Revisit Our Assumptions About “Digital Natives?”

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on May 8, 2014

I am not an avid subscriber to YouTube channels, but I do have a favorite—TheFineBros.  I love their series Kids React.  Created in 2010, it features Fine brothers Benny and Rafi off camera showing kids, ages 5 to 14, videos or introducing topics for discussion. New clips are released weekly.

Black rotary dial telephone with red indicator light
The rotary telephone – a spiffy model with red indicator light.

In the last month, two clips made me laugh and feel old! The content of the first video dealt with how kids reacted to rotary phones. The second looked at their response to a Walkman. In the discussion of phones, kids were presented a rotary phone. The question was, “Where have you seen this?” Answers ranged from in the movies to reading about it in a history lesson. Most admitted they had no idea how to work the phone and did not know how to dial. It was quickly agreed they would not want to use it because it would take too long. When asked what a “busy signal” meant, one boy suggested it meant something was “loading.” All agreed they wanted to keep their iPhones.

A fan of the classics

As the Fine brothers debriefed, some kids reflected on how technology has advanced. They wanted to know if you could text with a rotary phone, and they felt using one would make it harder to call each other because both parties had to be home. However, one boy did say he liked rotary phones and stated, “I’m a fan of classics!”

Watching the clip, I realized most children have had no exposure to the phone I grew up using. They see the symbol of a handset on their iPhone but do not make the connection of where that icon originated. Yet It was only about 20 years ago that land lines were the standard, because cell phones were too expensive and impractical. DSL or cable Internet was something only the rich families had, so most computers connected to the internet using the same phone line that you needed in order to make calls.

Sony Walkman cassette player with earphones
The Sony Walkman was introduced in 1979.

The Walkman clip was just as funny—and just as depressing! When presented with a Walkman, initial comments included, “What is this, a walkie-talkie?” and, “What do I do?” One girl knew it was a cassette player but needed help to find the on button. They were told they needed a cassette tape but they did not know what that was. When given a cassette, they asked how to put it in. A few of the children stated they were not going to give up but felt it was “so hard.”

You have to do stuff!

After pressing play they were frustrated because they couldn’t hear any sound. They tried to solve the problem by turning up volume but were told they had to have headphones. When given headphones, one girl stated that her grandpa had them. When they finally got the player going, one girl said she felt “so accomplished” but another said it took forever and was too complicated. One of the more telling statements was when a girl said she felt “lazy” saying so, “but you have to do stuff.” One boy remarked that he “could not imagine living in your day.” Others said they “felt bad” for people living in the 90s.

After watching these videos, I thought about the generalizations adults, especially educators, make about “digital natives.” We assume all technology is easy for students to learn since they were born into a technology-focused society. Yet, if we assume students know everything about technology, aren’t we limiting their opportunities to learn and ask questions?

Experience not age?

Maybe it’s time we look at basing the terms digital native and digital immigrant on experience rather than age. Some users over 30 are very technology savvy while we have students that lack tech skills due to lack of exposure in their educational settings or lack of access at home. Educators need to remember everyone has their own skill set and comfort level with technology. We need to be able to meet the learning needs of all. Don’t be afraid to teach technology skills when needed or pair students up for peer tutoring. Perhaps most important of all, make your professional growth goal to become a digital native yourself to better enable you to convert those immigrants in your classroom! While you’re at it, check out Kids React and the other series on TheFineBros.

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Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Initiatives—Increasing the Odds for Success

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on December 1, 2013

Cartoon hands with many tech devices
See “Security Amidst The Mobile Chaos” for a business perspective on the BYOD issue.

Unimaginable not all that long ago, growing numbers of schools and districts are launching programs where students are permitted to bring their own mobile devices to school for classroom use. The work I do makes it possible for me to spend time in schools and districts across the country. In the last two years I’ve had numerous opportunities to see several different manifestations of BYOD in action. It’s probably no surprise that some approaches to BYOD are more effective than others. However, I’m learning that irrespective of overall program design there are five specific issues that must be addressed to lay the groundwork for successful BYOD programs.  They are described here.

1. Infrastructure: The state of your network matters—a lot. I’m not a technician, but from what I’ve seen and been told at multiple schools struggling with network problems, a common problem is that folks who design the infrastructure typically underestimate the amount of traffic that will be generated by a BYOD program. As a result, teachers and students can’t get online, become discouraged, and abandon BYOD altogether.

