It’s hard to look back over the last four decades and find ways that education technology has made deep, lasting changes on schooling. It’s also hard to imagine a future where we don’t depend upon emerging technologies to shape learning across our lifetimes.
Gary Stager says:
There are three competing visions of educational computing. Each bestows agency on an actor in the educational enterprise. We can use classroom computers to benefit the system, the teacher, or the student. Data collection, drill-and-practice test-prep, computerized assessment, or monitoring Common Core compliance are examples of the computer benefitting the system. “Interactive” white boards, presenting information or managing whole-class simulations are examples of computing for the teacher. In this scenario, the teacher is the actor, the classroom a theatre, the students the audience and the computer is a prop.
The third vision is a progressive one. The personal computer is used to amplify human potential. It is an intellectual laboratory and vehicle for self-expression that allows each child to not only learn what we’ve always taught, perhaps with greater efficacy, efficiency or comprehension. The computer makes it possible for students to learn and do in ways unimaginable just a few years ago. This vision of computing democratizes educational opportunity and supports what Papert and Turkle call epistemological pluralism. The learner is at the center of the educational experience and learns in their own way.
Too many educators make the mistake of assuming a false equivalence between “technology” and its use. Technology is not neutral. It is always designed to influence behavior. Sure, you might point to an anecdote in which a clever teacher figures out a way to use a white board in a learner-centered fashion or a teacher finds the diagnostic data collected by the management system useful. These are the exception to the rule.
While flexible high-quality hardware is critical, educational computing is about software because software determines what you can do and what you do determines what you can learn. In my opinion the lowest ROI comes from granting agency to the system and the most from empowering each learner. You might think of the a continuum that runs from drill/testing at the bottom; through information access, productivity, simulation and modeling; with the computer as a computational material for knowledge construction representing not only the greatest ROI, but the most potential benefit for the learner.
Piaget reminds us,“To understand is to invent,” while our mutual colleague Seymour Papert said, “If you can use technology to make things, you can make more interesting things and you can learn a lot more by making them.”
kindergarteners could build, program and choreograph their own robot ballerinas by utilizing mathematical concepts and engineering principles never before accessible to young children. Kids express themselves through filmmaking, animation, music composition and collaborations with peers or experts across the globe. 5th graders write computer programs to represent fractions in a variety of ways while understanding not only fractions, but also a host of other mathematics and computer science concepts used in service of that understanding. An incarcerated 17 year-old dropout saddled with a host of learning disabilities is able to use computer programming and robotics to create “gopher-cam,” an intelligent vehicle for exploring beneath the earth, or launch his own probe into space for aerial reconnaissance. Little boys and girls can now make and program wearable computers with circuitry sewn with conductive thread while 10th grade English students can bring Lady Macbeth to life by composing a symphony. Soon, you be able to email and print a bicycle. Computing as a verb is the game-changer.
Used well, the computer extends the breadth, depth and complexity of potential projects. This in turn affords kids with the opportunity to, in the words of David Perkins, “play the whole game.” Thanks to the computer, children today have the opportunity to be mathematicians, novelists, engineers, composers, geneticists, composers, filmmakers, etc… But, only if our vision of computing is sufficiently imaginative.
My son is 8. He’s a maker. He makes things out of paper. He makes things out of cardboard. He makes things out of Legos and blocks and TinkerToys and egg cartons and the styrofoam that comes inside packages. We’ve spent a fortune on masking tape and scotch tape and string and markers and glue, just so he can attach things together and decorate them to make even more complex things.
My son is 8. He’s a maker. Outside he makes things out of sticks and rocks and bark and leaves (at least those are still free). When it snows he makes sculptures and forts. He chalks up our driveway. And our porch. And the bricks and siding of our house.
My son is 8. He’s a maker. He draws. And draws. And draws. He writes and writes. He pens stories. He authors books. He creates scavenger hunts and costumes. He creates populations and universes, filling countless notebooks and pads and poster boards and sticky notes and index cards.
My son is 8. He’s a maker. He plays Spore, but mostly to design his own creatures and spacecraft. He likes Minecraft, Eden, Scratch, and Scribblenauts. He loves any video game or app that lets him make his own levels or characters or worlds (instead of playing what the designers gave him).
My son is 8. He’s a maker. He makes movies using our handheld camcorder. He takes funny photos with our digital cameras or smartphones. He uses the webcam and PhotoBooth to create story episodes. He makes up new songs using the piano or music software. He makes up rhymes and dance moves.
