Archive for the ‘IWB's’ Category

In the 21st Century our approach to education can and should be very different from previous centuries. The basic skills we teach are pretty much the same, but the tools we have to use require a different approach, as well as additional and very different literacies from centuries past. Information once difficult to find, maintain, and disseminate is now found by a voice command to a mobile device. The model of the teacher as the content expert standing in the front of the room, lecturing to rows of students taking handwritten notes to memorize and regurgitate on exams delivered after every unit of learning, seem now to be a dated model, at least in some classes around the country.

With access to more free-flowing information than has ever been available to mankind in any centuries past, our approach to accessing, curating, collaborating and creating with that information must change as well. There came a time when monks were no longer needed to transcribe books because of the printing press. There came a time when the Gutenberg press was replaced by a mechanized letterpress and that was later replaced by high-speed offset presses. Today, the idea of the printed word is being replaced by the digital word. With each step forward there are those who are more comfortable with what was, compared to what is. That is to always be expected. Eventually however, we all move forward.

The model of education that most of us are products of was designed for a different time and for a different purpose. The system was created to benefit industry as much, if not more so, than it was to create a freethinking society.

Technology, contrary to science fiction writers’ predictions, will not replace teachers. It will however change the model of how we teach from the 19th and 20th centuries, which was teacher-controlled and teacher-directed learning to a 21st century model of learner-directed learning. The teacher becomes more of a mentor and co learner with students. When it comes to teaching students in the 21st century I have come to believe that it is more important to teach kids how to learn than it is to teach them what to learn.

A very great disconnect in all of this occurs when we try to use the 21st century technology tools for learning and fit them into the 19th & 20th century model of teaching. I have witnessed English teachers having students do a composition assignment. They had students do a handwritten rough draft, revise it, do a final handwritten copy, and then put it on a word processor without accessing a spell check or grammar check. Those teachers learned that way, and taught that way, and added the technology to their 20th century model of teaching. The tech tool was not used for learning. In their future lives those students will certainly use word processors for any writing that they do. Is it not incumbent on their teachers to teach students how to do it correctly? (Yes, as an adult I effectively use a grammar check and a spell check on everything I write. Most people do, even the really smart ones.)

Another example is the Interactive White Board, IWB. It can be a great tool for interactive lessons in a 21st century class, but in the 20th century it becomes a great way to show kids videos as they sit in rows.

Being an educator in the 21st century will require a change in mindset. We are mostly all products of a 20th century upbringing. That is where we are grounded. We have been programmed to it in every way. As technology begins to change things, we naturally want to fit it into what we know and do. Unfortunately, we have reached a point where that no longer works. We need to revisit how we do things in education. If the 20th century methods were working, we would not be having all of these discussions about education.

We need to understand that teaching students how to learn will serve them much better than teaching them what to learn. As educators we need to keep in mind we are teaching our students for their future and not our past. Technology will continue to evolve. That is the nature of what it does. If we adapt and stay relevant, we survive. If we stand still, we will fall behind and we will no longer be relevant.

Placing 21st century technology tools for learning in a 20th century environment for learning is a losing strategy. We need to update our approach as we introduce new tools designed for learning. The pedagogy is still key, but the technology is an accelerant. This is not intuitive. It must be taught. We need to better prepare educators, as well as change the culture.

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I just read a post by my friend, Tony Sinanis, #EdCamp: What’s The Point? Tony had an unconnected colleague attend an Edcamp. The colleague was most impressed with the ever-present passion. According to Tony’s friend:

This whole experience seems to be one of the best examples I have ever seen about the power and importance of self-directed learning…

The organic way this whole day unfolded blew me away… 

All seemed to be going well in winning a convert to the connected side and then it came.

The only thing I am wondering about is the heavy emphasis on technology and sometimes I think the technology tool or tip became the focus as opposed to the conversation or overarching topic… is that always the way?

For too many educators the second statement wipes out all of the wonderment that the first statement brought to the table. It always comes down to the requirement of educators having a need to know or have some perspective on technology in today’s world. That however, is the very least we must prepare our children for. How can we prepare them for their future when so many educators have yet to learn about the needs of learning today in the present?

Let’s place two classrooms side by side and instruct each teacher to use collaborative learning to explore a given subject. One teacher will be limited to 20th Century methodology, pair share or group work at their seats using chart paper, posters and the always-present overhead projector. The second teacher may use 21st Century methodology and tools: Skype, Google hangout, Google Documents, Social Media, PowerPoint, and Prezi. Both classes will learn stuff, but which class will take with them presentation and collaboration skills that are career ready in a tech driven society?

