A quest for learning, unlearning and relearning…

Archive for the ‘Change’

Technology Captives

Dane Pen, Flickr - https://flic.kr/p/7AFi37

Dane Pen, Flickr – https://flic.kr/p/7AFi37

A recent article in Business Insider summarizes some research over the past year on the relationship between keyboarding and handwriting on note-taking and learning. The conclusions made here are stunningly shallow… that we shouldn’t use computers/keyboards for note-taking; rather, handwriting is better because it slows us down and allows to to “engage” more with the content as we summarize and organize it in our minds during the process of handwriting our notes. If the tendency for keyboarders is to do more of a lecture transcription with less thought, then perhaps the problem is that those note-takers have insufficient and flawed strategies for [digital] note-taking.

Joe Ross, Flickr - https://flic.kr/p/aYjtFv

Joe Ross, Flickr – https://flic.kr/p/aYjtFv

The parallel here could be that since fossil fuel-based vehicles pollute more, we should all go back to horses and bicycles. Thankfully, we are working toward more environmentally friendly vehicles and leveraging new technologies to improve our world. Why is it that where learning is involved, we are so quick to just blame the technology and fight to go back to a “simpler time” rather than strive to improve our relationship with it?

We have given far too much power to the technology and given up some of our responsibility in shaping it and shaping our world. There’s no doubt, that as John Culkin and Marshall McLuhan framed, “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us”. However, at no point in this statement were we intended to give up our responsibility in shaping our society and our world. There is indeed truth to the statement that “we become what we behold”. In our idolization of technology and tech tools, many of us have [willingly] traded things like intelligence, kindness, wisdom, intimacy and empathy for the new shiny gadgets and the convenience of the  easy and the instant.

Mysi, Flickr - https://flic.kr/p/5uARTE

Mysi, Flickr – https://flic.kr/p/5uART

Here’s a thought… how about equip young people to be valuable, contributing digital citizens who effectively learn with new technologies instead of just staying with desks in rows, lectures, pencils and worksheets? How about teaching them to be effective digital note-takers – yes, who also know how/when to pick up a pencil if needed? How about, as adults, striving to be essential models of citizenship and learning in a digitally mediated culture that our children so desperately need? How about including making and programming as a regular part of a modern curriculum (instead of an “Hour of Code”) because it is good for kids and their thinking as they tinker, problem-solve, create relevant things and express powerful ideas… because they could actually learn to be more than consumers of technology? How about choosing NOT to text while driving [while our kids watch]? How about choosing NOT to spend more time on social media that with one’s family? How about choosing to send a card to someone instead of a quick email? How about NOT yelling profanities and shaking our fist at the driver ahead of us [while our kids watch]?

How about choosing to learn to effectively take notes with a digital device?

How about that?

Don’t Be Replaceable.

How do you view the ideas of “Flipped Classroom”, “personalized learning”, “Khan Academy”,…?


Dan Meyer writes,

Teachers are a great medium for lots of things that a YouTube video isn’t. “Conversation, dialogue, reasoning, and open questions,” as I put it in my post. If you, as a teacher, aren’t taking advantage of your medium, if you’re functionally equivalent to a YouTube video, you should be replaced by a YouTube video.”

Are we really leveraging rich access to online, networked resources and people so that we can improve the quality of F2F time while together in the classroom? Or instead, are we farming out the “really boring stuff” to be completed outside of school on one’s own as homework without the benefit of social interaction and learning frameworks that benefit the learner and learning? Or worse, are we just “personalizing” and gamifying the “really boring stuff” – the stuff that is best learned through rich, messy, complex, highly social experiences?

What’s the Faustian bargain that we are making? Neil Postman writes,

“This means that for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage. The disadvantage may exceed in importance the advantage, or the advantage may well be worth the cost. Now, this may seem to be a rather obvious idea, but you would be surprised at how many people believe that new technologies are unmixed blessings. You need only think of the enthusiasms with which most people approach their understanding of computers. Ask anyone who knows something about computers to talk about them, and you will find that they will, unabashedly and relentlessly, extol the wonders of computers. You will also find that in most cases they will completely neglect to mention any of the liabilities of computers. This is a dangerous imbalance, since the greater the wonders of a technology, the greater will be its negative consequences.”