My son is 8. He’s a maker. He takes the figures and cards and tokens from multiple board games and combines them to make his own games. He repurposes card games and dice games into entirely new variations. He creates new word games and mind games and teaches us how to play on car rides or at the kitchen table.
My son is 8. He’s a maker. Give him five unconnected objects and five minutes and he’ll make something amazing. He pulls the neighborhood kids into what he makes, creating communities of joyous co-creators. He pulls his classmates and his teachers and his family into what he makes, his smile and enthusiasm infecting all of us.
My son is 8. He’s a maker. Will his classes enable him or quash him? Will his teachers inspire him or suppress him? Will his schools nurture his brilliant divergence or force him into a convergent, one-size-fits-all model?
My son is 8. He’s a maker. His world-changing skills and talents never will be reflected in an educational world of worksheets, end-of-chapter review questions, course exams, and bubble tests. How will you accommodate and recognize his gifts?
My son is 8. He’s a maker. Are you ready?
Laptops. iPads (or other tablet devices). Chromebooks. Maybe even netbooks or ultrabooks… As more schools and districts move toward 1:1 computing, one of the most common questions is ‘What device should we get for our students?’ The typical response is another question: ‘Well, what do you want your students to do?’ I wonder, though, if that’s the wrong question…
Here’s a short list of what most educators want their students to be able to do with a computing device:
- Access information on the Web
- Make and store files
- Stay organized
- Read electronic books, textbooks, magazines, newspapers, etc.
- Utilize office productivity tools (word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.)
- Use course management systems (Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, etc.)
- Communicate, connect, and share (email, blogs, Twitter, Edmodo, videoconferencing, etc.)
- Look at and listen to multimedia (music, podcasts, videos, photos, screencasts, etc.)
- Create and edit multimedia
- Curate learning resources
- Play learning games and engage in simulations
- Participate in online courses
- Use a variety of other online tools, services, social media, and cloud-based environments
- And, perhaps, customize their learning experience with apps
I would venture to say that this brief list covers 95% or so of what educators want students to do. Guess what? All of the devices in the first paragraph let students do these.
Now, granted, some specialized software programs might be needed for particular students and/or purposes. A few high-end laptops or desktops floating around – or perhaps a specialized computer and/or maker lab – probably will suffice in most instances. Mainstream purchasing decisions likely won’t hinge on the exceptions anyway. As more tools move to the cloud – and as the basic capabilities of computing devices overlap substantially – considerations like price and form factor (e.g., tablet v. having a keyboard; do you need a forward-facing camera?) rise closer to the fore. Some mass configuration/setup issues also may be worth considering.
Since numerous devices now satisfy the demands listed above, we’re making decisions at the margins, not the core. In this kind of environment, perhaps the better question when considering what to purchase is ‘If we buy this device for students, what will they NOT be able to do that we and they will wish they could?‘
Any thoughts on this?
P.S. Notice that I didn’t include here decision-making factors based on adults’ needs to monitor, filter, lock down, and/or control. That was on purpose. If those are your primary concern instead of student-focused factors, good luck with your initiative. You’re going to need it.
Image credit: Untitled
Introducing a new feature here, here’s a school technology leadership scenario for you…
SCENARIO: You’re a new central office administrator in a growing district. Just a few months into the job you learn that the new high school your district is building – which was originally designed 3 to 4 years ago and is supposed to open next fall – is about to order 800 new desktop computers and put them into rooms configured as stationary computer labs. You know that computing is moving toward mobile, not tethered, environments and that universities, for example, are quickly getting away from labs altogether. The rooms are already built and wired, but you’re concerned about investing a significant amount of money in technologies that may not best meet the present and future needs of students and staff.
YOUR TURN: How do you handle this? Do you let this one go and fight other battles? Or do you take this on and try and stop the already-moving train (and, if so, what’s your approach)?
Got a school technology leadership scenario to share? Send it to me and I’ll see if we can post it. Make sure to let me know if you want your name attached or if you want to stay anonymous!
Today the Iowa Department of Education (DE) released a report on achievement levels in Iowa compared to other states. The report also focuses heavily on closing the significant achievement gaps that exist in our state. Here are some very quick reactions that I have to the report…
- The emphasis on better meeting the learning needs of traditionally-underserved student populations is absolutely necessary. Educationally and otherwise, we often have neglected students of color, students in poverty, students who are English language learners, and students with disabilities.
