If we were really serious about educational technology

If we were really serious about educational technology, we would… [here are 10 to get you started]

  • show students how to edit their privacy settings and use groups in Facebook instead of banning online social networks because they’re ‘dangerous’ and/or ‘frivolous’;
  • teach students to understand and contribute to the online information commons rather than ‘just saying no’ to Wikipedia;
  • put a robust digital learning device into every student’s hands (or let them bring and use their own) instead of pretending that we live in a pencil, notebook paper, and ring binder world;
  • Students working on class assignment in computer labphoto © 2006 Michael Surran | more info (via: Wylio)integrate digital learning and teaching tools into subject-specific preservice methods courses rather than marginalizing instructional technology as a separate course;
  • understand the true risk of students encountering online predators and make policy accordingly instead of succumbing to scare tactics by the media, politicians, law enforcement, computer security vendors, and others;
  • find out the exact percentage of our schools’ families that don’t have broadband Internet access at home rather than treating the amorphous ‘digital divide’ as a reason not to assign any homework that involves use of the Internet;
  • treat seriously and own personally the task of becoming proficient with the digital tools that are transforming everything instead of nonchalantly chuckling about how little we as educators know about computers;
  • recognize the power and potential (and limitations) of online learning rather than blithely assuming that it can’t be as good as face-to-face instruction;
  • tap into and utilize the technological interest and knowledge of students instead of pretending that they have nothing to contribute;
  • better educate and train school administrators rather than continuing to turn out new leaders that know virtually nothing about creating, facilitating, and/or sustaining 21st century learning environments;
  • and so on…

What else could we add to the list?

If we were really serious about [educational technology issue], we would [?] instead of [?].

It’s almost 2011. Isn’t it time for us to get serious about educational technology?

93 Responses to “If we were really serious about educational technology”

  1. Teach students design and use-ability skills to develop programs. Right now companies are terrible at developing useable software for their employees. It’s slow and hard to use. We can develop all kinds of great interfaces for games and applications for fun, but nobody takes software seriously at companies. Schools need to give students the skills they’ll need in the workplace – very few employees I know use powerpoint or give presentations as often as you’d assume they do. Yes, everyone needs better public speaking skills – I agree with that. I would also say schools need to get students thinking about what people need from tech outside of the schools, instead of trying to develop some photo app, students could maybe develop apps that would be useful for companies or for other uses that haven’t been thought of for productivity.

  2. I agree with the whole message but I have one question. How am I supposed to do all this when I can’t even get my students onto a computer to do research, type up an assignment, create a prezi or write on a blog? We have 8 working computers in a lab we share with 7 other classrooms. I am hesitant to do anything with technology as I can’t guarantee students the time to do the work in school hours. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s that it is physically impossible. Until we invest into technology for our schools and stop trying to build curriculum around 1950’s principles we are never going to see a change. Add more technoloy based units we are told, how when I can’t get my students on to the technology?

    • Vikki, does your school have a bring your own device policy? Unless BYOD has been ‘squashed’, it could be a realistic option: Finding a way to get students access!

  3. Focus on competency skills-develop activities in the classroom that give student the opportunity to USE these skills.

  4. I think an important key is teacher training to create lessons leveraging the most effective tools . . . and keep on training them until they can plan and execute comfortably in the classroom. Just showing teachers tools and then hoping that those who have been committed to analog lessons for many years will make the leap to digital is often hoping for too much. There’s a temptation on the part of many to choose only tools that improve (marginally) presentation of lessons. That doesn’t get us to anywhere, any time learning and giving students the opportunity to explore and create with a teacher who lets them make mistakes and learn from them.

    • Henry Ford supposedly said “If I asked people what they wanted, they’d have said faster horses” In many cases “technology” has meant the same notes projected on a screen instead of written on a board. A teacher that has invested years in developing curriculum has little incentive to throw it away for anything less than something truly amazing. Sadly for most Educational Technology “amazing” just isn’t there, and it’s certainly not coming from the publishers (have you seen any eBooks that are more than the regular texts? Any supplemental material that’s more than powerpoint slides?). Instead of criticizing people for not spending huge effort for ehhh results, we should be looking for ways to create materials that make people want to use them.

      • I think the AMAZING is less, perhaps, in the power these learning and production technologies give teachers and more in the power they give students.

