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Archive for April, 2010

Since I have shifted my news-junkie habits from print media to my computer, I find myself screen-screaming more often than is good for my health. The object of my screaming is often educators who think they are properly taking a stand against the evil encroachment of technology into the education system. For whatever reasons, Tech, and the internet specifically, cause disruption of what, according to many educators, should be a highly controlled environment.

Educators must now deal with distractions from students’ cell phones. Students are texting during class. Students are playing video games during lectures. The cyber bullying is getting out of hand. Kids can be lured from the safety of the school or home by child predators. They can even search for answers to tests on Google or Bing. An even tougher issue to deal with is the children’s ability to access porn. These are some of the problems that educators and parents need to deal with in the 21st Century. Whether real or imagined, if these problems are negatively affecting our children they need to be addressed. There is no question about their existence, only a difference in approach to the solution. As I read the text on my screen of proposals for solutions by education leaders, my dog runs from the room in fear as I expel vocal outbursts of profanity. Will these Education leaders choose to deal or not deal with the problems?

In order to address these problems, we need to understand the role of technology in the lives of children and not adults. Any of us, over 25 years of age, (I am considerably more) have had a choice about our technology involvement. The older one is, the more choice of technology involvement one has had. Children today have no such choice. Their world is all tech. They use it at home, in school, at the Library, and in the supermarket. They have been in front of a computer of some sort since before they could talk. Toy manufacturers know this and create Social Media platforms to engage children. They recognize the power of social learning. Check out Webkins or Club Penguin. For these children it is an easy transition to MySpace or Facebook. Educators have two choices. Either they acknowledge that kids are doing social networking and teach them to be appropriate and responsible online, or they can ban it from the school, ignoring to address any skills. Education must take place from the age that these kids are beginning their technology involvement. Ask what choice your school has made. I hesitate to ask for the sake of my dog again running away from the din of expletives not deleted.

Cyber Bullying is a real problem. Bullying itself has been an issue that we have always dealt with. Now however, with the use of technology, it can have devastating effects in a short period of time. This is another issue that needs to be addressed with education. Even before Columbine, we recognized the horrible effects of bullying on individuals. We cannot expect it to fix itself without someone stepping up and addressing the problem with education. The other choice is to ignore it until there is a problem and then bring in counselors and psychologists to the school to help everyone deal with the consequences.

Distractions from texting or game playing are another problem for some. This is especially an issue in Higher Ed, since many secondary schools ban laptops and cell phones. Accessing inappropriate sites is another issue. The inappropriate use of technology is a social issue that must be addressed through education. The consequences for abuse or misuse of technology must be taught to our children at an early age. Maybe after we educate them we can attend a play without needing an announcement to turn off all cell phones. People will know, because they were taught.

We do not need Acceptable Use Policies for technology. We do not have Library Use Policy, Cafeteria Use Policy or a Playground Use Policy. The misuse and abuse of technology is behavior and requires a common sense conduct policy. Any such policy will define the infractions and also the consequences of the poor decisions. Technology is not outside what we do in Education, it is a big part of what we do in education. If it is integrated, then it should not require a different set of rules to govern it. We educate and test people in driving and our laws cover traffic infractions. I do not remember agreeing to an automobile use policy.

The biggest obstacle we have in Education in regard to technology is the parent perception of child safety on the internet. I am not going to say that there is not a safety issue here. We are driven however by the high interest “gottcha” programming of nabbing internet child predators on TV. We need to educate children and parents how to safely and responsibly navigate the internet. The elephant in the room however, is the fact that if a child is going to be a victim of sexual abuse, it is most likely to come from a family member or friend, or someone they know, and not an internet predator. We all need to be educated.

If we choose to view technology in our society as a problem and not teach our children safe and responsible use, then ban technology from school. That plan will not work however, if you do not ban it from your home, and your neighbor’s home, and your other family members’ homes’ and the library. I am sure I left someone out.

