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I recently read yet another article that questioned the effect of using technology in education. I believe it stated that there are 3.6 million educators using edtech as the basis for the post. The post itself was well done, but throughout my reading I was troubled by what defined an edtech-using educator. How is it determined that an educator is truly an edtech user?

I have been in meetings where educators had to fill out questionnaires asking about their technology experience. They claimed to be technology-using educators based solely on their use of Power Point for lectures. Technically using Power Point for a lecture does require technology, but that is like claiming to be a social media guru after using Facebook to only follow some family members who post their family vacation pictures at every opportunity.

If we were to do a survey of ten educators who claim to be edtech-users and six of them base their claim on power point lectures alone, and two use tech to send digital worksheets to their students, and the final two educators have students using tech apps for collaboration, curation, communication and creation of content, we could confidently claim that Edtech is not having a great effect on learning. It would be effective for probably less than 20% of the students. The next obvious question would be, how much of an effect is tech having on learning in the classes of those final two educators alone? I imagine the resulting percentage would be a much more positive influence than the other classes, but we lump everyone together.

If we are to establish data on the effects of technology in education, we need to first establish a valid method of evaluating the information from a level playing field. We need to evaluate the experience of the educators claiming to use it. Teachers, who have been identified as users of tech to teach need to, at the very least, be digitally literate. Consequently, we first need to define what is meant by digitally literate. It should not require that a person needs expertise on every application available, but it does assume at the least a comfort with some tools for collaboration, curation, communication and creation of content, the very things we want our students to learn. How many schools can claim a majority of their teachers and administrators have such a comfort level with technology?

In order to determine the effect of technology on learning for students, we need to establish the effects of technology on teaching for teachers. Let us collect data from tech-savvy teachers who model tech use as much as they would hope for their students’ use to be. We need to clearly state what we expect a technology-literate educator to be. It is no longer acceptable to allow educators or administrators to determine what they are minimally going to commit to when it comes to learning tech for professional development. We have reached a point where what was minimally accepted even five years ago is not acceptable now. We must have higher standards for educators if we have certain expectations for students. The education system does not create what society demands for students to survive and thrive in this technology-driven world. It does however need prepare kids for that very life.

Of course this will never be a popular position to take with most educators. They have all attended school for years to prepare for their positions. Their preparation to become an educator was left in the hands of the colleges and universities under the scrutiny of accreditation organizations. The question is how do those institutions stay relevant in an ever-changing technology-driven world?

If the demands of the world that we live in keep evolving and changing at a pace never before experienced in history, we need to adjust what we are doing to meet those demands. We cannot count on 20th Century methodology to prepare our kids for 21st Century demands. Before we redefine what we expect from our students, we need to first redefine what we expect from their educators. If we need to determine if technology is having a positive effect on learning, we need to determine if it is being equally provided to students by educators who have a thorough understanding of technology and are flexible enough to meet the inevitable changes that technology fosters. As always, if we are to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

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Couple assembles ikea furniture - which gender does it better

During a recent snowstorm I found myself perusing a list of recorded television shows on the DVR. While watching an episode of Bull, a show about scientific jury selection, or possibly jury manipulation, there was a term used by Dr. Bull that I had not heard before, “The IKEA Effect”. It was explained by the main character that it was a cognitive bias in which consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they created. Of course this was a fictional TV show, so I had my doubts. I looked it up to confirm if it existed and sure enough, I found it to be a real thing.

On a personal level I found myself in agreement through my own experience with furniture that I had put together in the past, whether bought through IKEA or anywhere else it might have been purchased. Of course my personal reflection on this was not limited to furniture assembly. I also began to think about lessons, courses, and curriculum that I had developed or helped develop over my career.

As an educator I found that the things that I personally developed meant more to me and seemed more effective than things developed and contributed by others. This was probably because I had a clear understanding of the focus and intent of my own ideas. I was also clear about the whys and wherefores of changes that I may have made through reflection and results of formative assessments. I was also aware of the blemishes I would hope no one else would see. Although I have no personal experience with it, I imagine many educators may not feel the same types of connections with boxed curricula now being adopted by some schools.

