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

 

“All Aboard!”- Accessibilty Guidelines and Digital Leadership Coaching

Equal Access [to Digital Education] for All!

When looking at the prompt for this week’s EDTC6104 question, I was struck by a seeming discrepancy in the text of the question for the prompt and that of the coaching standard itself (ISTE coaching standard 3, indicator F). The standard/indicator calls for digital education leaders to “collaborate with teachers and administrators to select and evaluate digital tools and resources that enhance teaching and learning and are compatible with the school technology infrastructure” (ISTE 2011) whereas the prompt question for this module asks, “How do we evaluate, select and manage digital tools for teachers and students and resources that meet accessibility guidelines and fit within our institution’s technology infrastructure?” (emphasis added).  While some of the wording may be slightly different, it is the addition of the clause “accessibility guidelines” that caught my attention and caused me to ask my own questions regarding this standard. Namely, what does this clause mean? Why was it added? What are some examples of these kinds of guidelines? And, what are my institution’s accessibility guidelines regarding technology?

The Need

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are approximately 6.5 million students ages 3-21 with disabilities that attend schools in the US.  That’s 13% of the entire school population. And of that 13%, 35% have specific learning disabilities (NCES 2017). Technology has the potential to substantially help these millions of students, but only if it is done right.

Seale, Georgeson, Mamas, and Swain’s 2014 study, “Not the Right Kind of ‘Digital Capital'” outlines that technology alone is not the answer (2014). Their study focuses on the difficulties incorrect technology presents to disabled students in higher education.  This study indicates that it’s not enough for people with disabilities to merely have access to technology, but that the technology must meet their specific needs. Students with specific learning disabilities benefit when technology matches their needs.  Hall, Cohen, Vue, and Ganley’s 2015 report, “Addressing Learning Disabilities with UDL and Technology: Strategic Reader” (2015) shows what can happen when a more pedagogically holistic approach is applied to digital education for students with learning disabilities.  Their study looks at how a technology-based system based on the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) matched with Curriculum Based Measurement (CBM) led to improved engagement and scores with the Strategic Reader program. Granted, this was paired against a non-digital classroom format, but the concepts found in the UDL go beyond merely being digital.

So how is the technology done right?  Schools and other institutions are learning to establish and implement the aforementioned “accessibility guidelines” in an effort to make digital education meaningful to ALL students.

The Law

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975 requires a “free and appropriate public school education for eligible children and youth ages 3–21.” Even more broadly, “title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that businesses and nonprofit services providers make accessibility accommodations to enable the disabled public to access the same services as clients who are not disabled. This includes electronic media and web sites” according to my primary artifact for this entry, TechRepublic’s guide on “Creating an ADA-compliant Website.” (Nash 2012). In this 2012 piece, written by Nicole Nash,  provides a checklist from the Department of Health and Human Services to see if your website is accessible to people with disabilities:

  • Every image, video file, audio file, plug-in, etc. has an alt tag
  • Complex graphics are accompanied by detailed text descriptions
  • The alt descriptions describe the purpose of the objects
  • If an image is also used as a link, make sure the alt tag describes the graphic and the link destination
  • Decorative graphics with no other function have empty alt descriptions (alt= “”)
  • Add captions to videos
  • Add audio descriptions
  • Create text transcript
  • Create a link to the video rather than embedding it into web pages
  • Add a link to the media player download
  • Add an additional link to the text transcript
  • The page should provide alternative links to the Image Map
  • The <area> tags must contain an alt attribute
  • Data tables have the column and row headers appropriately identified (using the <th> tag)
  • Tables used strictly for layout purposes do NOT have header rows or columns
  • Table cells are associated with the appropriate headers (e.g. with the id, headers, scope and/or axis HTML attributes)
  • Make sure the page does not contain repeatedly flashing images
  • Check to make sure the page does not contain a strobe effect
  • A link is provided to a disability-accessible page where the plug-in can be downloaded
  • All Java applets, scripts and plug-ins (including Acrobat PDF files and PowerPoint files, etc.) and the content within them are accessible to assistive technologies, or else an alternative means of accessing equivalent content is provided
  • When form controls are text input fields use the LABEL element
  • When text is not available use the title attribute
  • Include any special instructions within field labels
  • Make sure that form fields are in a logical tab order
  • Include a ‘Skip Navigation’ button to help those using text readers

Many of these recommendations are also mirrored in the government’s ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments, as well as in the ISTE’s own article, “5 pro tips to make digital learning accessible to all students,” which includes the following list (ISTE Connects, 2017):

  • Write alt text for your images.
  • Caption your videos.
  • Transcribe your podcasts.
  • Structure your website for ADA compliance.
  • Use the right tools.

As we can see, there are many similarities designed to make the material more accessible to more people – especially with regard to issues related to vision, reading, and organization. Nash also includes recommendations for procedures and tools to assist in meeting these suggestions.  These are all good guidelines and they are a good place to start.  But these guidelines are not really about education and their focus reflects that.  As such, they primarily address disabilities not related to learning learning disabled students – the 35% of the 13% mentioned earlier. What about their access?

