Week 5-Acceptable/Responsible Use Policies & Digital Citizenship

Our readings this week focused was on Digital citizenship, access, and policy.  A shift, but one that turned out to be fruitful in terms of getting me to think about more nuts and bolts of ICT implementation, teaching and coaching.

Digital Equity and  Access

The more I read and the more I experience as a student in this grad program, the more I believe the path to better access for students runs through teachers having direct ICT learning experiences themselves.  District and school policies, administrator attitudes and priorities, and parent fears and misconceptions all hold their various concerns and possible obstacles.  However, the critical juncture ultimately is the teacher who either understands the need for students to have connected learning experiences or does not.  For those that do understand, they do all they can to provide those experiences.  Continued support and professional learning about  is, of course, vital, given the dynamic and ever-changing nature of the internet.  However, for those “reluctant” or “traditional” teachers, their understanding needs to be developed.  With new knowledge and continued support ought to come a change in instructional behaviors.  Most teachers want to do good by their students.  But they also feel the need to be experts in their classrooms.  So if we provide teachers with their own professional learning experiences that ask them to practice the 4 C’s as learners, they will likely recognize the power of such learning experiences and want to provide the same for their students.  In so doing, students have increased, and hopefully better, access.

Digital citizenship and acceptable/responsible use policies our school

It was 2009 when last I had my own classroom.  Looking back to that time is instructive given how much has changed in the ensuing 8 years.  Our use policy was an AUP since the notion of an RUP didn’t exist yet.  Or if it did, no one at our school was privvy to the concept.  Students and parents had to sign a form acknowledging that they read, understood and would abide by its terms as well as any consequences for their breach.  Additionally, students had to pass a mandatory multiple choice quiz about the AUP’s content with a grade of 80% or better in order to gain access to the school network.  (They could take it as many times as they needed to attain the minimum score.)  But as Rethinking Acceptable Use Policies to Enable Digital Learning describes it, “[r]equiring students to sign a document indicating they will comply with the district policies may or may not mean that they understand and accept the commitment they are making.  A ‘sign off’ could be as casual and thoughtless as the way people sometimes place a check in the accept box on applications or software ‘terms and conditions.'”  The quiz was meant for students to do more than merely sign off; but looking back, I don’t think it was significantly more than that.  While the large majority of students passed the quiz on the first try, I would surmise that most of them were going for short-term cramming more than long-term understanding.  Designing an RUP and the on-boarding process around it today, I would definitely include student voice in its development and some kind of course work to deepen their understanding by applying it in real contexts.

Approaching digital citizenship in your class

Again, going back to 2009, I can see that I definitely focused on what students should not do with technology.  That included everything from using the CD drives to play advisory-labeled music, to looking at web sites they shouldn’t be on, to playing games or designing gym shoes instead of doing assignments.  (Looking back now, I should have leveraged the creative aspects of those last two examples. But what did I know?)   To be fair, though, I was also giving assignments that usually hovered around the substitution level of SAMR and occasionally at the augmentation level.  So it’s not likely they saw why doing the work on a computer necessarily mattered to their learning.  In other words, their behaviors were, in part, a sign of boredom or low relevance.  At the time, we used eChalk, which was as close to an LMS as we got in 2009.  Every student account included an email address.  So the kinds of citizenship behaviors students demonstrated on a computer were a bit more limited.  However, cell phones were another matter.  None of my students could afford smartphones, so the most distracting thing they could do with their phones during school was text friends and family.  And text they did. Sexting became an issue.  At times, fights both in and out of school, would erupt as a result of texting drama.  In one instance, we even had parents drawn into texting drama between their children come to the school midday prepared to fight each other.  Unfortunately, our reactions in the face of these events were all punitive and centered around confiscating cell phones if they were visible during the school day and then requiring parents to come to the school to pick them up.  Repeat “offenders” would get detention.

