It’s Comforting to Know These are not New Problems.

In his recent article at Slate, Vaughan Bell begins his article about the historical fear of media change with this outstanding lede:

A respected Swiss scientist, Conrad Gessner, might have been the first to raise the alarm about the effects of information overload. In a landmark book, he described how the modern world overwhelmed people with data and that this overabundance was both “confusing and harmful” to the mind. The media now echo his concerns with reports on the unprecedented risks of living in an “always on” digital environment. It’s worth noting that Gessner, for his part, never once used e-mail and was completely ignorant about computers. That’s not because he was a technophobe but because he died in 1565. His warnings referred to the seemingly unmanageable flood of information unleashed by the printing press.

I remember sitting with my fellow freshman during our high school’s student council election speeches.  A senior-to-be named, and he clearly annunciated this as he took the podium, Jake John Robert Hast, began his speech with a diatribe against the youth of the day being lazy, incompetent, and not nearly as capable or driven as the generations that preceded them.  He continued in his staccato tone for a good three minutes reading from his endlessly flickering notecards until he reached a dramatic pause.

He looked up from his note cards and informed us that this was just not true.

It wasn’t even written in our parents lifetimes, or their parent’s parents lifetimes.  He was reading from Hesiod, who wrote in the 8th Century A.D.

“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on
frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond
words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and
respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise
[disrespectful] and impatient of restraint” (Hesiod, 8th century BC).

According to Bell, it’s at the age of 35 when we begin to look scurrilously upon that which burst upon the scene in the form of new media, and this being my 35th year, I am paying close attention to how I feel about my social networks.  I’ll admit, there are some I could do without, but that is no reason for me to begrudge those who gain from those interactions.

I was part of a conversation today in which the group I was in was asked what we thought were essential skills for students to leave their K-12 schooling with.  The things we came up with were completely soft skills associated with living well, not hard skills that we are used to seeing in our curriculum.  We spoke of things like discernment, empathy, and ethical behaviors.  Reading through Bell’s piece, it’s easy to see how older generations get their hackles up about skills like this, especially when the means that the younger generations use to express themselves is one that is foreign or extrinsic to them.  If we can’t see how they are attaining these values, we worry.

Image Credit: “steckschrift” from wilhei55’s photostream

Anonymously Dropped Off

Yesterday, upon returning to my desk after being out on Friday and in meetings all morning on Monday, I found an envelope on my desk that was sent via inter-office mail.  Inside of the oft-recycled envelope were a series of desk calendar dates, each with a particular saying on them.  Here is a sample of the Monday, December 7th entry:

Technology can become detrimental to your quality of life when you use the time it saved to get more work done.

The ideas contained in the desk calendar philosophy are not the issue I have; there isn’t one of them that I don’t agree with.  (Even this one: Don’t allow yourself to become a slave to the devices that are meant to be a convenience for you.)  Rather, why not present these to me in a manner that opens dialogue about what you are feeling regarding technology and its role in your occupation?

If I’ve learned nothing else in the past few years, it’s that there will be things that come into your sphere that you embrace quickly and then let go just as quickly.  There are many additive technologies, but what truly makes a difference in our lives, especially the quality of our lives, is the types of technology that are truly transformative.  Another interesting piece is how individualized it all is.  What is revolutionary for me, is drivel and chore for someone else.  However, we all need to strive to find the balance between that which is adding to our workload, and that which transforms it and makes it more efficient.

Right now, someone in my district is striving to find that balance, and letting me know about it too.

The Embedded Curriculum

(Caveat: I haven’t written anything worthwhile in some time, so I apologize for this post’s and any subsequent posts’ inherent lack of quality voice.  These writing muscles are near atrophied.)

This phrase has often been spoken of as the aspects of your curriculum you don’t explicitly state as your objectives: socialization, team-building, self-expression, etc.  These are the words that don’t fit neatly into state standards documents.

