Mostly pertinent thoughts about technology and education by school and district leaders
Author: Michael Simkins
Michael Simkins is Consulting Director of TICAL — the Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership. Prior to that he was director of the Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project and also served as COO of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network. He was an elementary schoolteacher for 17 years and an elementary principal for 9 years. He grew up in Manhattan Beach, California, when it was still a “sleepy beach town.”
In this article from the Dallas News, UT Austin professor Joan E. Hughes compares active and passive uses of technology.
Research has shown these passive uses of tablets are about as effective as a teacher’s lecture. Innovative, progressive teaching with tablet technology requires creative solutions.
She also highlights the issue of inequitable use—especially the tendency noted in some research for students of color, those from low-income families, or those who are low-achieving primarily to use technology in school to passively receive information while their more affluent, gifted, or advanced peers have more opportunity to use technology for active, creative and social learning activities. Hughes encourages schools to take a look at how technology is being used in different classroom and instructional contexts and to be alert for such discrepancies.
This is a nice article to share in your school newsletter or with parent groups.
The younger generation uses technology in the same ways as older people — and is no better at multitasking.
That’s the assertion of a recent opinion piece in Nature. It caught my eye, partly no doubt, because I tend to agree, at least to a point. The article was prompted by the release of a paper by European academics Paul A.Kirschner and Pedro De Bruyckere, “The myths of the digital native and the multitasker.” Highlights from the paper include:
Information-savvy digital natives do not exist.
Learners cannot multitask; they task switch which negatively impacts learning.
Educational design assuming these myths hinders rather than helps learning.
A key point is that being immersed in digital technology does not automatically equate to being technologically savvy. I have observed this in students in online courses I teach. They use technology constantly, but they can be quite naive about it. They use technology the way I drive a car—I know how to make it go and how to make it stop, but I have only vague ideas about how a car works.
Most of us are familiar with Abraham Maslow’s classic Hierarchy of Needs. According to his theory, we first need to satisfy lower level needs before we can eventually hope to reach the apex of existence, self-actualization. Of course, this makes a lot of sense. For example, we still believe that students’ basic needs must be met, such as getting enough sleep and having a decent breakfast before coming to school, if they are going to be able to concentrate on learning once they arrive.
This summer, I was studying up on digital citizenship for my Leading Edge Certification for the Administrator course, and some of us got into a discussion on how best to introduce the various elements of digital citizenship into the curriculum. For some reason, Maslow’s Hierarchy came to mind. I decided to play around with how the skills and “habits” of digital citizenship might fit into the hierarchy. Here’s what I came up with:
No, it’s not rocket science, it’s probably flawed, but it was a fun intellectual exercise. Plus it gave me a chance to make my first “Google drawing!” Could not, however, figure out how to color my levels as J. Finkelstein did his, but then he was using something called Inkscape. I checked that out and it looked like it would require a much longer learning curve. There’s always a trade off, yes?
That was the question my fifth-grade students asked after the second of two school assemblies we attended in close succession. The first was about earthquake preparedness and the speaker told the kids to sleep with their bedroom doors open. In the second, the fire marshal admonished everyone to sleep with their bedroom doors closed. Good grief! What’s a ten-year-old to do?
I was reminded of that dilemma recently when, on the same day, I read two interesting articles, one entitled “6 Shifts in Education Driven by Technology” and the other, “Instead of Getting Ready for the Tech Revolution, Schools Are Scaling Back.”
The first article summarized the latest Horizon Report, which predicts that within the next two years, technology will drive us all to “rethink the role of the teacher.” Teachers will be expected to be adept at all sorts of technology, adapt it to instructional uses, and use technology to extend learning “beyond the traditional school day.”
The second, on the other hand, proclaims that “The promise of digital education is still out of reach for most American students.” Why? School Internet connections are too slow. Even with access, kids are still sharing devices, the devices they share are old, and the bulk of new spending on technology is going into efforts to get ready for the new Common Core assessments.
My hunch? For years we’ve known, “What gets tested gets taught.” Now, we have a rhyming corollary: What the test needs gets bought.
The upside? We really don’t have to test all the time, so I’m betting teachers will leverage any technology that may have been purchased primarily to get ready for Smarter Balanced or PARCC and make it serve a higher educational purpose.
We educators talk a lot about personalization. My dear friend Barbara Bray is a tireless advocate for personalizing learning environments. Goodness knows we’re all very busy building and maintaining our personal learning networks. In 1996, when I left my job as a principal to direct a federal technology project, a reporter interviewing me for the local newspaper asked me what I thought the value of technology was for education; I answered, “It’s going to enable us to personalize learning.”
As with many good things, though, there are malignant forms of personalization—insidious strains that surreptitiously undermine our ability to freely learn what we want to learn. Barbara calls out “adaptive learning systems” as one example. “The filter bubble,” as described by Eli Pariser, is another. A couple months ago I read his book of the same name. Until then, I’d thought I was a pretty savvy guy about all things Internet, but Eli’s book poked a hole in my own naiveté bubble.
I consider myself to be a pretty damn good researcher. Even before the Internet, I could walk into a library, pull out the card catalog or the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature, and usually find out what I wanted to know. When the Internet came along, I mastered Boolean expressions and entered researchers’ paradise. The only information I had trouble finding was information that hadn’t yet be digitized.
Then “smart” searching came along. At first, this seemed great. Start typing a couple words in the search box and voilà! Google or Bing or whatever tool you’re using just “knows” what you’re looking for. Over time, though, I found myself having trouble finding what I wanted. I’d change my search terms all kinds of ways and I’d still get the same off-base results. It’s like trying to explain something to someone who just doesn’t have the knowledge or context to “get it.” Like Big Brother or JIm Anderson, Algorithm knows best. Ask for whatever you will, Knowledge Graph decides what you really need. Not good. In fact, creepy.
Watch this TED Talk. Eli explains it better than I.