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.