Needless to say, my approach would be very different today given all the creative, collaborative ways to use phones now.  I would certainly identify the ways students need to protect themselves if they find they are in an uncomfortable situation online.  But I would focus much more on how to support each other, protect each other, and inform adults when they are in those moments.  That’s the doing part instead of the don’t do.  It’s no different than teaching kids not to get into a stranger’s car and what to do if they’re approached by someone they don’t know.  I would also spend the vast majority of time and energy focusing on all the amazing 4-C’s ways of doing, creating with these devices.  A quote by Bryan Alexander has become a favorite of mine and it undergirds my thinking now.  “We hit on the web as a major feature of literacy and learning.  And that’s a good thing.  We didn’t identify a horrible monster.  We identified a really powerful platform for human expression and connection, with flaws, with problems.  But that’s a major stride forward for the human race.”

See also: TIE 524 Week 6: Critical Thinking & Information Literacy

Thus, to my way of thinking, we need to mediate the flaws, yes.  But we cannot let the flaws completely define how we use the web such that they impede our using it for all the great things we can do online.

Resources, tips and ideas from the week’s readings 
 This text was very useful in helping me reframe my thinking, shifting from AUP’s to RUP’s in the Web 2.0 era.  It informs much of my discussion content today.
This is a great framing question and my answer would be “No”.  The model described here where teachers have to engage in the work of citizenship themselves, not just have the work described to them by an expert lecturer is the one that, as I said above, is the path to better ICT access and 21C learning.  (And I feel sorry for the one teacher, whose last name is Snowden.  That can’t be easy right now, especially working in the [ed] tech field!)

What I liked most about this blog was not only examining ones digital footprint and how to create a positive one, but I particularly like the idea of improving one’s digital footprint. When it comes to thinking about our digital footprint, we more often focus on the tattoo aspect in that once you put something into the digital world it’s out there permanently since we can’t control what remains on, say, Google’s servers, or what other people might download and save from our posts. And that’s a lesson that any Internaut needs to understand at the deepest level. However, we can in fact scrub our identities on sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. by going through and deleting elements that might not fit with the online persona we wish to present once we have a better understanding of digital citizenship. This is definitely a surface scrub given that we will never know what is saved at deeper levels of cyberspace. However appearances matter.  At least anyone who would be looking to manipulate or make judgments about us based on our digital presence would have to work harder to find that ill-considered material as opposed to simply finding it right there on our public social media feeds.

 

Conclusion

This week’s readings definitely touched on some of the policy matters surrounding the use of ed tech.  Not our usual fare in class so far.  But that shift toward the practical and legal matters was an interesting shift to get us thinking about a different perspective in regard to this work.  It was also instructive for me to compare where we were 8 years ago and how the times and tech require a rethinking about the policies we put in place and how to roll those out to teachers, parents, and of course, our students.

 

 

Week 3-Learning Management Systems and “Edupreneurship”

Processing Questions from Lucy Gray Following EdSurge & Otus Presentations

1) What do you think of EdSurge?
Image: Lucy Gray

Beyond randomly finding an article or blog post with an EdSurge URL, I’m not that familiar with the site.  Since Mary Jo Madda’s webinar appearance I’ve spent some time browsing the site.  In general, I’d say it looks like a useful clearinghouse of information.  Their Product Index is an elegantly organized resource and provides a succinct breakdown of each product.  Actual user reviews make this particularly useful through both the Case Studies and Summit Reviews.  Providing teacher voice as a professional word of mouth — an educational Yelp, if you will — takes some of the  uncertainty out of purchasing or usage decisions  for unknown, untried products.  The one area that I’m skeptical about and will need to spend more time on is the Research section.  When Pearson and AT&T Aspire logos are so prominently displayed as funders, red flags go up and the page feels rather advertorial.  Still the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation are funders as well, if one reads the mouse print.

2) Did you learn about any new tools from Mary Jo? If so, which ones?