The School – Helping Students with Learning Disabilities

When examining this part of the question, I found two resources that help in different ways. The first is in practical application. Here, once again, I turn to the ISTE and Luis Perez and Kendra Grant’s 2015 article, “25 Tools for Diverse Learners.” In this overview, Perez and Grant break the tools into three categories to help learners with different learning styles (Perez and Grant 2015):

  • Tools for engagement and the affective network (collaboration)
  • Tools for representation and the recognition network (reading)
  • Tools for action, expression and the strategic network (writing)

The tools are practical and well-organized. They include explanations of how to use them and what kinds of students would benefit most.  Perez and Grant are trying to help teachers where they need it most: in the day-to-day activities in their classrooms.  They also take up the slack where the government guidelines fall short by specifically addressing learning disabilities.

Perez and Grant’s categories are also taken directly from the second source I looked at with regards to this category, the National Center for Universal Design for Learning’s UDL Guidelines.  These guidelines fall into the “Why” of learning (Engagement), the “What” of learning (Representation) and the “How” of learning (Action & Expression). These  three basic categories establish a solid philosophical and pedagogical foundation for education in general and, as we have seen with the Perez and Grant article, can be specifically applied to digital education. This whole-brain approach addresses many of the issues related to students with learning disabilities, and, as already demonstrated in the Hall, Cohen, Vue, and Ganley’s study, can be paired with specific technology tools to achieve better engagement and end-results.

Conclusion

As I see it, when it comes to accessibility guidelines and education, there’s the law and then there’s teaching.  First, we must comply with the law.  As it stands right now, guidelines exist for websites and I’m not sure how compliant most schools’ websites are with this. I believe there is work to be done here. It also creates more questions. How are federal ADA guidelines being applied in other tech components in the school? The website surely isn’t the only place students are interacting with the technology in the school. What about the LMS or LCMS?  What responsibility do third-party developers or the schools themselves bear with regard to making sure that information is accessible and in compliance? I suspect this will be a big issue going forward.  And then there’s the issue specifically with regard to learning disabilities. How is technology being used to address issues of access here?  What are the legal ramifications of this under the ADA?

As usual, my question has ended up with me asking more questions, but I have a firmer grasp on the nature of “accessibility guidelines.” Right now, this is not a formal indicator in the ISTE standards, but maybe it should be.  Perhaps that is the next question.

 

Hall, T., Cohen, N.,  Vue, G., and Ganley, P. (2015). “Addressing Learning Disabilities with UDL and Technology: Strategic Reader.”  Learning Disability Quarterly. Vol. 38(2) p. 72-83. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5W5P9bQJ6q0UjNkdkNfcDFDYVU/view
ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches
ISTE Connects (2017). “5 pro tips to make digital learning accessible to all students.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=943
Nash, Nicole (March 20, 2012). Creating an ADA-compliant Website. TechRepublic.  Retrieved from http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/web-designer/creating-an-ada-compliant-website/
NCES – National Center For Education Statistics (Updated, May, 2017). “Children and Youth with Disabilities.” The Condition of Education.  Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgg.asp
Perez, Luis and Kendra Grant (June 8, 2015). “27 Tools for Diverse Learners.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=434
Seale, j.,  Georgeson, J.,  Mamas, C., and Swain, J. (2014).  “Not the Right Kind of ‘Digital Capital’: An examination of the complex relationship between disabled students, their technologies and higher education institutions.” Computers & Education.  Retrieved from  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5W5P9bQJ6q0TE9BMXdyMlhYQWs/view
UDL Center (April 24, 2017). “About UDL: Learn the Basics.” National Center on Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines_theorypractice

 

 

The Worst of All Possible Worlds – ISTE Coaching Standard 3 and the Dystopian Future of Education?

“In a world…”

And so begins the introduction to countless movie trailers.  We’ve seen them: psychological thrillers, sci-fi classics, action-packed blockbusters all use that famous three-word tag-line.  It’s become so ubiquitous that it’s become a parody of itself and is often used ironically or in satirical versions of these somewhat-esteemed genres.  And it’s a tag-line that immediately sprang into my head as I looked over my research for this week’s question regarding ISTE coaching standard #3, “How do we design, teach, and facilitate digital age learning environments for students and teachers that promote collaborative learning while maintaining effective classroom management practices?”  The journey from this digital education question to the ominous opening of a dystopian sci-fi movie is a strange one, but one worth taking.

The Question

The question regarding the role of teachers and teaching in the digital classroom is a logical one for an ISTE coaching standard. As coaches, our intent is to help facilitate teachers in this environment.  My specific question relative to this particular prompt regarded student autonomy (to research, study, and design their own learning) vs. the supervision and direction that must be supplied by the teacher in a digital classroom.  I was in search of any good resources for how to manage this delicate balance.  My question morphed a bit over time as I began to explore this tension. To me, it was an obvious question, but there didn’t seem to be much on this specific topic so I began to look more generally at the role of teachers in the digital classroom.  It was in the context of this query that I came across an article who’s subtitle begged the question, “When kids can get their lessons from the Internet, what’s left for classroom instructors to do?” (Godsey, 2016).  I found this question, despite it’s obvious bias, to be more compelling. I didn’t necessarily agree with the implication of what was being argued, but I did like the question, so I effectively adopted it as my own.

The Resource

Michael Godsey is a veteran high school English teacher who obviously loves teaching English – many of us who teach love our subjects – and he presents a grim forecast for the future of teaching as we know it.  His essay, “The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher” in The Atlantic presents a grim dystopian scenario worthy of any science fiction story. And just like the best writing in that genre, it is grounded in reality.  Godsey is correct in pointing out that education is changing – that the role of the teacher is changing.  His “guide-on-the-side” vs. “sage-on-the-stage” is something I’ve heard numerous times in my graduate studies in education.  “Teacher as facilitator” is another mantra I’ve heard repeated in the program. Other components like shared lesson plans, educational YouTube videos, companies like Kahn Academy and Edmodo all already exist. What Godsey does is take these realities to the extreme. But is his vision the “logical” conclusion of this evolution in education?

