Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Transforming Education with Technology: Literature Review 2

Transforming Education with Technology: A Conversation with Karen Cator
By Marge Scherer, Educational Leadership, Feb 2011.

The article is an interview between Marge Scherer and Karen Cator, the drector of the Office of Educational Technology highlighting the goals and vision that the U.S. Department of Education has for schools nationwide surrounding technology. A lot of what she had to to answer was questions we have addressed in class- equal access, integrating technology into the lives of digital immigrants, digital literacy, and how to screen the information to which students have access. Karen Cator answered many of the questions thoroughly and addressed some major concerns, but she also brushed aside some of the questions or gave overly simplified answers.

She speaks first of a classroom in North Carolina that she visited watching for student engagement in classrooms with highly integrated technological systems. In this specific school, all students have their own laptops and smartboards and she states that "in several classrooms, I couldn't tell where the front of the classroom was... the whole space was a learning environment, and the technology was just part of the infrastructure." Hearing about the school in Moorseville, I pictured a setup entirely different from the more traditional desks facing the blackboard set up that I often encountered in elementary school. The idea of having a classroom that is more of a thriving organism of learning rather than having the teacher be talking at students hoping to get them learning seemed both exciting and scary to me at the same time. While Cator was praising this school, she stated that in a high school classroom where students were presenting "the teacher did not have to know how to create what the students created; she was looking for students' understanding of theme and ability to communicate."

While in one way I agree that by high school, most students are extremely technologically literate and excel in using technology for various means of learning and expression, at the same time it brings up the question of access. Though the teacher was looking for student understanding and their ability to communicate, is it providing students an equal opportunity to succeed when some students may have grown up with multiple computers in their home while others may have had the majority of their online access in school? I don't think so- I think it is important that teachers understand what their students are doing for many reasons, if not primarily so that they can help further student understanding and success. If students are using formats and means of technology that is above the teachers' level of comprehension, how can the teacher help students that may not understand?

Cator states that student access and leveraging student owned devices is all relevant to the local context. I suppose in a school where every student has a school provided laptop, all students will be familiar enough with internet resources to create presentations that their teacher may not be able to create as well. But putting the responsibility of devices partly on families and partly on schools and chalking it up to "shared responsibility" but then going to state that "we cannot have policies that exacerbate the digital divide" seems a little incomplete to me. If the national government is proposing a plan to integrate technology to enhance education, the plan needs to incorporate ways to prevent the digital divide from going, not just staying that some schools might be responsible, some families might be responsible, we'll figure it out on a local context. Chances are, the local communities that can't afford laptops at home aren't going to have as much involvement to figure out what is needed at school or aren't going to have the government funding to get the technology they need at school.

Beyond what technology can do for students and what a truly integrated classroom looks like, Scherer asks Cator how veteran teachers can "become more facile with technology". Cator believes the best way is to "focus first on their personal use". She goes on to list examples of how teachers of all ages use technology to video conference with family or grandchildren, shop, or reconnect with old friends. Though a lot of digital immigrants are capable of these things, in my opinion it doesn't mean that they have the same comprehension or capability as students who have been doing these things since they were toddlers. Cator says "I think we need to get beyond calling teachers digital immigrants, as if technology holds a certain code only young people can decipher. We can let that go." Though I'd like to agree with her, I think there are a few more years where a lot of teacher may be digital immigrants and it would be very time consuming for them to enhance their digital literacy. Do I think they should? Yes, especially because it would not only benefit them as teachers but benefit their students' learning, but teachers already feel a time crunch in everything they do, so part of the new plan needs to be providing teachers with access to technology as well.

The thing I liked most in the article is that Cator speaks of "digital citizenship" and what that means for students and teachers. "Just as we have always worked with students to play well on the playground, we need to make sure they learn to behave well in an online environment... it's really important that students understand that their voice is amplified and persistent when ti's online." This aspect of citizenship is something that I think has been greatly overlooked and that can be seen in the amount of virtual bullying and the blatant public displays of inappropriate behavior students feel comfortable posting in a public virtual setting. It is important that we not only teach students how to interact face to face, as that is still incredibly important, but also focus on the behavior, respect and community that needs to exist online.

"The ability of people to live in a globally networked society depends on developing a sense of personal responsibility and applying it online, just like offline." Students need to understand that just because it's online doesn't mean that other people won't see it or that they aren't accountable. In creating aware students that want to be upstanding, kind, educated, passionate moral citizens of the world, we need to make sure they understand this means they need to adhere to the moral code in regards to themselves, to others, in person and online.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Technology in the Classroom: How my thoughts have changed...

