July 18, 2008

GO! NOW! GET TO THE CHOPPER! AKA, how can we keep them safe?

Funding an entire building with technology is an expensive task that requires many resources. We investigated a few local, regional, and worldwide grant opportunities today. Each grant was focused on a certain goal. To apply for a grant the need must be clearly demonstrated with evidence and directly correlate with the specific grant that is chosen. Some grants request that schools match funds provided by a grant, while others offer technology at a discount. These grants will help schools to maintain some technology, but with Moore’s law holding true that the number of transistors on a chip will double about every two years, schools are going to have financial trouble keeping up.

I had the opportunity to travel to the Duluth School District main office building to meet Keith Anderson with my class. He is the media and technology coordinator there and was a great person to talk with about what really goes into setting up school technology. Duluth has a massive amount of data that is stored on servers, and is a fairly large district that is internet equipped. Keith oversees that both are provided without error to all the schools in the district. He also supports different grants and installations of hardware in the different schools. During our visit he mentioned a SMART board program where teachers could take the opportunity to be trained and in return have one placed into their classroom. The long term goal was to have one in every classroom, but to start with early adopters to get the technology out there in front of the schools.

Dan asked Keith what makes him lose sleep at night. I was thinking the same question because of Keith’s position making him a very popular guy. His answer wasn’t technical like I would have guessed, it was about the safety and concern he has for the students he works to protect. Keith implements internet filters to attempt to limit student browsing to a safe environment. If he doesn’t do his job well students will get into things they shouldn’t be in, including “porn-o?. His biggest issue however wasn’t just the filtering of adult content and “bad sites?, but to keep students from engaging in social networks with strangers. Keith worries about there being a student getting abducted because his own lack of accomplishment. That would be something he would hold himself partially accountable for.

This brings a new aspect of technology to the table that we don’t always consider. Our previous learning about technology integration thus far is about content focus and implementing it when appropriate. I arrive with the question, “Is this enough?? In my opinion it is not. Students as Keith already told us have become even more intelligent in the ways of technology to find ways around his filter at school. This means we could counter with trying to filter the methods they use to get around our filters, but I see an endless cycle there. I am reminded of radar detectors for example. Initially they are released to detect radar, then cops implement a detector-detector, and finally detectors have detector-detector protection. I see students as brilliant individuals that when they want something, they will find a way to achieve it. However many times we want to block or filter their ways around filters, it isn’t addressing the core problem of proper internet use.

I recommend that anytime a new technology is introduced to us that we do some research about what potential risks are. It is important to find the appropriate use and even how the device can be used improperly. As teachers it is our responsibility to learn these things before we throw them at students. If a teacher doesn’t know about a gadget, or explain the importance of proper use and inappropriate uses, how are they supposed to be a role model for the student? Secondly, I recommend teachers explain the proper and improper things to do with technology to students. Students’ most important role models may be their teachers. It is vitally important that teachers talk about technology because students may not have anyone else to show them what is appropriate, or their rules at home might be different then what is expected at school.

Whoa now... you want to do what?

Today Jason Davis came in to our class to give us his perspective on technology from his experience as an ITSS manager of technology and classroom service. Jason has been working with the new building construction and design of technology in the school of business building. The project is quite large and I was instantly curious as to how Jason knew what to put in the building. The technology plan was initially made by a consultant, but because of high financial costs Jason’s department was asked to look into it and perform the integration. Jason saw a few problems with the $600,000 plan and started to seek out professional advice from different sources.

The major thing I took from Jason’s talk with us was his style of problem solving. His role at ITSS doesn’t mean that he is a specialist on every problem that arises. Instead his strengths come from identifying problems, communicating with stake holders, gathering professional advice from various sources, and implementing the plan that is decided to be the best. The inclusion of stake holders allows people with multiple perspectives to give their input on the specific idea. This means that tech people, administrators, students, and faculty can all have a say in the decision making process. The combination of all these people gives a chance for differing perspectives to challenge each other and critically think about them. It gives the opportunity for everyone involved to learn from each other and make better decisions.

