Technology in Schools: Problems & Possibilities

First, a disclaimer: I am a huge fan of technology and a true believer in its potential to fundamentally change how schools are run. Emerging technologies, often called ‘social media,’ are changing how many young people communicate and learn, how they approach learning, and how they process information.

But I think there are three reasons to worry.  Reason one, the technology will be unevenly distributed, meaning that the gap between rich and poor will actually widen.  Two, schools won’t respond to the creative potential of technology in positive ways.  And, three, they will respond uncritically.

TechnologyFirst, the technology gap (which I wrote about on this blog a few weeks back). This issue is major, because in most of history the rich have gotten richer, and there’s no reason to expect things to be different this time around.  Creating special programs to put technology into schools with poor children won’t work unless those programs are accompanied by serious professional development, because most teachers I know are uncomfortable with computers and even more uncomfortable with the notion that kids know more than they do.

What do poor kids get when schools are their main source of advance technology?  Not much!  As teacher Esther Wojcicki of Palo Alto notes, kids in school are forced into what she calls ‘the airplane mode.’ “They’re told to sit down, strap in and face straight ahead for the duration of the flight.”

Right now, well off children have access to technology at home, meaning that they will find it easier to cope with the ‘powering down’ that happens when they walk into their schools.  Not so for poor kids, who end up suffering through a lot of drill.

My second fear is that schools will resist innovation and become irrelevant. A tsunami, a huge wave of technology in the hands of young people, is approaching, but many educators seem unaware that their students swim in a sea of technology outside the school. They want to continue to use computers and other tools to control students and to manage information, and that’s about it.

Because they fear technology in the hands of kids, they look for ways to keep it out of schools. When a couple of students were found looking at ‘inappropriate’ videos on YouTube in one school recently, the administration decided on the spot that no students would have access to the site.  That’s overreaction based on ignorance, and a valuable teachable moment thrown away.  Of course kids are going to go to places we don’t want them to, but what that requires is vigilance on the part of adults as well as scads of interesting and challenging work.  Even in a high tech world, idle hands (and minds) do the devil’s work.

Imagine the response of the rest of the kids when they learned that YouTube couldn’t be accessed at school.  Guess what site they were sure to visit at home?

My third fear has to do with what happens when schools do embrace technology. That is, I worry about the enthusiasm of technology’s supporters. Last week I participated in a 2-day event held at Google headquarters in Mountain View and organized by Sesame Workshop, Common Sense Media and the MacArthur Foundation. At one point we watched a short homemade video of a young man purporting to teach how to solve a quadratic equation.  With great energy, the boy lunged at the camera lens and enthused about how easy it is. He wrote on a white board, enthused more about changing the minus signs to plus signs, and concluded by nearly shouting again that it was easy.  The audience applauded, but for what? He hadn’t explained why he was changing signs, or anything else for that matter. It was terrible teaching, pure and simple, but technology was being used, and most of the adults loved it!

But ignoring technology is the greater danger. We saw another video in which a high school student told us that he never read books, hadn’t read one in years.  Why bother, he asked rhetorically, when you can read plot summaries on line in 30 seconds.  He confessed (rather he boasted) that he’d aced a test on Romeo & Juliet without reading a word of Shakespeare’s play.

I think technology is a huge threat to a decent education precisely because it allows shortcuts like that.  We know that students everywhere are downloading term papers written by others and submitting them as their own, and now they don’t even have to read the material.  We’re producing students with no deep understanding of our culture and a fundamental contempt for education.

There is a solution, of course. It’s not anti-technology, but it does require slowing things down. Take Romeo & Juliet.  I’ll wager that it was one of three or four plays the students were assigned to read and the teacher required to ‘cover’ in a few weeks.  Under those circumstances, SparkNotes may be appropriate.

But suppose three or four weeks could be devoted to one play?  Then the odds would be that no student could get by without reading.  And if students don’t give a rip about Shakespeare, change the assignment: put Macbeth and Lady Macbeth on trial for first-degree murder, with kids playing the roles of Macbeth, his wife, Duncan, Banquo, et cetera.  Now they’ll have to prepare to give testimony, while the students who are the defense and prosecutors will have to prep for cross-examination. That is, they’ll have to read what Shakespeare wrote, think about the meaning, perhaps watch Olivier or Orson Welles in film versions, and more.

There’s a marvelous role for technology in this.  Assign students to videotape the proceedings and prepare nightly news reports ‘from the courtroom,’ to be posted on the web and aired on the school’s broadcast or narrowcast system.  To be able to interview intelligently, these students also would have to dig deep into the play itself.  So long, SparkNotes!