Though I consider myself pretty much a digital native, when I began this class I had the opinions that may show that in actuality I'm a digital immigrant. I didn't like the ideas of kids using computers all of the time and I still have some of the same worries that my kids won't play outside or know how to hold a conversation face to face. That being said, the thing that has changed the most for me is the realization that my job as an educator is to prepare students for their future, not to condition them to how I think things should be.

Even if I don't believe that all of the intense technological use is in the best personal interest of the students, it is in their best interest if it helps put them at an advantage for their future and gives them access to new ways of learning and information. The reality is that students to love technology, it's how they learn, how they find information, how they relate to one another and how they gain information about the world around them. Even if I think having a pen pal might be more beneficial, or playing a game outside is better than playing computer games, the reality is that having an email pal is probably more beneficial to the learning my students need to find success in the future.

This was the biggest shift for me- my job is to prepare students for their future regardless of my beliefs. Just because my childhood wasn't as infiltrated with technology doesn't mean I didn't love playing Oregon Trail or Carmen SanDiego. I'm sure the amount of technology I used was far, far more than my parents may have felt comfortable with but the times were changing and that's what I was being presented with, that's what was culturally relevant, and it put me at a huge advantage to be so technologically competent today and I intend to give my students the same advantage.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Providing Equal Access

Though to me the heart of the matter of providing equal access is if you're going to require things to be done on a computer, then you need to allow ample time for them to be completed, it also goes beyond that in a lot of ways. Though time is always an issue to teachers in one way or another, I think providing time for students to do projects is fine, but what about students who don't have computers at home so they're less familiar with how to use them? In giving them 30 minutes to work on a project and giving a student who's been using a computer since age 4 30 minutes to work on that same project- who is bound to accomplish more?

To me that's where providing equal opportunity differs from providing equal access. I think giving everyone time in class is providing them with an equal opportunity to do work. I think providing equal access means incorporating technology fully into your curriculum and going over basics in the beginning of the year so that by the time big projects come around, students are a lot closer than they would be in level to one another. Obviously, some students will be better at certain things than others, but in providing a foundation and assessing where students are in terms of technology skills in the beginning of the year, it will make the life of both teacher and student a lot easier!

If you have two students who are frustrated with technology based learning all year because it's far less familiar to them than to the rest of the class, they are going to disengage in learning very quickly and turn their back on any project, research, social networking, etc that is based within technology. If you take the time to give everyone a foundation in the beginning of the year- let students familiar with technology explore further, let students less familiar get their bearings- you will then be providing not only equal opportunity when you give everyone the same tools and time to work on something, but you will also be truly working towards equal access. Giving students the tools and foundation to access information and technology in the same way as students who may already be familiar with it.

I think this will provide a challenge to teachers, especially because many teachers already feel that they have an overabundance of curriculum to get through before state testing or in school observation, but our job as teachers is to prepare students for their future and help them succeed. Success breeds success, so when a teacher provides a student with time to familiarize themselves with the technology and feel that they have equal skill to their peers, they will be much more likely to succeed than if they feel they're already bound to fail. Equal access isn't just about the same amount of time on a computer, it's about making sure that students can access and understand technology equally, or as close to equally as it gets. To me, that is providing equal access.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Curiosity in the Classroom- EdTech Talk

Though the conversation I listened to on EdTech Talk didn't discuss how technology affects it, the talk I listened to focused on curiosity in the classroom. We examined how to foster creativity and how a curious classroom appears. The issue that came up again and again throughout the discussion from the speakers was time, but what I saw at the bottom of most issues was motivation and the responsibilities of a teacher beyond curriculum.

Sheila, Maria and Lisa constantly discussed how we need to give students time to be curious and how though wrong answers and misconceptions provide a huge opportunity to foster curiosity, the time to explore and elaborate on something that isn't necessarily part of the curriculum is a huge challenge. What they all agreed on though, that curiosity is a key to being successful learners.

While trying to define curiosity, someone mentioned that curiosity is asking questions. As much as I think that's a sign of curiosity, I think it goes much further beyond that. As a student, I have asked questions not because I really want to know something, but sometimes it's because I feel like it's something that might be on a test or something that was unclear and I feel is SUPPOSED to be important, but I'm not personally invested. In my opinion, fostering curiosity is attributed 100% to finding intrinsic motivation. If an educator differentiates curriculum enough to allow a student to focus on areas in which they are interested that relate to the unit, curiosity should be organic. Lisa joked that "we teach them things they don't care about," but I think as a passionate and interested teacher, part of doing your job well is to find ways to make them care. Present the information interesting ways, make it relevant to their lives, make THEM find ways to make it relevant to their lives.

