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Posts Tagged ‘technology integration

Old and New by Mrs Logic, on Flickr
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If this Slate article, Why Johnny Can’t Add Without a Calculator, was written to provoke response, it certainly has judging by the comments at the end of the article.

The gist of the article is summed up in the blurb after the headline: Technology is doing to math education what industrial agriculture did to food: making it efficient, monotonous, and low-quality.

I agree with that line if the technology in education only addresses efficiency and fulfills the industrial need to mass produce. So I agree with @EDTECHHULK when he said:

The argument is like the time-tried argument that technology use does not lead to significantly improved test scores. If you use an old system (e.g., traditional teaching, rote learning, and testing) to measure the effectiveness of newer system (e.g., PBL, visualization software, and project work), you should expect the latter to flunk.

If you change the means but not the demands, then people are going to question the new means if the old means already meet the old demands.

The Slate writer gives an example of a very good Math teacher who preferred his blackboard over an interactive white board (IWB). But I think the issue was not so much the teacher being anti-technology (even though he might have been).

I think that teacher had excellent pedagogical content knowledge. He knew his subject matter, he knew his learners and what they struggled with, and he knew the strategies to engage and teach them. The IWB might have taken some of those things away.

The writer blamed high school use of calculators for university students not being able to do abstraction. That is not just the fault of calculators. It is also the fault of the strategies, the skill of the teacher, the readiness of the learner, and a whole host of other factors.

When there is a road accident, we do not just blame the car. We look into the state of the drivers, the environmental conditions, the car production and maintenance, and many other factors.

All the other examples the writer cited about IWB use (showing a video and an animation of an electric circuit) are examples of newer technology substituting conventional tools and/or strategies. There is very little value add. The teacher is still standing in front of the classroom and the learners are not necessarily engaging with problems or content.

Technology integration is a sociotechnical process. There are human factors, not just technological ones. Before finding fault with the technology, one should also look for human oversight or error.

And before subjecting new means to old demands, we should find out what the new demands are.

Barely a month goes by without a blogger or a journalist saying that we should reconsider providing students with technology because it does not improve test scores. These reports might take the form of research reviews or newsworthy articles [example].

But let us call a spade a spade. Many of those blog entries and news articles are thinly disguised rants. And this is my rant against those rants.

Of course technology alone will not improve test scores! Technology alone cannot change anything other than lightening wallets and thinning budgets. There are so many things that improve test scores: Immediate feedback, good students, good teachers, drill and practice, and formulaic tuition to name a few.

Another reason why technology does not increase test scores is because we are measuring the effectiveness of a new intervention with an old method.

Testing, particularly standardized testing, was invented and implemented in the industrial age. We have already moved on to the age of information and interaction but the metric has not adapted fast enough or changed much.

Testing as we know now does not measure information or media literacy. It does not measure current forms of online collaboration and creation. Testing does not measure emergent social value systems.

So I agree that technology alone is not likely to improve test scores. After all, Facebook, Twitter, Google Docs and mobile devices were not created with test scores in mind. But that is not a good enough reason to exclude them from classrooms.

Educators who leverage on progressive technology-mediated pedagogies may or may not increase test scores. But they will use the tools and hopefully the strategies that are relevant to the generation they are nurturing.

Do I have any evidence that these technologies are helping them at all? No, not really. Not when all we have at the moment are tests and debates about tests.

To the tech luddites I say: There is no more debate on whether technology should be infused, integrated or embedded into education.

There is a saying in Singapore: If you don’t study hard, you will fail. If you do study hard, you may pass.

Applying this to educational technology, I say that if you don’t integrate technology meaningfully, you will get left behind. If you do, you might just keep up and reap the benefits.

Worse still, if you don’t integrate technology properly, you do a disservice to your students. You won’t be modelling positive behaviours and taking advantage of mistakes (yours and your learners) so that they become teachable moments. You certainly won’t be building a bridge to our learners’ world.

If we don’t integrate technology, we will not show our learners how to responsibly tap the rich resources, how to contribute meaningfully to the collective and how to think or react when they experience something negative.

It’s time to shut up and just do something about it. Never mind if it means more work or if you fail. You will get better at it, the process gets easier and you will learn from your experiences.

There should be no more debate about the role of technology in education. If there is a debate at all, it should centre on how well we integrate technology, not if we should integrate technology.

I read this NYT article and I loved this response by Cathy Davidson.

One of the main ideas of the NYT article was that the push to adopt various technologies was not leading to higher test scores. One of Davidson’s responses was that we should not be integrating technology to raise test scores but to promote meaningful learning and prepare learners for the way they will live.

I agree. The problem is not that technology use is not raising test scores. The problem is the view that test scores should be the indicator of successful technology integration in the first place. Traditional test scores should not be the benchmark for determine if technology adoption or integration is successful.