In a perfect world, this kind of curriculum would be found in our poorest schools, giving those kids the opportunity for deep learning and powerful intellectual challenges, not the ‘drill and kill’ routine they are more likely to encounter.

Today’s path–a breakneck pace through a required curriculum aimed at enabling students to pass cheap bubble tests—is antithetical to the effective use of technology. Instead, students in East Palo Alto, Greenwich, Mumbai, Shanghai and London should be connected, working together on projects to, for example, analyze acidity in rainfall or traffic patterns or election results. (Often they are already connected–outside of school–through Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.)

The choice is ours:  We can use technology in schools to support students who dig deep and create knowledge, or we can continue with business as usual, an environment that invites kids to use technology’s power in ways that ultimately hurt us all.

38 Responses to “Technology in Schools: Problems & Possibilities”

  1. Frank Baker 03. Nov, 2009 at 3:03 pm #

    And how much time was spent discussing the need for real “media literacy” education? I bet not much. Frank Baker, Media Literacy Education Consultant,
    http://www.frankwbaker.com

  2. Hugh 03. Nov, 2009 at 3:32 pm #

    John – you are almost onto the single biggest issue in education. Innovative (not drilling) technology is the canary in the coal mine – and it’s nearly dead. Kids have adopted innovative technology, the business world has adopted it. Why, the whole world has adopted it. Why not schools? It’s quite simple, really. For technology to take hold, consumers have to be innovators. Yet there are three requirement for an organization (or whole field) to be innovative, and none of these exist in 99% of our schools. Where they do exist in a few schools, the teachers are innovators clamoring for technology. Dig a little deeper – you really are onto the key issue in education and you would do a massive service by exposing the innovation barrier around our schools. Keep up the good work. – A Fan

  3. Miriam 03. Nov, 2009 at 3:53 pm #

    I recall how relieved I was when my kids were in a school district that did not allow calculators (we are talking rather long ago)in the elementary grades. Why the relief? Because students learned to add and subtract and ‘do’ numbers. The basics.
    John, I agree with your worry about the shortcuts that technology can foster.

    When students can read, write, do math, think, and have basic knowledge, technology is great. But, if technology comes first (as it seems to be now…), then we have a huge problem. Shortcuts that are bypassed by young children lead to young adults with no real education.

  4. John Bennett 03. Nov, 2009 at 3:53 pm #

    John – When I read this latest material of yours, I was reminded of a quote in an article at edweek.org attributed to Karen Cator. She made the comments at the same Google Headquarters event and you may very well have heard her presentation. In it she is quoted: … she said that “technology offers an opportunity to totally personalize learning.
    Students should be given access to personal tech devices and Web 2.0 tools,” Ms. Cator said. They should also be challenged, she added, to “find their own experts, do their own research, take very complex problems and find out what do we know, what do we need to know to meet this challenge?” Teachers, Ms. Cator said, are critical to helping students learn how to use technology to learn more deeply. “The role of teachers [in the digital age] becomes much more about creating compelling assignments that leverage personalized learning and that leverage technology” to challenge students to do their best work, she said.

    As you likely know, she’s just been appointed to lead the Ed-Tech Office at the U.S. Department of Education. I find her appointment, her credentials, and her comments to be a marvelous boost to the confidence that the problem and concerns you have written will be addressed.

    I would add one suggestion: To get the urban students access to technology, I suggest that we use community centers to emphasize informal education – so important as a compliment to the formal classroom education that is in itself becoming less formal. I think we need to involve parents and families [as available as either a leader or adult learner] as well as community leaders – to build the engagement of family members. I believe there also needs to be a sense of respect of the capabilities of the centers, its equipment, and its users – certainly a worthy goal.

    I’d also suggest that the real difference, as you noted, is access to the technology on a regular basis [consistent with much of the message in "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell]. Urban young people will latch on to the learning and use of technology just as the surburban kids do – when they have access. Indeed, the only concern I have with Ms. Cator’s quote is her expectation that the teachers need to help the students learn to use the technology. I don’t expect this is necessary; indeed, consistent with your writing, I think the students will be more than happy to help the teachers with technology!

  5. Susan 03. Nov, 2009 at 4:01 pm #

    John,
    You have hit the naile on the head, so let’s lay off some more library media specialists across the country so we can be sure our schools are left out entirely from the emerging information loop.