The question I now have is, does this hold true for students as well as adults? I know that when my students were involved with the development of their own projects, as well as the rubrics that would be used for their assessment, they felt empowered in their own learning. They were very involved with the development of writing portfolios and often expressed a feeling of ownership for their own learning. These were feelings that kids do not get from lectures.

With all of this being considered, I wonder why there is still such resistance to teachers having a greater voice in what and how they teach. Additionally, why are so many teachers resistant to giving students greater voice in their own learning. As individuals I believe the more we have a say in what we do and how we do it, the more we take ownership of what we do. If teachers own their own teaching, would they not have a greater interest in its outcome? If students had a greater voice and choice in their learning, would their ownership of that learning not serve as a motivation to further expand their learning?

Our purpose in education should focus on enabling teachers to teach and teaching students how to learn. This should rely heavily on self-motivation, so that teachers own their teaching and students own their learning. Forcing tasks, information, lessons and curriculum that have little relevance to teachers or students impedes their ownership and only confuses or stifles teaching and education. Enabling more voice for teachers and students should be a key for 21st Century education.

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decisionsDuring the last year, or for as long as this election has been running, I have had a growing concern. I listen to interviews of voters in our democratic society and wonder how well we have prepared our citizens to actually make considered and responsible decisions. I realize that emotions may weigh heavily on decisions we make, especially in election years, but decisions should initially be, at the very least, critically analyzed, and based on facts rather than opinions or pledges, promises, and propaganda. With so much indecision, as well as a mass misrepresentation of facts in this election on both sides, I question how much we have addressed decision-making in the education of our kids over the centuries. Beyond just this election, this would hold true when applied in any situation requiring a decision. My concern is that our education system may, in great part, be failing to give decision-making its proper priority in the system. Is creating learners capable of responsible and considered decisions a true goal of education, and is it supported with action and not just discussion?

Teachers have always asked for autonomy in teaching their subject areas, a position I always support. The argument is that the teacher is the content and education expert and quite capable of making the decisions for what is appropriate for their students. Teachers want to be the decision-makers for what kids will be taught. Administrators have their perspective as well. Mandates, regulations, and standards are all the considerations for their decisions. Additionally, parents have a say with their decision-making: support of the budget, their kid’s schedule, and the overall direction of their kid’s education and life.

Everyone wants their say in a kid’s education, but what about the kids? The path to sound decision-making should be a practice of our students in regard to their own learning. Decision-making should be involved in the content delivery that teachers provide within their courses. Decision–making should be a practice in what path students choose in their academic journey. For too long these decisions have been made by educators for kids. Teachers decided curriculum for students, and what methodology worked best for them to learn. We must accept the fact that the ability or skill for decision-making doesn’t happen on its own. It is also a skill that is refined with maturity as much as practice. It would be foolish to assume the youngest of our kids are capable of making life-changing decisions, but making some decisions is better than making no decisions at all. We need to start this early and increase the decision options as kids mature.

choice

A Problem-based curriculum allows for decision-making. This includes failure as a teacher. The wrong decisions have consequences, but what better place to fail than within the safety of the classroom with a teacher to guide kids back from a wrong direction. If a teacher needs class rules and regulations to guide the learning environment maybe the kids could make the decisions of what rules to use after discussing the needs and reasoning behind each rule. The teacher should not just dictate rubrics to the students. Many teachers include the students in deciding what rubrics are needed for their work. Students should decide what work they want to use for their portfolios. One idea for high school students might be to have a required (already decided) course to specifically deal with decision-making. This will come at a time when these students will be entering into a whirlwind of decision-making concerning real life choices dealing with their future.

Sound, responsible, fact-based decision-making as a mastered skill should be a goal in education. It cannot be assumed that education itself will develop that skill. I have met many educated people who must be told what to do and how to think, with little interest, or possibly ability to make their own decisions. Since we base the governance and safety of our country on the decisions our citizens make, it is in our best interest to have our citizens well versed in decision-making skills.

