The new National Technology Plan was released last week. I love this part:
Yet students of almost any age are far ahead of their teachers in computer literacy, according to the report, which is based on comments from thousands of students, teachers, administrators and education groups. Students say they see this knowledge gap daily…
Students across the country see technology as an essential part of their lives, yet the primary place most of them gain access to it is at home, not at school, the report said.
The plan lists seven steps to changing things around, among them leadership and bringing content online. They also note that students are behind their international counterparts. There’s even what they are calling a blog that goes along with the site where people can comment. Problem is, they have no clue what a blog really is.
There is much to go through, and I’m just capturing the bare essence here, but basically, it feels like more of the same. I mean the goals are all well and good, but without a fundamental change that focuses on experiential, constructivist learning instead of test taking 101, this will never happen:
This is an exciting, creative and transforming era for students, teachers, administrators, policymakers and parents. The next 10 years could see a spectacular rise in achievement – and may usher in a new golden age for American education.
Today I observed a Spanish classroom. I watched as the teacher used the following technologies: blackboard, cassette recorders, overhead projector, CD player. She did a great job with all of them, given the circumstances. But I couldn’t help think as I watched her class what it would be like if the kids had their own iPods and Weblogs and computers.
Each night, the teacher could post any audio files she was planning to use which iTunes would download onto the student’s iPods. Students could listen to the files before class which would make them more prepared to discuss them during class. The teacher could also post some questions for students to respond to using their iPods which they would then dump onto their computers and post to their own blogs. The evening’s homework would be for each student to give feedback in writing to three of his/her classmates on their blogs. On occasion, the teacher could even record responses to the posts, creating a kind of asynchronous audio conversation. Those audio files put up by the students could at some point be shared with native speakers for even more feedback.
Using the iPods, students could easily create oral narratives in Spanish as they moved around campus or even around town. They could collect some of the better narratives in a best practices blog where future classes would be able to listen and respond to them. Every now and then, as a treat from the teacher, she could also post some Spanish music that could be collected onto the iPods while the children slept. (Sounds so poetic.)
Aye Ca-rumba. The possibilities! Now I’m not saying my school can’t get there, but it won’t be anytime very soon. And unfortunately, you won’t find much to support that in the new tech plan, which, for all intents and purposes, seems pretty much rooted in sustaining the NCLB model for preparing a country of factory workers; everyone knows the same stuff and has the same skills. Does anyone see the irony in educating kids for jobs which are being shipped offshore? And I mean really, what relevance do iPods and blogs have for standardized tests, anyway? Right? Way too risky.
What’s even more ironic (scary? sad?) is that we have an educational system that still asks students to basically try to learn independently (they work collaboratively but seldom learn) and use that learning to impress a very limited audience of teachers. Meanwhile, what the real world expects are students that are able to truly learn through collaboration and share that learning with large, extended audiences for meaningful purposes.
One not so funny true story. My wife works with a programmer who moved his family over from India to the US about 10 years ago. His son took his SATs last year and scored a 950. The father was amazed. Back in India, it seems, the kid’s cousin had scored a 1500, and she was taking them over. “How can that happen?” he asked his son. “We’re in the same family!” The son’s reply? “The difference is, Dad, she wants to get to America. I’m already here.”
Stephen Harlow says
People are getting it, like these folk, and now the iPod shuffle effectively lowers the entry price (though I guess you can’t record). They just need to add blogs to the mix! Perhaps they could talk to you Will 😉
Paula Petrik says
Will, from my experience, students do NOT know more about computers and computers than many instructors, and I’ve been working in smart classrooms since 1995. This is one of the great myths of education. Last semester, I had 45 students in my intro history class. We used TypePad for blogging. Despite the fact that TypePad is very easy, the majority of students had a good deal of difficulty getting up and running. They had trouble with the photo album–which is almost fool-proof on TypePad; they had trouble with formatting; they had trouble uploading files–again almost fool-proof. For a visual generation, their design sense was appalling. Most students know how to do email and basic word processing and that’s about it. It’s quite true that there were about five students in the class who were experienced but most were not. And these were students who were born after 1985, who come from solid middle-class famiies, who live in a metro area, and who attend a very technologically sophisticated university.
While you and I might agree that all this techno stuff is fun, it is also time-consuming. Whipping up a podcast, putting together a decent video, or creating a good Keynote presentation is not exactly easy, and most teachers simply don’t have the time to become really familiar with the apps to make it worth their while. I think we must keep this mind when we ask our colleagues to embrace techno glitz and ask ourselves: “Will using this technology help my students learn?” and “Will using this technology make the onerous aspects of my job easier so that I can devote more time to thinking about my curriculum and approaches to teaching?”
Will R. says
Thanks for those thoughts, Paula. You’re right in that not all students are techno savvy. It’s been my experience, however, that most of them need much less time and instruction to pick up whatever technical skills I may be trying to teach them. And that, by and large, just is not the case with experienced teachers. I think students are just open to it and can understand it in ways that teachers can’t right now. And I think that’s going to continue to be the case. I also agree that teaching is already a time-strapped profession. In fact, the WORST aspect of American education may be the lack of time teachers have for professional development. The report gets that absolutely right.