  6. Bob Lenz 03. Nov, 2009 at 4:44 pm #

    At Envision Schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, we believe that powerful teaching, learning and assessing can be enhanced by integrating technology into project units. Students learn to use the technology to creatively express their ideas, collaborate in teams and to think critically by synthesizing their ideas for digital media products (e.g., short films). The discussion about Romeo and Juliet reminded my of a project unit we do with 9th and 10th graders at Envision Schools. The project is documented on our Project Exchange: http://www.envisionprojects.org/cs/envision/view/env_p/7

  7. Ellen Walroth 03. Nov, 2009 at 5:14 pm #

    Mr. Merrow: I am teaching all four of my writing classes at UTSA’s Writing Program using your film DECLINING BY DEGREES as the background for an ethical discussion about whether the university has a moral obligation to help close the achievement gap.

    The classes are online enhanced, meaning cutbacks in funding and resources are forcing colleges and universities to create online classes that put all assignments on a shell and avoid photocopying costs, or have blended classes where the student can supply assignments to the teacher online and meet only occassionally in face to face encounters. Best of all, there are the classes that are 100% online, where the national pass rate of these classes is about 8%. There is not only a digital divide in terms of understanding of technology, but a digital blindness in our culture as we replace human interaction with gazing at a glorified cathode ray tube. I have learned these techniques, and am studying intensely how they affect the reading levels of individuals who must learn. We cannot ignore the power of the tool, but we need to begin to develop effective assessment of what is learned and what critical thinking skills are enhanced when one uses these tools to teach and to learn.

  8. Sally 03. Nov, 2009 at 5:34 pm #

    Your second fear is already becoming a reality as youth see school as irrelevant and mindless. Our local television news is airing a series on high school honor students who are burning out on homework assignments that keep them up through the night. Teachers seem to respond to the call for more “rigor” by piling on more busywork. No wonder these kids seek shortcuts through technology whenever they can.

  9. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach 03. Nov, 2009 at 5:44 pm #

    Things have always been unevenly distributed in education. I can remember being so jealous of those who got new book bags, the 64 size box of crayons, cool pop cultured 3 ring binders and the beloved Beauty and the Beast lunch box at the start of each school year. And yet even with the limited supplies and lack of cool stuff I managed to learn and somehow got what I needed when I needed it.

    Interview 10 poor high school kids and ask them if they have a Facebook or My Space account and the results might surprise you. Poor kids know how to get cell phones, TVs, and access. My daughter asked me yesterday, “Do you think that one day an e-reader will be required in high school like a TA 89 is now?”

    I think the bigger concern related to the digital divide was highlighted in 2003 by Howard Rheingold in Smart Mobs:

    A new kind of digital divide ten years from now will separate those who know how to use new media to band together from those who don’t.

    That said, it is all the more reason teachers need to understand how to empower their students with these tools that make it incredibly easy to connect and collaborate with some of the greatest minds from literally around the world with the click of a button. Something not available when you and I went to school, no matter what our social status.

    You might be interested in Geetha Narayanan’s work around slow education (a take off on the slow food movement) that suggests uses of technology in a generative way, to enable kids to have deep rigor in their curriculum without sacrificing creativity.
    http://www.educationau.edu.au/jahia/webdav/site/myjahiasite/shared/globalsummit/gs2006_narayanan.pdf

    Great post. Thanks for making me take time away from the superficiality of other technologies and use a tool that requires thought and synthesis.

  10. Curtis Johnson 03. Nov, 2009 at 6:05 pm #

    John, As usual your good reporting captures the essential dilemmas. I would only emphasize that technology is the now-relevant platform for learning, not an add-on to the conventional classroom; that young people are learning, but mostly outside school; and this is the platform they live on. So if we want to motivate them to learn important things, we have to embrace the plaform and transform the learning strategy. If closing the access to technology gap is the biggest remaining problem, that’s good news. It’s one we can fix fast.

  11. Richard K. Munro 04. Nov, 2009 at 12:48 am #

    Technology can do wonders. I think our use of Safari (libraries of videos, long and short often with subtitles in English and Spanish), Smartboards and speakers have been a big improvement. We can make instant copies of articles we research on line. We have access to spell-check and online dictionaries , quotations and encyclopedias. For our English learners every story and article is available on CD; a summary of each story is available in twenty languages including Arabic, Chinese , Russian and Japanese. Computer labs make writing and editing essays easier. But cheating is a big problem. Excessive reliance on multiple choice instruments when there are 40 and 50 students in a classroom designed for 30 or 35 is a problem. Computers and technology can help for review but by themselves they do not teach grammar, literary devices and good style. I recall Bill Gates boasting he got an A in a mythology class he never attended by studying the Cliffnotes. Well, perhaps he got an A on a superficial multiple choice test but he missed the point of gaining an introduction to Greek and Roman literature. One cannot dismiss the utilitarian argument because one must be practical. One must pay the bills, “keep the wolf from the door” and be prepared to compete in today’s society. However, a liberal or humane education, at its best in the most practical and adaptive education a man can get.

