Brain Research and Technology

Posted by Stephen Vaughn on December 2, 2008

Have you run across Brain Rules? It’s a great book by John Medina that sets out basic rules for surviving and thriving at home, school and work. These rules have some interesting implications for the use of technology in learning. Example: For short term memory, remember to repeat. Repetition is one of the strengths of technology because you can set up a system to repeat concepts many times without getting tired or without getting angry.

Another rule is: Vision trumps all other senses. So technology that provides visual media helps students learn and remember more. A research study indicated that computer animation that is too complex or lifelike may be distracting to learners. Simple, colorful, two-dimensional, animated graphics are best.

Example 3: Learners are natural explorers, so technology that provides access to other ideas, regions or people will help learners learn more and apply what they learn in their life.

Still not convinced? Example 4: Stimulate more of the senses. Technology can be used to simultaneously present text, images, sounds and even smells that combine into a robust learning experience cheaply and easily. Think teaching the concept of circumference by showing a clip of Indiana Jones running away from the large sphere at the beginning of the movie.

One of the obstacles we face in using technology is not having a solid rationale for why and how we are using it. The concepts in Brain Rules can help us build a foundation of research for making sound choices about how we use technology to improve learning.


What’s in Your Digital Dossier?

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on November 20, 2008


“…access to the technologies is not enough. Young people need to learn digital literacy—the skills to navigate the complicated, hybrid world that their peers are growing up in. This type of inequity must be overcome. The costs of leaving the participation gap unaddressed over time will be higher than we should be willing to bear.” (John Palfrey and Urs Gasser,Born Digital, p.15)

An article that appeared in the Houston Chronicle on Nov. 10 underscores the importance of teaching digital literacy starting at a very early age and then on an ongoing basis. The story isn’t new—just the latest in an ongoing saga of students (even school officials) who do not understand that things posted online are public! In this case, a University of Texas football player was expelled from the team after using his Facebook page to post a racial slur about President-elect Obama.

Kids and some adults today have a new take on privacy. Many don’t realize that, even when posted in ‘private’ areas, anything they put online can be accessed if someone wants to badly enough. And we all have plenty of private data posted. Palfrey and Gasser call this collection of data we reveal about ourselves a digital dossier. They argue that although giving up control of this data makes life easier in the short run, we may later regret having been quite so open with this information. They also are concerned that adults are giving their children too much latitude with giving up control of this information because we choose to look the other way rather than teach them how to manage their digital dossiers. Click here to view a short video clip that explains this concept. (Of course, because the clip is posted on YouTube, your school’s filtering software may block it, in which case you may need to wait and watch the clip at home!)

Here are some questions to ponder: What are your thoughts about digital dossiers? How much information can we safely post online and what should we try to protect? What is our responsibility when it comes to teaching children how to protect themselves?


Jack Goes Back to School

Posted by Michael Simkins on September 4, 2007

Click image to watch Jack's video on YouTube.

Just as I was beating myself up for going a month without posting anything (of course, it was a summer month, after all), our very own California State Superintendent of Schools Jack O’Connell provided me with the perfect inspiration. He made this short Back to School video and posted it to YouTube. What a nice blend of fun and practical advice. And it’s also a creative way of using technology to put a friendly, human face on state government, which, for most kids anyway, can seem a very distant and incomprehensible institution. Way to go, Jack!

Superintendent O’Connell’s 10 Tips for Kids:

  1. Read for fun.
  2. Turn off the TV and get creative.
  3. Get plenty of rest.
  4. Eat healthy and exercise.
  5. Don’t give up, ask for help.
  6. Learn by helping others.
  7. Make friends who are different.
  8. Schedule time for homework every day.
  9. Volunteer to be a mentor.
  10. Set your sights high.

Personalizing Education at Stanford’s Online High School

Posted by Michael Simkins on June 17, 2007

It was a sunny June morning in 1996, one of my last days as a principal. Soon, I would be in a new job in a new world—directing a large scale education technology “innovation” project spanning several school districts in Silicon Valley. A reporter from the local newspaper had come to campus to interview me about my years at the school and plans for the future.

One of the questions he asked was, “What do you see as the value of technology in education?” Answering was easy. “Two things. First, I think it can add efficiency to the way we manage schools and accomplish daily tasks. More importantly, I think it can enable us to personalize education far more than we do today.” More than ten years later, I hold the same view.

We’ve made a lot of progress on the efficiency side of things. We’ve put technology to work storing and managing student data, scheduling busses, and making our schools safer. Frustratingly, it seems to be taking us a lot longer to realize the potential of technology to make education more personal and engaging for students.

That’s why I was excited to read in today’s Los Angeles Times about Stanford University’s Online High School. Part of the University’s Education Program for Gifted Youth, it is in its infancy and has only 30 students, but so far seems a success.

As staff writer Mitchell Landsberg writes, “The Stanford program intertwines two uneven threads in modern education: online learning and differentiated instruction for the gifted. As it turns out, it’s a natural marriage, and one that underscores the potential for computers to help break down the one-size-fits-all paradigm of many U.S. schools.”

Amen. And, in my experience, what’s good for the gifted is quite often good for the rest of us as well. Whether we’re talking about learning styles, English language learners, multiple intelligences, special needs, or just plain old varying interests, differentiating instruction makes sense. The Online High School is an example of how technology can help us do it.