computers, classroom, climbing, etc.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

What on Earth are we up to, Part III

Been off sleeping in a half-frozen swamp, trying to catch a glimpse of the mythical mating danse of the black grouse (no luck - this hybrid grouse/capercaillie showed up and scared off all the grouse.)

Still riffing off the huge discussion started by CingT on the use of computers in the classroom. (Check my previous posts below.) She described a school situation at least as bad as that on my earlier post What on Earth are we up to? . Pupils FaceBooking through their days, ignoring the teacher, disconnected from the school they are sitting in.
This didn't go far on del&bruk, but went haywire on her own blog and then spread via Twitter and from blog to blog. Guttorm Hveen has links to some of the most visible blogposts on the topic, if you can read Norwegian.
It's great that there's so much interest in this topic, but much of the discussion here disappoints me, particularly the teachers' views.
They tend to have 3 messages:
1. Teachers need to have good familiarity with computers, the web, and with what they can do with all this technology. Much of the problem is described as a result of teachers' lack of competancy.
2. Students need clear tasks and to work to a product that has a short deadline (usually the end of class) and that is visible and/or useful.
3. Classroom leadership, classroom leadership, classroom leadership. This was one of CingT's opening points, as she suggests that all laptops be closed when the teacher lectures. Several teacher bloggers have wondered if many of us need to be clearer about what kind of behaviour we expect at any particulary time and what exactly it is students are supposed to be doing (and why?).
All well and good, I suppose. I myself swing back and forth between apathy and exactly these positions. The trouble is all this doesn't help, because it doesn't address the problem.
The problem is, as CingT commented earlier here in this blog, "students don't care about school". The boredom expressed by many of the students at my own school matches the comments made by 'Beate' on CingT's blog: she doesen't pay any attention in school because she has something more fun to do and because there are no negative consequences.
The problem has nothing to do with computers. Not to do with teachers, either, although boring teachers and weak leaders probably have a worse time of it in the 1:1 classroom.
The problem is that students are well trained to be entertained, see no value in boredom and do not experience school as exciting or relevant for their lives. Giving them a PC gives them an alternative. It just isn't reasonable to expect them not to make use of that alternative.
So, teachers whine a lot, but my point is not to simply whine about the system for the sake of it. My teaching has come to a standstill and I don't think I'm in a position to change this easily. I haven't created the situation, so I need help in creating a different one.
Educating teachers will not help. Foisting responsibility onto individual teachers under the banner of 'Better classroom leadership' will not help. It's time to rethink the classroom more fundamentally.
Picture credit: lygren.blogspot.com/

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Existential crisis?

CingT continues to impress me. A cool teenage blogger has hit the Norwegian edublogsphere with a bang. In a net forum, she nailed me with a quote from my own blog. Yikes. I notice she's even been through here and left a comment in (really good) English.

One of the areas where she sees more challenge than solution is 1:1. The level of misuse of computers she says she sees in the classroom is far beyond what most teachers are ready to admit to. So what do we do now? 'Strolling the classroom' risks making us into a silly kind of computer-use watchdog. Demanding that pupils submit all their work also shows an unreasonable control mentality, as well as being unrealistic.

Two ways to think about this:

1. Students must have something meaningful to do. Sitting in front of their computer, they should be working. The work should lead to a product, and this product must be used for something. (Preferably, something useful or necessary for their classmates. If not, then maybe for publishing, submission for a grade, preparation for exams, etc.) Meaningful work, preferably with interaction built in.


2. 1:1 is not the problem. School is. School is experienced by many students as a) boring, b) meaningless, c) not useful and d) in conflict with central cultural values. Giving all students a small portal to the world at large has effectively undermined all pedagogical activity. Students finally have something else they can fill their time with and still avoid the problems that occur when you do not show up at school.

This is why I have said that CingT is swearing in Church. Actually, a better metaphor would be to say that "she has pointed out that our digital emperor is not as well dressed as people have said." I'm not sure if there are any good ideas for solving the problems taken up here, because I'm afraid this is not an 'educational challenge' or 'start-up difficulty', but an existential crisis for school.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What on Earth are we up to, Part II

Here we are again. I wonder if I should write this blog in Norwegian, since I am sitting in Norway, but I did have my reasons for chosing English. Not least that my Norwegian is somewhat limited...

Since my last post, this topic has exploded in Norway, mostly because of an articulate and opinionated high-school student, CingT who has appeared on the teacher's social network, del & bruk. The picture she paints is similar to that from my last post on 1:1, What on Earth are we up to?, if not worse.

Oddly enough, the post she has got the most response to was one more focussed on the presence of students in the teacher's social network. Some teachers welcomed a critical student perspective, others felt that she had no right to be there. In del & bruk, there has been less commentary on a far more explosive post on 1:1 and PC-use in school. On her own blog, the topic has generated a lot more interest and the whole issue has started to get legs in the Norwegian blogosphere.