  12. Paul DiPerna 04. Nov, 2009 at 12:16 pm #

    Great post about technology. I think you get it right that the digital divide is more nuanced than access/no access to technology.. It’s really about usability. More affluent kids largely learn from family and peers on how best to use technology. Less affluent kids do not have the same informal learning, and like you say, they are that much more dependent on teachers demonstrating how best to use computers, handhelds, navigate online, etc. I truly believe this is where after-school programs, outside of the traditional school hours and structure, collectively can be a critical asset for disadvantaged kids moving into the future.

    As I know you’re aware, the MacArthur Foundation supports a lot of great research on the uses of technology in school settings. http://digitallearning.macfound.org.

  13. wendy 04. Nov, 2009 at 10:59 pm #

    With the development of new technology comes the cost. It is true that school budgets can get in the way of advancements in certain school districts. My school district is considered cutting edge in pedagogy, but not in technology. The idea of a gap widening in social classes is a reality, but we need to consider why. It can be comforting to continue to so the same monotonous lessons year after year, especially if you have been in the field of education for numerous years. Technology of today can be overwhelming and scary at times. Without adequate training school districts can fall behind in technology and in teaching their students. I do not use technology as a controlling tool, instead I use it as a resource to guide and extend my lessons. I enjoy watching my students as they discover a concept, not hear about it from me.

    As a teacher I know the importance of monitoring the sites and resources my students use. Papers can be checked for plagiarism now through search devices, and teachers can discover new ways of teaching topics from a collaboration of online discussion blogs. Textbooks and literary books are not a tool of the past but simply may have a new face one of virtual devices. We can not fight what is coming in education with technology, because it is already here. We need to embrace this and make sure that our education also continues.

  14. Elyse Eidman-Aadahl 06. Nov, 2009 at 1:17 am #

    As a participant in the same Google/Cooney Center conference, I would say that you have captured some of the potential and some of the worries that linger. One challenge, both for the event and for these reflections, is the difficulty of getting beneath easy constructions of both the “problem” and the “solution” we might seek. Technology is talked about as the solution, and schools are described as irrationally resistant and teachers as lacking the capacity to change. This is now commonplace in how we talk about education (making me miss both Ted Sizer and Gerald Bracey all the more).

    But when we get inside any of these constructions, the picture is much more complicated.

    We have all gotten used to the construction of technology as ‘solutions.” I am reminded of an old commercial. The announcer comes out on stage to say “Bayer is the answer.” then a voice from the audience says “What’s the question?”. The differences among various technologies and their uses — the problems they are solutions for — are significant. Are people who are talking about digital delivery of learning objects and associated micro-assessment talking about the same thing as people interested in unleashing the power of, say, Twitter or mobile devices in their classroom, or the people who are interested in whiteboards? Until we can get beyond the glitter of the tools to talk about pedagogy and purpose in equal measure, we will miss much of what we need to see to thoughtfully exploit the learning potential of technology — in schools, afterschool, or in the family market. We all need to be as critical and reflective about the technology as we are about schooling.

    Similarly, schools and the teacher community (once you’re inside) hardly feel like monolithic blocks. There are fractures, tensions, stultifications, and (amazingly) points of tremendous innovation everywhere. Practitioners involved in these innovations often struggle to sustain them in the face of policies and governance practices that start from the assumption that nothing is going on of value. These assumptions motivate both the problematic tests you reference and the use of control-oriented curriculum and supervision practices that prevent educators and students alike from pursuing depth, critical thinking, and creative tasks. Those working to make change that would improve learning for students often hope for partners in the community to work with their efforts — or at least help protect them. But when partners overlook the potential of people in schools (because nothing good could be going on there), high potential innovations are lost. How much better to work together to create climates where educational settings can emerge from a compliance-focused culture to actually take up innovation and improvement. It’s a big country, and we’ll need to engage teachers and after-school providers who are currently in the system to get the job done.

    What would it take to move conversations like those opened up at the conference to real work? One implication of your post is that we need to give serious thought to a new pedagogy — new approaches to teaching and learning — in a world already marked by profound technological change. That world exists whether it is acknowledged by schools or not. That world exists whether the industry builds tools for learning or tools for schooling or tools that are irrelevant. Thoughtful people can be brought together to begin to develop and incubate promising practices that are of this emerging world. (That’s one way to understand the MacArthur DML initiative which is bringing many of us together across sectors to work together.) Can we do that broadly as a nation? Not just in high profile, small scale ways but with a commitment to unleashing the potential of many people in many places? Can we enter into a conversation with the belief that good ideas could be coming from anywhere?