Our educational leaders have a choice; Deal with the issue with education, or do not deal with it by banning it. A ban will leave the problem for others to deal with after it becomes a larger issue. In the not too distant future, when technology is a ubiquitous tool of education, people with cooler heads will look back at this time and question the leaders. “What the hell were they thinking?”

My final thought on this subject is a mystery. If schools ban and filter the Internet for “Student Safety”, what is the rationale for filtering and banning the teachers as well? Are they not responsible adults? Leaders Deal, or No Deal?

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Technology in our society should be more than a topic for superintendents and principals to use in speeches in order to make them sound as if they are cutting-edge educators. These speeches are given to impress groups of parents by drawing great pictures of students, who will have the ability to create, collaborate, communicate and learn with the modern tools of technology. The picture drawn shows our children liberated to learn. They sell the sizzle, but nobody will ever get to see the steak.

Those same technology tools for education become problems to be controlled and limited. They become problems because they are yet another element of education that requires Professional Development. They become problems as added items on an ever-growing list of items for which administrators are to be held responsible to the public. They become problems because they challenge many of the methods of teaching ingrained in the hearts and minds of many, many educators. These problems are of: money, implementation, support, professional development, safety, morality, cyber-bullying, scheduling, and infrastructure. We now have education policy makers making policies about technology with a limited understanding of how it fits in education as a tool for learning, or even how it works, and viewing it as more of a hindrance than a help. It would be so much easier if Technology went away and we could get back to the “Three R’s”, good ole’ read’n, rite’n, and rithmetic.

What many do not get is that Technology in Education is no longer a topic of Should we? or Could we?, but rather, “ How do we make it happen?” It is not a question of “How do we control it? but rather “How do we educate kids to use it effectively and responsibly?” How do we develop today’s literacy, so that students can use these skills beyond the classroom and apply them to life? How do we enable them to use these skills to be productive and successful and safe?

There are no answers here. These same arguments were made when the first computers entered the system. People discussed the same issues then. While educators are stuck on the same questions as to whether or not technology has a place in education, technology keeps moving forward. It does not need permission to be used by kids. Educators cannot control it. The only place the “Use It, or Lose it” axiom applies, is to our own relevance. If we fail to understand and use the technology, our students will not need us at some point. Technology is a tool and not a teacher, but if teachers fail to grasp that concept and do not embrace the possibilities, the idea of self-education may grow stronger with the advancement of technology in the light of stagnation in education. Educators are smart people and they need to figure this stuff out.

We did not have the use of pencil debates. We did not say pencils can poke eyes out, so we need pencil safety courses. We did not create pencil labs for large group pencil use. We did not ban the use of pencils because students might be distracted by doodling. We did require a specific platform, the #2 Pencil. Yes, I understand that it is a much more complex issue than that, but a tool is a tool is a tool. We need our leaders to be more aware of the decisions they are making. We do not need 19th century thinking controlling 21st century problems.

These topics were discussed at the #140 Character Conference in New York City. There were six education discussions on the Agenda. This video was one. The Education Panel Video: Click Here

Another passionate presentation was done by Chris Lehmann. That video is linked Click here.

Feel free to pass the videos or Post along to anyone that you think might benefit from the information.

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I teach pre-service teachers to prepare them for the classroom, but I also try to steer them in directions that will make them more marketable as they look for jobs in an extremely competitive job market. In addition to trying to make them web 2.0 tech-aware, I also require that they do at least one interactive whiteboard lesson. I like to require that the lesson deal with some aspect of Grammar. This tackles two of the biggest hurdles for English Teachers, Tech and Grammar.

Although I require that my students achieve a comfort level with the Interactive White Board, I needed to update my personal knowledge of the subject in order to keep up. At my own expense I signed up for a workshop/conference on the Interactive Whiteboard sponsored by one of the leading Interactive Whiteboard companies. I had limited expectations, expecting maybe 50 educators and a few trainers.