I'll quote you one of the comments from CingT's blog:

"At the beginning of the year, I took notes on my notepad. Then I began taking notes on my laptop. Then I began playing computer games on my laptop. Now I have no idea what the teacher is saying, in most of my classes."

Wow. This is a high school student who does not feel that what goes on in class has any relevance for her grade, so she has no incentive to change her behaviour. As far as relevance for real life goes...are you kidding?

CingT closes her post with a quote from two classmates:

"Sometimes I wonder why we go to school at all."

"Right! We could just go out and work. We have no use for what we learn"

Friday, April 10, 2009

Why Won't Teachers Learn?

Riffing off an interesting post from Darren Draper at Tech and Learning, himself lauding Dan Meyer's 'What Can You Do With This?' series.

Pulling apart teacher's use of technology with students and with other teachers: Dan Meyer is particularly interesting here, because he is highly tech-savvy and uses "Web 2.0" technologies all the time, but has tons of posts in his blog sceptical to tech use in the classroom. What he is using it for is connecting teachers. Darren Draper's post wondered about teachers' apparant lack of willingness for PD.

The issue is one of willingness to talk about pedagogy or teaching rather than one of technophobia.

Around here there has been some data tossed around lately that indicate teachers are at the bottom of the heap when it comes to learning about their own job. With a weak knowledge base and lots of exciting things going on, you would think that pedagogy would be a hot topic. Instead, teachers sit in the staff room and talk about anything but.

The weak scientific basis for teaching puts us in a tricky position. We know less about what we teach than hordes of specialists in our subject areas, and teaching itself is...well...what exactly is it that we know that others don't? For the young, brave and tenured, this might make pedagogy an exciting topic, but for others, pedagogy becomes a 'no-go' zone.

Three reasons:
1. We risk weakening our own position by exposing the fact that we have a complicated and sometimes shaky basis for doing what we do.
2. An extension of this is that discussions and experiments about what helps learning best might take us to things that look very different from traditional schooling. Scary.
3. Since there is no consensus about what learning is, how it happens or how best to facilitate it, discussions about pedagogy can turn into deep ideological debates. Many teachers sense this and at the same time feel that their jobs are filled with enough conflict already. Anything that could cause conflict or disunity with other teachers is to be avoided.

So it's hard, getting teachers to learn. That's why people like Dan Meyer are so valuable. If you don't have anyone to talk to at your workplace, then join the blogosphere! Get talking.

Thanks, Dan.

(If you are reading this in Norway, and haven't visited Del & Bruk, then go there right now!)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Death of the Newspaper

I'm not going to recap the last couple of week's media storm. For anyone who missed it, Andrew Keen covered it well in his blog on March 20th. There are links to Johnson and Shirky's material predicting the end of the newspaper and lots more related stuff.

The point is, the media word is changing radically. My pupils don't watch CNN or read The Times. And they're most likely never going to. These things are unlikely to survive in their present form until my pupils are adults. How do we teach media studies and the media elements in social science when the ground is shifting beneath our feet?

What on Earth are we up to?

I've read a lot of things lately that have made a deep impression on me. More on many of those things later. The thing that really blew me away was a survey conducted by a colleague of mine for an academic paper he was working on. Over 300 of our pupils had responded. I started reading it at the end of a staff meeting and became engrossed. I sat there riveted to my screen while everyone else left.

Image stolen from Mike Wesch http://ksuanth.weebly.com/wesch.html

Our pupils are older teenagers, mostly from middle-class areas. We have a laptop for each pupil and wireless net access. Most of the pupils surveyed said they were disturbed or distracted during class by FaceBook, YouTube and other social networking technologies. Ninety per cent (!) said that 5 minutes or more of each 45-minute period was used on such technologies. In a yes/no question, most of them said they used 'Web 2.o' technologies for school-related purposes, but in the comments they wrote, less than 1% mentioned such use. Their written comments on the survey were not directly about Web 2.0, but more about Internet access in itself, despite this not really being the subject of the survey.

The comments divide roughly in half, with half saying that Internet access at school should be limited because they or others are distracted by things like FaceBook during class. Those who defend having access in class with a few exceptions did not do so by pointing to educational value. On the contrary.

  • Many argue that they cannot concentrate on class for long, so that they need other things to do. A large number said that this was because the instruction was "boring". A pupil said to me directly once that he found the school day so boring that he needed social networking to get through the day.

  • Many argue that, as it is their education, it is up to them whether or not they participate. If they wish to update their FaceBook profile instead of listening to the math lesson, that is entirely their affair. Many clearly thought that it was no business of the school or the teacher what they did in class. Really.

  • Many said that they followed FaceBook, etc during class, but that this did not affect their concentration.

  • Several pupils claimed that they needed to be logged on to FaceBook (MSN, etc) to be able to concentrate. These pupils feel that if they are not logged on, they don't know "what's happening" and become agitated. If they are logged on, they say, they feel they are in the loop and can relax.

What on Earth are we up to? School has always been a problematic arena for learning. With the modern web, are we exploding school and changing it into something new, or are we just finally helping it achieve its full potential as a complete waste of time?

Guess my answer.