Reflections on Instructional Technology and Media

Banning schmanning – when will we learn? April 27, 2007

So I read today on about a school district banning i-pods from the schools, fearing that students are using the devices to cheat on tests. Apparently students are hiding cheat sheets among the lyrics files and even going as far as recording info and playing it back as they take the test.

Here’s my take on this: I am impressed and amazed at the creative ways students will come up with in order to have access to information and I have to ask the question – WHY AREN’T WE FINDING A WAY TO HARNESS THIS CREATIVITY AND DESIRE TO ACCESS INFORMATION BY STUDENTS RATHER THAN STIFLING IT????

I would argue that rather than banning the devices, schools develop an ethical policy regarding access to information in the 21st century, and EDUCATE students about it. When students were creating paper and pencil cheat-sheets, we did not ban these items from the schools – we simply instructed the students to put all of the materials away until after the test and that their use during the test would consitute cheating. Why aren’t we having these direct conversations with students about electronic devices?

Another arguement could be made against the outdated mode of testing most of our students endure in which students are not allowed to access information resources during an assessment in favor of one that allows students to access information to enrich the assessment. In my position, it is more important to know HOW to find out the answers to questions – why aren’t we assessing students on this skill?


Changing THE way April 18, 2007

I was not surprised to see this news. Participation on Web 2.0 sites remains weak – Tech News & Reviews –

I have had similar challenges this year trying to move many of my co-workers to this type of forum so that we could better collaborate on docs/spreadsheets/etc. I have set up multiple wikis, blogs, and Google docs/sheets for us to use. When I propose their use to a group, everyone gets excited and supports the idea. Then the meeting ends, they leave the room and never log back onto the site to contribute to the work until I bring it up again at the next meeting. I even send links via email and if I am lucky they log in the first time, but not regularly enough to make it productive.

So what is the problem? My sense is that it has not become THE way we do things ….yet. Even for my techie peers. I do think we will get there – we just need more time. In my opnion, this is no different that web 1.0 – especially for teachers. For nearly a decade most teachers were consumers of web pages, not creators. We are really starting to make it over that hurdle. It is kind of silly to think that just because we have these new tools at our fingertips that everyone will just jump right in and contribute/create. Give it a few years. The college students who are contributing to these sites will enter the workforce and take over THE way to do work/teach/learn.

Not to mention we have to get over ourselves and revision copyright/authority/etc.


Putting all your Eggs in one basket April 5, 2007

No, this is not about the upcoming Easter holiday. This morning I read an article from the Washington Post detailing a study that has just been released by the US Dept of Education. This study maintains that students who used educational software in their classes did not score any better on standardized tests than students who did not use any software.  (I just searched the US Dept of Ed site and could not find the study to read on my own, so I will have to rely on the contents of the article.)

So now the big question school districts will be asking is: Should we spend large amounts of money on educational software packages? Here are my first thoughts on what districts need to do to maximize the use of technology for student learning.

  1. Forget about the magic bullet. No software in and of itself is going to make students suddenly overcome what years of schooling has already failed to do. Especially if it is used in isolation of the pedagogical practices that are being used in the classroom. Software should be chosen that:
    • aligns with the curriculum
    • aligns with the school/district philosophy of teaching
    • allows for flexibility
  2. Provide all teachers with adequate training on the software – both initial AND ongoing, follow up support. I have seen too many of my own district’s well intentioned missions fail because we trained teachers when the product was first adopted and then bid them to go forth and use it. My experience with teachers is that even if they get it when they are first trained, once they actually try to use it with students, unexpected situations. This is what I like to think of as the tipping point (to co-opt Gladwell’s term). If the teacher can get follow up support at this point, they will likely have success and continue to use the product. However, if there is no one to turn to, the initiative may be abandoned or watered down.
  3. People are important. Districts will spend tons of money trying to find the magic bullet in software to cure their educational needs, but will not pony up the dollars to hire qualified instructional technology facilitators for their schools. I cannot emphasize enough how critical these ITFs are to the success or failure of the ubiquitous use of technology in schools. Teachers deserve to have someone in their building who both understand the teaching/learning process, have been teachers themselves, and how technology works and can support the core curriculum. They are the ones who can provide ongoing support to the teachers and help them understand how the product can be appropriately used to support their teaching.
  4. Examine the pedagogy. It may be that the software being used is high quality, but the pedagogy happening away from the technology is undermining any positive effects the software may have had on student learning. Again, this is where the expertise of an ITF is critical. They can help teachers examine their practices and become better users of these materials.
  5. Prepare the students. We assume that students come to our classrooms knowing how to use technology to learn. Not true. Most know how to use technology and many have learned from their use of technology without meaning to do so. However, many have no idea how they can use the software to improve their learning. So what strategies need to be employed to help them do this?

What else should we add????


Too Old? April 4, 2007

My birthday was last week. I am now 34 – mid thirties – still young by many standards (including my own) – and at the same time, there is now yet even more distance between my age and those of the students in our schools. I was asked today by one of my co-workers if he was just too old to keep up with all of the emerging technologies in use by kids today. Consider my depression when I found out we are the same age – actually he is getting ready to TURN 34!

Believe it or not, this is a common question I get from people in my age-group. Am I too old to keep up with the emerging technology? Of course, my answer is a definite NO – but I understand their struggle, because it is one I face myself.

My peers do not rely on MySpace, Facebook, or other social networks to keep up with one another. We use email, which I consistently read is considered by today’s students the way they communicate with old people. Hang on, it gets worse. We even still call each other on the PHONE! Therefore, I was motivated to join the virtual social network known as MySpace not by friends, but because I felt I needed to be a part of it in order to understand why my students use it. And guess what – it turns out a lot of my friends were ALREADY on MySpace!!! So now, with those friends I do find myself keeping in touch with them primarily through that medium rather than through email – and I have found friends in MySpace that I have not seen since high school. It is actually a lot of fun.

Now the question is, how to harness the attraction of these social networks and use them for the educational greater good. And I am convinced we can. But I know that we cannot even begin to understand how to do it, if we are not a part of it!!!!  So, if you are feeling like learning something new, create a MySpace page and friend me. Yes – friend is now a verb.