Schools and districts must have a realistic understanding of what their infrastructure needs to support BYOD. Until the network is at the point where it can handle the amount of traffic that will be generated by students using their own devices (and then some), limit the scope of the rollout to what the network actually can support. This may mean initially planning a small pilot that can be expanded as the network becomes more robust. While a staged approach may not please everyone, it is preferable to a situation where the network isn’t functioning reliably for anyone.

2. Hardware specs: BYOD does not mean that students must be allowed to bring to school any mobile device they happen to have on hand. It’s important to take time to identify the kinds of learning activities the technology needs to be able to support and then establish minimum specifications for the devices students may bring based on identified uses. When students’ devices meet a pre-determined baseline, it’s easier to for teachers to plan lessons and for students to fully engage in classroom activities.

3. Policies and procedures: I’m surprised at the number of schools I visit that launch BYOD programs having given little or no thought to how they will handle a range of issues from devices that are lost or broken to students who circumvent the school network using their device’s 3g or 4g connection (not to mention procedures for downloading apps, troubleshooting student-owned hardware, charging batteries, and much more). Of course it’s not possible, or even desirable, to craft policies and procedures that attempt to cover every possible circumstance, but a few clearly stated, reasonable expectations shared with students ahead of time and then enforced will set the stage for success.

4. Professional development: Incorporating effective use of student-owned technology into classroom activities requires far more than a mandate. Few teachers have expertise in use of multiple mobile platforms or are comfortable designing learning activities that require use of mobile devices to support collaboration or critical thinking. Yet it’s common for teachers to be asked to participate in BYOD initiatives with little or no professional development. Even teachers who embrace more traditional technology use benefit from training focused on strategies and tools for addressing academic content in mobile environments. Ongoing professional development that includes a coaching component is an effective model, but requires a significant commitment of time and financial resources.

5. Parent involvement: The importance of parent support for BYOD programs cannot be over-emphasized. Educators must include parent representatives in BYOD planning as early in the process as possible. In addition to garnering support for the initiative within the community, parent representatives can provide very useful information when determining minimum specifications for mobile devices that may be brought to school and as school officials design BYOD policies and procedures. Recent Speak-Up Survey reports indicate strong parental support for BYOD initiatives nationally. Capitalize on this to shore up local support for local programs.

Take the time to work through these five issues. Your teachers, IT staff, students, and parents will thank you.

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iPads, and Netbooks, and Chromebooks! Oh My!

Posted by Will Kimbley on November 3, 2013

Netbook, iPad, and Chromebook

The times they are a-changin’. Previously, there have been haves and have-nots with regard to the presence of technology in education. Now, the demands of the Common Core, and their attendant Smarter Balanced assessments, dictate that schools provide technology tools for students.  In California, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson’s soon to be released ed-tech blueprint says the goal is 1:1 devices for everyone. So, how do we meet that goal? What devices do we purchase, and why?

We have seen a number of districts roll out one-size-fits-all solutions. It sounds a little like the Oprah show: “You’re getting an iPad, you’re getting an iPad!”  But is that the best decision? What are the key factors to consider?

One of the primary considerations is the Smarter Balanced assessments. There are requirements that whatever technology is purchased meets a set of minimum specifications, e.g. 10 inch screen, 1024 x 768 resolution, keyboard, as well as certain operating systems (click here for complete information).

Besides the new assessments, there are other considerations.  Cost, of course, is a big one. How much money do you have to make the purchase? What about sustainability? What is the life of the device? Which devices are easiest to manage? All of these are important, but they neglect one of the biggest factors that often gets overlooked: the classroom.

The decision-making process must include how the device will be used in the classroom. The mobility of tablets is great for science classrooms and allows students to do science.  What about a class where the primary use will be word processing? Then an iPad or Android tablet may not be the best solution. What about Chromebooks? They work great with Google Drive and web based applications and you can’t beat the price. You can get two Chromebooks for the price of one iPad, and you don’t have to purchase an additional keyboard. But if you need to install software, then you’ll need a different device. Netbooks are another possible solution, but they tend to have slower processors and have a difficult time running large operating systems such as Windows.

The reality is there is no single device solution that will cover all your needs. While a single device type may be easier to manage, you should consider a variety of devices. Talk to teachers who are already using devices in the classroom. Find out what devices they prefer. Pilot a variety of devices with teachers of various skill levels. Survey students to find out what they prefer to use. Weigh the pros and cons of the various devices and how they will be used. There is no perfect solution, and no way to make a good snap decision. Whichever devices you choose will require careful consideration and planning.