Of course, there are also many downsides to [poor] in-class instruction… This is what new technologies, new learning spaces, and new possibilities seeks to mitigate. However, rather than improve student-centered, meaning-making pedagogy, at what point are we simply chasing solutions that distract us from this goal?

Marshall McLuhan writes, (paraphrased here) that

“people tend to focus on the obvious, which is the content, to provide us valuable information, but in the process, we largely miss the structural changes in our affairs that are introduced subtly, or over long periods of time. As society’s values, norms, and ways of doing things change because of the technology, it is then we realize the social implications of the medium. These range from cultural or religious issues and historical precedents, through interplay with existing conditions, to the secondary or tertiary effects in a cascade of interactions that we are not aware of.”

Is augmenting an already-flawed reality helpful, or would it be better to invest our efforts in re-conceptualizing our current reality?

There has been much written on both sides of this fence. It’s really healthy to consider them both and think hard, really hard, about what is happening.


Staying Relevant in a Climate of Obsolescence

Scott McLeod‘s post from a year ago, titled Struggling with educators’ lack of technology fluency came back to life for me when a new comment was left today (the beauty of comment subscription/notification). In it, he laments the lack of technology literacy often found in educators, even at the most basic of levels.

Today, Patricia commented:

Yes…and yes.

As a young teacher, I can feel your frustration.

And I think I have an answer to, “Why are so many teachers technologically inept?”

Three words: lack. of. training.

I just graduated from teacher’s college. Was I trained to use a SMARTboard? No. Was I introduced to kidblogs? No. Was I shown how to use ipads in the classroom? Again, no.

I learned all these things on my own, like many of the earlier commenters. I went to my practicum school early every day to tinker with technology.

In short…

We teachers are left alone to learn technology, like inmates set adrift on the raging sea on our way to a uninhabited island.


This is indeed a serious problem – and likely an all-too-common one in schools of education. Of course, today we live in a highly digital and globally connected landscape that lets just about anyone learn just about anything, as “ml” shares in the comment that precedes Patricia’s. So, what are some of the key variables that differentiate “ml” and Patricia from others? Lack of interest? Lack of passion? Lack of curiosity? Lack of even the most basic skills to understand the potential of the Internet for exploring, connecting and learning?

For students in schools of education who are not learning how to leverage new tools and new learning spaces… for learning, can they any longer just raise their hands in despair or do they now have some responsibility for learning this along the way? For sure, their programs in some cases are failing them in this regard. On paper, they are able to show that they are “integrating technology” across all programs and content areas, but from experience I know that this is often a sham. It’s just not happening. Other schools of education may offer a single technology course for all educators, packing far too much into a single semester and being forced to look at technology rather generally rather than specific to individual areas of specialization. In addition, their notion of “technology integration” is using Moodle or Blackboard. The reality is that for many instructors and professors of education, they too have not been paying attention to how the interplay between culture and learning has been shifting. They often see their specialty as it existed years ago. Their bag of tricks hasn’t grown much in the last decade or two. They are not active in this highly digital and global learning landscape at all. So, yes – they are ill-equipped to help their “Patricias” – the next generation of teachers.

In as much as this can no longer be an excuse for new teachers and experienced teachers alike, it can no longer be an excuse, it can no longer be acceptable – for those charged with preparing teachers today. In K-12, many would say that this is in part a leadership issue – that administrators need to both model and facilitate such growth in their staff. The same can be said in higher education. When deans and department chairs are as technologically illiterate as the rest, leadership in this area falters.

I feel bad for all of the “Patricias” out there. I teach many of them in a single education technology dedicated course. They need more. They need rich technology-infused experiences in the context of their content area courses. All of them. Some will be like “ml” and Patricia who take the bull by the horns and leverage the great potential of the connected web to fill in

the gaps and learn what they need. Others simply continue on cruise control, recognizing that they need more, yet seem unwilling and/or unable to do much about it. They themselves still have the old mindset that “if someone doesn’t teach me, I can’t learn it”. I think these two types of in-service teachers exist in schools today as well.

