Trying to Make Educational Technology Applicable

January 15, 2013

In past versions of my educational technology course, I’ve had students complete “tech projects” in which they learn about specific technologies and discuss ways they would use the technologies (or preferably have students use the technology) in their classroom.  This allowed students to select technologies that they felt might actually be of use to their discipline rather than learning about the technologies I thought were important.

While my approach above was well-intentioned, I was unconvinced students were really planning to apply those technologies to their future teaching. Instead, I believe students ended up finding technologies very quickly, throwing together some ideas, rinsing and repeating.  I was not happy.

This J-Term, I have taken a bit of a different approach.  I am trying to focus more on “big ideas” of educational technology (i.e. TPACK, nature of technology, etc).  While I am still exposing students to a lot of different technologies, and plan to give them ample time to explore “on their own”, the culminating assignment for the course is for students to create a framework to guide their future use of technology in the classroom.  My hope is that this framework will provide a way to think about technology, not just some specific strategies.  The assignment as it appears in the syllabus is:

*Framework for Technology in the Classroom (Outline Due January 17th, Paper Due January 23).  Technology is constantly changing.  Therefore, planning now to use particular technologies may be unwise.  However, developing a robust framework for considering the use of technology in your future classroom will be useful no matter the context of your teaching.  As a final assignment, you will create a framework for your future technology implementation.  Your paper should address fundamental ideas you will use for making decisions about technology in your teaching.  Your paper should be supported by literature/research and provide illustrative examples.  These examples should demonstrate aspects of your framework as well as your proficiency in technology use.  Some questions to address as you create your framework include, but are not limited to:

  • Why should technology be used in education?
  • How are technologies typically used in education?
  • How will you use technology in your classroom?
  • In what way will learning theory inform your technology implementation?
  • In what way will the nature of technology inform your technology implementation?
  • What will students learn about technology in your classroom? How?
  • How will students use technology in your classroom?

Questioning Technology Reform

January 7, 2013

Dan Meyer has been channeling the nature of technology lately in his critique of various reform efforts.  Most recently he commented on the trade-offs associated with technology use in the Rocketship approach:

This is “differentiation,” says John Merrow, and it’s true that the students are working on different tasks, but at what cost? The students don’t interact with their peers or their teachers. The math program, ST Math, isn’t bad but computers constrain the universe of math questions you can ask down to those which can be answered with a click and graded by a computer. The promise of personalization, of perfectly differentiated education, has forced Rocketship to make dramatic concessions on the quality of that education. It’s a buffet line where everyone chooses their own flavor of the same gruel.

Technology Gives and Takes Away

December 30, 2012

From Dan Meyer:

But the very technology that lets Khan Academy assess hundreds of concepts at global scale — random number generators, string splices, and algorithmically generated hints — has downgraded, perhaps unavoidably, what it means to know math.

I hope Dan realized the full weight of his words.  Technology (all technologies) give and take away.  While it’s easy to be critical of the Khan Academy technologies, I hope we learn to be  critical of all the technologies we use in education.

Zombie apocalypse & education

November 17, 2012

I’ll let a excerpt from Larry Cuban’s recent post speak for itself:

The repeated return of mistaken ideas captures well my experiences with technologies in schools and what I have researched over decades. The zombie idea that is rapidly being converted into policies that in the past have been “refuted with evidence but refuse to die” is: new technologies can cure K-12 and higher education problems of teaching and learning. The most recent incarnation of this revolving-door idea is widespread access to online instruction in K-12 education cyber-charter schools, blended schools where online instruction occurs for a few hours a day, and mandated courses that children and youth have to take.

Flipped Class – a student perspective

October 18, 2012

Below are some thoughts from one of my former middle school students who is now in high school & in a flipped classroom. I’ll let her words speak for themselves, but think her words speak to the state of science education well beyond the flipped class model.

My opinion on the flipped classroom varies for certain situations. I enjoy the freedom the flipped classroom gives me and I’m able to easily keep up with our everyday schedule. But, for students that have trouble learning from just a couple videos don’t do as well. It seems like every other day the teacher is spending the class period catching up the students who fell behind. This method really only benefits that small percentage of students who are able to memorize the notes they take on the videos we’re given.

I really have not learned anything in Chemistry. I’ve been giving the periodic table to memorize and a test on it after. We are told where they are, but not what they do or why they are there. Our assignments are usually made up of videos of OTHER people on the internet talking about some topic. We then have to take several notes on the videos and then are given a quiz the next day. The whole process is completed. My class has had a few labs that I litterally can’t remember what it was about. All our teacher did was showed us how to do the lab and then we just grouped up and copied her. She expects us to learn something from the labs. But, I don’t know how to learn from something that we were never given the reason WHY we need to do it.

The problem is that the teacher doesn’t guide us to learn something. We’re just given information to memorize knowing that less than a week away the information will just be forgotten. Our teacher has not even told us one thing about chemistry that will actually help us learn. She completely relys on other people’s work to “teach” us. I would have to say I learn more against the flipped classroom than with it. The method does have small benefits, but the flipped classroom mostly hurts the learning enviroment for every student.

Engaged or Entertained?

May 20, 2012

The following is from a book chapter I’m working on:

Perhaps more insidious is how technology changes views of engagement in learning.  While engagement is an important aspect of learning, technologies have likely changed our definition of “engaged”.  Rather than engage students, much of educational technology use is designed to simply entertain students.  This notion sends dangerous implicit messages to students that learning is “a bitter medicine that needs the sugar-coating of entertainment to become palatable” (Resnick, 2004) or that only things that are fun are worth doing (Postman, 1985). 

Rather than education, this “edutainment” causes an “inflated expectation in the learners that the process of learning should always be colourful and fun, and that they can acquire information without work and serious study” (Okan, 2003, p. 255).  Indeed, Kazanci and Okan (2009) described a random sample of language software to be overly entertaining and “disneyfied”.  As Okan (2003, p. 259) notes, these messages being sent by technology and technology use are problematic because…

…meaningful learning may sometimes be difficult and requires cognitive and emotional effort should be kept in mind; this point is especially relevant in the light of the fact that post-secondary education is not usually a fun undertaking. On the other hand, recognising [sic] the serious nature of higher education does not necessarily mean that fun is an opposite of activities that are serious.

While educators might see students more “engaged” with the technologies used in classrooms, educators should wonder if students are engaged or entertained. 

Are we really critical of technology?

May 20, 2012

The following is from a book chapter I’m currently working on:

Unfortunately, dominant discourses surrounding education technology inhibit critical analysis of technology in education.  As Henry Becker, a University of California psychologist (cited in Ely, 1995, p.8) explains:

[I]n education, our expectations for what can be done with computers are unduly inflated by our persistent tendency to publicize only our successes…Even worse is the widespread attention we give to partial anecdotal evidence that some children have achieved remarkable things using technology.


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