Bill MacKenty

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Discernment and EdTech

Posted in Educational Tech News on 04 - May 2007 at 10:09 PM (17 years ago). 309 views.

Interesting article in the New York Times about 1:1 laptop programs not working.

First of all, I’m disappointed the 1:1 program didn’t work for Liverpool. After seven years, it looks like they gave the program their best effort, and it failed.  There was no measurable increase on test scores, teachers were disappointed and frustrated, and more resources were devoted to fixing the laptops than training the teachers how to use them. It certainly gives me pause to consider the role and use of technology in the classroom.  I am certainly motivated to examine the failure and figure out how we can avoid their mistakes.

Secondly, I’m struck at the lack of sophisticated discourse about technology in education.  This simple thinking - “throw a computer in front of them and hope for the best” is born from a profound lack of understanding in technology in education. Many people simply do not understand how technology can support learning and teaching. Moreover, we are still using an educational organizational framework from a long time ago (see below).

Amusingly, many people agree how vitally important technology for our kids, but very few understand how to do it. Why does this feel like a bad comedy?

There is a difference between teaching with technology and learning with technology. Using technology:

1) Teachers can communicate with parents, students and each other more effectively and efficiently. 
2) Teachers can save class notes and online - allowing students to review and prepare more effectively.
3) Teachers can easily embed movies, audio and pictures into a presentation - allowing for a deeper presentation of content material.
4) Teachers can easily make lesson plans, rubrics, classroom notices, newsletters, etc…
5) Teachers can use a discussion board to see what types of questions students are asking.
6) Using a quick-response system, teachers can very quickly get feedback or assessment.

But does technology make learning better?  Does technology do a better job than traditional teaching methods?  This is much more difficult to grok.

Shifting sands

I’m 37.  Without sounding like an old-codger, I believe the internet and computing has fundamentally changed our kids. They have shorter attention-spans, they multi-task, they are impatient, see things in black and white,  and generally move faster than kids did 20 years ago.  Time magazine has done some good stories about the intersections between kids, technology, and education. The point? We are teaching to a different kid using the same pedagogy.

The bad-assessment argument

One common theme I hear when about educational technology is technology teaches in ways traditional assessment can’t measure. For example (from the article) if we ask kids to review the (online) saturated fat contents from 3 different fast-food restaurants, and then ask kids to choose the healthiest meal -  have they done something importantly educational? I think so, but does that translate to a standardized test?

However, does this activity translate into assessable knowledge?

I guess it depends on the assessment instrument, yes?  One of the points made in Time magazine was this exact idea; when you ask for basic understandings, you get basic teachings, da?

We must be sure our kids understand basic facts and ideas - we must also be sure that’s not all they understand.

Technology gets in it’s own way

From a classroom teacher: “I spend more time focused on the technology than the teaching.” There is a relationship between the ease of use and educational efficacy. One of the failures in Liverpool was related to technical problems.  Technical problems often spell the end of technology use by teachers.  I remember a class I observed where the teacher was using a smartboard. The lesson was a disaster. The smart board wasn’t working as he expected, the laptop he was using was all screwed up, and the out of 40 minutes of class, he taught for 10. We need simple, workable, problem-free computers.  I note the idea behind Alpha Smart is wise; simple and basically indestructible.  I’m curious about these $100 laptops.

This is also where effective support enters - and the idea of TCO comes in. Cash-strapped schools don’t often account for the whole cost of buying a computer…training, support, and replacement are often dropped.  BUY A LONG TERM SUPPORT CONTRACT WHEN YOU BUY A LAPTOP FOR YOUR SCHOOL!!!!.
Oh, and by the way, this is why I like Macs in education.  Simplicity equals success.
It’s a tool

Here’s a funny story about banning pencils.  At the end of the day, technology is a tool, to be used (and abused) like any other tool.

Let’s look at paper notebooks. Kids can write notes to their friends, draw pictures, or use the notebook in an ineffective educational manner.  This is slightly related to control; if a teacher feels they cannot control or relate to technology they may be less inclined to use it. 

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

We’ve had some bad news on the ed-tech front lately; I for one, welcome it. I believe we need to closely scrutinize how we are using technology, and start using technology in a way which makes real sense. The days of blanket use of tech is over. We need to discern the role of technology in the classroom!

I believe there are 2 ways to think about technology:

Administrative use

Technology can really make a difference in the administrative lives of our teachers.  See the above list.  On this point, schools should make sure technology is ubiquitous and works as expected.


Teaching with technology

If a teacher WANTS to use technology in the classroom, they should - we should really support them!  But I think a grant/application process is a good idea.  Teachers should clearly explain what they want to use technology for. How will they measure success, and how the technology will extend and enhance their learning.  It is important everyone is clear what they want to do.