Which students don’t get to use technology, then?

Next time you question whether one-to-one is relevant, count the number of devices you use in a day.

A school board member recently echoed on her Facebook page a community member’s desire to stop funding the district’s 1:1 initiative. Here are the community member’s comments that were shared by the board member:

Technology is a wonderful thing and is much needed BUT these kids needs to know how to take a pencil and paper, spell worlds with out spell check, make a sentence with out using grammar check an do math with a calculator. Seems all the school board can see is the good sides of everything before buying it. They don’t seem to be able to think of what bad can come from things or if what they are purchasing with other money is redundant. I’d like to see results of an old fashioned math, and spelling test and even writing. Many young people can’t spell these day and only print, have no idea of how to do cursive writing. Schools need to stop “dumbing down” our future which is our children.

Below is my contribution to the discussion on the school board member’s Facebook page…

Some quick thoughts:

  1. Our information landscape is no longer ink on paper. It’s digital bits in the ether. It’s completely technology-suffused and EVERYTHING is moving as quickly as possible to the Internet. There is no foreseeable future in which the primacy of printed text is not superseded by electronic text and multimedia. Given this fact, how are you going to prepare students for this digital information landscape if you don’t put digital technologies in their hands?
  2. Our hyperconnected, hypercompetitive global economy requires that developed countries move as rapidly as possible to creative and services work rather than manufacturing and agricultural work, with an emphasis on higher-level thinking skills rather than low-level fact and procedure regurgitation. All of the job growth in this country is in knowledge work sectors. BUT… knowledge work is done with computers these days. You can’t prepare graduates to do real-world knowledge work in a digital landscape by going back to ringbinders and notebook paper. Do you want your students to have jobs? Ignore the comments about ‘spell check’ and ‘old fashioned math’ (which have no basis in actual data or reality) and instead ask whether your students are immersed in cognitively-complex, technology-suffused learning environments that actually prepare them for the demands of knowledge work after high school. As pretty as it is, we must admit to ourselves that cursive writing is not a 21st century skill and neither are many of the other practices that we are trying so desperately to cling to in P-12 education. The biggest barriers to change are our own mindsets of what schooling should look like, which unfortunately are usually based on a past that no longer exists.
  3. It is the job of schools to prepare students to master the dominant information landscape of their time, to be productive workers, and to be successful citizens. All of these require digital fluency, something that is not achieved by a few hours per month in a computer lab. All that said, we also must recognize that change is scary, it’s complex, and it takes time. There’s a learning curve to navigate for students, teachers, parents, and community members. Acknowledge the difficulty of the challenge. Work to make the change as smooth as possible. Learn from mistakes and keep moving forward. Give yourselves time to make the transition. But don’t regress. Don’t give up. Does the district actually believe that NOT using computers is the path to future success for its children? If so, it will be the only one in America that does and it will be dooming its youth to irrelevance. As Abraham Maslow said, “You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety.” In rapidly-changing information and economic environments, we all need to be future-focused, not nostalgic.
  4. [School board member], you say that putting technology into the hands of all students is ‘not the way to go.’ Which students get to use technology, then? Which students get to be prepared for the world as it is and will be (and which ones don’t)? Which students are you going to intentionally disadvantage by hobbling their college and career readiness by removing technology from their hands?

I’m happy to have a further conversation with you and/or the rest of the board about this. I work with schools, districts, and communities all over the world as they struggle to meet the needs of students and educators regarding technology. All my best.


Image credit: One-to-one

23 Responses to “Which students don’t get to use technology, then?”

  1. Great reply, but I would also say that agriculture is proceeding with just as much haste into the realm of technology. Tractors with sub-inch accurate GPS, autosteer, yield mapping, genetic crop selections and related software – its easy to see this isnt your daddy’s agricuture. Even farmers are just as likey to be using an ipad as a pitchfork. Its too bad this board member is so backward in their opinion.

    • Yes, absolutely! But the percentage of jobs in agriculture – at least in America – continues to decline each year, driven by technology, equipment, chemistry, genetics, and small farm consolidation. That’s what I meant above. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

      • 1:1 is an interesting topic. My wife ushered in 1:1 at a different school and I was green with envy.
        Yet, some schools try to find any way to deny the unrelenting reality of technology in our daily lives.
        As a % – the number of ‘farmers’ is on the decline due to the reasons of which you spoke. However, the career field of agriculture continues to expand job opportunities. DuPont/Pioneer is hiring at an astounding rate in the next 4-5 years, as an example.
        Somewhat paradoxical given an entire industry is balanced, not unlike an upside down pyramid, on that shrinking % of production agriculture.
        But I guess we will always need someone to produce food….
        Thank YOU for the thoughts and I really enjoy your perspective.