The Future (?)

In Godsey’s future, students learn in digital classrooms with a “fantastic” computer screen in the front of the class where a “super-teacher” (think John Green, TED Talks, etc.) delivers professionally produced, interesting, and engaging lessons to the students. The students then use their computers to play interactive games with a global student body and take formal assessments that will all be graded by the computer. The actual in-class supervision is handled by low-wage, uncertified (and one would assume non-union/non-NEA) “techs” who would look after the mundane details of basic technical maintenance and classroom management.  The implications are frightening.  Students screen-time would skyrocket as all learning and engaging and assessing would be done through the computer.  The outlook for teachers is also bleak as in this scenario as anyone short of a super-star, multi-media teacher is not needed in education. The profession would become the purview of a elite few.  Even beyond that, the teacher becomes the least important part of the educational equation as students take control and “masters of content” – aside from the “super teacher” on the screen, are not needed in education anyway.  Even the organization and management of educational content has already been monopolized by companies like Edmodo and the coincidentally-orwellian-sounding “Activate Instruction.”

It’s a bleak scenario Godsey paints for us, but one that is usually at odds with contemporary thoughts on education. Most scholars in the field are usually in favor of the current changes in education.  Godsey mentions several of these scholars in his essay and holds to his view that the ramifications of the current trends will mean the demise of the teaching profession (except for an elite few) and the establishment of schools dominated by the computer and online, impersonal learning.

The Hole in the Wall and the School in the Cloud

Godsey references this particular TED talk by “Hole in the Wall” computer pioneer Sugata Mitra.  I’ll be referencing this, and Godsey’s take on it, below.

 

 

Utopia or Dystopia?

Since Godsey’s approach is essentially dystopian, I’ll look at the argument from both sides: first addressing the potential negative aspects Godsey brings up related to the proposed changes in education (cases where the dystopian alarms should be heeded) and secondly looking at the more Utopian elements that technology brings to education that Godsey may be overlooking in his bleak scenario.