        • I don’t disagree, but it’s still the teacher who changes the curriculum. Where are the amazing student-centered lessons coming from, and how are they reaching teachers?
          You’ve actually hit one of my biggest complaints about how districts push technology, which is the “old school” method. Most “technology” PD or in-service is a one-to-many (teacher and student) class either required or offered on “How to use ______” lumping all teachers together, regardless of ability or subject area (it’s unlikely the the Math, Social Studies, and Physical Education teachers are going to use a tool the same way), or the classes are offered after-hours or weekends as “Learn how to use Xyzzy!” which, if you don’t already know what it is, or how to use it in your subject, does not sound exciting or appealing.
          The only way that I’ve seen innovative lessons actually spread is many-to-many where teachers who are doing innovative lessons bring what they’re doing to demo and everyone else adapts/adjusts/steals the ones that they think match their subject, style, and abilities. That includes in-person, blogs, wikis, podcasts, video conferences, “global classrooms” and all of the other wonderful ways there are to share now.
          Of course the worst of all possible methods would be administrators seeing something, deciding that it’s “great” and attempting to force teachers to change without getting buy-in. I spent semesters in front of “Constructivist” Educational Professors who lectured for 90 minutes at a time about how you can’t teach effectively by lecturing… I now teach almost entirely by modeling and investigation, but that has been from seeing it used correctly, NOT being lectured about why I should be doing it!

  5. @Bill Bradley, to rephrase what Scott said, the students already WANT to use the tools. It goes beyond want into actually using the tools, but teachers are not allowing the students to produce using 21st century tools. Isn’t the student outcome of amazing production one of the things that teachers should strive for?

  6. A couple of points:
    1) You’re making a big assumption that the students actually do want to use the tools, or in fact know how. Some of the best adoption that I’ve had with Google Docs is when I told them that they could download the app (free) and use it from their smart phones. I asked at the beginning of the year, not a single one of them even knew it existed, much less used it. The only students who knew how to do video analysis or computer based data collection were ones that I’d taught how to use them as their adviser for science fair projects. Students are amazing consumers of content, but many have never created any, and like teachers often don’t ask how to, or assume that it’s hard to learn.
    2) Even when the students know how to use the tools, how do you convince the teachers that they can? That’s like saying “They’re excellent drivers” so you should hand them the keys to your new car. I never give a presentation on something that I’ve done without bringing examples (beginner, average, and expert) of student-produced work, explaining what I expect them to do, and how I grade it. Otherwise you get the “That wouldn’t work here” “MY students wouldn’t be able to do that” “But what do I put in the gradebook?” and as many excuses why not to do it as students have for why their work isn’t done.

    • Excellent points. But we have to distinguish between the power/potential of tech (see, e.g., http://bit.ly/RwDFHc) and the human/system issues that get in the way of realizing that power/potential.

      There are tremendous affordances available to students (and teachers) in the digital world that are not possible in a dominantly-analog world. We see that everyday around us. To ignore that power/potential for enhanced learning/life preparation seems foolish to me.

      One other note: If we wait ’til teachers have pre-examples of student-produced, technology-facilitated work in environments where students don’t get to use technology very often, we’re going to be waiting an awfully long time… Where would these examples come from?

      • One more thing: We can’t blame students for not using technology in academic or work-productive ways (rather than just social ways) when it’s we adults that 1) have never given them the opportunity to learn to do so, or 2) actively prevent them from doing so.

        • I’m not blaming the students at all, I’m talking about selling teachers, administrators, and students on what they can do. Sell any of them on new ways of doing things without examples, products, and experiences is like trying to sell a used car with no pictures or test drive…

          • I’m in full concurrence with this. We’re seeing the same thing related to higher-order thinking skills: educators (and others) need models, examples, exemplars, folks they can talk to that are already doing it, etc. The Web is ripe for the plucking in these areas, but we need to do lots of curating (which most administrators aren’t doing / can’t do because they don’t live in these digital tools / spaces / systems). So they need help too…

  7. So much inside the edu-universe babble. So irrelevant, indirect and misdirecting!

    If any of this were relevant we would see differences in scores between schools nearby that spend vastly different amounts on technology and I haven’t seen it.

    Our best public schools look great because the parents are providing 250+ API points to the students at these schools.

    Meanwhile our secondary school performance compared to OECD countries continues to plummet. Too bad we can’t export you guys to those countries so you can dumb down their students too.