Jason demonstrated the same point that Friedman made in his book, which is the importance of learning how to learn. In his job Jason looks at many different types of technology and tries to make the decision if it enhances curriculum goals while not taking the focus off the important content. He talked a little about classroom clickers as an example. Classroom clickers are a fantastic way to provide interactivity for a large class or lecture hall. It would be nearly impossible to listen to every student explain their view or solution to a problem. The response clicker enables students to engage in the lesson, and allows the teacher to see how each student is doing, or the class as a whole. Jason was also quick to express that clickers shouldn’t have a place in small class sizes like ours. There is no need for students to click in answers when every one can be allowed face to face interaction. This is critical thinking of technology we have been talking about in this class.

This makes me question how we make all our decisions as educators. I have witnessed others in the past, and possibly been a person myself that makes decisions based on what is best for themselves. I do keep in mind how things affect other people involved, but I can’t say I ask them often enough what their stance is. It is too easy to make a decision based on what you think that people will need or want, even though the truth may be that they have a completely different perspective. I think impulse decisions like this are ok for small decisions, but larger decisions that start to impact finances and multiple people need to be handled as professionally as possible.

My recommendations based on the information that he presented are a mix of content first and collaborate meetings. One thing that may be for certain is that not everyone will have the same opinion about what technology is beneficial for learning. This is why it is important the content is first and critical thinking is used to ensure that. An ideal process for a school or district would be to follow a model that includes stake holders into these important decisions. This way more than one person can do their homework and bring information forward that either supports or contradicts the proposal. I would want my children’s school to make decisions based on conclusions of the entire picture. To make the best decision possible it is necessary to take into account all of the good, bad, and logistical aspects. The large decisions made need to be in the best interest of all the stake holders because schools have limited funds and directly affect our youth.

Seeing the big picture isn't always easy. A person always has their own perspective on a situation. This means that the big picture could be really a combination of little pictures, like a collage. It is important to see how each individual, or groups of individuals perceives the proposal. If most of the stake holders aren't happy with the plan then their voice should be heard. Learning from others is an important learning method in classrooms and also in decision making. Then combining what you have learned from everyone gives a better understanding to make a decision with. This will help prevent proposals from being passed just because they look or sound cool, and develop a better understanding why it makes or damages our learning environments. It is also impossible to make everyone involved or affected happy, so it is most important to make sure it is beneficial to most everyone involved.

July 15, 2008

Is technology all that plus a bag of chips?

Technology has a growing trend in our flattening world (Friedman, 2007) and especially in the lives of the new generation of students. In a 2004 nationwide survey it was found that 58% of 6-12 graders had a cell phone (Obringer & Coffey, 2004). I can remember when my dad got one of the first cell phones from his work, and in the last few years they have boomed. Now the next generation students are growing up with direct exposure to cell phones, personal computers, IPods, and many other electronic gadgets than we had even five years ago. Recognizing the need to include technology in education for student learning and future development for the workplace means that schools should have technology for students to use and learn with.

In comes Craig Peterson, a local high school teacher. Shortly after beginning his time with us he comes to express that technology isn’t as great as it seems. He sees money that has been spent on equipment that isn’t being used by teachers, money that could have gone to other causes in the school. He brought up the argument that technology isn’t always the solution and is hardly utilized. I think that Craig has a love hate relationship with technology because while he sees the previously mentioned downside, he also got excited to tell us about an experience with his own class and technology. In his class they were talking about Everest, and instead of telling students facts about it and showing them a picture he chose to turn on his digital projector and used Google Earth to find the mountain. He took students to the area, showed them the satellite images, and introduced students to perspectives of people that have experienced it. Google was beneficial to his class but at the same time it is also the ninth flattener of the world (Friedman, 2007). All of the information that search engines like Google are available to anyone with internet access. Now anyone can find practically any information they want on their own instead of relying on a professional.

Craig further introduced the concept of critical technology, the technology that is useful for students to learn. From our further discussions in class about how technology is useful and how it is damaging I have changed the way that I perceive its use in school. The decision of whether or not to bring in a new piece of technology is not based alone on financial burdens associated with it, but also with the effects it has on the learning environment and stimuli exposed to students. Take for example if students are communicating in a chat room they are being exposed to many different stimuli than in a normal classroom discussion. Messages may make noise when they are received, text can possibly be made into different styles or colors, and other distractions in the background of the computer are all going on at once.