If you ask me, higher [teacher] education is still not being disrupted enough.

The More Things Change…

Change next exitAs I watched this new Apple commercial the other day, it struck me just how much knowledge creating, collaborating and sharing tools have changed over the years, with formal schooling contexts being one of the slowest contexts to exhibit such change.

  • We’ll never stop sharing our memories… but must they always be shared in those ugly black and white marbled notebooks that are requested year after year… and are thrown away once the year is over?
  • We’ll never stop getting lost in a good book… but must that dog eared book come out of those cheesy plastic bins on the shelf in the classroom?
  • We’ll still go to meetings, but must they be limited to physical space and a single, standardized agenda for all?
  • We’ll still make movies… well, for many kids, they’re still waiting to unleash their creativity and great ideas with this medium
  • And the final statement from this commercial: “And we’ll still learn new things”… yes, kids are always learning new things, but must their learning be limited to an inflexible agenda, limited largely by the resources in the classroom, limited by an “everybody must be on the same page” approach, limited by the sole “expert” standing at the front of the classroom, limited by a rigid and scripted curriculum, limited by preparing for a ridiculous number of local, state, and national standardized assessments, limited by scare resources, or even limited by a standardized and uniform 1:1 device implementation…

The commercial concludes by the statement,

…but how we do all this will never be the same.”


Just ask a student about going back to school in the fall and see what he/she is most looking forward to. Dollars to donuts the reply will be lunch, recess, band/orchestra/chorus, art, phys. ed., drama, clubs, field trips … if those things aren’t already stripped from the school experience to make more time and free up more resources for…

More of the same.

Watch the commercial. The platform doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be limited by or to,  the iPad. But will students’ learning at school this fall be any different (and more meaningful, relevant, powerful…) than it was from the last? From 5 years ago? From 10? From 20? What will you do to make sure that it is? Don’t let your classroom live and breathe the concluding part of this post’s title,

The more things change,_______________.”


Are You Living in Reality or Merely Tolerating it?

In the latest issue (v. 26, #4) of the Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education (JDLTE), this article title caught my eye: One-to-One Computing in Teacher Education: Faculty Concerns and Implications for Teacher Educators. The abstract reads, “This study examines initial faculty concerns during implementation of a one-to-one laptop teacher education pilot program” in hopes of “uncovering any hidden issues that might deter faculty from embracing the innovation.”

However, from the very beginning, it seems to me that the rationale is flawed. The introduction reads, “…with the influx of one-to-one laptop programs and the use of mobile laptop carts in K-12 schools and classrooms, there is an increasing need to better prepare teacher candidates for teaching in these technology-rich environments.”

I fully support the notion of preparing teachers to be competent and knowledgeable users of instructional technologies, but to me, that goal is secondary to helping shape teachers who are passionate learners – people who learn through creating, exploring,  discussing, sharing, thinking, collaborating, connecting… who are curious and who are able to solve their own problems and pursue theoretical ideas because they are are relevant, important, and personally meaningful. It is on top of this context that educational technologies make sense. Too often, higher education experiences are not of this type.

Credit: DavidDMuir

Credit: DavidDMuir

The long hours of sitting through thousands of PowerPoint slides (and yes, transparencies) that repeat the thousands of pages of textbook reading that students may or may not have read, uploading documents to Blackboard, the practicum experiences that seem so far removed from these classroom lecture experiences, the isolation that students so often feel when in those practicum experiences, …

Today as I write this post and watch the ISTE 2010 Panel, Shawn Koh, a student from Singapore, said technology is just an enabler. He also states that he wished he would have learned how to learn. He wanted to learn things that were relevant and current and understand how to harness new tools and connections for doing so (beyond the standard Wikipedia). I think that is distinctly different from learning how to succeed at/in school.

A recent report suggests that “newer teachers aren’t any more likely to use technology in their lessons than veteran teachers, and a lack of access to technology does not appear to be the main reason why teachers do not use it.” Don Knezek suggests that there could be two reasons for this: Either they are coming out of teacher preparation programs unprepared to integrate technology effectively, or they’re entering a school environment where they’re not encouraged to do so.

