“A Tale of Two Attics” or “What Sherlock Doesn’t Know Won’t Hurt Him”

A Literary Indulgence

Permit me, if you will, to begin with a rather lengthy quote from the Sherlock Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet. Here we see Watson describing his new roommate, Sherlock Holmes:

His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naivest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”
“But the Solar System!” I protested.
“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently; “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

To fans of Doyle’s “Great Detective,” the revelation that Holmes doesn’t know the earth revolves around the sun is not particularly new, but this forms the basis of my question, and my argument, for this week’s post.  I wanted to explore a question posed in our introduction to 21st century learning. In this module, we have been encouraged to investigate what a 21st Century learning activity looks like.  To that end, we are encouraged to first ask ourselves, “What skills and competencies do our students need to be successful in college and their careers?”  The subsequent question, “What are the characteristics of learning activities that will help students develop critical skills?” flows logically from the first and drives the rest of the endeavor, but my question goes back to the first foundational question.  It’s a problem I’ve partially addressed before, but one of our “guiding questions” for this module asks us, “What are the pitfalls, or dangers, of using this definition in your work?” and it is the potential dangers and pitfalls in this approach that I intend to explore in this post.

The Tidy “Brain-Attic”

To go back to Sherlock Holmes for a moment, he is undoubtedly one of the most popular characters in all of literary fiction – and it’s not just literature. There have been countless film and television portrayals of the character as well. And I think it would be fairly safe to say that he is almost universally admired (his mild cocaine addiction notwithstanding).  Holmes’s intellect is astounding, his powers of deduction are amazing, and his ability to solve the seemingly unsolvable is equally incredible and entertaining.  Within the scope of the fiction he is celebrated and very successful – the absolute pinnacle of his profession who is sought after by common people,  Scotland Yard, various ministries in the cabinet, and heads of state both foreign and domestic.  It is no wonder he is so widely cited, imitated, and referenced throughout our culture.  But is he who we really want to be?  Is he who we want our students to be?  Consider again his shortcomings based on Watson’s list from the aforementioned book:

1. Knowledge of Literature.—Nil.
2. Philosophy.—Nil.
3. Astronomy.—Nil.
4. Politics.—Feeble.
5. Botany.—Variable. Well up in belladonna,
opium, and poisons generally.
Knows nothing of practical gardening.
6. Geology.—Practical, but limited.
Tells at a glance different soils
from each other. After walks has
shown me splashes upon his trousers,
and told me by their colour and
consistence in what part of London
he had received them.
7. Chemistry.—Profound.
8. Anatomy.—Accurate, but unsystematic.
9. Sensational Literature.—Immense. He appears
to know every detail of every horror
perpetrated in the century.
10. Plays the violin well.
11. Is an expert singlestick player, boxer, and swordsman.
12. Has a good practical knowledge of British law.

Would we want to produce a student who didn’t know the earth revolved around the sun?  Or a student who knew nothing of literature?  I realize, of course, that Holmes is a fictional character and that the traits Doyle created in him exaggerated and are designed to facilitate a specific set of narratives in which he practices his profession, but I can’t help but wonder if he isn’t the end result of our 21st Century learning philosophy. Aside from a few indulgences that spark his interest (think student-centered education) Holmes knows everything he needs to know to do his job – and not much else. His “brain-attic” (to use his words) is tidy and neat. Everything fits just so, so that he can find what he needs at a moment’s notice.  His profession has almost entirely driven his education.  It’s almost as if Holmes’s 19th Century learning and our 21st Century learning started with the same question.

While Holmes may be fictional, I am not the first person (by a long shot) to connect 19th century education and 21st century education with employment.  I have already addressed Sugata Mitra and his award-winning TED talk on “The School in the Cloud” in a previous post, but I think it’s worthwhile revisiting it as he draws the same comparison I am making – but in a more positive light. He argues that the 19th century Victorian educational systems produced clerks who could write nicely and do math, but says that system is obsolete.  Now we need the schools of the 21st century to produce students for a different type of job – one that requires the adept use of computers. “We don’t even know what the jobs of the future are going to look like,” says Mitra, “We know that people are going to work from wherever they want, whenever they want, in whatever way they want. How is present-day schooling going to prepare them for that world?” Mitra is looking at the issue of education solely from the perspective of employment – which is reiterated in the first question we should ask as we look at creating 21 Century learning activities (albeit our 21st Century goals allow for “college” paths as well – but what is this but a road to a more prestigious profession?).  I’m not trying to say that education shouldn’t prepare students for a job, and I’m certainly not disagreeing with some of the pedagogical implications of his approach. I’m merely posing the question, is that ALL education should do? This seems to be the heart of Mitra’s argument.  Mitra and his approach are incredibly influential in education today (as an example, he is cited in our reading for this module), but I can’t help but wonder if the pendulum has swung too far the other way.  The current emphasis on STEM education is also a product of this approach and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Mitra’s educational background is entirely in science – not education, and Mitra is not the only one. There are a rising number of influential leaders in education who by training and profession are not educators, but come from the fields of business and science and technology. This is not to say they have nothing to offer, but it does impact how they think and they think education is for.  Education is more than a means to a job.  Anyone who has taught any length of time can tell you that teaching is about helping students acquire knowledge and attain skills that transcend what a job may ever require.  It is somewhat myopic to think that the purpose of what we do in our classrooms as teachers is merely to train future employees (or entrepreneurs) of some company.