Dystopia
  1. Underlying assumption that all learning is about jobs.  To me this is the most troublesome and unquestioned assumption about education today: the purpose of education is to prepare someone for a job.  In the hurry to make education relevant and meaningful, we have lost sight of the greater purpose of education.  Maybe it’s because I teach government and there’s something about an educated electorate being necessary for the survival of the Republic, or maybe it’s just my liberal arts college background showing through, but if education is all about jobs, then no one should ever have to read the Great Gatsby or learn the periodic table of the elements or take an art class or learn just about anything in US history.  Students should just learn how to read, use computers, and do some math.  If knowledge is all about jobs then we just need to know our work.  Ironically, Mitra is critical of the imperial/industrial model of education because of it’s dehumanizing effects that turned people into clerks, but presents a model which is designed to essentially the same thing (produce good workers) with a different technology. I believe that our education is more than just about jobs – it is teaching us who we are and how we can be better as a people…not just as employees.  It is about understanding our world, ourselves, and celebrating our shared humanity – the art and culture and literature and history that makes us human.
  2. “Knowing is obsolete.” Godsey is not incorrect in worrying about this.  Mitra mentions this phrase specifically as a virtue in his TED talk and while it’s not without its veracity or merits, it’s a problematic mindset.  Technology has indeed changed what we need to know (I’ll deal with this below, but when was the last time you consciously tried to remember a phone number…other than your own?).  It has liberated us from a fair amount of mundane knowledge but it does not mean we need to know nothing.  I understand that necessary knowledge changes.  Several thousand years ago it was good if you could identify which berries were poisonous and which you could eat, but once we figured that out and made stores where you could buy your food we didn’t call it quits and say we were done knowing stuff.  New stuff came along for us to learn.  We have unprecedented, unfettered access to the accumulated knowledge of all mankind; that does not equal the repudiation of knowledge.  When we stop knowing things, we cease to understand who we are, where we are, and where we came from.
  3. “Grandma would make a good teacher.” Not an actual quote from Mitra’s talk, but one that I think belies his under-appreciation of what teachers do. At one point Mitra says that the teacher, “only raises the question.” Raising questions is a huge part of what we as teachers do, but that sort of oversimplification hurts his argument. It’s no wonder Godsey is skeptical of the changes in education and what they might mean for teachers.  Mitra blithely mentions several times that classrooms can/should be managed by “grandma’s” who have this kindly, home-spun, wisdom of the ages that would allow them to effectively guide the students on their quest for knowledge just like they guided their children to adulthood.  First, let me just say that I loved my grandmothers and I think grandmothers a great. I even think his project with grandmothers is interesting and worthwhile, but his contention that life experience is all that matters in education (and that’s essentially what he’s arguing), runs counter to almost everything the entire field of education stands for.   Not that experience doesn’t have its benefits, but if the future of education – the school in the sky – is all about grandmothers directing students on using the computer, Godsey is right to be worried.
  4. “Teachers can/will produce good original video content.” This dystopic vision is closely associated with the flipped-classroom concept and what it might mean for education.  The flipped classroom is key to Godsey’s argument and he discusses at length.  He’s concerned about the fact that teachers don’t really need to work hard to record and plan flipped classroom lessons because other teachers have already done it.  His extension of this idea is that schools will realize this and just use the best ones in the aforementioned video classrooms led by “super teachers.”  Not an unthinkable reality.  Recording lessons is hard work and while 16% of teachers say they regularly record lessons for their classes (Project Tomorrow & Flipped Learning Network, 2014), 19% report concern over the difficulty in making them (Yarbro, Arfstrom, McKnight, and McKnight, 2014).  Interestingly, that number was much higher in the previous report (27%) but declined substantially. Also noteworthy is the fact that the same report cited 25% of teachers worried about finding suitable videos for classroom use but that number subsequently dropped the following year to 1%.  Is it possible there is a connection between these two figures?  Could it be that as more teachers found outside videos to show for class, they didn’t need to worry about making their own? I have no evidence for this, but it’s an interesting correlation. One last point on this topic is relevance.  I’ve taken classes where the video content created by the instructors was out of date.  Not necessarily in terms of specific disciplinary content, but in terms of course material and requirements. Recycling old content can be devastating. If the intent is to engage and encourage students to learn, re-posting an old, outdated video which contains irrelevant or outright incorrect information achieves exactly the opposite. I’m currently making some videos for a class I am teaching and I am intentionally making them specific to the class I am teaching at the moment. I’m doing this because I know it will force me to re-record them if I teach this course again. If my students have to watch it, I feel like I owe it to them to make sure the material is up to date and personalized for them.
Utopia
  1. Technology is leveling the playing field for students. No matter how critical Godsey and others may be about technology, this fundamental truth still applies.  This is the beauty of Mitra’s message.  The democratization of information is perhaps one of the most transforming components of the digital age, and his “Hole in the Wall” experiment is a vivid testament to what technology can do. Godsey may be critical of the impact of educational change on teachers (and it’s probably not going to be the catastrophe he envisions), but for the overwhelming majority of the world’s students, the reality is that the technological changes that have accompanied education have greatly enhanced their educational opportunities.
  2. Technology is empowering students.  Much like point one, this component of technology and education has been overwhelmingly transformational and positive.  Godsey may lament the loss of his knowledge monopoly in the classroom, but I, for one, welcome it (mine, not his).  I like to know things – as much as the next person and maybe more so, but I  take genuine pleasure when a student in my classroom corrects me or wants to elaborate further on a point that I bring up.  I frequently throw out facts (usually non-essential, but interesting, minutia) that I think to be true and then casually inform the class that I’m not sure about it, but someone could look it up.  What follows is usually a flurry of cell-phone and/or laptop activity.  I won’t hazard a guess as to what % I’m right, but students love to fact-check me.  And I like too. It engages them and they feel a part of the process as we stumble towards the truth.  And that’s where Godsey is wrong. It’s not about us as teachers knowing everything – we can’t and we shouldn’t think we can; it’s about working with the students, nurturing their curiosity, and forming a relationship of learning where we are partners.  I believe technology has made that relationship easier to establish because it has empowered our students; and empowered students are more interested and more invested in what they learn.  It also empowers students in the areas of collaboration and publication, both of which also enhance the learning environment.
  3. Technology is helping teachers. Godsey walks an interesting line between praising technology and condemning it – or more precisely, condemning its impact on education.  The reality though, is that technology has made our jobs as teachers manifestly easier – not just for the reasons mentioned in issue #2 (although no longer having to be the fount of all knowledge is a relief), but for a host of reasons. Everything from taking attendance, communicating with parents, communicating with students, tracking student progress, providing supplemental material, finding lesson plans, finding tests, quizzes, review games, activities, etc. are all made easier by technology.  I’m old enough to remember when a computer in the classroom was a new thing (see previous posts); now, I can’t imagine doing my job without it. And Godsey acknowledges this reality too. The flaw in his argument is that he’s projecting out into the future.  He’s taking something that is essentially a good thing and creating a worst-case scenario where our technology essentially puts us out of a job. And there is some precedent for this. The first time a robot was introduced on the factory floor, I’m sure management told the workers it was going to make their jobs easier, not replace them (University of Phoenix just released an ad expressing this sentiment – where technology displaces a worker and then helps her get a new job. See below).  And this is where Mitra’s underestimation of what professional teachers actually do is dangerous because it feeds into this fear.  This is also where effective leaders in digital education are so very necessary.  Digital Ed leaders must not only train (and, in some cases, calm) this generation of teachers on how to effectively use digital technology in the classroom, they must also help shape the direction this educational change will take – steering it away from Godsey’s dystopian vision.  It’s not like Godsey is making crazy assumptions.  If the cost of education could be drastically cut by using technology and streaming some “super teachers” and running a few programs (at the expense of the entire teaching profession – and breaking the union to boot) is it so unreasonable to think government wouldn’t support such an effort?  Government leaders have a history of making educational decisions based on economic factors over educational ones. Godsey cannot be disregarded as a crank, but for his vision to come true we have to fail as Ed Tech leaders.
  4. Technology is changing what we know and what we need to know. This is a truism that Godsey would probably acknowledge.  However, this doesn’t mean we don’t have to know anything (Again, I think Mitra’s overstatement hurts his overarching argument here).  Our ways of thinking and understanding are all being changed by technology. There’s no changing that fact.  The trick now is for us to figure out what this new mode of thinking looks like and how we can effectively use it in education. Much of what we needed to know from rote memory is no longer essential.  Much of the grunt work in education can be simplified or eliminated just as knowing how to shoe a horse or sharpen a quill for writing is not essential today.  Once again this is the duty of digital education leadership.  The pioneers in this field are doing the research, publishing, and pushing an agenda where education and technology work hand-in-hand for the benefit of the student, the teacher, and the community.  It’s not a matter of eliminating all knowledge, but of refining the canon.