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One undeniable fact Polar bear on Iceabout teaching is that teachers not only need to be masters of content within their subject area, but they must also be masters of education as a subject. Another undeniable fact is that neither of those subject areas looks the same as when any teacher first mastered them. One effect of the integration of technology into our society is that change in almost everything is happening at a pace never before experienced by mankind. As much as some people may yearn for the simpler times of the past, life will continue to move forward as the natural order of society requires.

The influence of additional information on any subject may often affect how we deal with that subject. In our history, once we had more information on the effects of smoking, smoking habits of millions of people changed. Once we learned what we now understand about the benefits of physical activity, several sports related industries were spawned. Once we learned what we now know of communication, several music and print industries disappeared while being replaced with better in many ways. If we do not take time to understand new information and how it interacts with what we do, we, as a profession, may go the way of typewriters, photographic film, super 8 film, 8 track cassettes, landline telephones, or block-ice refrigeration.

I always viewed education as a preparation for students to learn enough content and skills to use for creating their own content in whatever field they decided to enter. Teachers residing in schools were the keepers of information. Schools determined who got what information and when they got it. Information for kids was determined and dispensed by the teacher. Control and compliance were the keys to the information and allowed for the orderly distribution of content. This was education or centuries.
Now, with the advent of technology and the unlimited access to what often appears to be limitless information, as well as access to untold numbers of people through social media, there is a great change for those who understand it. There is also a great change for those who do not choose to understand it. The cold hard fact here is that technology is now providing us with the tools for “Do It Yourself Learning”. It is not the “mail order courses” of days gone by. It is a real way for some students to circumvent the system that is in place and at their own pace and their own direction learn what they choose to learn. All of this can be delivered in whatever form a student determines is in his or her learning preference, text, video, music, or live face-to-face interaction. There may come a time for some that they will learn in spite of their teachers not teaching them what they need in the way they need it.

In the past I have always said that a computer could never replace a teacher, because learning was based on relationships. Today, I am not so sure. In a profession that is information-based, we must acknowledge that information undergoes change. What we knew a short while back may no longer be relevant in a rapidly changing world. Both areas that teachers are required to master, their subject content, and education have both undergone change no matter when it was any teacher mastered them. Staying up-to-date, relevant, on information in your own profession is a moral imperative. We can’t expect what we learned as college students to carry us through a 30 or 40-year career.
Time and money are often the reasons educators give for not seeking to develop further professionally. They are powerful reasons indeed, but not insurmountable. A fear of technology by many is also offered up as a reason for lack of development. I have come to believe that these are just the excuses, while the real reason for the lack of professional development for educators is the comfort of the Status Quo. Comfort zones are obstacles to change. It may be change itself that most are fearful of. We can’t all agree that change is needed in education, and then refuse to change as individual educators. The system can’t demand change of teachers without examining its own professional development programs that have been so ineffective over the centuries that PD has been offered. Colleges can no longer continue to produce teachers based on a twentieth century model of a classroom teacher.

Anyone entering teaching as a profession must do it with the awareness and a commitment to life long learning, because the teacher you come out of college as, is not the teacher your students will need. It will forever be a changing and evolving position. Teaching is not an easy job. It requires teachers to be uncomfortable with change for a lifetime. However, if we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

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Ozpicture-640x400The worst advocates for educators using social media for do it yourself professional development are those educators who have been successful developing their own do it yourself professional development. This probably applies to other successful educator undertakings as well. Many of those educators who achieve success with innovative ideas tend to expound on the achievements and benefits of their strategy, method, or project, which tends to overwhelm those educators exposed to it for the first time. This alone, seems to scare off some educators to even being open to considering change.