I would go so far as to propose that if you only want higher test scores, forget about creative or meaningful use of ICT or interactive digital media (IDM). Just focus on test preparation!

To put it more simply, if you aren’t going to change anything about schooling, then don’t use technology. After all, today’s technologies serve as disruptive forces to leverage upon, as this blogger argues.

If you really want higher scores, then have newer tests that measure the other opportunities technology brings to the classroom. As one teacher in the NYT article pointed out:

… look at all the other things students are doing: learning to use the Internet to research, learning to organize their work, learning to use professional writing tools, learning to collaborate with others.

To reinforce that point, I quote Davidson:

We must, if we are responsible, educate them for the world they already inhabit in their play and will soon inhabit in their work. The tests we require do not begin to comprehend the lives our kids lead.

So measure these life skills and test if you must. But let us also look at the learner’s ability to organize, evaluate and collaborate.

Tigers Play Fighting in Water 5 by Abysim, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Abysim 

The other thing I took away from that quote is the importance of play.

In the animal kingdom, other mammals prepare for life through play. While our own mammalian lives are, by our own measures, more complex, I think that basic principle still holds true.

Somehow we are schooled to leave this behaviour behind even though it is the most natural of instincts. We label such behaviour childish.

Do mammals outgrow the need to play? They seem to, but they retain that capacity. Humans are the slowest among the primates to develop independence, so we play more and longer. We retain our capacity to be child-like.

Our sense of play should be encouraged instead of being stifled. It is what makes us explore, take risks and learn from experience. It is tools like the iPad that encourage play and that is why they are so natural and popular.

What modern day kids do in their play is relevant to the world that they will inherit and inhabit. I am certainly not the only one who believes this. The Davidsons, Gees, Squires, Appelmans, and McGonigals of the world certainly seem to think so.

For now we live with traditional tests. Gee would argue that games are essentially one series of tests after another. They just do not look alike and they measure different things. So it is a testing time in more ways than one. I say we deal with it with some serious play.


Video source

I love watching the products of time-lapse photography because of the planning and patience that it requires and the spectacular products that might result. Such photography helps us see and experience things that we cannot in real time.

I think that is how technology should be used in learning: To help us learn what we cannot or would not without it. The technology might help us slow down, speed up, explore or connect in ways not possible by conventional means.


Video source

This is the threesome that a certain Singapore foursome copied (but failed to give credit to) during a certain televised charity drive.

Four chords, many songs. Seems awesome, but it’s not that difficult if you are a musician.

It’s the same for technology integration. You don’t need lots of technology. You just need a few key strategies. You write words around the strategies and you get different songs.

This is a rant.

Background: Every semester we will get feedback from student teachers that they don’t learn enough technology from our ICT course even though tutors emphasize that the course is about technology-mediated pedagogy instead. Every semester tutors will say they have no time to pack these tools or TELs (technology enabled learning) into an already packed curriculum. Every semester I urge tutors not to think linearly.

My stance is this: We should not limit ourselves to our capacity to teach; we should exploit our student teachers’ capacity to learn. We do this by giving them as many opportunities to share and teach (they are training to be teachers after all) and by embedding the content in the social process, the technology and the pedagogy.

As of last Friday, we are just two sessions into the ICT course. My class is sharing a wiki, they have signed up for blogs (they have selected Posterous and Blogspot), and they have interacted with MindMeister, Voki, Slideshare, embedded YouTube videos, LinoIt and ProProf Quiz. We use this to write, reflect, brainstorm, listen, read, watch, record, assess, etc.

If they read my blog and decide to monitor it by RSS, you can add another tool to the list. If they choose to join me as I bookmark socially with delicious, add yet another tool to the list. I am sure that they are already on Facebook, but we haven’t taken advantage of that educationally. Yet.

Is anyone who plays the numbers game keeping count? I’m not because these are natural or new extensions of how we should be teaching and learning. If teachers-to-be don’t know what the current digital tools are or how to use them, it is pointless to harp on technology-mediated pedagogy. Or worse, they limit themselves to what they already know (e.g., PowerPoint and possibly “interactive” white boards) and the associated pedagogy of didactic delivery.

So how might teacher educators try to address the issues of dynamic content, rapid tool evolution and progressive pedagogy?

  1. Be a deep user of the tools yourself. Skills learnt from one tool often transfer to another.
  2. Select tools that are intuitive to use. Most are and your “intuition” grows with frequent use.
  3. Embed them in meaningful learning (not teaching) activities. The tool should fade into the background.
  4. If you must design teaching activities, get your student teachers to teach one another. They learn much more that way.
  5. Strategically rise above the activities and discuss with your audience how you integrated the technology in the activities, warts and all.

Ah, that was cathartic!


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