  2. Ummm, is that a verbatim copy of the Facebook post? If so, it is full of errors. Do I need to say more?

  3. Tony Pascoe (@tony_pascoe) Reply March 12, 2013 at 12:19 am

    Good response Scott. Although I’m sure you had to restrain yourself from making 20 or so remarks the one that stuck out to me that you didn’t mention was “these kids needs to know how to take a pencil and paper, spell worlds with out spell check, make a sentence with out using grammar check and do math with a calculator”

    Do math with a calculator? So, only technology that is sufficiently infused into the classroom and everyone is ‘comfortable’ with already is okay? Interesting…

  4. Actually, the fastest growing job sector is the service industry. SO, if school is strictly preparing kids to work, then we should teach them to mop. sweep, cut, and serve.

  5. I’m always intrigued by questions like this, and the responses. My Tech Director just received something the other day from a parents concerned with all of the EMF radiation we’re bombarding our students with each day with all the wifi and laptops. I digress, as this question and this response always makes me wonder…

    Are we honoring the concern from the people posting messages and feelings like this? Do our typical “ed tech supporter” comments have any impact when presented in the “this is the way the world is” format?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE supporter of more technology in classrooms, and I’m not advocating that we kow-tow to any detractor’s messages. Just pondering how effective responses like this are to those on school boards and in our communities that come with anti-technology agendas or messages? Are we reaching out to them, or trying to shut down their arguments?

    I would LOVE to know how this turns out for you, very curious!

    • This is a good point, Ben. As you probably know, I try to speak/write in ways that are emotionally resonant with people. I can see how that can shut down some people or make them feel that their message is not being validated, but we also have to recognize that we have some really big questions to answer about learning, teaching, and schooling that are not going to be addressed by ignoring them. So I often use language that attempts to get people to think bigger and broader. In this case, I was speaking to the board member, not the community member who was being quoted. When I get to interact with people face-to-face, I’m usually a little less bombastic (while still trying to stretch their thinking)…

      Are there ways to validate the message that schools that don’t go backward in time are ‘dumbing down our children’s future?’ I’m not sure I want to. I do want to validate people’s specific concerns, but I’m not willing to advocate that schools strive for a nostalgic, nonexistent yesteryear.

      • I’m not sure you need to validate the idea of “moving backward” to stop dumbing down our children’s future. Rather, can we validate the concern and the anxiety these individuals are sharing with us? Which is what you ended on, and I think that’s a great point.

        It’s very easy to “exist” as one person or personality online, and another in person, but often how we conduct ourselves in online spaces can setup positive or negative first impressions before we’ve even had a chance to communicate in a face to face setting. My concern is that many in our circles aren’t sure how to switch from bombastic to being inviting to others. Even going so far as to bring them into classrooms to see first hand what students are doing and what’s being asked of them by the real world, by standards, and by the community.

  6. Be careful not to dismiss the concerns of this board member out of hand. It is a tricky business to figure out what we are losing with technology–you can’t deny that there are downsides–and which things we are losing are important. Cursive writing is an interesting case, and I would probably come down on the side that it is not important enough to worry about losing. However, math skills is more interesting. Most people who are good at solving problems with math have a strong sense of the way math works, not from punching in numbers into a calculator or computer but from manipulating numbers and equations. We want to leap forward, but we want to guard jealously those things that are important with which technology might interfere. The hard part is knowing the difference between what is important and what is not.

    As an aside, one of my students was lamenting the loss of the card catalog. She wanted to bring it back. But in reality, it is not the card catalog that is important. She was more concerned that students no longer had patience and the ability to alphabetize. I say good riddance to the card catalog, but I don’t say good riddance to patience.

    • Well said, David. Patience, reflectiveness, intentionality, mindfulness, deep conceptual understanding, and so much more… I don’t want to lose those either.

    • Using a slide rule used to be an important math skill. It’s rare to meet anyone who even knows how to anymore (I show my students when we go over logarithms, but otherwise they’d never see one)

  7. A standard part of my “Open House” speech is that when I was in High School the teachers asked “Are you going to carry a calculator everywhere? Now I carry the internet with me everywhere”. I can pull out my phone, load Wolfram Alpha and do calculations that required a workstation and thousands of dollars worth of software just 20 years ago. Ignoring that sort of change is not helping our students.