- It’s hard to argue with proposed educational solutions that are focused on instruction, proven effective, and scalable, but I think that there is an accompanying, unstated concern: How should we think about educational initiatives that need to occur but don’t have ‘significant bodies of evidence’ behind them yet? For example, we live in a digital world and we know that students need to be fluent with the technologically-transformed information spaces of our time. And yet the peer-reviewed research to support this move isn’t there yet. It’s just sort of common sense: all we have to do is look around and realize that this is a need. Given the lack of ‘research,’ however, does that mean we don’t do it?
- I wish that the report’s initial framing of the issues focused on the substantial changes that are occurring in the ways that we learn, citizenship needs in an increasingly-complex democracy, and other concerns related to life success beyond just economy/workforce issues. The latter are definitely important, but preparing future employees is not schools’ primary societal function.
- If we’re going to work on raising scores and closing achievement gaps, let’s do our best to focus on assessments that matter. Right now we seem to be concerned mostly about average scores on assessments of primarily lower-level thinking. It’s also worth noting that our own National Research Council has found that decades of test-based incentives have done nothing to improve student learning outcomes. In fact, high school exit exams as configured in many states actually decrease graduation rates without concurrent increases in achievement.
- Despite the sturm und drang around Iowa’s NAEP scores, we must recognize that there are no objective criteria and/or research-based evidence behind the cut scores for the different NAEP proficiency levels. The cut scores are set by committee and thus are inherently political. The NAEP benchmarks have been vociferously criticized by the National Academy of Sciences, the Government Accounting Office, the National Academy of Education, and many, many others. The designers of NAEP freely admit that the cut scores and levels are arbitrary.
- Is our concern merely about raising Iowa students’ academic performance levels or is it necessary that we also BEAT OTHER STATES AND NATIONS? The rhetoric that’s flying around about Iowa ‘slipping to the middle of the pack’ seems very concerned about the latter. It’s also worth noting that most of the countries to which we negatively compare Iowa also wouldn’t do very well on NAEP.
- ‘Rapid iteration,’ ‘living in perpetual beta,’ and other ideas related to quickly trying things, getting feedback to see if they worked, and adjusting course accordingly are all extremely important, particularly in a rapidly-changing world. As such, Response to Intervention (RTI) is a great process, particularly if feedback loops are short in time. But the RTI process also traditionally has been deeply rooted in notions of low-level cognitive work. Terms like ‘progress monitoring’ and ‘data-based decision-making’ are typically employed by educators in service of factual recall and procedural knowledge regurgitation. Turning those ideas toward higher-order thinking outcomes is going to be a lot of work in most school systems.
- We need to be careful that we don’t turn ‘fidelity of implementation’ and ‘best practices’ into cookie-cutter instructional recipes and/or scripted lessons (as has occurred in many districts across the country). The report says that we need to ‘eliminate variability in instruction.’ I understand the sentiment behind that phrase but we need to be very wary of simplistic, stupid solutions to this issue.
- The underlying premise of the report (and its accompanying policy proposals that we’ll see in the near future) is that education is a system amenable to fairly mechanistic solutions: put in place the right inputs, processes, and feedback loops and we’ll get the desired outcomes. Classic systems theory stuff. Learning and teaching are inherently messy domains, however, that often defeat externally-imposed procedures and expectations. As other nations show, we can improve student learning outcomes with thoughtful, purposeful changes, but we should be prepared for a lot of messiness along the way.
- There’s a difference between ‘differentiation’ (as proposed in the report’s description of RTI) and ‘personalization’: see McClaskey & Bray’s chart on this. Differentiation is good, but a move away from primarily teacher-directed learning environments also is needed.
Will teacher quality initiatives, the Iowa Core, and better deployment of RTI improve student learning outcomes in Iowa? Probably, at least somewhat. Are we going to see massive shifts in student learning outcomes in Iowa as a result of these? Probably not. These are school-focused interventions promulgated by the state department of education, and they’re all likely to have some positive impact. But they’re not enough. The research is very clear that roughly 80% of student learning outcomes is a result of NON-school factors. If we’re truly concerned as Iowa citizens and policymakers about improving student learning outcomes and closing achievement gaps, we’ll pay attention to the 80%, not just the 20%, just as most other ‘higher-performing’ nations have done. That means looking beyond the Department of Education for solutions.
Take some time to read over the report. What are your reactions?
effective implementation cannot be done by making microadjustments to the current system. We cannot, for instance, install project-based learning as a new layer on top of the standard instructional approaches we have. We cannot squeeze real teacher development into three annual inservice days and a monthly faculty meeting. Each of the strategies requires us to rethink and redesign the whole system from the ground up and build it collaboratively.