A visual however like the projector provides a dual coding learning opportunity for the students. Dual coding means that students are taking in information from visual and verbal information (Paivio, 1969). Students process and organize the information they take in visually separately from what they hear, making the combination of the two a more powerful learning experience. However, if there is too much going on visually and verbally that don’t flow together, it can cause confusion for students.

My suggestion for the proper use of technology in the classroom is to figure out the content first as we say in class, and then allow technology to aid in learning, if it fits. As we also discussed I agree that technology isn’t always the answer. Therefore we need to be careful when we decide to use it and have reasons that it is beneficial. Reflection on lessons with technology should always be done as well. A teacher should take a small amount of time to reflect on the use of technology each day it is used to decide if it took over the lesson, if it helped students to learn the content, if students were engaged, and how it should be used next time. This type of thinking can greatly improve the proper use of technology over time. Teachers can also share their reflections with others in their department to make the improvements in more than one class.

July 8, 2008

Dan's Hurting My Brain Yet Again... Day 2

Today we had Al Barnicle come into class and tell us about his experience as an online educator. He was a perfect fit because just yesterday we discussed some behavioral theories involving stimuli, the multiple intelligences, Bloom’s taxonomy and the world becoming “flat? (Friedman, 2007), which we tried to connect with online education. Viewing the online instruction software I instantly noticed that there are major differences in how students learn online. Live instructions, when the teacher was actually talking and showing the students new material in real time, were done in a chat room setting with a window for a PowerPoint or live desktop of the teacher. The students could watch Al’s presentation and give their status in the form of thumbs up or down to tell him how they were doing.

One of the first things that came into my mind was that the process of students learning and communicating in this online setting was just like Friedman’s story of India’s massive outsourcing center. Chatting online while using PowerPoint and other interactive lessons to keep the students involved, Al could have easily been a teacher in India. The class field trips are probably the only thing standing in the way of an outsourced teacher. I was also worried that students would not get the opportunity to learn from each other (which is one major way students can learn according to Vygotsky), but Al proved that groups could communicate on projects well using blogs and live chat. I still believe that students in this online school will not develop socially the same as students in a more traditionally school. There are some experiences I could have lived without having in traditional school, as Al also shared was the case with him as well, but I also believe that other experiences helped me develop strong interpersonal skills that I could not achieve in an online environment.

Our class had an incredible amount of questions for Al, as online learning was new to many of us, and somewhat controversial. My main questions for him were:
What technology do you use?
How do you ensure students are doing their own work?
How do you manage attendance?

Al responded by telling us that his classroom uses mostly computers paired with the online software to educate these students. He also occasionally calls the students’ parents at home to let them know how the student is doing. This technology and way of delivery is cutting edge and a great opportunity for students, but provoked me to ask him about the balance of curriculum. Al informed me that students could not take band or many other electives, and that for physical education students only had to log hours of exercise. In my opinion it is nice to teach students to work out individually as I didn’t get much of that in traditional PE, but these kids aren’t learning traditional American sports. Granted they could join a community or church team if they want to learn, but these sports are a major part of American culture and a great social environment for them to make friends.

To solve the question if a student is really performing their own work he may call them to ask them about recent material, or even in extreme cases make a home visit. His answer to attendance was that it was automatic with logins and completion of material. If a student is inactive for too long they are asked to leave. He made the comment that if a student doesn’t like to attend a normal school and has issues with attendance then they most likely will still have issues with the online education.

I really feel like I could write an endless blog about this, but I’d rather just give my recommendations and go to sleep! My major recommendation would be that traditional schools and online schools merge more together. If I had a child I would want them to have experiences from both environments. I believe for an online education to be more beneficial that more in person interaction would be necessary. On the same note traditional schools could learn from this online model to educate students with the proper aid of technology. The experiences that students would gain from this learning environment would help them in our flattening world.