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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

A response to "Teachers and Technology: Beliefs and Practices" (2002)

A response to an article read for class. The prompt is in italics below...

Comment on the TEACHERS AND TECHNOLOGY... article.

Wagner's 10 Responses to TEACHERS AND TECHNOLOGY

1. "Does technology add value to the curriculum?" (p. 2)

Is this the right question to be asking? I suggest that it might be more important to ask whether a technology can aid in delivery (teaching and learning) of the curriculum or whether a technology can make t possible to deliver new curriculum? The trouble with the the initial question is that encourages people to judge the value of technology based on a curriculum that was generated in a time before that technology was available. It is time to start considering 21st Century Skills in addition (or in place of) traditional curriculum.

2. "Are games engaging, nonrepetitive, and challenging?" (p. 3)

In the wake of a year studying the potential of video games in education, I find this question to be an insightful and mature inquiry into the value of a game. I suggest that this same question can be asked of any educational technology... and indeed any curriculum delivery method. For anyone interested in this topic, consider Marc Prensky's Digital Game-Based Learning (2001), James Gee's What Video Games have to Teach us About Learning and Literacy (2003), and Clark Aldrich's Simulations and the Future of Learning (2004). For anyone in the area, James Gee will be speaking at UC Irvine at 2pm on March 23rd. See also the Education Arcade for information on related projects... and note that their games in education conference is coming up prior to E3 in LA.



3. Sixty-one percent of teachers responded that they had not observed software that "helps" learning, and 67% reported that they did not use software that saves time in teaching and learning. (p. 8)

On the face of it this seems like a tragedy, and it forms the basis for the authors' later recommendations. Perhaps, though, this is another instance of asking the wrong question. I put "help" in quotes because I think this might be a very vague and misleading term. It is difficult to imagine software that can actively help students learn, though perhaps a good deal of software can provide an environment or tools that can facilitate learning. Also, perhaps the power of most software is not in being able to save time, but in being able to do things that we could not do before. I doubt that technology has saved me time in my educational career (on the whole - it certainly saves me time in some tasks), but it has certainly allowed me to do a great many things I could not have done previously.

4. A surprising 47% of respondents did not feel more confident in information found in books than in information found online. (p. 8)

The authors offer some possible interpretations, but they seem to not consider that perhaps this is simply because a great deal of very valuable information exists in some very reliable sources online.

5. "Clearly there is a need to either develop more high-quality educational software in all areas... and/or to provide opportunities for teachers to learn more about it." (p. 9)

I wonder why the authors (and others) seem to ignore the power of open ended software. David H. Jonassen offers some amazing uses of simple office software in his books Computers as Mindtools for Schools and Learning to Solve Problems with Technology. This is to say nothing of what teachers are doing with blogs and other read/write web applications in education. See Weblogg-ed for good discussion on this topic, and great links to actual teacher and student blogs.

6. Sixty-eight percent of respondents agreed that "Chatrooms can encourage isolated students to find like minded peer groups." (p. 9)

This may be the most encouraging response (and most progressive) question in the study, but the most tragic part of the paper was the comment that followed:

7. "... once regulated [chatrooms] could be an avenue of communication." (p. 10)

Wow. Clearly I need to arm myself with some research to combat this sort of thinking, but as this post is plenty lengthy, I'll move along. At any rate, the next bit is particularly uplifting...

8. One hundred percent of the respondents agreed that "Collaborative computer-based activities can create inviting educational contexts for students." (p. 10)

That's 100%! Wow. I am also sympathetic to the author's conclusion that "classroom context is a very important, if not crucial, determining factor for the positive incorporation of computer and technology-based activities." I would drop the word "classroom" in favor of the word "educational," though. "Classroom" is far to limiting in the age of distance education and student handhelds with probeware out getting students back in the field behind the school to do their science projects. :)

Conversely,

9. Sixty percent agreed that computers can isolate students! (p. 10)

I suppose I should not be so surprised by the dichotomy offered by these two responses. The value of computers (and any technology) lies in how it is used by people. Students can use computers to be social, or to be isolated. Students can use books, paper, and pencil in the same way. Consider passing notes in class, or doodling in the library during lunch.

10. "I still believe in books... and hope that they won't be phased out of the life of children's education." (p. 11)

I'm happy to report as a former English teacher that I hold no such sentimental values. I'm sure books will play a role where they are more valuable (for whatever reason) than other technologies, and the they will be replaced where appropriate. I have a sort of bias against paper, and have difficulty when teachers want to print everything out (especially email), but I am mildly sympathetic to the fact that there is a lack of software that facilitates easy electronic annotation of student's papers. Newer versions of MS Office can do this, but it is not yet quite as convenient as being able to circle, underline, and draw arrows. The tablet PC's journaling features come close to this, but these are far from ubiquitous.

That's ten. What a silly, arbitrary, and tiring number to impose on oneself. ;)

-Mark

Reference:

Iding, M., Crosby, M. E., Speitel, T. (2002). Teachers and technology: beliefs and practices. Int'l J of Instructional Media Vol. 29(2).

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