Using that same two-classroom scenario let us teach a writing class on voice in writing. Again one class will do compositions and hand them in to the teacher to grade. Of course 20th century methodology is fine. Peer editing should be employed. The second class will teach Blogging. Students will create blogs, comment on blogs and respond to comments on their own blogs. Again, which class is getting real world authentic experience in the 21st Century? Which class will get a deeper understanding of voice, the class with an audience of one, or the class with an unlimited audience that interacts, comments critiques, criticizes and praises?

Too often educators view new methodology and tools with a 20th century mindset. It is their own educational experience that is driving their teaching. A big problem is that we are no longer in that time period. Many educators are losing relevance. It is not something that we can point out without creating friction, and most people refrain from doing so for that reason. Educators like to be fair and let people learn for themselves when it comes to their colleagues. Of course students and parents assume that they are getting the biggest bang for their buck for an education that will provide a path to, at the very least, a safe and competent ability to make a living in a world that will be using technology that advances further even that which we are using today.

Teaching is not easy. It is a profession that requires educators to be relevant. Being relevant doesn’t come with age. Just the opposite occurs, and it requires work to keep up. Teaching is not a profession that enables one to stop learning after the degree is earned and the job is secured. Technology is moving us all too fast for anyone to sit back relying on old methods and tools. With a Masters degree in Educational technology I can assure you that not one piece of hardware, or software that I studied with and used so much to get that degree exists today.

The pedagogy should always be the focus of education discussions, but the technology will always continue to be the accelerant of the pedagogy. Educators no longer get to decide whether or not to use tech as a tool. If they are scared to learn about it, that creates a problem. Technology is not going away as many expect that mythological pendulum to swing back. Educators have been programmed to believe that, if one waits long enough, the worst things will eventually go away. Barring apocalyptic disaster, technology is here to stay and it is a tool for learning, as well as curation, collaboration, communication, and creation, which include many of the things that we need to teach Again, to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators. Edcamps do just that, and most will be dominated by technology discussions, because that is the very discussion educators need to engage in to maintain relevance. As an educator if you are just standing still in your personal development, you are falling behind.

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I love when they do on the street interviews on Jimmy Kimmel Live. They have a set of questions on a topic and they go outside the studio and ask people on the street a series of questions. One of my favorites was a survey they did on the improvements of the iPhone 5 over the iPhone 4. They handed an iPhone to each person surveyed and asked them how they liked the improvements of this iPhone 5 over the earlier model the iPhone 4. Each respondent went into great detail on the vast improvements of the phone that they held in their hand over the older iPhone 4. What the respondents failed to recognize was that they were actually holding an iPhone 4.

Another interview asked people’s reaction to the Grammy awards televised the night before. The questioner even asked about specific artists and incidents that occurred. Each respondent had something to say about each of the questions and some were passionate about their answers. Of course the joke was that the Grammy’s were scheduled to air the following week and had not yet happened. So much for passionate answers. Yes, I do know that many other interviews were probably edited out, but the point made here is that people will answer questions whether or not they have a real knowledge of the subject, or in some cases ANY knowledge of the subject.

Now, I go to consider what is often done in education, surveys. Let’s consider a tech survey. Do we qualify the people taking the survey or do we ask everything of everyone? Do we define terms? Technically, overhead projectors, email, and PowerPoint are all technologies. If a teacher uses all of these technologies, is he or she a technology-savvy educator? Is the use of a PowerPoint presentation the incorporation of technology into a lesson?

When we ask if a teacher is using technology in lessons, do we assume that technology is being used properly? Many, many schools have purchased IWB’s, Interactive White Boards. Not as many schools have purchased proper training for their teachers in the correct use of those whiteboards. Consequently, we have a great many Interactive Whiteboards being used as blackboards and video projectors. Any computer used as a hat rack is hardly an effective use of technology. How does that fit in our tech use survey? The same is true of the tablets and 1 to 1 use of laptops. Naming a program and providing tools does not insure proper use unless adequate training and support are included. Teachers having access to the tools and not the training are still part of these Tech surveys and their opinions might very well skew whatever results are obtained. In a world of data based decision-making how does faulty research affect important decisions? It brings to mind that old tech expression: Garbage in, Garbage out.

