Saturday, March 8, 2014

Reflection on Shaping Tech for the Classroom


Photo Credit: racatumba via Compfight cc This week's reading has me reflecting on my career as an educator. Marc Prensky's article, Shaping Tech for the Classroom, has a way of looking at technology, that is broken down into some simple categories.  I'd like to reflect more on this reading, but first watch this clip.


An excerpt from the 1968 film "2001: A Space Odyssey" directed by Stanley Kubrick.

I have often felt like Dave.  School IT Admins have decided that I cannot do something.  Principals and Parents have decided that new technologies, do not belong at school.  Dave, in 2001: A Space Odessey, struggles with a computer that will not do what he needs, with life and death consequences. In Education, we often struggle with different consequences, some parental, some from administrators, some from politicians, and others from students, but all of them are very important.

Old Things in Old Ways

Record keeping and educational reports have not changed.  We continue to assess as we always have.  Documents are passed around electronically now, instead of in stacks of filing cabinets.
Locking down technology, killing off features, such as cameras in phones, email access, instant messaging, wikipedia, filtering the internet, killing off educational features.

I have worked in the past at a school that had a ban on listening to music in the classroom.  This same school moved from hand written school reports to having each student's report as a word processing file.  The internet at this school blocked web mail, banned student phones, had lots of troubles with cyberbullying online, outside of school.

As an Art and Technology educator at this school, I often struggled with some of the blocking and banning of technology at the school.  It added to my planning time, because all of my technology lessons could be planned at home, but needed to be retested at school before the lesson, to ensure it would work.  It wasted lesson time, as I had to enforce school policies that I did not believe in.  I may have needed to get a website "whitelisted" so that my students could access it.  I may have needed to send letters home for students to have permission to use their smart phone's camera to document their work in Art class.  In reporting time, The old school method of reporting would only allow me to have access to the student's report, only when someone else was not accessing it.  I would often need to come to school, late after hours, to enter my reports to the word documents.

In short, blocking of technology increased my workload to the point where integrating technology in lessons became cumbersome.  Too much red tape for good ideas.  I did what I could, but often was unable to achieve outcomes desired for the learning.  But the ban of technology added to my workload, because I was unable to work on reports during work hours, I was unable to use collaborative tools, such as Google Docs.

Old Things in New Ways

Many technological advances happen every day, and in education, we are often too slow to adopt new ways to enhance learning.  Students use social media, computer programming, photoblogs, multiplayer gaming, and all kinds of technological ideas, that may, with appropriate guidance by an educator, show their understanding of other topics.

Students will embrace technology faster than schools can handle it.  In another school I have worked at, students use social media for school projects, to get the word out about a school concert or other event.  But schools fear that these technologies will grow into an uncontrollable beast with a mind of their own, Like HAL, in Kubrick's work.

Some schools have been adopting Learning Management Systems, Like Edmodo, Schoology, and the like.  These are like Facebook for schools.  Lessons can be planned, reflected on, and posted in these environments.  These are moderated by Teachers, Parents, and Administrators.  Teachers can post assignments and deadlines, checking on a student's workload.  Administrators can post about school events.  Parents can have access to information and notices from school, as well as access to their child's work and assignments.  Unlike Facebook, these are private communities, which require access codes, and are not searchable from Google, Bing, and other search engines.

The nice part of Learning Management Systems, is that students can be taught positive and meaningful skills about being online, with a safety net.    Why do I need a safety net?  Many employers "Google" a prospective candidate for a job.  Why hire a person who cannot get along with others online?  It may be a risk for them.  These LMS services allow for negative behaviours on these networks can be discussed with the student, creating education about social media.

The Big Tech Barrier: One-to-One

One to one device capability is a big barrier to education.  It is difficult for a student to show how their understanding of a topic, when they do not have adequate access to the technology.  The Computer Lab model is a tried and tested model, that no longer works. Class scheduling and lesson planning often get in the way of lessons with computers, waiting for computers to start / shutdown. Students have limited time to do their work, and if they miss a lesson, are behind.  One to One programs offer a way to get a device in the hands of students, more often.  Many programs are now able to get the price of the device within reach of many schools…

Many schools are not set up to handle the volume of devices that a one-to-one environment would need.  The physical walls, electrical points, wifi, get in the way.  Most schools are not ready to handle the infrastructure that a One to One program needs.  The usage of internet bandwidth increases, and in some schools, their internet access is already poor.  

The Social Barrier: Digital Immigrants

Teachers, Administrators and some parents are slow, or resist change to education.  There are many factors that cause Technology to turn into an extra burden: political, parental, social, organizational, supervisory, and financial.  These areas are often lead the teacher to have less time to add new learning to their plate.

Many parents and teachers do not share the understanding of their students, taking their understanding of what education should be and pressing it into education.  New technologies are not always welcome by parents.  Even when schools do try to move forward, they often face antitechnology pressure from parents demanding that schools go back to basics. And getting back to basics, adds more blocks to technology, as this is a reflection on the parent's education.  The parent's education was fine for their generation, with an approach that may have suited the technologies that were available for them.  But, education has moved on, technology has moved on, and a 'back to basics' approach may be now better assisted with new technologies.

New Problems, New Solutions

Go get ideas from the intended learners.  Students understand their new world of technology, in many cases, better than their teachers.  Most schools do not involve students in decision making.  The teacher knows about the learning that needs to take place, but the student needs options, where they can best show their knowledge.

Getting students involved is always the $100 question.  How can I engage my students better?  Start small, ask a student, then another.  There is no global approach to reaching students, but engaging their culture, and online culture, in the classroom is a good place to start.

We have many non-traditional students today.  Not every school student attends normal lessons, during normal times.  Some students are also parents, some have special needs, work to support their families, do not live in a traditional setting.  There are many ways that technology may be able to bridge some gaps for our students that need further support.  These may be able to extend the classroom hours, and get assistance in other ways.

New Things in New Ways

Its time to reinvent how education does it’s business.  Look to change what we teach, how we assess it, improve ownership of the learning, when it is done, and improve attitudes toward technology.

The Understanding by Design model, if used effectively, allows for reflection on lessons, and looks for us to question the learning activities in our classroom.  Is the activity giving us the best learning opportunity for the topic?  Are we measuring what we think we are measuring with the task?  It is time to get rid of the 'Elephant in the room' lessons, the ones that we do, because we always do them in the grade. We need to communicate in a method that meets the needs of families, and all learners.

Getting involved with 'Learning Management Systems' can be an improvement on how school communication is done.  With these, notifications can go to Parent's and Student's mobile devices and computers, automatically.  The traditional note in the backpack, often does not make it home, and emails go unread, but a message to their phone often does.

We need to improve the 'back to basics' approach to education, but showing how technology can support this traditional learning.  We need to improve school culture to accept that education has changed since the parent was in school, and we are looking to improve education to meet the needs of the future.