Most of Mary Jo’s talk seemed more general and was a confirmation or reiteration of much of the research I’ve read thus far in my studies at NLU.  Mainly that in many cases, technology isn’t changing the look and feel of classrooms.  As she put it, students are still sitting at desks in forward-facing rows looking at a teacher, work is not student centered, and tech is “sprinkled” into instruction as an add-on.  She added what the research bears out, namely that this is the case with even many tech savvy teachers.  That said, she did mention a few resource I would like to explore: Global Nomads, Everfy, Remind, and particularly the 50 States Project.

3) Any other takeaways from Mary Jo’s portion of the webinar?

The two takeaways, again, weren’t anything new, but confirmation, which is always affirming.  The first of these was her articulation of the three requirements schools must meet to qualify for particular grant funding:  Total and functioning wifi infrastructure, a 5-year plan to continue funding once the grant is depleted, and a 5-year professional learning plan.  The other was her description of how schools in Houston take on new tech initiatives.  They roll it out.  This is something I am constantly wrestling with teachers about.  When we start something new, we cannot start out at 100%.  And to expect that starting at 100% is not only unreasonable, but borderline abusive.  We have to ramp up and build capacity over time when trying new things.  So when implementing a new program or piece of software, begin with a small cohort of schools (or departments or teachers) to establish a learning curve.  This is just, well, reasonable.  As is:

  1. Letting the small cohort determine or at least negotiate what is a manageable set of standards for minimum use
  2. Determine a period of time for safe practice
  3. Assess how the work is progressing
  4. Identify and acknowledge early power users that play beyond that identified minimum use
  5. Make tweaks to refine the work for continued success within the context of the particular classroom/school/district
  6. Repeat the cycle with the refinements.  
  7. Then allow the learning from that process to be leveraged by the next cohort through some kind of mentorship or guided practice from more knowledgable others who learned it first.  

(That last one sounds downright Vygotsky-and-ZPD-esque.)  

Both these takeaways are just basic and essential sustainability practices.

4) What do you think of Chris Hull’s “teachpreneur” story?
Image: Lucy Gray

I have to acknowledge a bias at this point.  The advent of the digital age and the democratization of and explosion of creativity it has facilitated all through society is an incredibly good thing.  However, I am turned off by two notions that seem to have sprung up along with this creativity, particularly in our consumerist-capitalist society.  The first is that this explosion of creativity should be monetized where it can be.  The second is that once we have discovered our creative idea, we must leverage it to become entrepreneurs, essentially leaving behind the work we were doing that led to the creative discovery in the first place.  And we should not just be entrepreneurs; but entrepreneurial “disrupters” of the status quo.  Inasmuch as this pertains to education, ours is a profession that has been beset by snake oil salespeople for decades.  So my bias is that I am highly skeptical of yet another way to sell educators on new, tech-based products, most of which are usually marketed as “the last xyz product or platform you will ever need because it does everything educators need to do in one convenient package.”  To paraphrase Chris, I am wary of the “shiny-shiny” effect of new educational technology.

That said, Chris stands out as the rarer example in that he has, so far, stayed in the classroom even as he’s entreprenant.  This gives him a bit more credibility.  His product grows out of his experiences as a working teacher and is not some corporate or academic software designer making products he thinks teachers and students need.

I do wish the webinar had been more academic and less product demo.  I would have liked to explore pertinent ideas about teaching in the digital age. Perhaps wrestling with big questions like “Why are LMS’s necessary for teaching and learning in digital age classrooms?” or “What kinds of functions and information are most important when using an LMS?” and “How can that provided information be used to improve teaching and learning?”

5) Have you ever come up with an idea related to ed tech that you might like to develop?