At the same time, I think it's also the job of teachers to create an environment in which students feel comfortable to be curious. Knowing that asking questions will be well received and encouraged is crucial to learning and curiosity. It's the job of all teachers to, from day one, to create a genuine sense of community where students accept one another and the teacher models that for everyone. I think a part of that, and it's something I really worry about as a future teacher, is a willingness to talk about thing's teachers are "not supposed" to talk about. What students often want information on is what is going on in the world, in their communities, in their families, in their school- they are curious about the things that affect their everyday lives, the world they live in, etc.

Is it always relevant to curriculum? Probably not, but it is important that our students look at school as a safe learning environment, learning is all inclusive and happens every moment in the day, more outside of a structured classroom than within. It is important that educators encourage students to find and examine information and that students have a place that they feel safe to ask some tough questions or discuss some difficult aspects of history or current events. Students should feel like the teacher is honest with them and willing to delve into subjects of all kinds, and they should especially feel like teachers are there to help them learn more about things of which they're curious.

Overall, I liked this edtech talk better than the last one I heard though there wasn't much direct discussion about technology. That being said, I think it's easy to see how much technology plays a role in curiosity whether it's through providing exposure to new ideas or providing further information about existing ideas. It did make me sad that it was so openly acknowledged that there is little time to foster and allow curiosity because of the curriculum that needs to be taught. To me, kids need to be taught about things that they see as fascinating and relevant to create a love of learning that will hopefully spread into subjects of all kinds.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The second educational revolution: rethinking education in the age of technology.

The second educational revolution: rethinking education in the age of technology.
By A. Collins and R. Halverson, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, February 2010.

The article begins by explaining that the history of our current model of schooling stemmed from new technology itself, that of the industrial revolution. The difference in the two education revolutions is that the first created an organized system of education that did not formerly exist; the second and current revolution is posing major challenges and reconsiderations to an institution that exists and has now been in place for two hundred plus years. Policymakers and many teachers believe that schooling is where and how students do and should learn. The reality is with a superabundance of knowledge at their fingertips, students are learning more than ever outside of school. The article states that this is a newer shift, but I believe that most of learning throughout all of life takes place out of school, whether through witnessing events, asking parents questions, traveling, or drawing conclusions about how the world works. It is true, though, that technology allows us incredible accessibility and “has become central to people’s reading, writing, calculating and thinking, which are the major concerns of schooling.”

As an undergraduate student, I took a class called ‘Differentiating Curriculum’ which focused on how to tailor any subject matter to fit the needs, likes and abilities of each individual in the classroom. I remember thinking that as amazing as it would be to tailor each unit and assignment to best suit each individual student and motivate them through letting them explore curriculum by relating it to their interests, with classrooms of 25 students, it seems impossible for a teacher to be able to do that. Through looking over many articles, and especially this one that I finally decided on, I’ve come to conclude that the most amazing benefit of integrating technology into education is that it truly allows customization of learning. In every education theory class or child development class you learn that the biggest link to learning is motivation. If a student doesn’t care about the subject matter or they don’t feel like they’re going to be good at it, it is going to be very difficult to engage them and provoke them to dig deeper and learn more.

Uniform learning and curriculum standardization is so deeply engrained into our current educational structure- whether it’s that there is grading by age, common assessments or standardized testing- that all we do is emphasize that all 25 students from all different backgrounds with all different interests and areas of strength should learn the exact same things at the exact same time in the exact same way. Yet, we wonder why our education system is failing us. Allowing students to use computers and technology permits them to seek out information in ways that suit them, their interests, with a variety of content regarding each topic. The teacher is no longer the expert and the sole information giver, but the students become researchers and experts in a great variety of topics within subject areas. The current model of education, though, has a hard time adjusting “the notion that knowledge is fixed and that the work of the teacher is to present what is known to students.” Yet there is no way any teacher can know every single thing about every single topic within every single subject that may interest any single student.

The No Child Left Behind act has only increased the need for standardized testing in schools and thus requires that all students learn the same things. How can a student that has moved here from Mexico possibly have the same base of knowledge as a student who has lived in Bedford, New Hampshire their entire life? “Whereas information technologies press us to think of new approaches to authentic assessment, standards-based reforms in schools have instead sought to reinforce a single, traditional path towards measuring what students know.” Standardized testing sets up the average or above average student to succeed and leaves everyone else for failure.

Integrating technology into classrooms also proves as a powerful tool in keeping up with current times. Knowledge is exploding in all areas every minute of every day, textbooks just keep getting bigger and bigger but provide just a glimpse into what is going on. While the wealth of knowledge on the internet is a great tool, it also presents educators with a new challenge: Since the knowledge students have access to doesn’t exist only in a textbook, students must learn the right questions to ask and how to figure out what is worth knowing.