After spending my spring and summer of this past year creating and editing new curriculum for over twenty new courses, I am noticing something else in regards to the term “embedded curriculum.”  It’s the ability to get students the tools they need.  It’s not an add-on anymore.  It’s necessary and vital to the success of not only the programs we create for them, but to their success after they leave us.

In our district, every teacher from grades six through twelve has a laptop (either a tablet PC, a MacBook, or a standard laptop), so at that level we have put tools in the hands of the teachers.  We’ve automated and digitized much of their administrative tasks: our SIS handles all grading, scheduling, attendance, conduct, and record-keeping, all lesson plans are done via our online lesson planner, we have more than half of our K-12 population with Moodle accounts, our Google Apps will be up and running in days, and I could go on.

But what does it all mean?

Our teachers are very wired, but our kids don’t have the same access.

For the most part.

We’ve begun the “Great Netbook Experiment,” in twelve of our classrooms at the middle school.  Initial returns are positive, but I haven’t seen the dynamic change yet.  What does your classroom look like when you have ten laptops that are always available?  How does your teaching change?  How can your students learn differently?  These are questions I need answers to before I go heavy in that direction.

Recently, we’ve been interviewing for another position in the district, and one of the candidates really hooked me when he stated that the next big hurdle for schools was to put the power to learn back into the hands of students.  For me, that means moving the focus from giving the teachers the technology towards putting it in the hands of the students.

So when I sit down this year to re-create our Journalism class, my focus is going to be on giving these students the tools of new media specialists, the kind that Mark S. Luckie speaks about in his new book, “The Digital Journalist’s Handbook.” When I sit down to work with our Mandarin Chinese teacher to formalize his curriculum from 6-12, I’ll ask him which tools he’ll need to make his student successful.  Wacom Tablets?  Headsets for conversing?  We have to start tipping the scales in favor of the question “what could they do if they had…” and go from there.  If there is no money for it, fine.  But at least let’s start there.

sarcasm= saying it-not meaning it

Earlier this week I wrote a post for TechLearning which I posted here and at Ecology of Education titled “Open Letter to the Teacher who said ‘I Hate Technology.'” Sarcasm is not my strong suit, but it just felt like the right mode to match the way I was feeling.  I’d like to turn this post over to the commenters at each of the three places that post appeared because of the conversations that sprang from it.

From TechLearning:

Veiled sarcasm and disguised insults and insinuations are not productive tools in diagolue. Nor, are they good tools for persuasion. Yes,it is difficult to leave your comfort zone, however, it is necessary for growth.”
— Roxann

While it is tempting to poke fun at those who resist technology, these teachers are often (but not always) the ones who have many of the other skills and talents necessary for good classroom instruction. They have the learning strategies, classroom discipline and understanding of curriculum down cold. When we honour these skills and abilities and provide on-going support many of these “resistors” are encouraged to use technology and change their teaching. When we belittle them, they, just like our students, retreat, resist and defend. Too often, when we “train” these teachers they feel overwhelmed as they struggle to see how the software connects to what they are doing in the classroom. And so they continue doing what they’ve always done.–Kendra Grant

From Ecology of Education

We might do well to also hate technology for its ability to shed light on assumptions and render the teacher’s knowledge authority obsolete. What’s more, when students understand technology better than us, it only serves to illuminate our own ignorance, further eroding our positions of authority.

What are we left to do? Level with students? Learn alongside them? Or worse, admit we don’t know something and learn from them?! Blasphemy, Patrick. Blasphemy.–Jason Flom

There are many good examples of how teachers are using technology with their students, both in and out of the classroom. It’s important to make those connections so teachers can see the value. Problems arise, though, when some teachers refuse to even participate in the discussion. They don’t need technology, and nothing anyone can say (or show) will change their minds – they’ve closed them tight. I think those teachers are in the minority, but they definitely present a challenge.–tcervo