No. I tend to work better along the lines of finding ways to extend the use of tools others have developed beyond their intended use or to use them in innovative ways.  It’s taken 7 years of independent consulting, but I’ve learned that I am not entrepreneurial or a “teacherpreneur”.  While there are elements of being my own boss I’ve enjoyed, I’ve found I work much better as part of a single school community, with all members working towards the same mission.  I don’t think I would want to “dilute” that work.  And as I stated above, I resist this whole notion of everyone having to be an entrepreneur.  I do not like how that moniker and type of activity have been elevated as some kind of ideal we all should be shooting for no matter our profession.  It feels as if you’re not really contributing if you’re not “disrupting” or being “entrepreneurial” and making money from it.  We still need individuals who are dedicated and focused on the science and craft of education (or insert-profession-here since entrepreneurship is now applicable to any profession).

6) Check out Otus. What do you like or not like about this platform?

Otus looks to be another tool that efficiently and effectively allows teachers to see all kinds of data about their students.  It also seems to allow for quick differentiation (once lessons and assessments are created/input) in terms of what lessons and assessments are assigned to what students.  Teachers can then spend more time talking, analyzing, evaluating, and thus making decisions about next steps regarding their own performance as well as their students’.  They don’t have to spend all their time searching for data and aggregating it.

While this kind of data can be useful, it is only one kind of evidence about how well teachers are teaching and how well students are learning.  It is only one type of snapshot in an album of evidence that tells the story of student learning and growth over time.  I would like to see the tool also store and pull up actual student artifacts as easily as it does data points.  Looking at student work — not just final grades or completed assessments — and having discussions about what that work reveals about teaching and learning provides far more detailed insights into student understanding, misunderstanding and confusion than looking at scores alone.  Scores show trends.  Work products show details and nuance about the state of student growth.  Being able to quickly select and aggregate said products as easily as scores and statistics would make this platform truly unique.

Since research bears out that what teachers use technology for most is communication, student management, and administrative work, I’m wondering how disruptive Otus really is.  Perhaps if there were more functions that facilitated teachers’ use of ICT instructional tools?  (And perhaps there are, I don’t know as I’ve only just learned about Otus two days ago.)  But then again, if you try to make any one tool all things to all people, it winds up doing nothing very well.  Perhaps it is sufficient that it appears simply to be a quality tool for teachers to do what they usually do with technology.

Week 10-Frameworks for Evaluating Technology

When SAMR first crossed my path last term, it seemed an elegant way to evaluate the role of a particular technology for whether it was innovating the learning process or just being sexy.  Among many of the teachers I encounter, technology is, as Liz Kolb noted, a gimmick.  Students with iPads are being tricked into thinking they are learning while the teachers who deploy them feel cutting edge.  (Though, the kids are not being tricked.  If I had a dollar for every time I asked a student about what they were doing with a device and was met with a lethargic explanation through a smirk and some eye rolling.  Yeah, they know!)

My SAMR Experiences

SAMR has been useful in my coaching in two ways.  I look for opportunities to stretch my coachees into at least augmentation or modification.  For instance, I recently set up a discussion board in Google Groups for an ILT I work with to extend faculty conversations around learning walks beyond teachers’ physical time together.  Granted, it’s not a lot compared to what we’ve been using in our NLU course work.  But even for my teachers who want to embrace technology, it’s an ah-ha since they don’t venture too far down the GAFE paths they have available to them.  They are easily overwhelmed and quickly become anxious when asked to use features outside their workflow in programs they use everyday.  In general, they struggle with their own ability to transfer skills from a known program to a new one.

In another school I’m helping the faculty map their curriculum using Google Docs to collaboratively write their maps, collect resources, and view each other’s maps.  This is the first that they have effectively been able to visualize the curriculum as a whole.  However, teachers have struggled to find enough time to meet to work collaboratively on course team maps.  CPS’s turning PD days into furlough days has only exacerbated the issue.  While many see the value of the project, they are tired of fighting to carve out tiny parcels of time to meet and do the work.  So just last week I proposed they stop trying to meet face-to-face as it was less necessary than they thought given the powerful collaboration tools that already exist in Google Docs if only they would use them.