The Whole Child and Civic Education


If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that I’m a history and government teacher. My bias lies firmly in the humanities, and as a graduate of a liberal arts college I suppose I’m completely out of step with many popular ideas in current educational theory.  But there are others who argue that maybe we’re missing something with the current emphases in education.  I would argue that progressives in education going all the way back to John Dewey have argued for the education of the “whole child.”  The whole child education advocacy group ASCD argues that, “All students who have access to challenging and engaging academic programs are better prepared for further education, work, and civic life. These components must work together, not in isolation. That is the goal of whole child education.”  The addition of the “civic life” component is an important one.  It falls outside of work and education, but is equally important in our democracy – arguably, it has never been more important than now.

Harvard University conducted a panel in 2011 where the case for civic education was made quite clearly by several experts in the field .  Elizabeth Lynn, a senior research fellow at Valparaiso University defined civic education by saying, “It’s aiming at the development of a citizen. It’s the person on the school boards, community boards. It’s every person in civic life.” (Mason 2011). Civic life is not simply voting, but rather, participating in our democratic institutions at many levels.  Sadly, however, many of the opportunities for participation have disappeared over the years. Peter Levine, director of the Center for Learning and Engagement and research director at Tufts University’s Jonathan Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service said at the same conference, “There used to be a lot of institutions — labor unions, political parties, churches — that recruited you without asking you to be civically educated.  All these have been shattered.” There is “nothing that has that same function that turns you into a citizen outside of schools.” (Madison 2011). The decline of other social and cultural institutions that supported and reinforced democracy have left the schools at the forefront of civic education. Thus, we have a responsibility to instill these virtues regardless of prospective employment or future education.  Juan Carlos De Martin, a Berkman Faculty Fellow and director of the NEXA Center for Internet & Society at the Politecnico Di Torino, Torino, Italy gave an interesting, if not predictive, explanation of what happens when we fail in this regard. “If you know the facts, it allows you to ask deep questions about issues,” De Martin said. “We’ve seen in Italy someone like [recently resigned Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi come along and manipulate democracy.”  In 2011, there was no way that De Martin could envision the many ways our democracy today is under assault in this country, but responsibility for making our students “know the facts” and ask “deep questions” still lies with us.  I think it could be argued that our failure to do so has led, in part, to the current political climate in which we now find ourselves.  Ultimately, civics education is a crucial part of our lives.  Jonathan Zittrain, (professor at Harvard Law School (HLS), a professor of computer science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and a co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society) made the argument which brings us back to the whole child approach I started the section with, “Civics is not something you learn, it’s something you live” (Madison 2011).

The Jumbled “Brain-Attic”

Civic education is important, but it is not the end of the matter. I would humble propose that the great Sherlock Holmes (and by extension Sugra Mitra) is wrong. The jumbled “mind-attic” is the more desirable “mind-attic.” Perhaps “jumbled” isn’t the right word, but the point is still valid. Holmes and Mitra advocate for a mind devoted to training for a profession. Everything that is learned must be relevant to that end or it is discarded. To apply this to our 21st Century learning mindset, if it’s not relevant to future jobs or education, it is not worthy of being taught. That is the starting question of every effective learning activity according to the standard. But if we look beyond immediate employment or educational advancement, we can see the bigger picture – the whole child.  We can see that education must include social and civic elements as well.  And what about the arts?  Admittedly Holmes played the violin “well”, but that was a diversion for his strained mind. Very few of us ever “use” our art education directly in our jobs.  If we were given greater leeway in school to choose our content based on what we thought we were going to use in our jobs or in college, I doubt I would have taken most of my art classes – and I certainly wouldn’t have played baritone in 6th grade!  And the list goes on, why did I have to read Shakespeare? Why did I take algebra?  Why did I learn all those proofs in geometry?  What was I doing in a mine mining gypsum in for my college geology course? None of these things tied directly to my future career.  Yet I would argue they were all important.  They all gave me a bigger picture of the world that I use whenever I consider anything – when I look at a problem, when I think about who to vote for, how to hang a picture, how and what to teach my students.  If I was given more of a choice, I don’t know if I would have done any of those things.  Of course, I like to learn new things, so maybe I would have, but the fact remains that when we’re young, we often don’t know what we’re going to do – or think we do, but will end up doing something completely different.  I recently came across this video about how engineer Eiji Nakatsu solved a very difficult technical problem based on a lecture he heard about birds:

I sincerely doubt Mr. Nakatsu went to that lecture to with the intent of discovering a way to make bullet trains more quiet and fuel-efficient, but that was the result. He learned something for the sake of learning it and then applied it to his job. We don’t know what we’re going to end up using in our lives. How many lost opportunities will there be if we start specializing right away? If all of our learning is driven by career or college?