This conference was held at one of the many Long Island high schools which have embraced the IWB technology. There were more than several classrooms with IWB Technology in them. Hence, this was the perfect choice of locations for an IWB conference. There were nine hands-on workshops repeated over four sessions and there were Science, Math, Social Studies and ELA Training classes conducted on both the elementary and secondary levels. There was a product demonstration area set up in the Gym. There had to be 500 educators in attendance. This was a pleasant surprise, a real conference. My adrenaline was pumping away. I was truly excited as I often am at statewide or national educational conferences.

My enthusiasm was somewhat dampened as I engaged educators in conversation and asked two simple questions. Are you on Twitter? Do you use The Educator’s PLN Ning site? The first question elicited not verbal responses, but stimulated what can best be described as facial contortions. The second question was answered by one or two questions: What’s a PLN? or What’s a Ning? I digress however. This is a topic for another post, so, back to the IWB’s.

Two things that I strongly advocate in my class would be creative thinking for students through authentic learning, and the use of technology as a tool for learning. It is no coincidence that it also takes up much of the discussion time in our #edchat discussions. These are major common concerns of many educators today.

Now, I need to address the point of this post. I must admit that I believe that IWB’s are an asset to the classroom. They can seamlessly use web 2.0 applications to engage students in creative and constructive lessons for learning. The important element in this however is the training of the teacher using the IWB. Without training the user, the IWB becomes an expensive video projector or an expensive PowerPoint presentation tool or a very expensive hat rack.

What I believed one of the added pluses to this product was, is the vast library of lessons which are available to qualified users, but, therein lies the rub. We teach that according to Bloom’s Taxonomy, the highest form of learning is creative. A lesser form of learning, although necessary, is remembering. As I attended each of the workshops, which unveiled several very thoughtful and creative examples of previously recorded and now archived lessons, I began to notice a distressingly common thread. Each of the archived lessons addressed the remembering learning described by Bloom and not the creative learning for which we, as educators, should strive. As I watched the trainer of one of the sessions showcase another remembering lesson. I remarked that the creative learning was not on the part of the students partaking in the lesson, but rather on the part of the educator creating the lesson. It would then stand to reason, for the students to get the full benefit of an IWB, they should each be creating lessons to present to fellow students.

I am not saying that remembering lessons have no place in education. They are necessary and must be taught. This is content. However, it is the use of that content for more creative efforts which affords students learning. Remembering lessons should not be the focus of education, that focus should be on the creative.

The danger in the use of IWB’s is the lack of training. If districts place IWB’s in a classroom without training the teacher in its use, that teacher will seek from the library, lessons which have already been developed, most of which are remembering focused. This is a case of doing the right thing with the wrong result. I have been told that there are districts which place these IWB’s in classrooms as incentives for teachers to be motivated. They do not attach it to proper training. Would any of us fly with a pilot who had a 747 placed in his driveway as an incentive to fly a bigger plane without training?

Now here is what set me off today. I was in a workshop using clickers to respond to questions from a lesson. As a formative assessment it was great. They were multiple choice questions which could be instantly analyzed. It is not to be confused with a tool for learning, but rather a tool for assessment in the multiple choice genre of tests. It was in this workshop that the trainer revealed to the group that the company had filed a number of standardized tests which could be used for practice with the use of the clickers. This would offer the data to be aggregated in any way needed for analysis. Some might use the word manipulated. A teacher in the group immediately came to life. He was excited to see that this would provide him material to use for the month of May. That was the month that his district administrators designated as THE MONTH FOR TEST PREPARATION. In my mind that was squandering a month of learning for the sake of test preparation. Then the same administrators ask, why are we failing our students.

I believe in Technology. I believe in support for that Technology. We need to teach our students to be prepared for their world and not one that which we might prefer. We do not get to make that choice. IWB’s with training and support can move our students forward. Kids understand IWB’s and want to use them. It’s the adults who need to be brought along. Creativity should be the focus and remembering should be the support.