  8. I’m not opposed to paper and pencils being used in school. They have their place. However, I don’t want “this is what they use in the future” or even “this is the good old fashion way” to be used to justify the use of materials.

    The bottom line is learning and what tools we use for it. We have tools that allow students to be connected to the world. We have tools that make computation irrelevant. We have tools that allow students to never need to take spelling test, because they have instant feedback when they spell things incorrectly (and the research seems to suggest spell check actually helps spelling).

    Why not use the best tools that are available? Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is with paper and pencil. Sometimes we need hands-on, old-fashion manipulatives. In those cases, use them.

    I guess my point is that it doesn’t have to be either/or. We need a blended approach that includes one-to-one, along with a few “old fashion” materials like paper, cardboard, glue, scissors, markers, pencils, etc.

  9. I am a teacher of one group of students who won’t have 1 to 1 devices due to the board cuts, but we were waiting with anticipation for our turn. Not sure that will happen now.

    I wonder if the community member has children in school today. As a teacher AND a parent I am well aware of how my students and my children are not “dumbed down” in our school system. That’s just silly. There is no doubt that my class and those around me write everyday, probably more than my generation and many generations before me were ever asked to write. Yesteryear writing consisted of grammar everyday with the research papers few and far between. Today my students are asked to write based on reflection of reading on a daily basis. They are asked to write narratives, persuasive opinions, and expository pieces or a combination of the three. We do this in reading, writing, social studies, and science.

    Speaking of changes since yesteryear, my students can not only process the math required in their fifth grade level class, they can explain the conceptual reasons behind the math. For those that think our schools are “dumbing down our future”, I’d like to challenge you to “Are You Smarter Than TODAY’S Fifth Graders”! Many parents are unable to help their child beyond the procedural math understanding, due to many had never fully comprehended (nor had to) the conceptual piece to the math. You just had to “do the math” not get it. And lets do the same exact problem type 30 times for homework. I know, I grew up with that instruction.

    In addition, I personally can spell better now that I’ve currently gained more understanding of phonics now that I’ve been trained to teach the students of today! I was taught whole language approach as a kid, fortunately I was good at memorizing. I couldn’t explain any of the spelling rules to you that I know today (and am still learning). Personally, I love when students do have access to type on laptop; the computer red lines all the spelling and grammar issues. They’re getting immediate feedback–like I’m looking over their shoulder telling them “fix it!!!” They despise the red and green spell check lines and try to avoid them.

    School is tough today, and only going to get more challenging as expectations go higher and higher, regardless of whether there is financial or parental support of education. With the 1 to 1 devices, I was hoping to increase the motivation of the students to write even more, challenge them to support their writing with adding research frequently (only practically possible with devices), receive frequent feedback from myself and others, and submit them to the teacher electronically (reduce my back and neck problems carrying all those journals). And that was the anticipated results I expected even before any instruction tech experts could train me to incorporate better strategies to increase my instructional skills. Oh well, I’ll be on my own to solve these problems with less technology, less professional development in the area of technology, and a larger class size (expecting next year’s kids to number 30 in my room, and my daughter’s class next door with 30 students). Regardless, expectations are to grow those children despite any challenges. However fearful of change and challenge, I’m trying to “Keep calm and carry on”.

  10. It’s more than a little ironic that her spell check should have changed “with out” to “without”. Perhaps she didn’t have that feature activated?

  11. We are going through some of the same resistance in our district towards one-to-one but from a small group of teachers. I think the key to this is to keep the conversation open and continuing. We have a pilot in one of our 3rd grade classrooms that is going very well and I am hoping that this group visits the room and sees the advantages that these 3rd graders have over other students.

    I love the title. Great question to ask. One that won’t be easily answered by anyone that is looking out for kids first.

  12. A considerable amount of context is missing here, to the point that it’s difficult to know if anyone is being smug here. My outstanding question is this: has learning improved as a result of their 1:1 program? If not, this community member’s statement, as poorly composed as it is, hits the target dead on. Don’t beat the drum so loudly that you can’t hears the pipes.

  13. Because I have an interest in teaching woodworking to kids, I went into an academic research database to see if anyone had examined the effect of computers on cognitive development in children. If you don’t believe me, look for yourself, but there was only one study, done in Turkey in 2011, that actually acknowledged that computers can cause cognitive and behavioral problems in children. Specifically, aggression and anti-social behavior increased with more time spent at the computer.
    Even more to the point is Piaget’s concrete operational stage of cognitive development, children need to become familiar with a real (not virtual) 3-D reality, not abstractions.

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