I began with one of my favorite fictional characters and I’ll end with one of my favorite real-life characters.  I had the opportunity a few years ago to see Mythbusters live and I got to hear Adam Savage speak about his life and educational experience.  I was surprised that he talked about his own education at such length and I was even more surprised at the thoughtfulness of his analysis. He talked about being a “generalist” and how he enjoyed learning many new skills, but only mastered them to a certain degree and then moved on learn something else.  At first he thought this was a defect – that he couldn’t follow anything through, but eventually he learned to embrace his varied skill set and parlayed that into into a career on television.  In 2012 Savage gave a commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College (a liberal arts college!) which touched on many of the same themes he said during the show:

I started to imagine about what I, a college dropout, might have to say to a large gathering of the opposite. I thought about why I was invited to be here. I mean, I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up.  This is the first question adults love to ask kids isn’t it?: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid. To specialize so early.

Of course Sarah Lawrence is famous as a Liberal Arts college. Both in name and in politics. But I think that there’s actually a better term for the educational philosophy here. What you’ve gotten here is a foundational education. A foundation. A broad base. A platform from which to launch an idea, a building, a movement, a way of thinking, generational shift.

As a generalist and a Jack-of-all-trades, I agree completely with this paradigm. The broadness of my interests gives me an excellent perspective to do what I do, and I wouldn’t have it any other way…

When you’re an expert in one thing, your lens on the world is often limited to that of your field. This is, of course, illuminating in important ways, but it can also be restricting.

When solving a problem as a generalist (or to use a more arcane term: a polymath), I can compare the many fields I’ve dabbled in, their techniques, their philosophies, the ways in which they alter the lens through which I see things, and I can gain a literal perspective on what I’m doing.

This turned out to be the exact reason for my success in film special effects, and eventually on MythBusters.

Steve Martin has a lovely quote in his autobiography Born Standing Up, where he recounts being told at the beginning of his career: “you will eventually use everything you’ve ever learned.” This is entirely true.

Link to entire transcript: https://www.sarahlawrence.edu/news-events/commencement/archives/2012/adam-savage-commencement-keynote-address.html

Will we all use everything we’ve ever learned?  I find it to be a compelling argument. We never know what we’re going to use and we often don’t even know it when we’re using it. How many lessons have we subconsciously put into practice without even realizing it?  Of course, it’s impossible to quantify, but I’m certain the answer is more than zero. Savage is right. The specialization we expect at such a young age cannot be healthy.  We risk losing many foundational concepts if education only focuses on work or college.

I realize that my question for this post is a bit of a conceit.  I realize that the 21st Century learning question prompt probably meant more than skills and competencies linked to only college and careers…but it doesn’t say that.  And there are forces at work in academia who either through omission or intention reinforce the idea that education should be only about future careers or higher education. This is a mistake.  For the future of our country and the intellectual development of our society, education must be more. Our work doesn’t define who we our. It’s our shared humanity and maybe that’s what we need to learn more about.



ASCD (2012). “Making the Case for the Whole Child” Retrieved from: http://www.wholechildeducation.org/assets/content/mx-resources/WholeChild-MakingTheCase.pdf

Doyle, Arthur Conan (1887). A Study in Scarlet. USA: Quality Paperback Club 1994 edition.

Foltos, Les (2013).  Peer coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin.

ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Mason, Edward (December 7, 2011). “The Import of Civic Education.” The Harvard Gazette. Retrieved from: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/12/the-import-of-civic-education/

Peer-Ed (2015). Defining 21st Century Learning.  Accessed from: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1x6hkuLvVKoXb3FCOn_rOtMKDi08Ryr3gMKko_LyZSz0/edit

Savage, Adam (2012). Commencement Address at Sarah Lawrence College.  Retrieved from: https://www.sarahlawrence.edu/news-events/commencement/archives/2012/adam-savage-commencement-keynote-address.html


Community Engagement Project

Community Engagement Project for EDTC 6104


For this blog post, I’m reflecting on the culminating Community Engagement project for EDTC 6104.  The project required that we “create a professional learning presentation or workshop on a topic of your choice that you will use to engage and provide professional growth for an audience of your choice” and also required that we submit it to present at a conference. In the end, this will result in two slightly different projects for me, but I’ll start with my original plan and shift to what I ended up doing for my conference submission.