University of Phoenix Commercial: technology hurts and helps

Conclusion: “In THIS world…”

Does this movie turn out to be a teacher nightmare?  Are we going to end up with 500 students in a classroom all watching a super teacher on the computer?  Is the teaching profession destined for the dustbin of history, like the cobbler or the blacksmith or the town cryer?  Not likely. To be fair, I’m undoubtedly influenced by my own educational program and interests.  Pursing a digital education degree has exposed me to various theories on both sides, though primarily positive, but I like to think that I’m open-minded enough to reach a reasonable conclusion. Godsey is a critic and we need critics. He’s shouting a warning from the watchtower, but that doesn’t mean his vision will come to pass. Technology is changing education. That it is a reality and there can be no doubt, but where Godsey foresees apocalypse, I see hope. The future remains unwritten.  How exciting it will be for those who have a hand in it to write this next crucial chapter!

 

 

Godsey, Michael (March 25, 2015). “The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher: When kids can get their lessons from the Internet, what’s left for classroom instructors to do?” The Atlantic.  Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/03/the-deconstruction-of-the-k-12-teacher/388631/

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

Project Tomorrow & Flipped Learning Network. Speak Up 2013 national research project findings: a second year review of flipped learning.  Retrieved from: http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/2014_FlippedLearningReport.html

Rebora, Anthony (June 6, 2016). “Teachers Still Struggling to Use Tech to Transform Instruction, Survey Finds.” Educational Week. Retrieved from: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/06/09/teachers-still-struggling-to-use-tech-to.html?tkn=SUNF3xA1W22FFtjNlbjUg5JOX4Y8vP7i4W5T&intc=es

Yarbro, J., Arfstrom, K., McKnight, K, and McKnight, P. (2014). Extension of a Review of Flipped Learning.  Retrieved from: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5W5P9bQJ6q0ZEZELXFYTEg3Uk0/view

 

Can We Get on the Same (Web) Page? ISTE Standard 3 and Coordinating Digital Age Media and Formats

Direction or Freedom?

Finding balance between freedom and direction can be difficult for a teacher and it can be even more daunting for an administrator – especially where technology is concerned.  I remember one of the first technology committees I ever served on. It was the late 1990’s (I’m old) and I was teaching middle school at the time in a rather large private school. Since I was a relatively-young, technologically inclined teacher, I was asked to be on this brand new committee which would focus on technological issues the school needed to address.  Back then one of the major issues was getting all teachers to use e-mail to communicate with parents.  It was a big step for many at that time.  Internet plagiarism was another big problem – especially since not all teachers had internet in their homes yet (it was a simpler time).  But as I was reflecting on this Module 3 – “Model digital age work and learning”, I thought of a particular incident.  As I said, I was one of a number of technologically inclined teachers selected for this committee and we wanted to tap into the promise of technology to assist us in our jobs as teachers.  The late 90’s were still the early days of the internet – especially in education.  Amazon.com wasn’t created until 1994 and Google wasn’t invented until 1998, so it should come as no surprise that the school had no learning management system (LMS) or learning content management system (LCMS).  This stuff was practically science fiction.  We all kept grades in our quaint paper grade books and we manually calculated scores at the end of every quarter.  But some of us on the tech committee came across a few early online LMS programs. These were essentially grade book and assignment-posting programs.  We marveled at what they represented: not only would our grade calculations become infinitely easier, but we could post assignments online and students and parents could keep track of their grades in real-time!  This was just what we were looking for – a way to open the channels of communication by with students and parents like never before.  We were very excited as we presented this idea to the administration, essentially asking permission to utilize the online grade book program.  And we were equally crestfallen when the administration essentially told us “no.”  What they told us, actually, was that while we were not specifically prohibited from using the program, we were not encouraged to do so either (a classic no-decision decision); nor would the school officially adopt it.  When we asked why the school didn’t want to go ahead with this, we were told the school was afraid that (and I’m totally serious here) teachers might spell words wrong on their page.  Also, since these were commercial third-party sites, they were afraid of what advertising might appear on the page (a more reasonable concern).  Thus ended my first foray into trying to utilize an LMS.  The school couldn’t control it, therefore we weren’t encouraged to use it.  This wouldn’t be so bad, except the school offered no alternative at the time.  Freedom (and progress) was sacrificed for the sake of administrative oversight.

This sacrifice, this conflict, was on my mind as I looked at ISTE Teacher Standard 3, “model digital age work and learning.”  I thought about indicator C which calls for us to “communicate relevant information and ideas to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital age media and formats” (ISTE #3).  In 199x, the school where I was teaching was actively discouraging this idea.  I realize it’s not really fair to blame the school since this was fairly early-on in the tech age, but I think it’s a useful example to frame the discussion.  Today, of course, we’re somewhat horrified at such shortsightedness, but in some ways we’re not that much better off.  Today’s teachers generally have a great deal of latitude in utilizing technology – schools have encouraged and adopted everything from Edmodo to Facebook to Twitter, which is fantastic, but sometimes this comes at the cost of consistency, clarity, and purpose – not to mention the amount of teacher time that has to be invested in each one. In short, we have more tools at our disposal, but often don’t use them effectively.  We lack direction.  My question for this module focuses on the ISTE3c goal of “communicating with students, parents, teachers and peers,” but what I want to better understand are the processes by which the “digital age media and formats” are selected and implemented – and much of the discussion seems centered around the balance between freedom and direction.