    • Thanks for the comment, Henry. Is school technology’s lack of impact on student achievement scores because:

      1. Many (most?) school tech initiatives are aimed at other goals besides raising scores on bubble tests?
      2. School cultures’ ability to defeat any new initiative, technology or otherwise, instead turning it into ‘what we’ve always done?’
      3. An atrocious lack of support?
      4. An atrocious lack of professional development?

      All of the above? Other?

      As Justin Reich recently said, “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.” [http://bit.ly/X265sO] Technology IS impacting learning. So somehow we have to figure out how to also make it impact teaching and schooling rather than pretending it doesn’t matter or that it’s ‘edu-babble.’

      See also http://bit.ly/mV5uI6

  8. After reading with this article I kind of disagree with most of it. The one I disagree with the most is the third point, “put a robust digital learning device into every student’s hands (or let them bring and use their own) instead of pretending that we live in a pencil, notebook paper, and ring binder world.” I don’t think we as a society should be putting only digital devices in their hands. I think them writing with a paper, pen and pencil is excellent. You retain about 70% more when you write using paper and pencil then typing on a computer or do whatever on a digital device. According to an article from Lifehacker called Why You Learn More Effectively by Writing Than Typing explains to you those exact reasons. Here are two reasons why I think it is true..”A couple of studies, though, substantiate why the physical act of writing really does boost learning and goal achievement. Hoping to provide actual scientific proof on the efficacy of writing down and sharing goals (to make up for an often-quoted mythical Harvard/Yale study of goals), a psych professor at Dominican University of California found that people who wrote down their goals, shared them with others, and maintained accountability for their goals were 33% more likely to achieve them, versus those who just formulated goals. (One can argue that in this instance, typing would be equally effective; see “Why Writing Works Better Than Typing” below for why writing still may be better.) Another study found positive effects of writing on learning foreign words, and a survey of note-taking studies found several examples where taking notes helped students with recall and academic performance.” Number two: “There may also be a scientific basis for the pen’s superiority over the keyboard when it comes to writing development and cognitive functions. Dr. Virginia Berniger, who studies reading and writing systems and their relationship to learning processes, found that children’s writing ability was consistently better (they wrote more, faster, and more complete sentences) when they used a pen rather than a keyboard; these are, of course, subjects without a penchant for using either tool. We also previously covered the WSJ article that connected handwriting and cognitive abilities; in one of the studies cited, adults learned new symbols and graphic shapes better when they reproduced them with pen-and-paper instead of typing them.”

  9. Thanks for chiming in, Eric. There may be some situations in which using pen/pencil/paper arguably has some advantages (and I’ll say arguably because taking notes in typewritten form or writing electronically instead of via pen, for instance, have their own advantages above and beyond simply learning new content, including the ability to easily repurpose, link to other resources, share with others, connect to other information sources, and so on, none of which are addressed in these studies). Many (most?) of us write electronically and seem to do just fine. There is no foreseeable future in which ink and paper regain their primacy over digital and online. Etc. etc. etc.

    In a digital world, is the danger really that we’re too digital or that we’re still trying to hang on to analog far more than we should? (because that’s the intent of this post)

    • Scott, I think that you’re forgetting that you are not a representative sample. Most of your work and background is written English.
      Try taking notes or doing a problem set in a Chemistry course on a laptop or tablet. Things do not look much better for Mathematics, Physics, or Biology. There are reasons that chalkboards and whiteboards are the rule in many areas of study… it’s not just background decorations for the Big Bang Theory.

      • Agreed. Quickly writing formulas is still a pain (although getting better). I believe these would fall under the category of “some situations in which using pen/pencil/paper arguably has some advantages.” 🙂

  10. I’d add to the list (and I suspect many teachers will agree) . . .

    We’d give teachers more than 70 minutes of planning time.

    Because you cannot become proficient using digital technology without spending time messing around with it. With all the other requirements of our jobs (most of them fairly critical) there is simply not enough time to learn what can be done with these tools, how to teach their use and how to appropriately integrate them into our content.

    So those teachers who want to integrate technology and also have lives to live and families to raise, do their messing around late at night. That is not sustainable for the majority of the teaching workforce.

  11. I’m generally a strong voice opposing the breathless and indiscriminate promotion of ed-tech, but this list is fine and sensible; there’s nothing I disagree with here, and I think I could support it all, as long as my curricular needs were respected in return.

    I would maybe say that students should know when Wikipedia is appropriate as a formal vs. informal source. And as a teacher, I would like to be supported in deciding when computers are helpful and when they need to b put aside during the task at hand.

    Otherwise,I’m on board.

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