And all of this has to take place while we continue to teach kids and continue to feel the relentless pressure from outside our walls for unfaltering and ever-increasing improvement. The risk associated with those foundational changes increases every year, and most schools have not been able (or willing) to risk the possibility of the unknown. When given the choice between something that has been at least moderately successful (the status quo) and something with no guarantees for improvement, we choose the safe route.
Gerald Aungst via http://connectedprincipals.com/archives/6648
Here are four very powerful videos from the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub that are guaranteed to make you think hard about learning, teaching, and schooling. You can watch them all in less than half an hour. My quick notes from the videos are included underneath each one…
Engaged (7 minutes; Connie Yowell)
- we are fundamentally starting with the wrong questions
- we start with learning outcomes – and content defines everything – rather than “what is the experience we want kids to have?”
- our core question is around engagement; if you ask “is a kid engaged?”, you have to pay attention to and start with the kid
- we have to make room for curiosity, we don’t have enough opportunities for kids to take things apart and wonder about them
- little opportunities to fail and iterate are also opportunities to play with identity
- we need opportunities to explore who we are in the world and how the world works, particularly as teenagers
- we so decontextualize learning for kids, we’ve forgotten we have a passion for learning
- in school they could care less, but in complex games kids demand that they learn how to do something so they can move on
- as adults, we have to deeply connect content and students’ activity, otherwise learning has no meaning
Everyone (7 minutes; Mimi Ito)
- we give responsibility for learning to professionals instead of remembering it’s the fabric that frames all of our interactions with everybody
- connected learning networks force us to fundamentally rethink what we think is the problem and goal of education
- it’s about expertise that’s widely distributed; anybody can help somebody else get better at something
- if you have an educational system that always tell students what to do, you’re not building their capacity to make effective learning choices themselves
- we used to have capacity bottlenecks for learning, so you had to go to school or a library – now we don’t have that problem but we still act as if we do
- education isn’t bound to particular institutions anymore, it can happen anywhere
- how does a kid find a mentor or peer that helps them develop their interest, make their interest relevant, find a sense of purpose, etc.
- how do we use the capacity of the network to bring people together who want to learn together?
- everybody can participate in a connected learning model
- the great side benefit of interest-based, connected learning is that it fosters social connection and well-being: fulfillment, belonging, and purpose
Play (7 minutes; Katie Salen)
- play creates for people a reason for them to want to engage
- body and spirit are transformed by play
- play is a state of being, a very different state of mind, openness to ideas and other people
- not a closed, rules-bound place – the openness of the play space is extremely important
- play is one of the most fundamental human experiences
- play is a practice space, we play to get better at something, it helps us build confidence
- kids are driven to want to share with you what they’re doing, what they’re making, what they’re learning
- at school, we cordon off a time for play (recess) and then you’re not doing that anymore
- when you get older, play becomes embedded in objects (video games), you can activate play when you pick up that object
- when we’re young, play is the frame for how we experience the world
- adult life becomes about a set of responsibilities rather than a way of engaging your soul in the world
Creative (5 minutes, Nichole Pinkard)
- we’re just now getting to the place in America where we realize it needs to be different everywhere, not just in some places
- we have to completely overhaul how we think learning happens, where it happens, and what people are capable of
- technology transformations show us the world is going to be different
- they are going to have to be more nimble and more proficient with technology to communicate and to learn, or they’ll be a new form of illiterate
- we no longer live in a world where you can only write and read text and you will be successful
- we have to teach these new literacies and then let kids be creative in how they express themselves with these literacies
- schools always have been about ‘the right answer’
- now we care more about how kids find information, think about information, communicate information
The DML Research Hub also has an 8-minute summary video, Essence, which includes some of the best pieces from each video above plus some new stuff.
- there’s no longer a promised future for all kids
- how do we create environments that delight learners at all ages?
- open up the question of who contributes to learning
- how do we help kids grow up to become curious, engaged citizens?
- kids say over and over that schools are (merely) a node in their network of learning
- we have an embarrassment of (information) riches but we still have to figure out how to bring those pieces together
- learning principles need to start with the idea of connectedness
Finally, be sure to check out the core values, learning principles, and design principles of connected learning:
- Core values: equity, social connection, full participation
- Learning principles: interest-powered, peer-supported, academically oriented
- Design principles: production-centered, openly networked, shared purpose
See also the infographic below. There’s a lot here to digest. Thoughts?