    What is so exciting about some of our newest technologies is that they have the potential to ‘flatten’ and to open up possibility in unlikely places. I hope that is the spirit people take from the conference.

  15. Matt Montagne 06. Nov, 2009 at 2:31 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your reflections on the Breakthrough Learning Conference, John. So many thoughts here, but I’ll piggy back off what Sheryl mentioned in her comments. The real digital divide is proving to have little to do with hardware/connectivity and everything to do with a mindset and willingness to use the free and open platform of the Internet in creative ways that allow for the deep customization of learning. It saddens me to hear the stories of filtering and censorship of the Internet in many schools and I’m proud that we have a track record of maintaining open Internet access for all here at the school that I work with.

    It is invigorating and exciting to know that at some point in the no-too-distant future, as hardware and access continue to commoditize, the “divide” will shift away from socio-economic status to that of a mindset for using these open platforms in creative and meaningful ways to amplify learning.

  16. John Merrow 06. Nov, 2009 at 5:10 pm #

    Schools with lots of low-income kids are caught between a rock and a hard place, because they’re often under intense pressure from NCLB and elsewhere to get the scores up. Would they otherwise be inclined to innovate with technology, out of desperation? I suspect that crisis and desperation are the true parents of innovation. That’s true elsewhere, and so it should also be true in schools. We’re working on a NewsHour piece about schools in Tucson now, and we’ve been struck by how differently wealthy and poor schools respond to scarcity.
    But if poor schools don’t HAVE the technology, they can hardly be expected to innovate, can they?

  17. James Harvey 06. Nov, 2009 at 5:51 pm #

    John: I believe you are wrong when you say educators will resist the use of new technology. One example of a school mishandling a case of inappropriate use doesn’t condemn an entire profession (any more than than one example of a banker making off with the receipts does). The educators I know are sincerely interested in understanding how to best use new and emerging technologies.

    I think you are correct about the pitfalls, the uncritical endorsement of technology as the solution to all of education’s woes by business leaders and educators, and the ease with which technology promises to help students plagiarize. I don’t have an easy answer for that (beyond Turnitin), and I doubt most business people do either.

    There is something be said for students constructing their own knowledge, but politically that will be no easier with technology than it has been with the “back to basics” crowd in recent decades. Technology will not solve the holy war between constructivists and traditionalists. Could it make it worse? Possibly. I would say also that students need a base on which to construct new knowledge and they need something to actually think about as they develop 21st century skills, otherwise they’ll be skilled in the manipulation of ignorance.

    Let’s not dismiss the anxiety of educators about technology as evidence that they are Luddites. I was at a Microsoft meeting last year where the MS vice president couldn’t get his presentation working for nearly ten minutes. We were all, of course, too embarrassed on his behalf to laugh out loud, but a middle school classroom would have eaten him for lunch.

  18. Cece Cunningham 06. Nov, 2009 at 6:00 pm #

    John,
    I had a similar reaction to the student video that you did. There was no guarantee that the student could generalize the example to a rule. Then yesterday I was looking through the materials that were given out at the Google conference and found a speaker on the Mobile Learning Institute video talking about the ritual of talent shows in American schools. Having seen 22 of them in my years as a high school principal and having mostly cringed through them, I always saw that when students, especially with other students, put themselves on the stage in a skit or choreographed song or adaptation of a song, they gained in confidence and general happiness at school. The students had bonded with each other in a silly event that always caused peals of laughter and some times admiration. So maybe technology can allow students to put themselves out to the larger audience, act silly, gain attention and the effects grow over time to be more sophisticated and precise. As so many of your readers here have pointed out, the assignment is what is important.

  19. Steve Taffee 06. Nov, 2009 at 6:13 pm #

    Technology surfaces the many problems that schools have around the issue of innovation in general. Why do schools of 2010 look so much like the schools of 1910, despite thousands of different attempts to make significant, lasting change. Schooling is one of the few institutions that has remained basically the same for the last century.

    So first of all schools must learn how to innovate in general, before technology can make a significant difference in particular.

    Robert Evans, in The Human Side of School Change, does a wonderful job of laying out the barriers to significant innovation in schools. (see my review, starting here: http://bit.ly/3WJxwj). Technology alone will make schools better, but technology may require schools to innovate. As it has been said elsewhere, teachers who dislike change will dislike being irrelevant even more.

