14 September 2011

What If There is No "There" There?

I love this tweet:

In my head, I can hear the collective gasp of the Hardcore EdTechers. I can hear their claims that we're living in a digital world, dammit...and 21st century collaboration just isn't possible without a computer. An iPad in every pot!

Pshaw, I say.

Other than a classroom, can you tell me of a "real world" workplace where everyone uses tablet computers all day, interactive whiteboards are the focus of the office, and colleagues share their work using document cameras and projectors? If not, why are we insisting on spending millions of dollars each year to outfit classrooms?

Let me make a slightly radical suggestion: Maybe the 21st Century classroom is a myth. If you want to tell me that the tools themselves aren't the outcome, I can buy that. I've said for a long time that it's not about the stuff. However, don't tell me that you have to have the stuff to in order to teach critical thinking skills, innovation, collaboration, etc. All of those skills that you draw from to work with other teachers these days, cooperate with family members, or all of those "real world" functions didn't come from a computer.

So, if it's not about how much silicon and bandwidth you have in a learning space...if you can get to your "21C skills" without 21C tech...what is the purpose of the shiny touchscreens, apps, and LED bulbs? What if technology literacy (learning to use the computer and basic programs) was just a goal in and of itself, with no expectations for anything further? Let's face it, most of what we know about "good instruction" was learned over the years before anything smelling like a 1:1 initiative was on the scene. Does completing a Venn diagram on a computer automatically make it better than one on paper---or do we care more about whether or not a student understands how to compare/contrast as the goal?

A lot has been made recently from Matt Richtel's recent NYT article In the Classroom of the Future, Stagnant Scores. I would completely agree that the goal of getting computers into classrooms should not be to raise test scores---but tech supporters have no one but themselves to blame for this view. How many school boards have been convinced to put their money into whiteboards and document cameras because they've been told it will increase test scores? Isn't that how we get attention for things these days? If you want to say (as Karen Cator did) that the goal of integrating tech isn't to raise scores, that's fine, but you need to point to at least some sort of value-added. As a taxpayer, how will I know that all these shiny tools actually do something for student learning (not achievement)? ISTE dropped the ball with its (barely) two paragraph rebuttal, refusing to address the bigger issues of the NYT article. Big mistake.

Look, edtech, I'm on your side. I work for you. But the longer I look, the less I like what I see. If you can't answer Garr's tweet in a serious manner...if the head of your organization can't put together a well-reasoned response...how long do you think it will be before the public at large notices that your emperor is running around in the nude? I would ask you to think deeply about the following:
  • What do you need technology to do in your classroom that you could not do using analog methods? Sure, I know that technology can automate some things and increase productivity with other tasks. But that's just basic tech literacy---and still represents items that could be done without a computer. Would your students not learn to read? Write? Draw? Think? Engage with content? Play? Collaborate and communicate? We don't have to go back to the slate and chalk era---old ways aren't always the most efficient or effective. But I do think we need to have better justification than "It's new!"
  • What is the value added that technology brings to the classroom? In other words, for those skills/learning that you think technology is critical for, how do you know? What do you see? It doesn't have to be test scores. But if I asked you to prove its worth---what data (qualitative or quantitative) would you think is appropriate to collect?


Ms Characterized said...

I just received a document camera for my English classroom. This last week, I have taken all of a set of essays, put Post-its over the names, and workshopped the introductions of every single one. This has allowed me to take one-on-one writing conferences to a much larger audience.

The single student whose paper I'm working on get feedback tailored to him, and the rest of the class gets the reinforcement of what works and what doesn't. They see a lot of different approaches to the prompt, varied sentence structure, what vocabulary helps and hinders, etc.

They also get to see what goes through my mind when I approach their papers, which diminishes the mystery as to why their grades are what they are. Much fewer huffy "OKP doesn't like my style" responses.

The rest, I agree, is not all that necessary. In fact, I think that some ol' analog tools, AKA, the pen and the paper, put them in a position to realize how much work writing and revising is, and how to slow down and craft responses.

But I am fond of what I can do with my document camera so far.

Roger Sweeny said...

Every year at this time I am supposed to teach about "scientific method": formulating hypotheses, running experiments with control groups, making observations, and using them to test the hypothesis.

And every year at this time, I notice how little of what we do in this business bears any resemblance to what I am telling them.

Clix said...

I've created a class wiki on which the students keep individual pages on which they do some journalling. This means that they have some private writing in their composition books, and also some public writing in the online journal.

Without the online journals, it'd be harder to have them share their writing.