Think there’s a deeper, possibly more discouraging aspect to this. The teacher who hates technology communicated a hesitation to learn and grow. Technology just happened to the target of the moment. And if that’s the case, this teacher needs to find a job where learning and growth aren’t the actual reason for the job to exist. We all resist change, and perhaps that’s more the motivation here. But failing to recognize that growth = change, and that to continue being a relevant teacher I must grow, and that to grow I must learn, and that technology may be the thing needed to be known at this point in history—that’s a sad commentary. Sure, our teachers did it without technology, but technology (other than filmstrips—BEEP!) was not an option.–Kevin Washburn


I’m not sure if your response is to a hypothetical person or not, but I wonder if the tact you take in this blog post will be a constructive addition to the conversation. Rant is certainly an appropriate tag for the post, and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone an occasional rant. However, if conversation is what your looking for, why not ask questions.–msstewart

Patrick, I too hate technology. That is, I hate technology simply for technologies’ sake. On the other hand, I love learning and I love teaching kids how to learn. If I can use some digital tools among the other tools I’ve acquired over the past 17 years to help kids learn, I love that process. The more tools I have, the more effective I can be, as each tool may not be relevent, useful, or timely in every situation.–Barry Bachenheimer.

Thanks to everyone for truly pushing my thinking on this.

Open Letter to the Teacher who said “I Hate Technology.”

Dear Teacher who Said “I hate technology,”

First of all, I want to thank you for your candor and your willingness to openly share your opinion regarding the use of tools for learning.  I am a firm believer that we should all have an open forum for expressing our opinions about our profession and the factors that influence it.  That is why I am writing here.

Rather than do what most readers of this letter are expecting me to do and refute your claims, I have to admit that I concur–I hate it too.  Yes, I must admit, that comes as surprise, I am sure, but something tells me that our reasons for this shared loathing will not be the same.  Let me share mine with you and then we can have an informed discussion to compare and contrast.

First, I cannot stand that I have had to give up hours of painstakingly annotating papers with carefully crafted comments and editing marks.  I’ll miss that fullness of self when I return the essays and research papers back to the students and they scurrilously thumb to the last page, jettisoning any comment or edit I made, to find out their total score on the paper.

Secondly, the fact that there will be conversations about topics in my class that occurr UNABATED and not in my presence is inconceivable and incorrigible.  Thoughts about the content of my class that do not occur during the sanctity of my 50 minute class period belong either as one-on-one conversations with me in the hallway, clearly stated on their homework papers, or held onto in the working memory of the student until the next class period or hallway conversation with me.

Lastly, the assignment of group projects should be a rite of passage that includes several if not all of the following situations for students: one student should do most of the work including but not limited to: writing, researching, organizing, and assigning ancillary roles to other team members, one student should lose the flash drive that has the slide presentation at least once during the assignment duration, one student, most likely the one who pulls down 30+ hours at the local burger joint, should not be able to meet with the rest of the group at any time outside of school, provided the other group members athletics and extracurricular activities schedules do not preclude any outside of the classroom meetings.  Additionally, I should not be able to see the extent to which each of these students worked on the project until the very end of the process.

As you can see, my role as a teacher is being compromised by the intrusion of tools that render aspects of my daily goings-on as obsolete.  This I won’t stand for.  Plus, adding to my ire is the fact that there is all of this talk about new definitions of literacy.  Reading is no longer just the deconstruction and reconstruction of text, but now I am being asked to help students make sense of rich media, data sets that are visualized, and more streams of immediate news and information on a daily basis.  If you ask me, there is just a whole lot of noise.  What do you say we just don’t listen to it?

We had teachers growing up who were able to teach us the finer points of composing, of calculation, of geography, and the greater literary works of both North America and Europe, yet their technology was limited to chalk, and blessed be, an overhead projector.  Can’t we do as much or more with the same?

So I am with you, I think, in resisting this move, and I’ll do just what’s mandated of me by my building principal.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go close my classroom door…

Cross-posted at Ecology of Education and TechLearning.

Is this the Academia I am Sending my Children to?

From the my own personal Neo-Luddite collection (I found this one in the Philadelphia Inquirer):

“Now that we’re aware ChaCha exists, I can assure you that we will begin
discussion of a formal policy to prohibit cell phone use in classes,”
said Gerard O’Sullivan, vice president for academic affairs at Neumann
College in Delaware County, Pa. He said most professors already
prohibited cell phone use in class.