I chose to develop a PD opportunity for my colleagues at SCS related to the use of technology in the classroom.  This entire project fit in quite well with where our school is at right now.  After our last accreditation cycle, my school decided to implement a more comprehensive approach to PD.  This resulted in a PD plan that included input and participation from the staff. As such, “technology” was one of the topics selected by the staff and I volunteered to help lead the PD on this topic.  The sessions are two hours and there are to be 3-4 over the course of the semester.  For this PD I was planning on addressing how our students thought about and used technology along with an opportunity for teachers to practice using some practical digital tools (including brushing up on our school’s LMS).  Subsequent sessions will focus on ethical issues, the collaborative nature of digital technology, and specific digital tools we can use to help students learn.

At this point, I’ll transition to the PD I planned for the conference submission. While I still plan on using my original concept for my school’s PD program, the necessity of proposing a presentation for a conference led me to make alterations to my plan to meet the needs of a different audience and a different context.  I was also approached by one of my colleagues, Orlala Wentink (check out her cool blog) about presenting together at the NCCE conference.  Her topic was using Google Sites in the classroom and she suggested that we combine our topics into one presentation.  It seemed like an interesting prospect, and while there are differences in our topics, I appreciated that her Google Sites component would be the sort of complimentary piece I was looking for with my original PD plan.  So we structured our workshop to fit within the two-hour window and we decided to use the content of my presentation and the skills of Orlala’s presentation.  We also decided to go back-and-forth between content and skills instruction/practice within the session.  As can be seen in our outline, we start with a rudimentary introduction of Google sites then switch to a discussion about how teens use technology. This piece also contains an interactive piece through the poll everywhere questions.  We then go back to the Google sites piece as participants blog on our section Google site about a topic brought up in the content section, “Is knowing obsolete?”  After participants have made their blog posts, we switch back to more content (again with digital participation) on the topic of the ethical use of technology by students.  From this, we transition to discussing online collaboration and community.  Participants will comment on each others’ blogs, and we will wrap up the session with participants making their own Google sites so they can take this skill back to their classrooms.

I think the diverse nature of our topics – one on the philosophical and ethical nature of students and the other on the use of a practical tool to foster collaboration and community; provides a unique opportunity to offer theory and practice – which became the title of our presentation (“Theory and Practice: How Students Use Technology and Using Google Sites to Reach Them”).  Teachers will be exposed to new ways of thinking about technology and how students learn, and they will also be trained to use a new set of digital skills to reach their students (a “product” at the end of the session – to quote Orlala).

And if the collaborative nature of our topic wasn’t enough, the project itself was completed jointly, online.  Orlala and I used the digital tools at our disposal to plan and create this entire project. Google sites, Google Docs, Google drive, Google Slides, YouTube, and Powtoons were all used in constructing this presentation.  We encountered various challenges and difficulties along the way, but we persevered, just as our students must persevere when they encounter the same sorts of challenges for our classes.  It was a learning experience for me and I am grateful I had a patient and thoughtful partner in Orlala.  We never met face-to-face during the course of this project, but I think it holds great promise – and perhaps that is the greatest testimonial to the collaborative power of the internet.



Proof of Conference Submission

Link to  Google Slides for the Presentation

Link to Google Site for the Presentation


Be Prepared!: Troubleshooting by Looking at Current Issues and Problems in Education Technology (ISTE Coaching Standard 3 E&G)

“Be Prepared!”

I’ve never been a Boy Scout, but I’ve always liked their motto: “Be Prepared.”  And as I was considering this week’s prompt, “Given the opportunities for students and teachers to collaborate globally, how can we help them develop strategies to troubleshoot and resolve issues that can come with increased use of emerging technologies such as digital video, audio, and social media?” I began to wonder about what issues teachers and schools might face when it comes to increased use of emerging technologies.  I thought of my own experiences…internet not working, computers not plugged in/charged up, students intentionally removing keys from the keyboard or stealing mice (“mouses?”), but I was sure there must be more to it than this. My problems are all pretty pedestrian, but schools and ed tech professionals must be thinking more broadly. Fortunately, in my research I came across no shortage of lists of the various issues with technology to be addressed by teachers in the classroom. As I soon discovered, I could place some of the biggest problems into three broad categories.