Let us consider what we do when someone throws out a survey on a school or district wide level. Let’s make sure we are asking the right questions of the right people, who have a full understanding of the questions. Getting even passionate answers from individuals who have no real knowledge of the topic can only lead to poorly made decisions. Of course the best solution to all of this is to make sure all teachers are trained well enough to be relevant and have a working knowledge of all that is needed to teach in a technology-driven society. We should do a survey on that!

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Last night I listened to Dr. Gary Stager on a live Webinar presented by #Edchat, and The Educator’s PLN. As I often do after attending such presentations, I latched on to one statement by the speaker and began noodling and reflecting for the purpose of further exploration. Dr. Stager took issue with the term “Device” in regard to it being used as a term for a specific computer used as a tool for learning. He made his point by explaining that people do not walk into an Apple Store and ask to see a device. If that is true, how did we, as educators, arrive at a place where we use such a generic term for any form of technology that we want to use in the classroom?

From my point of view I find technology to be an integral part of learning for today’s learners. Of course not every educator agrees, and I recognize that. I also acknowledge that there are many times where technology does not fit into a lesson. No educator should use tech for the sake of using tech. If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it. However, for the purpose of collection, collaboration, communication, or creation of content, technology beats out the old school methods. Of course, there are some who would not accept that.

That resistance on the part of some educators might very well be a contributing factor in the use of the word “Device” as opposed to the word “Computer” in education. I am always amazed that a profession filled with so many people holding advanced degrees can be so resistant to a tool, or apparatus, or a “device” for learning. There, I did it as well. I called it everything but a computer. Why? (Actually in this case it was to make the point) The idea of a computer is similar to garbage dump. Yes, we need it; yes, we must have it; No, I do not want it in my backyard.  As long as somebody else is using a computer in some other class, educators can say that kids are using tech in education.

Many believe that the best way to engage our kids in learning and preparing them with the skills that they will need in the world in which they will live, requires a computer for each student. That idea however, is a hard sell. Once we recognize that as a fact, it commits every community to a goal that many are not willing to pay for in either intellectual or monetary currency. It would require that all educators immediately become media literate, and communities would be required to fund a computer for every child. Those commitments will not happen. The plan then becomes, “If they don’t buy into computers, let’s try to get them to accept devices.” The word itself sounds cheaper and less intimidating.

More and more schools are committing to a laptop for every student. This scares a great number of people. The costs involved initially go beyond just the cost of the computers. It requires training teachers in the use of the computers, as well as new methods in teaching while using computers as a tool for learning. This is a big commitment. Many educators have been educated with limited computer use and now they are being asked to put that aside and learn a different, less familiar, and less comfortable way of teaching. The idea of “devices” may be a baby step way of getting there. If we can use the smart phones that kids are familiar with as a “Mobile Learning Device”, that could be a baby step forward. If an IPod is small enough, and cheap enough that is another device that takes us a baby step forward. A tablet with an Interactive White Board is a cute device, and it may also take us a baby step forward. My only problem with any of this is that we are not babies. We cannot settle for baby steps.

All of these devices are great for what they do, but we need more of a total commitment, if we want real education reform. There is no way to expect reform without having to change something. Band-Aids and baby steps over time are expensive alternatives to a thoughtful commitment. If we are not yet ready for the financial commitment, we can at least claim a computer for every child as a goal. The professional development of teachers can then be focused for that in preparation of reaching that goal. “Devices”, at that point, must be recognized as stop-gap measures, and not the end goal. They are all parts of the bigger picture of technology integrated into curriculum. Technology designed to support the curriculum without replacing it. Technology should empower the teacher to do more not less. Technology should remove boundaries of time and space for students. Technology should enable learning to take place anytime and anywhere. Technology should enable life-long learning for teachers and students alike.

Your comments are welcomed

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This post needs a bit of a disclaimer in the beginning. For several years I was a member of the Board of Directors of the New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education, NYSCATE an ISTE affiliate. Like many Educational Technology organizations its mission is to promote the use of technology in education. This organization is similar to many other State wide organizations of other states with the same basic purpose. The leaders of these organizations are volunteers, some paid, most unpaid. These are people who work hard for long hours in support of these organizations and the mission.