Let’s rule out something before it is examined.  Sounds highly anti-academic to me.

Using Your Best Judgment

We’ve often talked about choosing the right tool to use for the right setting educationally, and now we’ve got some research to back it up. Recently, Laila Weir at Edutopia wrote about the results of a study done by the Metiri Group, and commissioned by Cisco Systems. The study was aimed at understanding how and when using technology in regards to learning works best. A lot of what came out of the survey is common sense, but some it struck me as I read it because I’ve been wrestling with this in my practice lately.


Weir writes about how the Metiri Group debunks the “Cone of Experience” theory, whereby:

each of us learns 10 percent of what we read, 20 percent of what we
hear, 30 percent of what we see, 50 percent of what we hear and see, 70
percent of what we say or write, and 90 percent of what we say as we do
a thing.

The skinny behind the research here is that when teaching basic skills, like asking students to learn and memorize the chemical symbols on the Periodic Chart, the use of technology and multi-modal teaching does not raise student scores as much as a lesson that isn’t interactive (21 percentage points v. 9 percentage points). However,when more complex skills or concepts are being taught, there is a noticeable uptick in student achievement scores (32 percentile points for multi-modal learning v. 20 percentile points for non multi-modal).

During our sessions with our teachers participating in our tablet program a few weeks back, the topic of multi-tasking came up quite frequently.  Some of them had said that while having the use of portable technology made them more productive, they always felt more compelled to work on something.  That impulse often came in the middle of other aspects of their lives that didn’t include the processes involved in creative work.  One teacher stated that they couldn’t get anything done because it always seemed they had way too much going on at once.  Another teacher chimed in with a quote from an article about the fallacy of multi-tasking.  As it turns out, the Cisco study also reaches the same conclusion about multi-tasking:

“New scientific studies reveal the losses in efficiency in . . . multitasking,” the Cisco report says. “Researchers find that thinking processes happen serially, resulting in delays caused by switching from one task to another. The delays become more pronounced as the complexity of the task increases.”

I can’t speak for others, but unless I have clearly defined parameters to work and think in that center on a singular idea, I can’t accomplish much.  So, for me, I’ve always been one to shy away from multi-tasking.  And when teaching complex processes, it makes logical sense to teach them serially, at least to me.  It also follows from the study that when you present students with information in a clear, concise manner that flows logically they have a better chance at coming to grips with it.

But, perhaps the part of the article that will be most useful in my practice, is this:

if you never recognize or actually think about that audio input, you’re unlikely to remember it later. Translate that same concept to students simply letting the words of a lecture or a textbook wash over them, and the benefits of engaging a “working memory,” a deeper kind of thinking, are obvious.

Allowing for student reflection time about the lecture, and allowing for them to access various parts of their memories to create connections between this new information and the knowledge they already have has positive affects on learning.  This may seem elementary to some, but it still makes me shudder a bit at all of the workshops I have given this year and last in which I presented a whole slew of information to people, and due to time constraints, moved right into something else without giving them time to digest.

What I’d like to be doing is to build reflection directly into the classes and workshops I teach.  How do you do that successfully?

Image Credit: “Reflection,” by Guacamole Goalie on Flickr

Shut that Laptop!

In the last week and a half, my world has been flattened faster than in the previous fifteen months of, shall I say, unabashed geekery. I helped Kim Cofino (along with 17-20 others) present in Bangkok via Google Presentations, I participated in Social Software 07 with Darren Draper and Robin Ellis (sorry I missed tonight), watched Will, Steve, and David on Weblogg-ed TV via UStream, been involved with David Warlick’s Fireside Chat on Tuesday night along with a whole slew of people worldwide, and sat in on a call with Graham Wegner, Sue Waters, and Clay Burell this morning to discuss David’s keynote a little further.