Pedagogical Problems

The first article, the one I’ll use as my resource for this blog post, is rather extreme in places, but is a good example of the need for a solid pedagogical approach when using technology in the classroom.  My resource is from a 2013 article by Alfonzo Porter at The Washington Post. In his article, “The problem with technology in schools,” he outlines some of the basic problems confronting teachers with regard to technology in the classroom.  Citing a 2012 Pew Research Survey, Porter blames technology for issues like creating short attention spans in students, declining face-to-face social skills, and students being conditioned to find “quick answers” (Porter).  Even more problematic than this may be the inability of students to log off and put their devices away during class time. Porter argues, “To remedy this, all technology should be left in lockers and not allowed in the classroom. Failure to comply should be met with confiscation of the device, which would only be returned to the parent. If parents believe that it is acceptable for their child to violate established school policies, then the schools are left with no other option other than to seize them” (Porter). As a teacher, I recognize that there’s a time and place for technology (and I HAVE taken devices away on occasion), but this zero-use policy is bit harsh.  It seems to belie the fact that technology can be used in the classroom – something he actually mentions later when he cites the survey again and mentions that “Roughly 75 percent of the teachers surveyed said that the Internet and search engines had a “mostly positive” impact on student research skills. And they said such tools had made students more self-sufficient researchers.” According to the teachers, technology may be a problem, but it may also be the solution. I’m willing to cut Porter some slack on his seemingly harsh policy about electronic devices in the classroom (or “gizmos” as he calls them) as being a possible overstatement of what his position may actually be. I’ll also take the age of the article into consideration – although by 2013, cell phones were a staple of most students’ lives.  In any case, I’ll stick with his statement about technology being the problem AND the solution.  But it begs the question about the pedagogical application of technology in the schools. If it’s a question of how it’s used, then that’s an important first step.

Terry Heick at Teachthought and Michelle Harvin at EdTech Times both offer lists of problems with technology in the classroom that focus on how it’s used. Here’s both of their lists with brief explanations as to their points:

1. Pace of Change (Schools are not switching over fast enough, plus $)
2. Different Social Dynamics (Online classes may not be taken seriously)
3. Distraction (Teachers can’t watch what everyone’s doing all the time!)
4. Technology Out-thinking the Instruction (Tech makes it too easy)
5. Learning Innovation vs Improved Test Performance (More technology doesn’t guarantee improved test performance) (Heick)

5. The crutch (Copying and pasting instead of actually learning)
4. The crash (Tech problems at home may make material inaccessible)
3. The old-timer (Some teachers don’t use it, many aren’t trained to)
2. The Facebook (Distraction)
1. The Band-Aid (It’s not a guarantee of success) (Harven)

If we look at both lists, several items overlap. Distraction is on both lists as is some sort of idea that the learning becomes too easy or superficial.  More interestingly is the idea that more technology doesn’t necessarily equal more success, which not only appears on both lists, but appears in the same spot (Harven decided to count “down” rather than “up”).  So clearly the first step is to acknowledge that technology is not a magic bullet that will slay every problem schools face.  In fact, adding more technology without the proper support may exasperate problems (and a greater cost) than actually fix anything.  Pedagogy is key in using technology in a meaningful, impactful way in education. If digital education is going to work, it has to be done correctly.

Big Picture: Administrative Issues

The second type of problems that became apparent in my research tended to focus on issues administration might face when looking at technology in the school.  Frank Smith’s article for EdTech Magazine and David Nagel’s piece for The Journal both highlight the administrative side of the equation. Again, here are their arguments (respectively):

  • 75.9% — Budget limits
  • 53.9% — Inadequate professional training
  • 41.4% — Teachers resistant to change
  • 38.2% — Inadequate network infrastructure
  • 30.9% — Unreliable device/software options
  • 29.6% — No systems to use technology for curriculum
  • 17.8% — Other
  • 13.2% — District doesn’t see immediate need for more technology (Smith)

Challenge 1: professional development.
Challenge 2: resistance to change.
Challenge 3: MOOCs and other new models for schooling. (Massive Open Online Course)
Challenge 4: delivering informal learning.
Challenge 5: failures of personalized learning.
Challenge 6: failure to use technology to deliver effective formative assessments.  (Nagel)

Smith’s results come from a survey of 150 education teachers and leaders while Nagel draws upon, “The NMC Horizon Report: 2013 K-12 Edition,” by the New Media Consortium as part of the Horizon Project. It’s fascinating to look at the similarities here: professional development is #2 and #1, and teacher resistance is #3 and #2 (and #3 on Harven’s list above). Two different groups, two years apart both identified two of the exact same problems (in approximately the same place) facing Ed Tech today. And it’s no coincidence given that the lack of training and the subsequent frustration and resistance go hand-in-hand. To me this speaks volumes. We must do a better job of educating our teachers on how to use technology. It’s approximately 1/3rd of the biggest problems facing the field right now!  If you could solve 33% of your profession’s biggest problems by fixing one issue, wouldn’t you?  This is nothing short of a call to arms for Ed Tech leaders to fix the problems that schools have been overlooking for too long.