I remember attending an education conference back in the early 90’s and seeing the most impressive presentation on education that I had ever seen before. It incorporated every bell and whistle that Apple hardware and presentation software had to offer. There was a standing ovation from the entire audience at the end. Of course during the question and answer period I had to ask: How long did this take to prepare this presentation? The answer made me feel stupid at my own lack of understanding for what I just witnessed. The answer was simple, 48 years. The presentation was based on this person’s life experience through the lens of an educator.

Too often we buy the sizzle, but miss the steak. We don’t pay enough attention to what it takes to get to that success that impresses us so much. A Personal Learning Network consisting of thousands of collegial sources did not develop in a few months. A successful project, using project based learning methodology, was not the result of mapping out a lesson plan the night before. A school does not go to 1:1 laptops by merely handing out the hardware on a special school tech day.

If any change is to successfully take place in any aspect of education, it will take an understanding of the foundation for that change. Preparing the educators who will implement and support that innovation is key in any plan for change. Providing collaborative time to support those educators is essential. Allowing time to deal with and correct failures in the development of that change cannot be overlooked.

Of course all of this is obvious and makes perfect sense as we read through this post, but I constantly meet with educators who have horror stories about the lack of support, training, collaboration, or even a basic understanding of the needs for educators in order to implement any innovation in their class, school, or district.

It is unrealistic to expect a wizard will come along and enable us to make all of the needed changes for education today and to be relevant, authentic, and meaningful to kids just by waving a wand and mumbling some cryptic words. We need to pull back that curtain behind the wizard and expose what hard work really needs to be done to achieve that needed change.

Educators are inclined to help and teach kids. Every educator must be more than a content expert. They need to be masters of pedagogy, methodology, and now technology as well. The ongoing problem is that all of these components of education are continually evolving as a result of a rapidly changing, technology-driven society. We need to keep our educators up to date with those changes taking place so rapidly. Change is never easy for anyone. Comfort zones are the biggest deterrents to change. The wave of a wand will always be preferred to the hard work required to change, but there are no magic wands. If we are to better educate our kids we need to first better educate their educators. Evolution in education does not only fall on teachers, it requires a large commitment from all constituents in an education community.

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We are now better than fifteen years into the 21st Century and educators are still discussing what role technology plays in education. The fact of the matter is no matter what educators, who are mostly products of a 20th Century education, think, our students today will need to be digitally literate in their world in order to survive and thrive. Digital Literacy is a 21st Century skill, but therein lies the rub. Most of our educators have been educated with a twentieth Century mindset using 20th Century methodology and pedagogy at best. I dare say there might be some 19th Century holdovers as well.

Digital literacy is recognized by the developers of common core to be important enough to be included as a component of the curriculum. This will however vary and be dependent on what each individual teacher knows, or does not know in regard to his or her own digital literacy. In other words teachers without digital literacy in a 21st Century education setting are illiterate educators for the purpose of this discussion. We can certainly wait for attrition to clean out the system, but that might take years at the expense of our kids. It also does not address a further infiltration of even more from entering the system.

These educators are not bad people. Many may be willing to change and learn to be digitally literate if it is prioritized and supported by administrators. The problem there is that digitally illiterate administrators fail to recognize the need, or understand how to support the new skills required using a new 21st Century mindset. That is not to say all administrators fall into this category, but certainly too many for any needed change to happen in a timely fashion do.

There certainly is enough blame to go around for what places the education system in this predicament and much of that lies in education programs from our institutions of higher learning. Unfortunately, too often student tech skills and digital literacy are assumed and not formally taught in schools of higher education. If students are getting by with email and desktop publishing it is assumed that they are “digital natives”, a term that has cut short education for digital skills in America.

The biggest problem we have with any digital education is the rapidity at which things change.This will only get worse as technology evolves. People learn something; they buy into it; they get comfortable with it; and then it evolves to something else. That comfort level is hard to shake, so change is slow, if it takes place at all. The system also generally fails to recognize the need to prioritize and support change in a way to keep all staff relevant. It is also failing to prioritize digital literacy for incoming teachers.