However, there are two significant events that occurred within the last 24 hours, both centering around a premise that was far less technological in its nature. After falling asleep with the boy Tuesday night at 9:00pm, I woke up at 11:00pm to put him in his bed. On the way back to my bed, I checked the computer to see what portion of my network was still functioning. There was the maiden voyage of Practical Theory TV on UStream: something I couldn’t pass up. If you are ever feeling too immersed in the tools, and you have lost sight of the real reason we are employed, grab a seat when Chris is talking, or read his blog, because his perspective never allows him to get too lost on what is cool and new, but rather always brings him back to application and pedagogy. Last night was no different.

Through the course of the 30 or so minutes I was there, Chris and the rest of the crew that were there hashed out the meaning behind a tool like UStream as it relates to student work and student understanding. Yes, very cool tool, but what would a student do with it that they couldn’t do before? How would using UStream significantly alter their understanding of the topic they are grappling with? Through trial and error, much discussion, and play, we were eventually able to pull in Dean Shareski onto the UStream channel so that he was visible and audible to the rest of the audience (through some tinkering and use of CamTwist and Skype). The driving question behind the whole broadcast was not “hey look how cool this!” but rather, what does this mean for teaching? I walked away from that with more perspective than I realized at the moment.

This afternoon, I met with a Language Arts teacher regarding a culminating project for some research they are doing on environmental issues. My role in our schools, Technology Coordinator, tends to predispose me to look for technological solutions to projects like this, and that’s what the meeting started out as. However, as I listened to Laura talk about what she was seeing in the students and their understanding of the research process, of the factors that were contributing to the worldwide environment crisis, my focus again shifted towards questions that were less centered on technology, but rather on giving the students an experience that allowed them to interconnect their converging ideas about the environment. And, unlike 90% of my meetings with teachers, we never once looked at a computer screen. What we designed made me envious of not being in the classroom full-time anymore: a summit representing all of the research angles the students took with the end goal, unbeknownst to them, to have them discover the obstacles to achieving solutions to their issues lie in human behavior.

This provided me with a glimpse into some potential that might be there for me: lesson design and creation. I’ve said it before, probably all too often, but the tools we use as teachers need not be networked in the fashion that all of us are used to now. Having students understand that “networking” can begin within the four walls of the classroom and extend beyond that is an area that perhaps needs some study.

Framework for planning

One of my goals for next year is to really move forward in the area of changing our philosophy from one of “how can I add technology to this lesson,” to one in which the technology was planned for as the lesson idea was hatched. As it is now, on evaluations or yearly reviews, a staple recommendation is to try to integrate technology into the lesson or into the curriculum as a whole. I have noticed a semantic shift lately in the blogosphere, away from the word “integrate” and towards something altogether more holistic, like “embed” or “underlie.” Until this shift takes place within the mind of the subject area teacher and building administrator, I truly believe I will be working on a Sisyphean problem.

Planning for this to happen will involve a shift in philosophy for me, as well. My primary focus will continue to shift from plugging holes and putting out fires, to one where I am more concerned with meeting with teachers and spreading ideas. Thus, the processes of planning and steering become priorities above all else in this new model. David Jakes via the Techlearning blog shared his framework for planning, which I thought was brilliant and clear. Here it is in it’s entirety:

First, the technology use should support a fundamental literacy that the school or organization believes in.

Second, the use of that technology must extend the
lesson, or learning, to a place that could not be achieved unless the
technology had been included. In other words, there must be a
value-added component to the inclusion of the technology.

And finally, the use of technology must be framed
within a pedagogically sound instructional approach-without that, the
first two are meaningless.

So, after reading this, I came up with a quick to-do list

  1. First things first, what are the literacies that we believe in in my corner of the globe? I don’t know that I have ever sat down and tried to articulate what types of literacies are important to our students. Where do I start with that?
  2. If I analyzed every project I worked on this year, what would the ratio of projects that had technology added for the sake of doing it v. projects that were authentic, where the technology took the learning to a place that could not have been reached without it? This is something to look into.
  3. What were student reactions to newer versions of projects? Relying on actual data from students should be an integral part of every project, just as important as any other facet.
  4. How were the teachers and myself bringing this to the students? In just a cursory glance backward, I can see several instances where we pushed an pulled too much on the students without giving them requisite freedom to explore. The approach has to be wide-open next year, where we approach each project with the idea that the learning is open-ended.