Most of Smith’s other issues relate to hardware/infrastructure issues while Nagel takes us into different approaches to how education should work in a digital environment (more pedagogical). Both of these approaches are important as well, but I’m looking for commonality here so these points will have to wait for another day.

The Bigger Picture: The Social Network

Attorney Bruce Nagel holding the “lethal weapon”

As I write these lines, a news story from two days ago is still rattling around in my head.  A twelve year old girl, Mallory Grossman committed suicide after some persistent cyber-bullying from her schoolmates. A tragedy.  Now her parents are suing Rockaway Township School District for “gross negligence” in the death of their daughter.  I can’t imagine what these parents are going through. This kind of loss is painful beyond words. But as I look at the position the school is now placed in – as being “responsible” through negligence for the death of this young girl, I can’t help but see another potential problem can come with “increased use of emerging technologies such as digital video, audio, and social media.” I don’t pretend to have any answers for this specific case, but it’s worth taking a brief look at some elements of this tragedy.  New Jersey has one of the most stringent anti-bullying laws in the nation and they even have an 86 page guide: Guidance for Schools on Implementing the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.  In fact, it’s the school’s alleged failure to comply with this act that is being cited by the parents in the lawsuit. I’ve looked over guidelines and the law, but didn’t see much in the way of internet or social media-specific policies. This may be an oversight on my part or the law’s, but more information will come out about that as the case proceeds. In her coverage of the case, the Washington Post’s Samantha Schmidt pointed out that Mallory is not alone in being persecuted on the internet. “One recent study surveying 5,600 children nationwide between the ages of 12 to 17 found that 34 percent had experienced cyberbullying in their lifetimes” (Schmidt). This number is pretty high and I’m not surprised. The anonymity and power of the internet are a powerful lure, and a struggling adolescent can fall in to a pattern of abusing others at the click of a button. Digital citizenship education must be paired with anti-bullying campaigns. It’s HOW bullying is done in the 21st century.  The problem is the parameters.  The school can curtail your first amendment rights at school when you say you’re going to hurt another student.  But what right/responsibility does that school have when you’re on your own Facebook page or your Instagram page or Snapchat or whatever?  Should the school be checking every student’s internet footprint to see if they’re saying mean things about other students?  Is it even possible?  Again, I’m not sure how this will play out.  The Grossman’s lawyer dramatically pushed the argument to its limits. “‘We are here today to bring light to the fact that this small device can be a lethal weapon in the hands of the wrong child,’ Nagel said holding up an iPhone in the Tuesday news conference” (Schmidt). The cell phone as a weapon – that’s the issue today.  How schools respond to this and what programs they have in place to teach responsible digital behavior, as well as anti-bullying programs, will determine if cases like this become the norm in the future. Just like with the pedagogical issue, technology may be the problem, but it may also be the solution.  Modeling and teaching proper digital citizenship and collaboration is key. “Informed and empathetic global citizens use online technologies to gain different perspectives about the world” (Lindsay). This is a far cry from the insulated, self-focused, vindictive behaviors that victimize so many adolescents (and adults) every year.  This is yet another call for diligent Ed Tech leadership.

Conclusion: What’s the Problem(s)?

At the end of my research, I think the three biggest issues that we, as Ed Tech leaders, have to be prepared to address are pedagogy, professional development, and digital citizenship. Or, to state it as a series of directives, we must practice and promote effective pedagogy that utilizes technology for learning. We must train and support our teachers so they can function and flourish in the digital environment, and we must coordinate and implement meaningful digital citizenship programs that promote healthy internet behavior.  Of course, these overlap with numerous ISTE standards, but i guess that’s the point. Learning the ISTE standards is a way to prepare us to meet and address these issues; it was just fun to turn it around this time and look at it from the problem side.  And at least we know where we can find the answers.


ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Harven, Michelle (November 6, 2013). “Top 5 Problems with Technology in Education Today.” EdTechTimes. Retrieved from: https://edtechtimes.com/2013/11/06/top-5-problems-technology-education-today/

Heick, Terry.  “5 Problems With Technology In Classrooms.” TeachThought.com.  Retrieved from: http://www.teachthought.com/the-future-of-learning/technology/5-problems-with-technology-in-classrooms/

Lindsay, Julie (July 19, 2016). “How to Encourage and Model Global Citizenship in the Classroom.” Education Week. Retrieved from: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/global_learning/2016/07/how_to_encourage_and_model_global_citizenship_in_the_classroom.html

Nagel, David (June 4, 2013). “6 Technology Challenges Facing Education.” The Journal.  Retrieved from: https://thejournal.com/Articles/2013/06/04/6-Technology-Challenges-Facing-Education.aspx?Page=1