That being said, and this being my post, I am going to openly reflect on technology organization stuff. These are my reflections as an educator and a former director of an educational technology group. If it were a lesson, I would assess, reflect and then change things as needed to become more effective. Since I don’t lead any of these organizations, I guess I stop at reflection. I have no ability to change things.

Technology in Education has always been a sticky subject. It requires understanding, training, modeling and innovation in order to be successful in the system. Some districts have recognized this and have had great successes. It is still a lesson to be learned in many other places. The mission of the Educational Technology organizations however, goes beyond a few forward-thinking districts. That term “forward-thinking” itself implies that technology is the future in education and not the now. My question to start would be: If the purpose of Educational Technology Organizations is to achieve ubiquitous use of technology in education, how do we do a formative assessment of that mission? Technology is always evolving, but many of these organizations were formed in the 70’s and 80’s. After over 30 years of striving to promote Technology use in Education, how close are we to ubiquitous use. Yes, we are using more Tech than ever before, but many places are still debating its value in education. We may also be using more technology because there is so much more to use, which has little to do with the influence of these organizations.

“Top Down” and “Bottom up” are two of the ways Technology is adopted in schools. As a classroom teacher, I was always partial to bottom up stuff, because it came from other teachers who used it successfully with kids. Top down to me meant it was a product that an administrator was sold on, with limited knowledge of how it worked, or what was involved for the teacher to make it work. Mandates are rarely successful. My experience has taught me that people need to be lead and not directed. Leaders cannot demonstrate a product and overwhelm folks with bells and whistles and tell them that they will use it from now on. We lose the required understanding, training, modeling and innovation in order to be successful. If you doubt that, look at the Interactive Whiteboards placed in schools all over the country. What percentage of these expensive boards are being used as Video, or PowerPoint projectors.

Now we need to consider the leadership of these organizations, as well as, who participates in their conferences. Being a leader in any of these organizations requires a huge amount of time. Time to a teacher is not negotiable. The flexibility of time is more in the domain of the administrators. It stands to reason that it is easier to provide release time to an administrator than to a classroom teacher. Therefore, it stands to reason that more administrators than classroom teachers run these groups.

The perspective of the teachers in the organization is; “how do I get kids to use this technology to learn?” The Perspective of the Administrator is; “how do I get my teachers to use this Technology?” both of these perspectives must be considered, but it must be in balance. As Administrators monopolize the leadership, that balance seems to be lost. There is almost an elitist air about these organizations. Classroom teachers are the very people we need to attend these conferences. If you ask a classroom teacher if they would attend an ISTE Conference and you then explained what ISTE was, the response would be simple. “I don’t teach Technology, why would I attend that conference?” It is my observation that some of the leadership of these organizations shift focus. The focus shifts from the success of the mission to the success of running the group. To some that comes down to the success of the conference in attendance and buzz. Attendance is measurable, Buzz is not.

A goal should be to involve as many classroom teachers in the synergy that is evident at any of these conferences. It would be hoped that while they were pumped up with the conference high, they would advocate for tech with their fellow teachers. That would be “bottom up”. Who really attends these conferences anyway? I do not even know if that data is tracked. I do know from personal experience I saw a great many administrators repeatedly attending the conferences year after year. Not that anything is wrong with that, but if a majority of the attendees each year are the same administrators who deal with technology as part of their job, where does that leave the classroom teacher and the group’s mission? It should not be an elite club for technology administrators.

Before everyone starts to run to the comment box to blast me on the elite club comment consider this. If these organizations were not being perceived this way by a large group of educators, why are Tech camps springing up all over? Teachers have been filling the void. They are doing their own mini conferences. They are providing sessions on the Internet. They are involving educators in technology in greater and greater numbers. PLN’s for teachers are providing information and collaboration that these organizations have not provided to the classroom teacher.

Educators are striving everyday to be relevant. That is why Professional Learning Networks are expanding by the minute. When we talk about education Reform, relevance is a big part of it. We need relevant Educators. The same can be said of Educational Technology Organizations. They are needed and necessary. They need to focus on their mission and not their organization. If they put the mission first the organization will succeed. Again this is not an attack, but a reflection. If we cannot see where we are going wrong we cannot adjust to correct it.

Now you can run to the comment box and blast away!

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I teach pre-service teachers to prepare them for the classroom, but I also try to steer them in directions that will make them more marketable as they look for jobs in an extremely competitive job market. In addition to trying to make them web 2.0 tech-aware, I also require that they do at least one interactive whiteboard lesson. I like to require that the lesson deal with some aspect of Grammar. This tackles two of the biggest hurdles for English Teachers, Tech and Grammar.