Jakes goes further into how he develops these ideas by listing his essential four literacies:

  • Be able to connect.
  • Be able to create.
  • Be able to communicate.
  • Be able to collaborate.

I earmarked these for several different topics that I plan to cover this summer, most notably any contact time I have with building administrators in the form of workshops or meetings. To me, these four are the quintessential starting blocks for planning with any teacher; all other curriculum can easily fit within these guidelines.

Image credit:
Vidiot, “Sisyphus.” Online Image. March 25, 2005. June 3, 2007 .

A tempered rant.

Dean Shareski posted the other day about Possibility v. Probability, where by he addressed the issue of building an infrastructure within his school where change was seen as urgent and necessary in regards to how we use technology in our teaching. This same idea, in various forms, is one that I find myself answering to both internally and with teachers that I work with. The most frustrating aspect of my job so far has been the feeling that teachers don’t see the value in what I do in regards to their own teaching methods. There are two disconnects I see in the schools today: complaints I hear regarding cell phone usage, the ubiquity of iPods, and the persistent time-wasting of online gaming and social networking through MySpace and Facebook and the lack of change in pedagogical methods to captivate that audience and use those ideas and technologies to draw in the learners, and the sore-thumb syndrome, whereby teachers are using technology for technology’s sake rather than as a tool that will foster growth and understanding. Below, is a great clip from Stephen Downes as he responded to Dean’s post and follow up question of what schools will look like in five years, followed by my own comment:

Comment by Stephen Downes

May 26, 2007 @ 6:54 am

there’s no easy answer to that. Schools change very slowly, so although
there will be increased penetration for tech (usually sanitized to
separate students from society) things will look much like they will
today. There will be increased pressure – especially from the U.S. –
for alternatives, but it will be difficult to separate educational
ventures from commercial ventures.

Meanwhile, online media will have gradually become more pervasive
and more immersive. It will occupy an increasing amount of students’
time. Online will be – indeed, is already – be thought of as ‘normal’
and most students will be in constant communication with their friends
(watch out for loners shut out of this network, as they will be more
isolated than ever).

Mostly, school will be about socializing and learning pushed to the
back burner (at least, for students). There will be an ongoing (and
losing) battle by teachers to prevent students from using their
technology. The number of schools breaking down and accepting the
online world will increase. Adoption will be uneven, with urban schools
being at the forefront, rural schools late adopters.

The students’ real learning environment – their online world – will
penetrate the school environment one class at a time. Innovative
teachers will attempt to actually remove students from the school
grounds much more frequently than in the old field-trip days (this
allowing for 100 percent use of online techs). The amount of school
time actually spent ins school, as an average, will constantly decrease
(in five years it should be roughly 80 percent, give or take a lot; in
ten years it could be down to 50 percent, give or take a lot).

Comment by Patrick

May 27, 2007 @ 4:44 am

on where you are, as Stephen said above, the ratio of innovative
teachers to traditional teachers will fall in favor of transformation.
For districts that lie in the suburbs and are truly committed to having
their schools remain centers of community outside of athletics and
arts, the shift is essential and the acquisition and support of
“shifted” teachers will bely their success at being involved in the
real learning process of their students.

This thought process that you had, Dean, is one that I have been
struggling with as I attempt to penetrate(I hope that word doesn’t
sound to pugnacious) classrooms that don’t necessarily see the need for
change. My biggest issue is with the technology not being as
transparent as it should yet. I have several teachers dieing to use
“technology” in their classroom, and several Professional Improvement
Plans submitted by teachers that use that terminology “integrate
technology” but what for? It’s apparent that they are taking that step
just for the sake of using technology. What about making it
transparent, so that it’s just another tool, like heterogeneous
grouping, that they they use to accomplish the goal of learning? That
is where my biggest disconnect is: the technology sticks out too much.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,