Porter, Alfonzo (January 28, 2013). “The problem with technology in schools.” The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/therootdc/post/the-problem-with-technology-in-schools/2013/01/28/cf13dc6c-6963-11e2-ada3-d86a4806d5ee_blog.html?utm_term=.89898f0ec227

Schmidt, Samantha (August 4, 2017). “After months of bullying, her parents say, a 12-year-old New Jersey girl killed herself. They blame the school.” The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/08/02/after-months-of-bullying-a-12-year-old-new-jersey-girl-killed-herself-her-parents-blame-the-school/?utm_term=.6124ec7ab95c

Smith, D. Frank (November 23, 2015). “The 7 Greatest Challenges Facing Education Technology.”  EdTech Magazine.  Retrieved from: https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2015/11/7-greatest-challenges-facing-education-technology


Surfing the Wave: Keeping Abreast of the Digital Ed Field in ISTE 5

Riding the Wave

This week’s question for EDTC 6103 was pretty straightforward. Given ISTE standard 5, I wanted to focus in on indicator C, which called for teachers to “evaluate and reflect on current research and professional practice on a regular basis to make effective use of existing and emerging digital tools and resources in support of student learning” (ISTE).  My question was about how to best do this in an ever-changing field.  Are  there any best-practices for teachers who wish to stay abreast of developments in such a rapidly evolving field?  It may be helpful to remind ourselves that the “digital” part of digital education is fairly recent.

In 1965 Gordon Moore predicted that the sheer processing power of computers would double every two years, and while there is some debate about the reality of the prediction today, the fact remains that in the last 50 years, computers have increased tremendously in power and decreased drastically in size and in cost.  In 1991, the year I got my first computer, an Apple laptop (Macintosh Powerbook) cost around $2300, or just over $4000 in today’s money, had a 16 MHz processor, and weighed about 6 pounds (Comen, et. al. 2016).  Today, I see I can get a 4.4 pound Apple MacBook Air  with 1.4 GHz Intel Core i5 processor on Amazon for just under $800. Combine the evolution of processing power, weight, and cost with other digital developments in the last thirty years like the creation of the World Wide Web (1989), the creation of modern-day internet behemoths like Amazon (1994), Google (1998), and YouTube (2005), and technology that made computers truly personal, like the iPhone (2007) and iPad (2010) and you have an inkling of the kind of hectic evolution we’re dealing with.  Factor in the educational components of this equation – like the tech-savvy teachers necessary to bridge the new digital divide (see previous post here), and you have desperate, persistent struggle to keep up with what’s current.  Keeping up with what’s new is crucial and it needs to be part of professional development as well. According to Patterson, “91 percent of teachers believe their success in the classroom depends heavily on having access to technology training. Unfortunately, 60 percent of teachers don’t feel adequately prepared to integrate technology into their lessons” (Patterson).  Keeping of top of all this technology and pedagogy can be difficult for digital education leaders, and it can be devastating for teachers who are not technologically inclined.  And it’s not just about the technology we have now.  The standard itself even requires us to not only stay current on that which exists (“existing…digital tools and resources”), but also that which does not truly exist in full form yet (“emerging…digital tools and resources”).  The standard requires us to “ride the wave” of educational technology and demands we stay current.

Looking to the Librarians

 the librarians
Photo from TV Guide (and apologies to TNT)

So I found some help from the librarians.  Ok, maybe not the librarians from the TNT show, The Librarians, but I did find help on this topic from the Association of College and Research Libraries, which is a division of the American Library Association.  In an article by Steven J. Bell called “Keeping up with the EdTech Surge” I found some useful advice for all of us trying to surf the EdTech wave…or “surge.”  After a brief overview of the “EdTech explosion,” Bell goes on to explain how we should “engage” with EdTech and here he provides 5 key thoughts/recommendations (Bell):

  1. Explore three to five new educational technologies a week. This could be as simple as visiting a website or viewing a video.
  2. EdTech usually falls into one of three categories. Is it “free, freemium or fee.”
  3. Asking permission versus forgiveness. Researching tech on the job IS part of your job (ask forgiveness if it’s a problem) vs. a librarian-specific situation where you ask permission before exposing someone else’s students to an EdTech solution (ask permission)
  4. What’s the EdTech community saying? Check reviews online.
  5. Exploration is good but ask why.  No matter how cool it is and how much you make like it, the EdTech product must serve a purpose.


Admittedly, these suggestions are for librarians, but I find these guidelines to be helpful for any EdTech leaders.  The surge (“wave”) can be intimidating at times, but this measured response feels manageable. It even seems encouraging as it’s a persistent process of exploration – not a never-ending hunt for the latest-and-greatest ed tech.  It’s purposeful (tip 5) but not deterministic.  It has guidelines, but ultimately it must fit the mission.

