Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"They're playing Scrabble!"

"Can you please get the dictionary unblocked," our student assistant implores, waving his iPhone for emphasis.  "They're playing Scrabble online all over the school!"  Access to the the wireless networks, faster computers, and more liberal technology policies in general are his thing.  "I've already filled out the form to unblock Merriam-Webster online," I say, " last week, when I posted it as a source for 'Word of the Week.'  It has word games on the site, so it was blocked for that."  "I'm telling you, Scrabble is the new big thing.  People are arguing about it in class!"  "I believe you," I say. "That's great." He is still waving his iPhone.  "That's what students are doing with their wireless access.  Learning vocabulary.  Arguing about Scrabble!"
"I'm on your side," I say.

That was two years ago, when I was working part time in a high school library.  The school district had just installed wireless access in all the schools, and decided to allow high school students to have their phones with them to use between classes and and during free hours.  

The two most common issues discussed in schools seemed to me to be "why don't we have enough computers for everyone" and "how can we keep them off their cell phones?"  I see a relationship between the two problems, and a solution -- but the solution requires trust. 

Optical illusion
Trust, and education -- on ethical behavior, appropriate use of technology, and respect.  It also requires an even larger infrastructure and equipment expenditure, in wireless wiring and server capacity, and in portable devices for students who don't have their own.  It is not an inconsiderable expense.

There are risks, as well -- will students use technology to cheat?  Will there be an increase in cyber-bullying?   What will happen if the students know things that their teachers don't?

In this American Libraries article, "A Tale of Two Students," the authors assume that students in a technology rich environment have an advantage over students in a less technology laden environment. I agree with them.  I was concerned to see that the first two people who commented didn't agree, and even made fun of the authors' list of technology applications. 

Why?  Why does technology seem to inspire contempt or fear?  Is it just the exponential growth in technology, so that it is hard to keep up and hard to understand?  Have the dangers been exaggerated?

Spring Thaw, Peninsula State Park

When I first began teaching faculty about the Internet,  I used to say "It's a tool.  Like fire."  Yes, there are dangers, but, equally, there are amazing possibilities.  And it is possible to learn to use it safely. 

It is also now an integral part of our lives, especially our business lives.  It is not possible to conduct a job search without using technology, and there are few jobs without some computer applications.  Even the local coffee shop uses a computerized cash register, and  the newest restaurant in my small town presents your credit card bill on an iPAD and emails you the receipt. 

The research on both cyberbullying and cheating is new and incomplete.  A recent report says that cyberbullying may not be as widespread as previously reported "Researchers: Cyberbullying Not as Widespread, Common as Believed"  [Click on "the research" link in the article to read the original study].  In his review of the literature on cheating in an online environment, "A New Honesty for a New Game: Distinguishing Cheating from Learning in a Web-Based Testing Environment," the author suggests that we many have to look at how we assess learning and make changes based on the online environment, rather than trying to make the new environment conform to our ideas formed in a different environment.  [Turner, Charles C. "A New Honesty For A New Game: Distinguishing Cheating From Learning In A Web-Based Testing Environment." Journal Of Political Science Education 1.2 (2005): 163-174. Education Research Complete. Web. 15 Aug. 2012.]

I believe in teaching students to use technology effectively and ethically, and making it as available to them as possible.  The only thing we know for sure about the future of education is that we are living with rapid change, and that we have to somehow prepare students for a new and evolving world.  They need to know, not how to use a specific type of hardware or software, but how to approach learning and adapting to new technologies quickly.  They need to have basic knowledge of all the traditional subjects -- but they need to be able to find, evaluate, and apply new knowledge across disciplines.  A system firmly rooted in 19th Century models is not going to work, and the best teachers and administrators know that, and are working to find models of change that will work for our students.

A box of rocks invites creativity at Edgewood Galleries outdoor sculpture garden.

How can we create an environment and an infrastructure that provides the opportunity for education to all students?  How can we convince people that an educated workforce and voting public is important to everyone in our society -- even though there is a cost associated with high quality education? 

We have some ideas about where we need to go:    Education for Life and Work:  Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century.  We need a lot of innovative and risk-taking ideas about how to get there -- and we need to trust both our educators and our students. 

Shadows on the sand

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Fortune Cookie

Information is not knowledge.
Knowledge is not wisdom.
Wisdom is not truth.
Truth is not beauty.
Beauty is not love.
Love is not music.
Music is the best.
Frank Zappa