Part of a concept map to show teachers how to use Google Docs more remotely and collaboratively; Image Source: D. van Dyke
An enthusiastic teacher’s Google Groups discussion thread; Image source: D. van Dyke

 

In my instructional work I’ve brought SAMR to planning meetings and coached teachers through using the framework to analyze and evaluate their current technology.  Many are surprised to see that they’re operating mostly at the substitution level with occasional dips into augmentation.   We all get excited when the conversation then turns creative and the teacher starts visualizing ways to redesign a lesson such that those iPads or Chromebooks are being used for modification or redefinition.

Frameworks From Heaven

SAMR was an epiphany when I first encountered it.  But having these other analytical and evaluative tools for ICT integration feels like revelation.

TPACK, 3E, TIM are all new to me and I can see each having its place.  3E and SAMR seem more entry-level frameworks for teachers just starting to wrestle with ICT integration.  They are relatively simple and straightforward.  Given their complexity, however, TPACK and TIM seem to be for more sophisticated evaluation of technology deployment.  The pedagogue in me appreciates how TPACK operates from the interplay among multiple domains and context.  TPACK acknowledges the complexity and locality of teaching and learning and demands that the teacher does as well.

Different visualizations of the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition

TIM reminded me less of a rubric than of a continuum of skill development like something along the lines of a practitioner model of professional growth such as the Dreyfus model.  Such models allow practitioners to position themselves on the continuum with the skill sets they currently possess.  This creates an evaluative environment, but with less judgment and critique since the model honors practitioners at their current level of experience.  It also suggests that their place in the model is dynamic.  The longer they practice the more skills or “tools” they acquire.   As they grow in experience they travel along the continuum.  Such implicit messaging can be powerful for teachers working to improve their practice.  There is an implied level of safety which is an important motivator for growth.

Kids are savvy enough to know when an iPad or laptop activity is engaging them cognitively or when it is just a glorified textbook.  We’re not pulling anything over on them by simply putting a device in their hands.  These frameworks are great tools to level up our “teaching with tech” game.  They not only foster teacher reflection about how effectively they teach with technology, but having multiple frameworks allows us to differentiate for the sophistication of the teacher using them.

For Further Reading
The Five-Stage Model of Adult Skill Acquisition - Stuart Dreyfus

 

Week 7-Gamification

When it comes to game theory, I have had only a passing, skeptical interested.  But my recent studies have started me thinking about gamification from a different perspective.  So that is my selected adventure this week.

The quick Answer to One Framing Question

The week’s framing questions for the topic were provocative.  Do I think we need to gamify our classrooms to engage students?  This one I can answer quickly.  No.  There are many ways for creative teachers to draw students into learning without having to sexy it up with a video game interface.   That “no” is even firmer if it means that gaming is the only way we conduct instruction since no teacher can be successful with only one method or strategy in their toolbox.

Do I think gamificaion is bribery and the way students learn in the 21st century?  As a result of my course work last term and my readings and explorations this week, those answers are now more complex.  As I said, the idea of gamification has been, at best, at the edges of my professional interests.  When thinking about my own gaming experiences my gut tells me there is something there that I “get” as it applies to learning and I have trusted that academics have teased out all the theory for those teachers who want to traverse that route in their classrooms.   But this grown up, serious teacher never pursued deep research into game theory because I was fine with my practice as it was, thank you very much!  But last term was a watershed for me when it comes to thinking about the conditions that provide powerful learning experiences.  The course of study Dr. Angela Elkordy put together for Intro to the Learning Sciences required us to think deeply about our own learning in every conceivable context (documentation of which is posted on this blog under the NLU Class Journal Entries tab above).  Examining my own informal, collaborative, digital, self-directed, just-in-time, playful learning experiences caused me to realize the potency of learning in these other-than-formal contexts.  Those reflections have led me to re-evaluate some core beliefs about teaching and learning — for both students in the classroom and teachers in professional learning.  That re-evaluation has ramifications for my thinking about game theory.