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Industry: refers to the production of an economic good (either material or a service) within an economy.

Industry: a group of productive enterprises or organizations that produce or supply goods, services, or sources of income. In economics, industries are customarily classified as primary, secondary, and tertiary.

Although the words industry and education are often paired together, I have not seen the words combined within the definition of Industry in the few sources that I have considered. That is not to say that they do not appear together somewhere. However, either in the definition of “Industry”, or in a listing of the major classifications of industry, they do not seem to appear together.

I have seen, and heard, many references to the “education Industry” over lo these many years as an educator.  I understand that there are many industries tied into education, textbooks from the Publishing Industry, Hardware from the Computer Industry, busses from the Transportation Industry, educational applications from the Software Industry, and chairs and desks from the Furniture Industry. The use of so many industries within education does not necessarily make it an industry onto itself.

The concept of public Education is said to be based on the industrial model. It was formed and designed to provide industry with a source of educated people to fill the ranks of workers needed by industry for it to succeed. This goes back to observations of an earlier post. “The 3 R’s of Industry” http://tomwhitby.wordpress.com/2010/02/21/the-3-r’s-of-industry/

This is the background to my latest reflection about the need to change the culture to reform education. I again engaged this ongoing reflection after commenting on an educational Blog site. When the investors of the education industry look at what their industry is producing for their investment, what do they see? They, the taxpayers, are the stockholders and investors in this local industry, so they have a right to ask.

The question is easy, How much bang are we getting for our buck? The answer is more difficult, because we need to agree on what the buck is. If we think of education as an industry, we should be able to look at the end product and see the ROI, return on Investment. What is the widget that comes out after a 12 year production? This is easily defined by most industries. We simply look at the profit line. Money talks or somebody walks.The problem is that the Education Industry makes no money. there is no monetary profit. Without money as an indicator of success, what do we use?

This is where Education as an industry falls apart. We do not have agreement on what the product is without money as the measure. Is it how many kids graduate? Is it how many students passed standardized tests which assess knowledge of content? Is it based on how many students go on to college. Is it based on how many go on to be employed in a meaningful way? Is it based on how many become lifelong learners?Is it based on how many learning skills each can exhibit?

To further complicate it we need to evaluate: what skills are important; what facts are necessary; what do we place an emphasis on vocation, or higher education. The focus of these directions depends on whom you ask. Students, parents, teachers and politicians each have different expectations for the outcomes. This further confuses whether the investors are getting a return on their investment. If we cannot agree on a common measure for success we will never be able to satisfactorily answer the question.

Now we need to look at the management of the Education Industry. If education is not an industry, why would we run it like an industry? According to Dan Pink, research tells us that merit pay for teachers will not only be unsuccessful, it will be counter-productive. Further, which of  the criteria for success should be used to determine whether the entire staff of a district should be fired as punishment for failure. Do we ask: the Students, the parents, the teachers, the politicians? Does mass firing, in addition to being a punishment for failure, also serve as a great incentive to attract better teachers who will work harder to meet the goals of that district?

In my humble opinion we have to stop thinking of Education as an industry. We need to come to some agreement on what the outcome of a good education is. The outcome or the Profit is never going to be in monetary terms. Maybe each student needs develop an Individual Educational Plan with desired outcomes clearly stated and agreed upon by all parties. We can then assess every student’s progress and success as they proceed in a formative assessment and not when it is too late to change course. This would enable us to assess reflect an adjust individuals’ educations, which is our product. We would shift from report cards to IEP meetings. This, although a time-consuming alternative, could save time for students over a 12 year career in school. With successful results meeting times would be less, unless a program of more rigor is indicated to challenge those who need it.

This is a simple plan that only needs us to get the students, parents, teachers and politicians to agree to the change and agree on the outcomes. I guess that would be the part of the reform equation where we need to change the culture. It may take a few weeks.

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