  20. Byron Harrell 06. Nov, 2009 at 7:14 pm #

    School organization has a lot to do with the adoption of technology by teachers and schools leaders. Here in New Orleans, post Katrina, we have more students in charter schools than in traditional schools and I belive that the school leadership and the faculty are much more adaptive life-learners simply because their organizational design makes it easier.

  21. Venessa Miemis 06. Nov, 2009 at 8:16 pm #

    John, I think your ‘fears’ are somewhat justified, but also think they may prove to be irrelevant in the long run, because of Moore’s Law, ubiquitious computing, groundswells, social learning theory, and the effects of collaboration in networked environments.

    Fear #1: The Technology Gap

    i agree that it’s an issue (for now), but the cost of robust, powerful technologies is decreasing every few months, and low-income individuals will have access to the same technologies through their mobile devices as the well-to-dos have on their home computers. As Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach mentions above in the comments section, referencing Rheingold, the real issue is not about access to technology, but knowing how to use it effectively.

    Fear #2: Schools Resist Innovation

    Yep, this is true. Schools, like governments, are institutions, and are notoriously slow to adopt new practices and adapt to change. This is a huge problem, and (I think) will lead to a huge shake-up in the trust and validity we put in them. I am a graduate student in a MEDIA STUDIES program, and even so, the administration is not fully integrating the new media technologies that are ESSENTIAL for helping students to be competitive in the 21st century world. It’s an enormous frustration for me, but I feel that the failure on the part of the institutions is going to force ‘the people’ to create solutions that are not dependent upon traditional learning structures.

    Fear #3: Schools Embrace Technology Incorrectly

    Like any project that is pursued with enthusiasm but without structure, trying to integrate new media technologies into the classroom without a framework will fail. In this regard, I would point you towards the New Media Literacies Project (http://newmedialiteracies.org/) a collaborative initiative between the MacArthur Foundation & the Comparative Media Studies program at MIT. Henry Jenkins and his team have pioneered the field, and have developed frameworks and best practices for how to teach new media, and map it onto current coursework without disrupting the flow of things.

    I think it this whole conversation requires a reorientation of how ‘technology’ is viewed….. calling it “educational technology” and viewing it as something separate from education, or some cumbersome addition to what is thought to be important to teach, is ultimately a failure on the part of the educators and a loss for the student. It’s a 21st century literacy, a set of skills that MUST be learned. It can’t be a class that’s taught separately from everything else… this must be mapped onto all existing coursework, because the web and social media have allowed for a new type of interaction and communication that is becoming integrated in the way we live…..it’s not a fad, and it’s not going away. This must be added to our toolbox of skills.

    I will agree with Richard K. Munro, above, that there is no ‘shortcut’ to “Core Knowledge” or “Cultural Literacy”. Social technologies are tools to help us collaborate, share, discover, and grow, and without the foundational knowledge that promotes critical thinking and an ability to dive into theory, the output won’t be valuable. As Newton (and many others) have said, “If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.” We will always need to read the ‘masters’ to help provide a context that informs our thinking and our work. That fact doesn’t diminish the notion that collaborative technologies have provided an unprecedented opportunity for diverse cross-sections of people to interact and learn from one another. But yes, it is still the role of the educator to expose students to great works of literature and philosophy to serve as foundations for their thinking.

    The example you gave of the high school student who boasted of not reading Shakespeare is, in my mind, a failure on the part of the educators to create an environment where the student was excited to participate. You simply CANNOT use old paradigms to understand today’s youth. Their minds are wired differently, and they need novelty, creativity, and stimulation to be engaged. If the only thing that’s being done in the classroom is assigning a text….it’s just not going to work anymore. There needs to be an outlet for individual expression, where students can create mashups and media projects in order to reinvent these texts and bring meaning and relevance to the material in the context of today’s world.

    In the end, I think that educators who really “get it” will have to take the lead in creating frameworks that facilitate big picture, relational, systems thinking in their students. “Information” and “facts” are accessible via the web… getting the information isn’t the issue anymore…. Understanding the contexts of the pieces of information and seeing how they fit into the grand scheme of things is the true name of the game. I think that even framing things in terms of ‘the role of technology in schools’ is a complete misinterpretation of the reality of what’s happening in the world and the role of social technologies in our lives. Separating technology from education just creates a foggy lens for educators to look through when trying to decide what is important to teach.