Constructivism and Game Theory
My niece learning to code on her mom’s phone by playing Lightbot (and then teaching me!) Source: D. van Dyke

I’ve always believed that teachers needed to be more facilitators of exploration than dispensers of information.  I am a constructivist.  So my instruction — be it with children or adults — is designed accordingly.  My lessons are always written for the specific learning needs of the students in front of me.  Pacing is a dance with students’ zones of proximal development.  Formative assessment is central for two-way feedback, metacognition, and reflection for both students and myself that then determine my next planning steps.  With the growth of digital technology and mobile tech particularly, it makes sense to leverage these to push the boundaries of constructivism even farther.  Additionally, I see clear connections now between constructivist methods and the way games work for those who play them.

Any-time, just-in-time, exploratory learning all cement learning in long-term memory.   As a result of Dr. Elkordy’s strategies with us, I experienced first hand how learning new content through learning a new app permanently inks that neural tattoo on the brain.  Almost weekly I learned a new app of my choosing by exploring it, playing in it, and not from a formal training course or a user’s manual.  Then I applied my understanding of the app to demonstrate my understanding of the course content.  All of this was done informally, in my time, with just enough difficulty to challenge me.   Except now I don’t only understand the content.  By learning content through the use of a digital tool, I now understand so much more than just the content itself.  Not the least of which is that the learning I structure myself is highly enjoyable and more often than not elicits flow and the consolidation of understanding in long-term memory.  These are the learning conditions I want to create for my students and teachers.

A More Complicated Answer to the Other Framing Questions

As to the questions of gamifying education as bribery and being particularly suited to 21st century learners, I believe it is neither.  The way humans learn best is the way humans learn best whether they are of the 11th century or 21st century.  What is different about the 21st century is our knowledge of how the brain functions; the advent of technologies that allow us to align our pedagogy to our neurology, psychology, sociology; and the economic imperative that we change the way we do school.  In as much as game theory and educational psychology share underlying elements, I can accept gamification as a methodology.  Though does it always need to be so literal as turning the learning process into an actual game?  Especially since doing so requires an incredible investment of time and effort to convert a unit of study into a game that will create the conditions necessary for deep understanding to occur.  So I have generated a few key questions that could help guide decision-making when thoughts turn to gamification:

  • What are the concepts from game theory that are applicable to a given unit of instruction?  A given set of students?  Under what circumstances might it be useful to apply those concepts to improve teaching and learning?
  • When teachers decide to convert a unit into an actual game, what online platforms are available to facilitate the implementation and that can quickly and easily provide insights (evidence and data) about student learning?
  • When teachers want or have to make the game themselves, how can they create elegant games that don’t require disproportionate amounts of time to construct and relatively easily provide insights (evidence and data) about student learning?
How can we make certain gamifying efforts result in students learning the intended content and not just playing the game?
Video: Heck Awesome blog, Carrie Baughcum

Still, informal learning, unstructured learning, choice, and play are powerful contexts in which deep understanding can occur.  These modes are, as Willis calls them, “neuro-logical”.  It makes sense to create them when possible since they activate optimal learning pathways in the brain and foster new, strong synaptic connections.  Well-designed games create these conditions and leverage the same brain processes for learning.  Thus, including high-quality game-based instruction could be a powerful method for teaching and learning.

Gamifying Professional Learning

What was already a paucity of professional learning time in CPS has been completely eliminated this year as a partial “solution” to the budget travesty being visited upon CPS teachers and students.  As a result, I have started leveraging ICT options that are included with GAFE to continue our professional learning despite losing our PD calendar.  Via Groups and Sites, we continue the work asynchronously by holding discussions of professional readings, presenting aggregated learning walk evidence and sharing thoughts and insights about them.  We have already moved quite a bit of planning to remote, synchronous spacetime via Hangouts and Drive.  So the idea of gamifying professional learning is just an extension of this.  Taking PD into the realm of gaming would have the combined benefits of making PD more relevant by providing teachers with differentiation, choice, and timing.  I have also started researching adding digital badges to the work which I find terribly exciting!  On my goal list for next year:  implementing a badged, gamified professional learning series for the schools with which I work.