There are many benefits to reforming our current method of schooling and integrating technology but the biggest to me is the ability to differentiate curriculum and assessment for students and allowing them to truly interact and get a “hands on” education. Goodbye to the days of students sitting staring at a chalkboard and hello to a classroom full of students searching for quality information that is relevant and interesting. Though there is a lot to be gained, as with every great change that occurs something is always lost, as well. Because this revolution is so new, we’re still amidst finding out what will be left behind.

The article states that if the public school systems don’t get on reform and start making use of all that technology has to offer, public schools will become a place that the wealthy leave behind, sending their kids to schools that utilize all that technology has to offer. Public schools have always been looked at as the means to foster social and economic equity despite segregation and other faults that exist. In the world of technology, “the lives of the economically disempowered are likely to suffer the most, and public schools may become little more than the institutions of last resort.” The other downfall that I see is that if learning through technology means more parent involvement and not being overseen by a government run institution all of the time, is it setting up the “economically disempowered” for failure? In school systems as they exist today, students who have parents who read to them at night, spend time with them on weekends and take time to answer their questions far outperform those who are raised by a single mother who doesn’t have time to expose them to reading before they enter school and has to work weekends to provide. If the turn in the education system requires more personal and family responsibility, is it not solving one of the biggest problems that our current system already faces?

Although I am quite enthused by the differentiation that technology will allow in curriculum and learning, there is also a possibility that one of the major goals of education, expanding people’s horizons, will suffer. If everyone is able to choose what they want to learn about and what is interesting to them, “there is a problem of parents steering children along narrow vocation-driven paths. This means that children may not be exposed to different views on issues and become more parochial in their ideas.” The flipside of that is that education becomes more engaging for students of all ages and that adults will be able to choose courses and find information that helps them reach their career goals.

Overall, the new set of technology faces educators with a new way of teaching and a new set of skills to teach- our main purpose is no longer to regurgitate information we’ve learned, but to teach students how to find, create, explore, ask questions, solve problems, analyze information, create videos, join websites, recognize when they need more information and most importantly, evaluate the information that they find. There is much to be gained in making information more accessible to students and more relevant to students but it starts with the policymakers and educators. In order for the shift to occur within our current education system “our technology leaders need to work together with educators, not as missionaries bearing magical gifts, but as collaborators in creating new opportunities to learn.”

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Teachable Moments- EdTech Talk

Listening to the EdTech Talk discussion on teachable moments, it was very interesting hearing teachers bounce ideas and lessons off of one another and explaining in depth their lesson plans. Lisa saw an idea on twitter about using the anniversary of the earthquakes in Haiti as a teachable moment and she and Sheila mentioned how a lot of climate change issues bring up a lot of teachable moments- flooding in Brisbane, mudslides in Brazil, all of the major storms lately that present incredible teachable moments- why are these happening? How often do things like this happen? What can cause these storms? Using current events or anniversaries of important events to allow students to research, ask questions, discuss and stay informed about relevant issues is so important.

What becomes challenging about taking advantage of teachable moments it, as Sheila and Lisa said, that they're not necessarily things that fit into curriculum but they are things that are still so important to discuss. Students realize that horrific events happen and teachable moments are about discussing human nature and exploring compassion. With the recent shootings in Arizona, being able to get correct information and have a safe environment in which to discuss, ask questions, etc. is so vital in making kids feel informed, safe, knowledgeable and again, compassionate. I follow the Dalai Lama on my personal twitter account and almost daily the tweets are about compassion. In my opinion, instilling a sense of compassion in students would solve so many problems like bullying, class/country/religious/political segregation, and general taunting that goes on in schools. What better ways to explore compassion than by trying to understand other humans better whether fellow classmates, or by skyping to a classroom abroad, or by using current events as ways to see both sides of a story.

At the same time, they discuss how as a teacher, when you know what is going on in the world and the sadness that can exist, how much is appropriate to share with students? Students often hear of things anyway, so why not use teachable moments to answer their questions and talk to them about real issues that exist and are important? It is also hard having to deal with parents- kids want to know more but sometimes parents want to shelter their kids to an extent or have the opportunity to tell their kids what they think.

They also brought up a great question that I was thinking about- "Do you think more teachable moments happen with more experienced teachers because they feel more comfortable with their class and know they can get through the content and won't feel like they are being judged and know that they can handle parent feedback?" Both ladies definitely agreed with this- I cannot imagine my first year in the classroom branching off and having a discussion about shootings or something so difficult to tackle. It is risky and scary, you don't know how the students will react or how the parents will react. That being said, it is important to explore things that are not necessarily involved in your curriculum for the day- lots of important things happen!