My Search

My search for a resource to answer my question took me all over the map.  The most helpful sources I came across seemed to fall into one of two categories: software-based sites devoted to LMS’s and LCMS’s, which would include corporate sites promoting their specific products as well as tech sites reviewing various school software programs, and general postings on education sites about parent-teacher communication.

Software Sites – LMS’s and LCMS’s

William Fenton’s overview of the best LMS’s of 2017 for PC Magazine is a good place to start. In it, he provides an overview of different features of LMS’s (including what makes something a LCMS) as well as their service plans and relative costs.  This is helpful for defining some of the basic terms and comparing different systems, but it is not the truly integrated approach I was hoping for.

Continuing in the software realm, I came across Steve Williams, who wrote a piece for Campus Suite.  Campus Suite is provides web hosting services for schools as well as text, voice, e-mail, social media, and app notification systems. Their line of products, “unifies all your school communications into one, simple platform.”   In promoting their product Williams writes about the “6 Key School Communication Channels and How to Use Them.”  They are:

1. Promotion of school happenings and news (e.g., achievements, events, etc.)
2.  Time-critical school information (e.g., school closings, policies, etc.)
3. PTO events and other important issues
4. Leadership and education improvement ideas (e.g., parent resources)
5. School levy and community outreach (including fundraising)
6. Stories and imagery of the school’s impact on the community (cool human interest content, alumni, photos, videos)

This post includes some key communication elements I’m looking for, like news and parent resources as well as community and alumni information, but it’s geared solely for administrators.  Not that this is bad, but I want the whole enchilada.  I want the system that works with parents, administrators, and teachers. I want to see content, communication, and collaboration across the spectrum of stakeholders.  And I would like to see an overarching philosophy of how these systems are to be utilized.  I was, quite frankly, a bit disappointed in the division of labor for school software systems. Why can’t the school manage an effective, complete system that allows for all facets of communicating relevant information and ideas to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital age media and formats?  Is this giving too much control to the school?

The reality, though, is that the software sites tend to be more oriented towards to product they are selling (or reviewing, as the case may be) and not geared towards any policy considerations, which, to be fair, is not their goal.  To look for philosophy, I would have to look at education-oriented websites.

Ed Sites – The Promise and Pitfall of Parent-Teacher Communication

On the other side of the spectrum, we have the teacher-oriented sites that seek to give advise to teachers and, in some cases administrators, on how to improve communication.

Linda Flanagan’s piece for Mindshift looks at “What Can be Done to Improve Parent-Teacher Communication.”  One of her key components for improving communication is for the school to help set the tone and the parameters for communication.  She writes, “Despite obstacles, schools can do much to help teachers contact parents, starting with establishing norms for communication that defuse built-in tensions and make allowances for teachers’ time” (Flanagan).  I hardily agree with Flanagan and I like that she also included respect for teachers’ time in her analysis.  This is often overlooked.  More importantly, this is a good step towards the school taking a more pro-active approach to communication; an approach which would, hopefully, increase teacher efficiency and efficacy in communicating information and ideas to parents, students, and peers. Communicating effectively is not only part of ISTE standard 3, it is also one of the six “Deeper Learning Skills” Jennifer Kabaker writes about in her piece on micro-credentialing.  This endeavor seeks to track and reward teacher progress on a variety of fronts, one of which is directly tied to this fundamental issue.

The piece that I am using as my resource for this question is Anne O’Brien’s post on Edutopia about “What parents want in school communication.”  O’Brien uses a survey from the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) to examine what parents what. She breaks down the topics according to what news they want, how they want to receive it, and when they want to receive it.  The chart below illustrates her main points.

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/parent-involvement-survey-anne-obrien

I believe the second section proves my earlier point about administrative vs. teacher software systems. Parents expect information from both administration and teachers, so why don’t we conceptualize the system that facilitates the communication as a whole?  Why are we separating grade books from e-mail from content delivery from collaboration from school announcements and so on?   The demand for unity is there – as is the demand for speed (see section 3 on “when they want it”).  O’Brien writes, “As NSPRA President Ron Koehler points out, ‘Consumer needs are changing. The backpack folder is no longer the primary source of information for parents. They want and prefer instant electronic information. … [T]he data demonstrates parents and non-parents alike turn to the web when they need information, and they want it now.'”

Potential Issues

So is more support, guidance, and oversight from schools the answer improving teacher communication?  Perhaps partly, but direction comes at a cost.  Any administrative oversight comes at the cost of limiting the freedom teachers have to implement systems of their choosing and communicating in their own way.  Nicole Krueger’s piece on the ISTE website addresses the issue of teachers’ resistance to administrative meddling with regards to technology, “A frank conversation with just about any teacher will reveal that classroom innovation is often hampered — if not suppressed entirely — by school or district policies. Policies that restrict cell phone use, social media or other emerging technologies may have made sense at one time, but it’s getting harder to justify keeping these powerful tools out of students’ hands.” (Krueger). The lag between what is happening in the classroom and the discussion, debate, adoption, and implementation of administrative policies can seem enormous – especially given the speed at which technology changes.  More involvement from school administration will undoubtedly hamper some creativity and flexibility, but the question remains, is it worth it for the sake of uniformity and consistency?