Digital badges for both student and teachers.  Video: HASTAC

Below are three game-based PD ideas I’m totally stealing from our readings this week:

Fired Up For February — Gamifying professional learning; Source: Unified School District of De Pere, WI

 

A Language Geek’s Rhetorical Finish

Even as I find myself being convinced of the benefits of game theory as instructional practice, there is still something that doesn’t sitting well when I hear phrases like “gamifying the classroom”.  If you’ll indulge the English teacher unpacking language here.  A game is a diversion or something trivial.  Something that can be taken less seriously.  Even in the multi-billion dollar world of professional sports, the expression, “It’s only a game.” is used to readjust perspectives when emotions are high.  Yet the very project at hand for education is de-trivializing digital instruction among reluctant educators.  So while I can see the underlying value and power of this way of “doing” teaching and learning, I wonder if framing it as “gamification” works against us.  I don’t have an answer as yet for what to call such a complex process.  Maybe a few rounds of Words With Friends will do the trick!

Week 5: Collaboration and Ed Tech Research 

jp-DIVIDE-2-jumbo
I have held this image of Alejandro Zamora in my mind’s eye since reading this NY Times article in 2012. Credit Drew Kelly for The New York Times

Five years ago, I read an article in The New York Times, “Wasting Time is New Divide in Digital Era”.  It had such an impact on me professionally that I refer to it even today.  The more I reflect on it, the more I believe it was one of the catalysts that ultimately put me on the path to this master’s program.  It raised an important issue five years ago.  But reading it today it seems a bit of a broad brush.  The research paints a more detailed, nuanced picture of teens’ online activities.  Still, the article surfaces yet one more inequity faced by students from low-income communities and those of us who serve them.  It draws attention to two concerns I have as an educator:  How our most vulnerable students make use of information and communication technology (ICT) and the discrepancy between how many educators use ICT in their professional practice compared to their personal lives and how the latter impacts the former.  It is these interests that influenced my reading choices this week.

…And what a selection of readings they were.  The sources Nicole pointed us to are such an embarrassment of riches, I wish we had longer to pour over the research before having to blog about them.  Needless to say, this week has been a bookmarks a-go-go.  Eventually, though, I narrowed down my choices to:

The elements that stand out to me are the extent to which the dynamics described in the Times article still hold true today, five years on.  The other is the extent to which the differences persist between how teachers use ICT in their personal lives and in their classrooms.

One of the benefits of consulting is that I’ve experienced more ways of “doing school” than I ever could have imagined I would in my career.  And much of what these reports describe hew to what I have experienced first hand.  That is, not surprisingly, “[t]eachers of the lowest income students experience the impact of digital tools in the learning environment differently than teachers whose students are from more affluent households” (“How Teachers Are Using Technology…”).  Specifically, this means “low income students…[are] ‘behind the curve’ when it comes to effectively using digital tools in the learning process…, teachers of students living in low income households say their school’s use of internet filters has a major impact on their teaching…and…, teachers of lower income students say their school’s rules about classroom cell phone use by students have a major impact on their teaching” (“How Teachers Are Using Technology…”).  Meanwhile, teachers of students who come from higher socio-economic households do not face the same obstacles to teaching and learning.  In fact, respondents to the the “How Teachers Are Using Technology…” survey report they are likely to face the same conditions stated above only half as often as their counterparts in low-income districts.