 

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Say hello to the Free Agent Learner—that is, a typical middle school student!

Posted by Sandra Miller on May 11, 2013

Students are not waiting around for educators to provide a new type of environment for their learning. They are creating opportunities for themselves.

Middle school students, in particular, view learning in new ways, often very different even from today’s high school students, who tend to use technology for more “traditional” tasks such as checking grades, taking notes, accessing online texts, writing papers and doing homework.

Students using their own technology.
“Digitally Aided Education, Using the Students’ Own Electronic Gear” – click Todd Anerson’s great photo for related article in the New York Times.

Not so the middle school students in Project Tomorrow’s “Speak Up” survey, who use technology for a wide range of learning tasks.  These students use technology to:

  • Collaborate with classmates on problem solving
  • Tap into Facebook for schoolwork help
  • Text their teachers with questions
  • Solve real world problems
  • Find podcasts/videos to learn about something
  • Access online textbooks
  • Use mobile apps to self-organize
  • Access online tutors
  • Use online writing tools
  • Take online tests or assessments on their own

Teachers and administrators will need to work together to re-create learning environments for these “Free Agent” learners.  Many have smart phones and want to use them.  Their parents are supportive, using smart phones themselves and often using technology in their own jobs.

Understandably, administrators are hesitant to embrace the use of smartphones and other mobile technology at school due to concerns about internet safety and district liability, digital equity, network security, and teacher training.   Likewise, teachers hesitate with worries about distraction, digital equity, cheating, and knowing how to integrate new devices.  At the same time both recognize that  there are potential benefits to integrating new technologies:

  • Increasing student engagement
  • Personalizing instruction
  • Reviewing classroom material and extending the day
  • Providing access to online resources

Can we as educational leaders shift our thinking?  As Charles Darwin (English Naturalist 1809-1882) said,  “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

The Free Agent Learner already incorporates technology into learning beyond the school walls; it is up to us as educational leaders to take advantage of these new new tools and approaches within our schools and classrooms.  Let’s get on with it!

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Same Song, Second Verse

Posted by Susan Brooks-Young on April 29, 2013

Image of The Prune Song sheet music 1928Do you remember The Prune Song? A camp classic, this silly ditty reviews the travails of life as a prune. The pleasure in singing the song comes from repeating over and over its first verse —“a little bit louder and a little bit worse!” A fun way for nine-year-olds to wile away the time perhaps, but not so amusing when adults persist in this same behavior.

Two decades ago Apple Inc. hired independent researchers to evaluate the impact of the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) project. One important outcome of this report was the recognition that when technology use is limited to supporting traditional instruction or increasing student productivity, any improvements in student performance cannot be attributed to the technology. Subsequent studies and models (e.g., the Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition (SAMR) model) draw similar conclusions.

What kinds of technology-supported activities actually make a difference? The research is clear on this as well. When students engage in project-based learning experiences or solve authentic problems using technology as one of several available tools, increases in achievement can be attributed—at least in part—to technology use. How does this information impact classrooms today?

In their eagerness to incorporate use of mobile tablet devices into classrooms, some educators are taking the same-song-second-verse approach instead of taking time to think through how this technology could be used to significantly change classroom instruction. As has been the pattern with earlier technologies, it’s not uncommon to hear about schools and districts that have purchased equipment with minimal planning for actual classroom use. Or to run across teachers who envision primary use of tablets consisting of apps that cover discrete Common Core performance indicators. The upshot of this is teachers spending their time searching for and deploying stand-alone apps that have a limited shelf-life and use minimally effective instructional strategies to teach or review very basic concepts.

What can school leaders do to reverse this trend? Here are a few simple suggestions:

  1. Resist the temptation to deploy mobile tablet devices to ‘see what will happen.’ Take time to plan thoroughly. The College of William & Mary School of Education Learning Activity Types wiki offers a variety of technology-supported activities based on the TPACK model.
  2. Work with staff to revisit Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy. Several talented educators have posted work online designed to help teachers rethink classroom use of touch technology. Check out Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy and Bloomin’ Apps for ideas.
  3. Think beyond drill and practice or task automation. The most effective use of tablets is for content creation, not content consumption. Encourage teachers to explore ways students can use tablets for project-based learning and to solve authentic problems.

 

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