Flanagan also points out a number of difficulties in schools establishing norms for school communication. Although she advocates more frequent “light touch” communication from teachers, she acknowledges the problems. “’Implementation barriers’ are the first hurdle, Kraft says, including defunct email addresses and phone numbers, language barriers and outdated address books. Even more troublesome is the absence of norms, in most schools, on the frequency and content of teacher-parent communication. ‘There’s no clear expectation on best practices, or what that communication should look like,’ he explained. The limitations of the clock also factor in: Teachers in large public schools who might be teaching as many as 150 kids a day are hard-pressed to find time for meaningful one-on-one communication with parents” (Flanagan).  Several points from this quote stand out to me. The first is time.  I “only” have about 100 students a day (far less than many teachers). If I was, let’s say, required to send an e-mail to each one every month – even just to drop a note of encouragement, and if each e-mail took only 5 minutes to write, that’s 500 minutes, which is over 8 hours!  Would the school provide an extra paid work-day once a month for me to write students?  Is it worth it?  Where does the time come from?  I don’t have any answers, but nor does anyone else it seems.  The second issue I find even more discouraging and it’s the “absence of norms” and the lack of any best practices.  Flanagan is quoting Matthew Kraft who carried out much of the research relating to parent-teacher communication she uses in her article, and he hasn’t found any.  His position is that it’s needed, but it doesn’t really exist right now. It’s shocking to think that we have so much technology – so many choices – but so little direction.

Conclusions

It’s hard not to walk away a bit discouraged from my question.  The search for a comprehensive view of how to “communicate relevant information and ideas to students, parents, and peers using a variety of digital age media and formats” is elusive.  The various media formats to be used are numerous and diverse, but can lack unity.  Best practices, on a school-wide level, seem difficult, if not impossible, to find.  Perhaps it’s not the job of the school but the individual teacher?  Maybe every teacher should just do their own thing?  But that seems antithetical to what we in digital education leadership are trying to achieve.  The school should be working to facilitate this communication, not leave it to chance.  Teachers should be encouraged and supported in this endeavor. Technology should be adopted and implemented in such a way that the message from all facets of the school program is easily accessible and consistent.  Norms should be established and best practices should be promoted. In some ways this can be seen as discouraging, but in another way it’s optimistic.  I can’t help but think back to that first tech committee I was on. We had no idea what we were doing and the administration wasn’t really on-board with using computers for communication.  That has changed.  There’s plenty of freedom, but not much direction.  The norms and best practices are yet to be written.  We’re only now just starting to ask the questions and we have the opportunity, as digital education leaders, to help write the answers.

Connecting to ISTE TS #3, reflect on a tool/resource your school and/or district uses for communicating with colleagues, parents, etc. What makes it effective? How could the use of this resource be improved? (Be sure to use your leadership lens) 2 paragraphs.

I’ve used numerous communication tools/resources in my 20+ years of teaching. In fact, part of why I entered this program was because of my frustration with the inadequacies in this area.  Fortunately, the LMS we are using at my current job is pretty good.  We are currently using Rediker (https://www.rediker.com/).  It combines a number of elements that makes it makes it an effective and efficient system.  It has a portal for student and parent access, a grade book for teachers, and it also has some content capabilities.  For example, I can post an assigned reading as a document to the class files page, enter that assignment in their “upcoming assignments” on the portal (which also adds it to their calendar) and simultaneously add it to my grade book.  If I need to send an e-mail to a parent, I can click on their name in my grade book and it automatically opens Outlook with the parent’s e-mail address filled in.  It’s a pretty effective system.

I think the biggest advantage for the system is transparency. Students can see their grades right away, see what’s coming up, and access content all in one place.  It helps eliminate mistakes – on both ends. One time I entered the wrong number of points possible on a particular assignment (I entered it as x/100 instead of x/20 – or something like that) and the next day I had a dozen or so angry students wondering why they all failed the last assignment. I was embarrassed and quickly fixed the error, but it was good to know so many kids were keeping tabs on their grades.  One last testimony to the effectiveness of our system comes from a scenario where someone missed a day of class because of an appointment.  She had an assignment due the next day but she didn’t do it because she said she didn’t know about it.  “Did you check the student portal?” I asked.  “No.” “Did you check the calendar?” – “No.”  “Did you see the reading on the class files page?” – “No.”  Having run out of excuses she said, “I don’t like this new system. We don’t have an excuse to not do our work anymore.”  Maybe that’s the best endorsement of all.

 

Flanagan, Linda (November 17, 2015). “What Can Be Done To Improve Parent-Teacher Communication?”. Mindshift. Retrieved from https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/11/17/what-can-be-done-to-improve-parent-teacher-communication/

Fenton, William (March 28, 2017).  “The Best LMS (Learning Management Systems) of 2017.”  PC Magazine.  Retrieved from http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2488347,00.asp

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

Kabaker, J. (2015). Supporting deeper learning in the classroom. Retrieved from http://www.digitalpromise.org/blog/entry/supporting-deeper-learning-in-the-classroom
Crompton, H. (2014, July 24). Know the ISTE Standards-T 3: Model digital age learning.

Krueger, N. (2014, June 28). “3 barriers to innovation education leaders must address.” ISTE. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=98&category=ISTE-Connects-blog&article=3-barriers-to-innovation-education-leaders-must-address

O’Brien, Anne (2011, August 31). “What Parents Want in School Communication.” Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/parent-involvement-survey-anne-obrien

Williams, Steve (October 26, 2015). “6 key school communication channels and how to use them.” CampusSuite. Retrieved from https://www.campussuite.com/6-key-school-communication-channels-and-how-to-use-them/

The Curious World of Curation – ISTE Standard #3 “Knowledge Constructor”

This week: a drink from the fire hydrant.

