Monday, April 3, 2017

Swinging The Classroom Technology Pendulum

It would be interesting to compare long term power outages in New York to market data – start with catastrophic storms that cause outages. My hypothesis leads me to believe that with less access to data and communication among stakeholders, the market values would rise and potentially become more indicative of the actual value of the goods and services.

Information can be both useful and damaging. It depends on what we do with it. How much is enough? How often is enough? I don't think answers to these questions have common ground among individuals, but these are the kinds of questions we ought to be asking.

We need to correct the over swing of the technology pendulum in education and promote a philosophy that safeguards users. The future of our society's youth is at stake, and I'd like to start with mobile devices and online grade books.

Online Grade Book Etiquette 

Online grade books are abused. As a parent of public school students for nine years, I can say with pride that I have never looked at an online grade book for any of my children. I guess dealing with it as a teacher has shown me how much it doesn't say about achievement – a topic for another post.

The grade conversation with my parents worked fine for me every nine weeks, and it has worked just as well with my own kids. The difference in our house is that our kids are expected to tell us about specific challenges and their plans to overcome them. I guess my parents did that, only with less insider knowledge. I'm just glad they didn't hover. I would have hated learning, and they probably knew that about me.

Grade books serve a purpose, in theory. In practice, most teachers are battered by emails because a test grade isn't showing up quick enough. Sometimes the job is a beating and grades aren't done right away. The on-demand expectations of the Netflix-watching students and online-banking parents are a bit much.

We need to establish norms grade books and many other applications in the mobile age, including the mobile devices themselves.

How Much Is Enough?

Steve Jobs and his family had different technology use expectations than many families. Their kids only had screen time on the weekends, with limited use. My wife and I have adopted this approach with much success overcoming a wide range of behavioral issues.

On the other hand, my kids learn the alphabet at about three years old with songs, refrigerator magnets, cartoons, the Letter People (on YouTube), and typing searches on Google Images. It's all about balance, and at the younger ages, more low-tech than hi-tech works with the right activities. 

In the classroom, I try to design activities that focus on making a product that we can use and discuss face-to-face. In fact, long term papers are not my favorite because it's too much on the eyes and emotions of young learners. They need to be challenged with long term projects but not at the expense of their health.

We focus on shorter tasks that take about 20 minutes of screen time (often less) and experience the reward of sharing individual responses to problems as a group. The balance between listening, speaking, reading, and writing is still very important, especially with the potential of extended screen time in 21st Century classrooms.

Kids Aren't That Good With Computers

Alan November is a proponent of Web literacy. He believes this is more important than giving every kid a device. We know that he's on the right track through examples like the hole in the wall in India. A device in every learner's hands is important but not crucial to becoming Web literate. 

I particularly like Alan's idea about 1:1. He doesn't think that it's bad to give every student a device. He thinks it's wrong to view the relationship between the child and the device as important. The ratio he's more concerned about is the child to the world – one:World, not 1:1.

As the popular conclusion in education goes, it's all about the mindset.

What Works, What Doesn't?

With technology changing so fast, it's hard to know what will lead to positive results. One thing I've noticed in my own choices is a return to the fundamental tools as new tools do too much for me. For example, instead of paying for a tool that automates emails, I use sheets and scripts to do it for free. It only takes an hour to set it up using tutorials, and I got to learn some Java script.

Another drawback of the virtual world is the lack of paper weighing us down. The physical acts of managing paper establishes and intimate connection with the type and amount of work we need to complete. Kids won't be going home with heavy backpacks when their Chromebook never changes weight no matter how much information is stored.

Kids need new organizational strategies. They need to learn the basics managing digital files in the cloud. most of our education and professional life exists online. This comes with consequences if we don't teach the risks and benefits. The trouble is not enough educators know what those consequences look like.

Some educators don't view students lacking the concept of cloud file sharing and organization as an organizational issue. Those people will suffer in the connected world. Perhaps they already do.

Next Steps

As we transition further into the mobile age of the Internet, the things that work will not throw away all of the values we gained from the ways we once worked. We still need the time to contemplate that we once enjoyed on a walk to the library. We still need to rest our eyes from the stress of focusing and refocusing.

What works is what helps us sustain a level of productivity without losing our health and well being. If technology compromises those essentials, the pendulum has swung too far.