computers, classroom, climbing, etc.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What distraction?

A collegue of mine was speaking to her students about filters and limited student access to the web during class. Some of her students made the arguement that it was less distracting for them to have web access. Without web access during class, the option is games, but games demand too much attention. With the web open, games are abandoned for social networking which the students argued was less distracting. One sends a message and then can return one's attention to class.

I don't make this stuff up. Really. I don't have to.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Technology is its own biggest limitation.

Part three in my ‘sins of the Web 2.0’ series

2. Pretending that all this stuff works all the time.

Monday morning. Mid-term to be written on individual computers. I block internet access to prevent cheating, but need to leave a dictionary and our LMS open. This partial block causes chaos with their internet connections. In this digital age, some of the pupils have no paper dictionary, so they need their connection. I also need the LMS open so that they can submit. Our harassed IT-guy shows up and spends ages looking at the problem.

And I’m lucky. Lots of teachers don’t even have an ‘IT-guy’ they can call. The system manager in their school is some eager teacher who gets a 25% reduction in class load or something, but then isn’t always available when problems arise, because they have to teach the other 75%.

I remember wasting tons of time when I was small as some hapless teacher struggled with the 16 mm film projector. What do my pupils get to see me struggle with?

  1. Pupil’s hardware (all 30)
  2. Pupil’s OS
  3. Pupils software (all of these first 3 having themselves dozens of components)
  4. Pupil’s internet connection
  5. Base station
  6. Local net and server
  7. Our line out of the building
  8. Problems with external resources.

…and I’m probably forgetting a few things. ‘Doing school’ in this manner means that someone has to spend a lot of time making sure all this works, or we waste hours of class. It’s a new situation, and I’m constantly amazed that in the endless discussions around digital schools, no-one seems to talk about the technical side of things. The truth is, many teachers experience technical problems much of the time and this is possibly the biggest hurdle to effective use of digital technology in the classroom.

I note that Microsoft’s ‘School of the Future’ in Philadelphia has so far been ticked off as a failure. There have been several factors in the troubles that they have had, but I note that frustration with net down-time has been an important issue. If they can’t get it right, is it any wonder that the rest of us get frustrated?

The question I'm forced to ask, though, is can we honestly expect teachers to integrate technology into their instruction when we can't guarantee that they'll have consistent access to the proper tools to do that work?

This is Bill Ferriter at the Tempered Radical, one of the many web-gurus that I still can’t manage to cross off my personal hero list. Saying teachers need to develop “digital resiliency”, he is talking mostly about other kinds of blocks than the plain technical glitches I’m mostly talking about, but Bill still goes where few go here. In conference after conference, on all the hot EduBlogs, in the latest books, where is this discussion? I’ll say it again: technical difficulties are the single greatest hurdle to effective use of digital technology in the classroom. Not lack of pedagogical vision, not unwilling teachers, not lack of funds. It can be hard to get much of this stuff to work because there is so much that has to work properly to get a class online.

Post Script

Will Richardson (another web-guru I can’t quite cross off my personal list. He’s such a nice man.) wrote a post called “I Don’t Need Your Network (or Your Computer, or Your Tech Plan, or Your…)” while I was working on this one and takes an interesting angle. He asks:

  • How are we going to have to rethink the idea that we have to provide our kids a connection? Can we even somewhat get our brains around the idea of letting them use their own?
  • At what point do we get out of the business of troubleshooting and fixing technology? Isn’t “fixing your own stuff” a 21st Century skill?


  • Could we then start to think about...getting back to teaching?

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009

    Digital natives, my ***!

    Overestimation of how plugged-in our pupils are. If we repeat “our pupils are digital natives” often enough, will it become true? This is part 2 of the series “Sick of gurus”

    I feel left out of much of the discussion on the web (and at conferences). The party line just doesn’t match my experience in the classroom.


    Our students are citizens of the 21st century. They read, communicate, collaborate, socialize, work, explore, and learn with personal technologies. They are the Millennials, who share ideas and dreams on social networking sites, follow streams of information from web page to web page, and use technology, reading, writing, and critical thinking skills in almost every aspect of their lives.

    This is an extreme example, but the web is full of this ‘digital native’ stuff. I’m sorry, it just isn’t so. It seems to me like a classic case of the Bellman’s fallacy (from Carrolls’ The Hunting of the Snark’) : “What I tell you three times is true”. Cut off from the classroom, the gurus just keep repeating this kind of thing to each other until they believe it. I’m sorry, but while my pupils are literate, media-interested, highly privileged, at-least-4-computers-at-home, online 24/7  types, the large majority of them do not use social networking to learn anything or collaborate and they certainly aren’t out there using ‘critical thinking skills.’

    They don’t use cloud computing, they don’t use social bookmarking, few of them blog, very few of them have ever uploaded anything to YouTube. They read Wikipedia, but don’t know what a wiki is and have never contributed to a wiki, looked at a history page or subscribed to changes. None of them know what a podcast is. They may know what RSS is, but almost none of them use it on their own. They don’t tweet. They don’t even use stuff like Digg.  They just don’t use modern technology for what we would like them to and even resist adults trying to get them to approach digital and social/digital media in the ways we think are productive.

    My pupils are plugged into ‘Web 2.0’ (asked if they have FaceBook accounts, they look at you strangely - it’s a bit like asking if they have noses) but they use it for social connection, not for collaboration. Their approach is fundamentally passive. Their use of things like wikis and YouTube are good examples – these things are deeply embedded in their everyday lives, but in they don’t use or approach these things the way I do (or - aha! - the way I would like them to).


    For me, wikis are one of the watersheds in human history: the emergence of massively collaborative systems for organizing information. You read the Encyclopedia Brittanica, you participate in Wikipedia. My pupils read them and use them in the same way.  


    I am starting to love services like YouTube and its imitators and spin-offs. The ease of embedding content all over the place is another real watershed.

    embed_codeMy pupils, however, do not share my mania for mashing it up. They just like the access to pictures and music that the modern web affords.


    It’s also interesting that, while many of them know what RSS is, they don’t use it. For me, this is again a fundamental change in the way the internet fits into my life: what I am interested in comes to me. This isn’t an interesting approach, it seems, to a generation that has grown up zapping their way around.

    We don’t like it, but the most popular Norwegian social networking site for teens ( I teach in Norway) is this. (Don’t click if you’re squeamish or easily depressed – it’s a site where young people upload pictures of themselves or parts of their bodies for approval from other users. Soon available in English.) I know that the ages of contributors on the first page are high, but don’t be fooled. What teenagers are doing here is indeed uploading and sharing content, but this isn’t what I think of as collaboration or useful learning. They are posing – and competing for attention and approval. They also seem to be participating in their own objectification.

    My point is: if we want a generation that “shares and collaborates” on the web and that “uses critical thinking” in its interaction with media, we’re going to have to work hard to produce it. The idea that technology produces these things by itself in some magical way is so hopelessly out of touch with reality I’m amazed I’ve managed to write so much about it here…