    BOTTOM LINE: Our world is infused with information, on so many levels. We’re nearing the dawn of ‘ubiquitous computing’, where our enabling technologies will be able to go with us whereever we go, whether that means via a mobile phone, an interface that’s integrated into our sunglasses, or a display that’s built into the arm of our jacket. Don’t laugh, it’s coming. Educational institutions should be as eager as businesses are to stay ahead of the curve and provide something of value to the next generation. I think it will be a huge challenge for educators to figure out how to fit in these completely necessary 21st century skills with the old 20th century paradigms of ‘passing a test’, ‘scoring well on the Regents’, ‘doing well on the AP test’ or any other static, old school scoring system that simply doesn’t measure true ‘intellgence’ or ‘resourcefulness’ or ‘learning’ anymore.

  22. John Merrow 06. Nov, 2009 at 9:47 pm #

    I love what many of you have written but am especially charged up by Matt Montagne’s comment, “the “divide” will shift away from socio-economic status to that of a mindset for using these open platforms in creative and meaningful ways to amplify learning.” In other words, the times, they are a-changing, and we have to make sure we are on the right side of history and progress, and that as many others are too. It will be easier to make sure children aren’t left behind–because so many of them are already ahead of us.

  23. Marcelo Lage 07. Nov, 2009 at 5:50 am #

    Hello there. I have been following your Twitter for some time now and recently started following the blog as well. And I believe this was the first post I read and it motivated me to write something back (http://innovationtool.wordpress.com/). I’m no expert in education as some of the comments here. But I do have a great deal of interest on it and as far as I have read, I believe that technology is neither the devil or the angel.

    We shouldn’t see it as the problem simply because it is inevitable. It is part of everybody’s life and trying to deny it’s use is simply denying the current state of how we interact with the world – and therefore how we all learn. My argument is that we need to find some better formats of teaching that embrace technology – like Esther Wojcicki’s The Paly Voice (http://voice.paly.net/).

    But I also agree with Elyse Eidman-Aadahl’s comment. We must see the technology not like the solution. Rather, technology is a platform that allows people to find whatever they want. My point here is that we must change the paradigm from “delivering knowledge” or “filling-children’s-minds” to something like “guided curiosity” and teachers as facilitators (like Esther says her team is in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqz9PcF4BHE).

    Technology brings the need to change the way we see schools. There’s a bigger and broader discussion to take place.

    If you have the time, visit my blog for a more extent version of my arguments.

  24. John Bennett 07. Nov, 2009 at 11:46 am #

    John -

    As many of the comments, yours included, have focussed on, it’s the availability of the technology for sure – something needs to be done about that. In an earlier comment, I suggested that the community center become a true learning center by making the technology available, providing the mentoring oversight to lead to attention to civility, culture, and respect for materials and people, AND an opportunity for the students to satisfy their curiosity and capabilities with the technology – helping parents, families, and teachers in the process.

    It IS a matter of availability and expectations of civility that surburban households bring and the community centers can provide the same in the urban communities.

  25. wendy 07. Nov, 2009 at 9:19 pm #

    John raises an interesting view. The children of today are more advanced in their knowledge of technology. Many educators are the ones being left behind and not properly being trained in newer applications. I hope this trend ends soon and education and technology can become more cohesive.

  26. Don Nielsen 07. Nov, 2009 at 11:07 pm #

    Individualized education ended with the end of the one-room school house. Technology can bring it back. The key issue is the compentency of the teacher to be able to employ technology effectively. Unfortunately, our Education Schools are not equipped to teach new teachers how to use technology. Until that occures, the kids will know technology better than the teachers.

  27. Renee / TeachMoore 08. Nov, 2009 at 11:46 pm #

    Wendy’s concern about teachers is a good point. Fortunately, like students, many teachers aren’t waiting for the their schools to provide training in use of social media and other technologies to develop their own proficiency and figure out ways to use them creatively and purposefully with students. The key to avoiding many of the pitfalls you mention, John, is in effective teaching with various technologies. I am especially encouraged by the work of teachers who (often through the use of social media) training other teachers. One of the best can be found at middle school teacher Bill Ferriter’s blog (The Tempered Radical) where he provides links and examples to the extensive work he’s done with his own students and great instructions for teachers. What’s sad (as Bill as often pointed out) is how many school networks basically block student and teacher access to such media in favor of more drill centered software or sites.

  28. Ken Blystone 09. Nov, 2009 at 2:21 pm #

    My school has no bells that ring. My school has no lockers. My school has no hallways. My school has no bus drivers. My school is open 7 days a week. My school is open at night. My school encourages parents to sit next to their children while they work with their teacher. My school has a library of over 20,000 books. My school tests students without using paper. My school encourages students to participate in problem-solving activities. My school encourages students to talk. My school has thousands of students. My school is located inside of a “cloud.”