If we were to prioritize Digital Literacy as a job requirement it might speed up needed changes. Once colleges realized that placing their students in teaching positions required a knowledge of digital literacy they would need to revamp their curricula accordingly. An influx of digitally educated teachers would go a long way in changing the culture of elementary and secondary schools in regard to their acceptance and priorities concerning new tools for learning and the integration of technology and education.

We have always required new teachers to have specific skills in order to secure a job teaching. We also required that they demonstrate those skills before a job could be offered. I can’t think of one hiring committee, of the hundreds I participated in, that did not require a writing sample. How many teaching candidates are offered jobs without someone seeing them teach a class with a sample lesson? It would not be a stretch to require candidates to exhibit their technology skills for consideration.

Prioritizing digital skills will also signal a need for existing staff to get comfortable with change rather than retaining the status quo. It will shake up comfort zones to enable forward movement. It will also force administrators to get some game of their own. They will need digital awareness in order to objectively observe teachers using technology for learning.

Digitally illiterate educators will soon be irrelevant educators and that hurts all educators. As a community we need to support change and digital literacy or we may become as relevant as a typewriter, or film photography. If we are to better educate our kids, we must first better educate their educators.

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We are often bombarded with many posts and articles about the successes and failures of technology in education. Too often these assessments are based upon the technology as if it were the only factor having any effect on the students in the classroom. Of course this overlooks something that has been pounded into educators’ heads for years: The greatest influence on students in the classroom is the teacher. That holds true with or without technology in the classroom.

The environment for learning is created in the classroom by the teacher. The teacher determines the tools selected for learning in the classroom. The teacher determines how much time each subject gets and what should be emphasized over something else. Yes, there are restraints and mandates placed on every teacher by administration, but the majority of the individual learning environments that directly affect students, are environments made by classroom teachers. Whenever I read an article, or post, pointing out the failures of technology in the classroom, my first question is: How well was that teacher trained in the use of that technology and its new methodology in the classroom? My second thought is: was that technology mandated to be there without teacher buy-in, or support? Without both of those requirements being met, coupled with what we know of the teacher’s impact on students in the class, how could technology ever be successful?

Adding technology into a curriculum is not a passive exercise. It requires a teacher to not only understand the basics of the tech, but an understanding of whatever new pedagogies and methodologies accompany that tech. Using technology in the classroom is more than just going from a number 2 pencil to a ball point pen.

I have had too many discussions with adjunct professors/teachers who have just been thrown online to teach courses that they have only taught in the classroom for years, because that is now the direction colleges/schools are being directed to go. Little thought on the part of these colleges/schools has gone into what it means to teach online. What methodologies need to be refined or changed? What training a professor/teacher needs in the use of new and devolving technology seems to be an afterthought if a thought at all. Teaching online seems to be a politician’s choice of solution to getting a bigger bang for the tax-generated buck. Many politicians are legislating requirements to teach online with no support for the teacher training needed to support a successful program. There is always the “They’ll-figure-it-out mentality” that seems to drive most change in education. It’s a cheaper, more sellable solution to the problem, but a digital worksheet is still a worksheet. We need to teach using methodologies of the 21st Century to take our best shot with 21st Century tools for learning, collaboration, curation, communication, and creation.

We need to be more critical of the studies that we see on the use of technology in classrooms. We need to ask if and how the teachers were trained in that technology and all it entails. We need to examine the mindset of those educators as well. Are they supportive of tech in the classroom, or do they view it as an added burden that they were never prepared for. Not every educator is prepared to accept technology as a tool for learning. These attitudes have profound effects on results.

Teaching is complicated. It might be argued that teaching is more of an art than a science. Complicated tasks are not easily assessed. With so many variables for success in education, how do we get it right? We cannot accurately assess the effect of technology in the classroom without considering the teacher responsible for implementing and using that technology. We need to consider implementation, training, and support, as well as ongoing professional development of staff as the technology evolves, changes, or is replaced. All of these are factors we need to consider and evaluate, if we are to truly determine the effect technology is having on learning. If we are serious about better educating our kids, then we better get more serious about educating their educators.

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