Although I require that my students achieve a comfort level with the Interactive White Board, I needed to update my personal knowledge of the subject in order to keep up. At my own expense I signed up for a workshop/conference on the Interactive Whiteboard sponsored by one of the leading Interactive Whiteboard companies. I had limited expectations, expecting maybe 50 educators and a few trainers.

This conference was held at one of the many Long Island high schools which have embraced the IWB technology. There were more than several classrooms with IWB Technology in them. Hence, this was the perfect choice of locations for an IWB conference. There were nine hands-on workshops repeated over four sessions and there were Science, Math, Social Studies and ELA Training classes conducted on both the elementary and secondary levels. There was a product demonstration area set up in the Gym. There had to be 500 educators in attendance. This was a pleasant surprise, a real conference. My adrenaline was pumping away. I was truly excited as I often am at statewide or national educational conferences.

My enthusiasm was somewhat dampened as I engaged educators in conversation and asked two simple questions. Are you on Twitter? Do you use The Educator’s PLN Ning site? The first question elicited not verbal responses, but stimulated what can best be described as facial contortions. The second question was answered by one or two questions: What’s a PLN? or What’s a Ning? I digress however. This is a topic for another post, so, back to the IWB’s.

Two things that I strongly advocate in my class would be creative thinking for students through authentic learning, and the use of technology as a tool for learning. It is no coincidence that it also takes up much of the discussion time in our #edchat discussions. These are major common concerns of many educators today.

Now, I need to address the point of this post. I must admit that I believe that IWB’s are an asset to the classroom. They can seamlessly use web 2.0 applications to engage students in creative and constructive lessons for learning. The important element in this however is the training of the teacher using the IWB. Without training the user, the IWB becomes an expensive video projector or an expensive PowerPoint presentation tool or a very expensive hat rack.

What I believed one of the added pluses to this product was, is the vast library of lessons which are available to qualified users, but, therein lies the rub. We teach that according to Bloom’s Taxonomy, the highest form of learning is creative. A lesser form of learning, although necessary, is remembering. As I attended each of the workshops, which unveiled several very thoughtful and creative examples of previously recorded and now archived lessons, I began to notice a distressingly common thread. Each of the archived lessons addressed the remembering learning described by Bloom and not the creative learning for which we, as educators, should strive. As I watched the trainer of one of the sessions showcase another remembering lesson. I remarked that the creative learning was not on the part of the students partaking in the lesson, but rather on the part of the educator creating the lesson. It would then stand to reason, for the students to get the full benefit of an IWB, they should each be creating lessons to present to fellow students.

I am not saying that remembering lessons have no place in education. They are necessary and must be taught. This is content. However, it is the use of that content for more creative efforts which affords students learning. Remembering lessons should not be the focus of education, that focus should be on the creative.

The danger in the use of IWB’s is the lack of training. If districts place IWB’s in a classroom without training the teacher in its use, that teacher will seek from the library, lessons which have already been developed, most of which are remembering focused. This is a case of doing the right thing with the wrong result. I have been told that there are districts which place these IWB’s in classrooms as incentives for teachers to be motivated. They do not attach it to proper training. Would any of us fly with a pilot who had a 747 placed in his driveway as an incentive to fly a bigger plane without training?

Now here is what set me off today. I was in a workshop using clickers to respond to questions from a lesson. As a formative assessment it was great. They were multiple choice questions which could be instantly analyzed. It is not to be confused with a tool for learning, but rather a tool for assessment in the multiple choice genre of tests. It was in this workshop that the trainer revealed to the group that the company had filed a number of standardized tests which could be used for practice with the use of the clickers. This would offer the data to be aggregated in any way needed for analysis. Some might use the word manipulated. A teacher in the group immediately came to life. He was excited to see that this would provide him material to use for the month of May. That was the month that his district administrators designated as THE MONTH FOR TEST PREPARATION. In my mind that was squandering a month of learning for the sake of test preparation. Then the same administrators ask, why are we failing our students.

I believe in Technology. I believe in support for that Technology. We need to teach our students to be prepared for their world and not one that which we might prefer. We do not get to make that choice. IWB’s with training and support can move our students forward. Kids understand IWB’s and want to use them. It’s the adults who need to be brought along. Creativity should be the focus and remembering should be the support.

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