    I started my school over 25 years ago. Why not start yours today? Any teacher makes enough money to start their own school. And one last very important point–you don’t need permission to start your own school. All you really need is to conceptualize schooling in a different way and get busy. I’ve really enjoyed having more than 25,000 students over the years!

  29. Kathleen Sullivan Alioto 10. Nov, 2009 at 1:32 pm #

    Thoughtful ideas. But the basic problem remains: Poor schools and community colleges do not have the money to buy the necessary number of computers or the professional development needed.

  30. John Merrow 11. Nov, 2009 at 2:59 pm #

    How can we do more to demonstrate what possible and what’s already being done? And I would emphasize that it is NOT enough to reach educators and parents because, taken together, they are perhaps 25% of households. Somehow the general public must be made aware of what kids can do. Any thoughts on that?

  31. Angie Molpus 22. Nov, 2009 at 10:33 pm #

    I am very fortunate to teach in a school that can afford to implement the latest technologies into the classrooms. However, I do see your point about the gap that will develop between those that are less fortunate and those that have a budget that allows them to provide their students with the latest technologies. Students in my school are not allowed to bring in any technological devices of their own into the school. This is mainly because it might interfere with their learning. In the future, I hope that we can incorporate some of these technogies into the classroom. Technology is here to stay. Therefore, schools need to become more comfortable with it and allow students to embrace it.

  32. Ted Kolderie 01. Dec, 2009 at 1:09 pm #

    John, I have these reactions to your three reactions.

    1: The disparity is simply stunning, between the way other systems discuss the future and the way K-12 discusses the future. (I’m thinking of systems built essentially out of storing, retrieving, transmitting, manipulating information.) I sat through a full-day symposium at Minnesota Public Radio on “The Future of News” on November 16, for example. It was accepted that the traditional model is changing, will continue to change, into something radically different. The question is how to adapt. And, as part of that, how to preserve the coverage of public life when there is no longer the traditional advertising base to support it. The discussion was realistic.

    By contrast the discussion about improving education contains no such acceptance of any such change. It is about improving school as we’ve known school; about improving teaching as we’ve known teaching.

    So you’re absolutely right about the need for the K-12 discussion to open its eyes, to ‘get real’.

    2. The concern about the “risk of mis-use” seems to me no different from the risk of mis-using anything. Cars can be used for good; cars can be used dangerously. Ditto with guns. Ditto with certain kinds of sports. Ditto with Scotch whisky. Ditto with lots of things. Not an argument against bringing in technology; simply an argument for using it well and for recognizing there will inevitably be some mis-use.

    3. Phrased the way it is, ‘equity’ seems a concern. But think about cars; about TV; about refrigerators; about other/similar ‘necessities’. Most low-income households now have these, clearly. How did this happen? Probably because their initial development was paid-for by the wealthier households that initially bought them (probably at initially high prices). A few rich families bought the first cars. So in time Henry Ford could manufacture the Model T and sell it for — what: $300? This is, really, the way things work, isn’t it? Realistically this is the process that ends up delivering quality goods/services to the mass market at reasonable cost. I’m hard put, at any rate, to think of many examples where someone provided the financial base to provide the new/different to everybody at the start. The polio vaccine might be one. Can you think of others?

  33. Dannielle Colleran 18. Feb, 2010 at 10:37 am #

    As many opportunities come with technology there are of course the struggles, we are living in a world where the technology of today becomes way too quickly the technology of yesterday and schools need to start moving forward with integrating technology.
    The reality of it is that there are schools that are attempting to embrace technology but problems with maintaining the equipment and holding students accountable to be on task throughout the use of the equipment are real. As a teacher, it can be quite frustrating and time consuming when the equipment becomes misused and therefore needs maintenance. So rules for computer use are constantly revised and maybe for some schools it is just easier to stop using the equipment then it is to adapt the expectations. It takes energy and consistency to be on top of it but it is not impossible.
    In the past few years the cost to computers and ipods have dropped drastically and I believe that one way to avoid the misuse of the technology is to provide students with their own. We have students sign out textbooks for each of their courses that may total over $300. Why not provide these students with a laptop that is signed out for their use and must be returned at the end of the year? I guarantee that these students would take much better care of that laptop then they would the computers in the computer lab. In terms of bridging the gap between rich and poor, it is there. If schools are spending the money on the text they just need to reallocate funds to technology. I guarantee the possiblities for the poor students become endless. The resources they need and the support they need are right at their fingertips. There are of course some needed support to get this into place and may cause some textbook making companies to go out of business but don’t we all think that is going to take place eventually anyway?

  34. Taxis in Apex 09. Jul, 2011 at 5:50 am #

    This blog is really good n informative.Keep up the good work

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