Content-Curation

For this module’s question we were assigned to look at ISTE Student Standard #3, “Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.” It was in this context that I was drawn to this idea of “curation” and how it applies to student learning and technology.  As I delved further into the standard, I came across ISTE indicator 3c, which states, “Students curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions.” There it was again: “curate.” Within the standard, the ISTE defines “curate” as, “to gather, collect, and categorize resources into themes in ways that are coherent shareable.” It was in this context that I chose to pursue my line of inquiry along the lines of how we, as teachers, can best help our students learn to curate in the digital world- especially as it relates to demonstrating “meaningful connections or conclusions.”

I see this skill as essential to my secondary social studies students as the primary difficulty they have in doing digital research is not a dearth of information, but rather, far too much of it – and much of it without any context or immediate way to determine it’s validity.  Students are overwhelmed with information and need to learn the skills to manage this deluge of data.  Curation is a critical skill for today’s student.  Indeed, searching the internet for information is much like drinking from the proverbial fire hydrant.  How can we help our students get better at this?  How can WE get better at this?

I thought back to last quarter and Howard Rheingold’s chapter on “Crap Detection” in Net Smart.  In it, he outlines not only methods for detecting the aforementioned “crap,” but he also outlines a way to navigate the maelstrom of information on the internet.  He calls this system, “Infotension,” and it, “combines a mind-set with a tool set” (Rheingold p. 96).  From his perspective we must combine brainpowered attention skills (the focus of another section in his book) and computer-centered tools like RSS feeds, dashboards, news radars, and positioning tabs to manage and sift through all of the information on internet.  Rheingold contends that it is our responsibility to manage the information on the internet and determine for ourselves which is the most accurate and most useful. He even goes so far as to cite Shirky’s argument when he writes, “there is no such thing as information overload, there is only filter failure.” (Rheingold p. 105).  Given this contention, teaching our students the process of curation becomes all the more important.

So I got out my wrench, cranked off the cap, opened wide, and began to drink from the onslaught of information on the web about “curation.”  Not surprisingly, there were many links related to “content curation,” (it seems to be a rather large issue for everyone with a web presence), but not necessarily that many related specifically to education.  I came across a promissing blog post by George Fox professor John Spencer http://www.spencerauthor.com/2015/09/what-is-content-curation-why-does-it.html/.  In his post on curation, he deals with the archaic origins of the word “curator” (linked to being a “spirit guide” or “one responsible for the care of souls”) and sees it as a natural connection to what we as teachers do.  He also gives a thumbnail sketch of what curation looks like by describing 5 parts of the curation process: searching content, consuming content, managing content, adding commentary, and displaying the content.  These are all very helpful for understanding the origin and process of curation, but it still left me searching for specific tools to help my students.

After some searching, I ended up at a blog post by Saga Briggs, another resident of the Pacific Northwest who I found via an entry from an Australian Open Colleges resource website, “InformED”:

http://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/content-curation-20-resources/

I figured I was in the right place when I saw the fire hydrant image that I borrowed for the top of this page.  But more importantly, Briggs lays out a fabulous resource for content curation instruction. She begins with the philosophical. As she begins, Briggs discusses the role of curation in PLN’s. I was also pleased to see a reference as to how curation fit in Blooms taxonomy of educational objectives as well as how it also fit within Guilford’s analysis of the primary parameters of creative thinking. I think we often underestimate the creative aspect of curation given that curation is often not a totally original exercise, but in today’s mash-up culture this concept may be gaining more currency.  Creation is also one of the four components of curation (along with purpose, sharing, and contribution) that Briggs highlights in her section on defining the word.  From definition, Briggs launches into a lengthy list of specific techniques and habits we can instill in our students to make them effective curators themselves.  This list is immensely practical and thoughtfully constructed. I see it as a valuable first step in the process of curation education.  Briggs ends with another lengthy list, this one dedicated to specific resources that provide the necessary tools for content curation and sharing.  Some are free, some are nominally free, some are education-centered, others are not, but all are worth a look.  I’ve stared going through the list and I’m compiling a list of specific tools I think will work well with my students.

This blog squarely addresses ISTE 3 – specifically indicator 3c, which was the basis of my question.  This resource is all about curation – the philosophy, the definition, the techniques to teach, and a healthy list of resources to accomplish the task.  It elaborates on the standards and gives tips and tools for actually doing it.  I think the “meaningful connections and conclusions” part come with the process.  It’s not an end goal in-and-of-itself.  Students make the connections and conclusions as they curate.  What ends up in their dashboards or in their feeds has already been filtered by them.  It’s our job now to teach them how to do that so they may be thoughtful, intentional curators of their own digital domain; so they can take a more reasonable drink from the fire hydrant that is the web.

 

Briggs, Saga (2016, July 27) Teaching Content Curation and 20 Resources to Help You Do It.  Retrieved from: http://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/content-curation-20-resources/

ISTE (2016). ISTE Standards for Students 2016. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/for-students-2016

Rheingold, Howard (2012). Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press

Spencer, John (2015, September 2). What is Content Curation?  Why does it Matter to Teachers? Retrieved from: http://www.spencerauthor.com/2015/09/what-is-content-curation-why-does-it.html/