Technology was discussed in regards to how much it has enhanced teachable moments- it is a great way for students to access information, find out about current events, and to research and navigate information to draw conclusions. I really liked listening to this- it was interesting to hear stories of what happened in other peoples' classrooms, they way they handle situations, how to address student concerns. I think that EdTech Talk is a great way to bounce ideas off of other teachers that may have completely different students, resources, etc. at their hands enhancing what you can bring into your classrooms and the ideas that you have.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Digital Nation

While watching "Digital Nation", ironically enough I was instant messaging myself the points that struck me or that I found interesting. I have always been technologically inclined, I've had a twitter account for a year or so, I blogged when I went abroad to London to study abroad my junior year of undergrad and when I went to teach in South Korea post-graduation. I'm also an extremely social person, I'm chatty and outgoing and love to feel connected whether personally or via the internet. My first grade report cards detail that I'm a bright girl but overly social, I believe she told my parents if there was a mouse in the hallway running by, I'd talk to it. I've always argued to my teachers from middle school up that I could talk to my peers and learn at the same time. I told them that I was a social learner and learned through discussion and communicating, though my discussions and communication were not always pertaining to what was being taught. Thus I related to the MIT students claiming their ability to multi-task. Though once I decide to start writing my paper I usually try to stay away from distractions, it takes me a while to get there and I certainly do take breaks to check facebook, twitter, instant messager, I have to get in the zone before I can start writing a paper.

Before getting in the zone, I spend goodness knows how much time multi-tasking, looking through everything, avoiding my work until I suck it up and get to it. Now that most work is done on computers, it is hard to avoid all of the social-networking fun that exists at our very fingertips. Sherry Turkle made a brilliant point when she said after fooling around on email/calendar/networking site all day, "I haven't thought about anything hard. The point of it is to be our most creative selves, not to distract ourselves to death." I find this so true in my own life. As a nanny for twin 19 month olds, I have a sold 2-3 hours a day of glorious nap time. Recently I started reading the trilogy of books by Stieg Larsson and I got so into them that I read all three of them in one day each. Reading during nap time rather than mindlessly floating about cyberspace has been so rewarding; I in no way feel like I've done nothing with myself during my precious free time during my 10 hour work day. I often spend the whole time talking to friends online and looking at facebook or twitter. I get bored of it after about 30 minutes, but I keep doing it even though nothing is changing and it's far from interesting. It is so under-stimulating but at the same time has a certain element of addictiveness for me. I want more and more even though normally not too much is changing and I know I should be using my brain in a much more powerful way.

The same goes for the Korean students- when I taught English there all of my 3rd graders had smart phones. I couldn't believe it. When we talked about our hobbies, all of the boys and a lot of the girls told me that their favorite activity was going to the "PC-bang." I went into the PC bangs a couple of time and what the showed on the documentary was no over-exaggeration. I certainly think it is a national phenomenon to which some students are addicted. The rehabilitation camp was fascinating- that they had the children play outside, set up tents and do normal childhood things brought forth some of the worries that I have for my own children. I hope my kids play outside, feel a connection with the earth and nature as well as a connection with other human beings.

I also enjoyed the phrase "fluent in technology." I would certainly consider myself fluent in technology, I love new technology and am able to figure things out in little time at all. My mother on the other hand uses technology as a 5th or 6th language. She is seemingly hopeless in the most endearing of ways. She has an iPhone but calls me and asks me to look stuff up for her on my computer when she's out and about. She doesn't know how to install virus software on her computer and her emails are incredibly basic. That being said, she didn't grow up with any of this technology, it all came about when she was in her 30s after she was very set in her ways. I can certainly see how seasoned teachers would feel overwhelmed by what exists out there and the unfamiliarity with it all.

The last two things that struck me were the army simulator which I personally loathed and my shared worry about the ability to "power down" and have discussions and critical thinking without technology. I hated the army simulator because I don't agree with letting 13 year olds look at the experience of war as a game. War is anything but a computer game and having it be so one sided does not present the consequences and hardships that come with fighting war. I think it is a misrepresentation though I understand the Army's desire to try to effectively reach younger generations. Lastly, as much value as I see in technology and as much as I love my iPhone, kindle, laptop, ipod, etc. I also love having heartfelt, meaningful conversations beyond the realm of google, blogs, twitter and facebook, and I hope my children will share that ability and that love as well. As much as can be gained through technology, I do not want to be lost in a personal human connection.