Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Empowering Students with Technology: Ch. 1

"Teaching and Learning the Structure of Information"

There is an Internet grammar that necessitates that students know what is the Internet's equivalent to, among other things, footnotes, indexes, and bibliographies.

One of the great frustrations I hear from colleagues with regard to researching on the internet is that students just grab whatever pops up in a search engine and view the information as reliable. November suggests teaching students how to break down the "meta-web information". Students need to be able to decipher web addresses, understanding not just the difference between .com and .net but also how the grammar of subdirectories works (ex. a path using /~name typically refers to a personal space on a server and not necessarily an "official" section of the sponsoring site).

Students should also be aware of the links both to and from a site/page they are using. Who the author links to is an indicator of issues of bias and authority, as are the links coming into the page from outside sites. How search engines decide which site is placed first in a list of results can also be directly tied to links to that site; students need to know the reasons behind the results they see.

What I am left wondering is how many of the teachers who are frustrated with their students use of the internet really know how to use the internet any better than their students. At least consciously. As educators, we have done our fair share of research, and we have gotten good at discriminating between the good and bad sources. But how good, as a group, is our knowledge of meta-web information. Can we begin the process of rejecting or reading further just based on the web address of the source at the top of the Google results?

So many of the issues November raises are circling back to the same underlying problem, there just aren't enough opportunities for teacher training. How fitting that a recurring theme of the M.Ed. classes is leadership. So there aren't enough training chances. Get the degree. Get the knowledge. Get teaching teachers.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Empowering Students with Technology: Introduction

Alan November's book is the assigned reading for my current Master's class, "Teaching and Learning with Multimedia". The introduction discusses Shoshana Zuboff's distinction between automating and informating as these terms apply to education (Zuboff was writing about business).

When an organization automates, the work remains the same, the locus of control remains the same, the time and place remains the same, and the relationships remain the same. The same processes solve the same problems.

So much of what we do with technology in education is automation. Whether with pencil or word processor, encyclopedia or internet, if the intent is for the student to write a paper and turn it in, the technology used is irrelevant. Nothing has fundamentally changed, and ultimately, the technology does little, if anything, to improve student learning--work gets done faster but quality does not improve.

What makes informating more powerful is a shift of control and empowerment. The organization fundamentally changes the flow and control of information. . . The same technology can be required for both informating and automating. What makes the difference is the flow and control of information and the change in the relationships. Automating reinforces the current relationship of control. Informating leads to empowerment.

How many teachers are fundamentally unprepared for, unwilling to engage in, or down-right afraid of this kind of shift? No matter how much discussion of teachers as facilitators occurs, the reality is that many, too many, teachers are still lecturing, still driving the bus down a well-paved, single lane road.

One of the fundamental issues raised in class tonight is that automating is easy. Districts throw technology into schools and expect teachers to do amazing things. But where is the leadership and support? Much of the training into 1) how to use the technology and 2) how to integrate the technology in transformative ways into the curriculum is completely missing. Moreover, what training is available is often surface level and voluntary. Despite the flood of equipment, teachers are not required to learn how to use it well, in ways that will truly shape student learning and extend that learning beyond the classroom. Never mind that, at least in the district I work for, the technology standards are cross-curricular. Every teacher is supposed to be helping students meet these standards, but there is no mandate that the teachers be able to meet the same standards. As a result of NCLB, my district is starting to take hesitant steps, but this current movement does little beyond getting teachers to know basic computer skills. There is no on-going, district-wide discussion of how to make a computer more than just "a $2000 pencil".

I am excited by the transformative power of technology, frustrated by the realities of making it happen, and encouraged to continue working on technology committees, taking classes, and challenging my students to be more than...