Many teacher education programs have added a single education technology course to better prepare their students, as this article notes. Often, this course is an introduction to various technologies and how to use them and is far removed from issues of teaching/learning. Students learn how to use a variety of tools but often never experience the pleasures and engagement that results from applying those tools for their own learning purposes – whether simply personal or professional. In the end, at best we have been creating new teachers who know how to use new tools to engage in traditional forms of learning (ie. use an interactive whiteboard to deliver a lecture). In programs where efforts have been made to integrate technology across methods courses rather than a stand-alone technology course, results can be quite varied, as many faculty have little experience learning with current technologies and even less experience in using these technologies for teaching in their content areas.

When the focus remains on “integrating technology”, one’s practice or pedagogy is rarely challenged (see prior post), yet this article states that “we must also consider that along with new technologies often comes new pedagogy”. This “new pedagogy” that is referred to is actually quite old pedagogy stemming from the progressives and constructivists of the likes of John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, and others.

Credit: luc legay

Credit: luc legay

So, the assumption that “teacher candidates often teach the way they were taught, the use of laptop computers in teacher education programs allows for teacher candidates to more fully experience technology integration that can be naturally transferred to inservice teaching” is built upon the notion of fitting powerful new technologies into preexisting frameworks.

This study examines the concerns of faculty and staff as they implement a 1:1 laptop initiative with a cohort of 29 teacher education students. The problem as I see it that many of the instructional faculty do not use technology to a high degree to enhance and further their own learning, so they struggled with was to “integrate” them into traditional higher education contexts with their own students. One should not be surprised by this, and the authors of this study state that this “led to the conclusion that both tenured and non-tenured faculty concerns were dependent on their comfort with technology personally and in teacher education”.

As we talk about 21st century skills or learning dispositions or new literacies, what role are these laptops playing in the nurturing of these skills? If our teacher education students are not experiencing these things every day in all of their coursework, how will they be competent in providing the same for their own students? Sure, they may be skilled at operating their laptops and using software, but is that enough?

This study describes some of the faculty participants as not tech savvy and one not even comfortable with e-mail communication. How is it possible for such learning mentors to provide the types of new learning contexts and experiences that our students so desperately need?

Thankfully, this study finds that it is imperative “to provide opportunities for faculty to discuss the technology innovation to deal with any misconceptions” they might have and identify those who “are not ready to be part of the technology innovation”. But I fear that they are still examining the technology and not the learning climate and pedagogy. Is technology infusion even an innovation at all when divorced from systems/learning innovation?

Education at all levels has historically been consumed with students primarily as consumers of knowledge and teachers as authoritative providers of that knowledge. 1:1 initiatives can either play into that model or support a different approach to knowledge and model of learning. The higher education classroom is no different. A radical transformation is required at all levels. If we are simply “teaching technology” because kids are using it and schools want teachers who know how to use it, we are sorely missing the mark. If we want new teachers who are competent and able to provide learning opportunities that are powerful, relevant and supported by amazing new tools and possibilities, then they need to be immersed in this as part of their own preparation.

In his blog post titled “Dear Students: Don’t Let College Unplug Your Future“, Gideon Burton writes,

It’s [computer infrastructure] not there to bring the pursuit of knowledge (teaching) onto the same plane as The Pursuit of Knowledge (big people research). No, your college wants to dazzle you with spiffy computer labs and brag it up that the Internet is piped into the dorm rooms, but the whole structure of college works against the best educational uses of the web no matter how wired the buildings are. So much oversight and review has been worked into the hierarchy and politics of higher education that it has made itself incapable of valuing or accommodating the very media and methods that could accelerate your learning.”

The previously mentioned study concludes with this statement:

…most teachers do not believe their pre-service education programs prepared them well to integrate technology into their classrooms or teach 21st-century skills.”

So, what is the technology enabling for our new teachers? Something new, meaningful, exciting, empowering, powerful, and passion-based, the traditional delivery of knowledge, or… nothing it all? There is much work to be done.