Bell goes on to identify a dozen links to help “navigate the surge.” These are a combination of k-12 and college-level sites that deal with blogs, twitter, and other forms of digital communication that can be useful for anyone involved in surfing the EdTech wave.

The Mystery Box

Bell also includes a section on the “Mystery Box.”  I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical of what he was talking about here, but in the end, I think it makes sense.  Bell shares a link to a TED talk featuring director JJ Abrams.  In it, Abrams discusses a “Mystery Box” that he received as a child but never opened.  It was supposed to be full of incredible magic tricks, but for Abrams, this unopened mystery box served as metaphor for the power of the unknown – a hallmark of much of his subsequent work as director. Bell applies it to EdTech, “When it comes to EdTech and blending our librarianship and instructional technology skills, Abrams words speak volumes because it is the drive to unravel the mystery of how to best leverage technology to enhance learning that should drive us, as academic librarians, to explore, experiment and discover all that the EdTech world has to offer” (Bell).  Again, Bell is speaking for librarians, but I see no reason why “librarianship” cannot be replaced with “teaching sklls” – especially if we are to be EdTech leaders.

Whether or not we view it as a “mystery box,” exploring EdTech is something we must always be doing as digital education leaders; it just comes with the territory.  After all, we don’t want to be using last-decade’s digital tools any more than we want to be using last-century’s pedagogy (though we often see both).  I believe Bell’s suggestions can go a long ways towards helping us avoid these hazzards and help us get on our boards and more effectively surf that Ed-Tech wave!

Addressing the Prompts:

Connecting with ALL of the ISTE Teaching Standards, write a narrative of your learning throughout this quarter: 1 What level of understanding and competence of the ISTE Teaching Standards did you start with this quarter? 2 What were one or two of the more significant areas of growth throughout this quarter? 3 Where would you like to continue to grow? 4 How can you empower others- colleagues, etc., as outlined in ISTE Coaching Standard 2?

  1. While I started with no formal understanding of the competence of the ISTE Teaching Standards, I was familiar with them through their connection with the ISTE Student Standards from last quarter.  Dr. Wicks had indicated that we would be addressing these in the following class, so while they were not completely unknown to me, this is the first time had studied them in-depth.
  2. While there is quite a bit of overlap between the student and teachers standards, there are others that were more unique in their application to teachers and thus afforded me the most opportunities for personal growth throughout the quarter.  These would be standards 2 and 5.  Standard 2’s requirement to develop digital age learning experiences and assessments – particularly as it applies to technology-rich learning environments, was very interesting to me; and standard 5’s requirement for professional growth is another area where not only myself, but all teachers could afford to grow (“growth”is in the title, after all, and it therefore connotes a continuous process).
  3. I think I would like to continue growing in the two aforementioned areas, particularly in #2 – as it relates to the digital teaching environment. I believe that if teachers are impeded from truly transforming their classrooms into digital learning environments, then we will not see the 21st century classroom, just the 19th century classroom with computers in it.  That would be a shame.  The Patterson article comes to mind again, “This misstep [lack of tech training] can increase teacher resistance and negate the power of technology implementations.” (Patterson). The true promise of digital education lies in its effective implementation, not merely its presence, and therefore the more we can do to make that evolution a reality, the better.
  4. When looking at coaching standard 2, the piece that jumps out to me the most are the verbs used in the standard.  “Coach and model” appear in all of the indicators for standard 2 and the verb “assist” is the primary action given in the standard itself. It seems to me that the standard is requiring we empower others by modeling the effective use of technology and assisting them in doing so also.  To that end, I believe that I can best empower my colleagues by demonstrating meaningful, effective use of digital technology and encourage and facilitate others in doing the same. This involves not only using the technology, but also maintaining a positive mindset about the use of technology (which can be difficult when things go wrong) and demonstrating flexibility in the face of adversity (like when things go wrong).


Bell, Steven J. “Keeping Up With… The EdTech Surge.” Association of College & Research Libraries.  Retrieved from: http://www.ala.org/acrl/publications/keeping_up_with/edtech

Comen, Evan, and Michael B. Sauter and Samuel Stebbins (April 15, 2016). “The Cost of a Computer the Year You Were Born.” 247wallst.com.  Retrieved from: http://247wallst.com/special-report/2016/04/15/how-much-a-computer-cost-the-year-you-were-born/6/

ISTE (2008). “ISTE Standards for Teachers.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-teachers

Patterson, Mike (2016, April 26).  “Tips for Transforming Educational Technology through Professional Development and Training.”  EdTech K-12 Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2016/04/tips-transforming-educational-technology-through-professional-development-and