  • Let’s go for a (Google) Drive!
  • QR codes in the classroom
  • Creating Google Sites
  • Student online newspapers
  • Fusion tables
  • Digital storytelling in the elementary classroom

These are very tool-focused. I know that we only have limited space for our session titles. But somehow – in our titles, our descriptions, and, most importantly, the sessions themselves – we need to keep a primary focus on the learning purpose(s), not the tools:

  • Minecraft in the classroom for the purpose of ___?
  • Free and easy screencasting tools for the purpose of ___?
  • Creating Google Sites for the purpose of ___?
  • Classroom blogging for the purpose of ___?

Next time we plan a workshop or a conference session, can we try to make for the purpose of ___? the primary focus of our session, its title, and its description? I am pledging to do a better job of this myself. Will you join me?

take the pledge

[see who’s taken the pledge to focus on learning first!]

Thank you

Thank you

Dear Prairie Lakes principals and superintendents,

Over the past six weeks, you’ve been getting to know our new tech integration team. We’ve made it a top priority to try and get into your buildings, meet you and your teachers on your turf, and start to build meaningful connections and relationships.

By now you’re probably starting to realize that… well, we’re a little bit different!  :)  Not different just to be different, but different to be better. We’re passionate about what we do, we’re willing to think as far outside the box as necessary, and, yes, when it comes to ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it,’ we confess that sometimes we’re a bit irreverent.

Commitments

  1. We are deeply committed to the idea that professional work and professional learning both should be fun. And meaningful. And challenging. And so should our classrooms.
  2. We are deeply committed to quality. We’re building around principles of effective adult learning and we’re using the Influencer design framework to maximize possibility of actual implementation. No more sit-and-get. No more yawn-inducing, one-size-fits-all ‘training.’ And as little drive-by, short-term work as possible.
  3. We are deeply committed to trust and transparency. We will publicly post every single one of our evaluations. We will actively solicit and act upon your feedback. If you’ve got ideas for us, we will listen and adapt. We promise.
  4. We are deeply committed to service. It’s about you and your needs, not ours. We’ve got lots of ideas – and beliefs about powerful learning - but ultimately we’re here to serve you. No dictates. No mandates. Wherever you are, wherever you want to go, we’ll do our best to be of help.

We’re on a mission. A mission to #dreambigger, #designforit, and #makeitbetter. We hope that you’ll join us.

Thank you for the warm welcome, and thank you for giving us the opportunity to be of service to your amazing educators and students. Please stay in touch, and be sure to connect with us online. We are looking forward to our continued work together.

All our best.

SCOTT

Image credit: for Flickr friends 2011, mengjie jo

[cross-posted at rethink. redesign.]

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!

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