What I find so frustrating here is what the conditions described in the survey indicate about adult mindsets and the policies that result from those mindsets.  Both mindsets and policies are grounded in negative assumptions about low-income students and positive assumptions about affluent students.  Namely, that poor (read also black and brown) students don’t know how to use their devices and online services responsibly; therefore they’re not allowed in class and access to the internet must be heavily firewalled.  For children of affluent schools, the converse is assumed.  They can be trusted to use their devices properly and not surf verboten sites, thus they are granted access.  The result is a self-perpetuating cycle that reinforces these inequities when it comes to digital learning.

The Common Sense report, “Connection and Control…”, debunks these negative assumptions about poor black and brown kids.  It is based on 11 case studies of African-American and Latino teens and their parents from households qualifying for free and reduced lunch.  The study complicates the often monolithic block into which all American “youth” are often lumped.  The authors note that mediating factors such as time spent with media, socio-economic differences, the types of devices and media available to low-income youth all influence how they use devices and media and thus the type of user a young person is.  Categories of users include “Light Users”, “Heavy Viewers”, “Gamers and Computer Users”, “Video Gamers only”, “Readers”, and “Social Networkers”.    The authors also nuance the often-cited nine hours average amount of screen time US teens accrue, noting differences by age, income, and race.  According to the study, “Tweens (8- to 12-year-olds) use an average of about six hours’ (5:55) worth of entertainment media daily. Teens from lower-income families spend more time with media than those from higher-income families (10:35 vs. 7:50 of total media use). African-American teens use an average of 11:10 worth of media a day compared with 8:51 among Latinos and 8:27 among whites.”

While the report provides a detailed analysis which offers useful insights into the different ways low-income teens and their families interact with their devices, media, and each other, one set of dynamics is particularly striking.  First, low-income youth, with more access to mobile devices than desk- or laptops, use their devices for what I will call positive “coping” or “survival” applications.  Children who live in high crime neighborhoods use social media to break the isolation imposed by their circumstances to maintain connections with family and friends who live at a distance from them.  They will also use their devices to create distance in close living quarters and when going outside is precluded by neighborhood violence.  As one student articulated a common finding, “[Using media is] fun and it’s definitely a way to keep calm and peaceful [emphasis added] when you don’t feel like doing anything else.”

When it comes to informal learning, teens use their devices and apps as problem-solving tools. In fact, problem-solving is a kind of use we would expect from a sophisticated, tech-literate, 21st century user.  For instance, students with long commutes to school will use transit apps to shorten their travel times.  Others will use YouTube as a sort of tutorial service for just-in-time learning according to their interests — personal grooming, learning new dance moves, and gaming hacks, to name a few.  And among Social Media users, platforms such as Instagram and SnapChat become spaces to try out new personas — a normal stage of development for tweens and teens (“Connection and Control…”).  This contradicts rather poignantly the characterization in the Times article of online behaviors as “time wasting” among low-income teens.

However, the second dynamic I was struck by is a significant difference between low-income teens and their middle- to upper-middle-class peers.  Low income students rarely use their devices to create digital content.  “On any given day, American teens spend 3% of their time on computers, tablets, and smartphones creating content” which the “Connection and Control…” report defines as “writing or creating digital art or music”.  However, low-income teens spend the majority of their time consuming media and online services compared to their wealthier peers.  And whereas middle- and upper-middle-class teens have resources to create digital content at home, when their low-income peers do have the opportunity, it is usually available at school or an after-school program where the devices and applications are accessible to them.

The study notes one exception, which I interpret as a function (and limitation) of the devices low-income students have the most access too.  Low-income teens do “show evidence of creative practices in the digital world, taking photos and altering them with different filters and stickers before putting them on Instagram or pulling images from the internet, often manipulating them, to create their lock and home screens” (“Connection and Control…”).  Here I feel I need to acknowledge a personal bias:  I generally find “mashup art” just shy of plagiarism.  Admittedly, my views on mashups are evolving as I come across more complex examples and recognize it as a kind of expression digital technology makes particularly easy to create and the internet makes very easy to distribute.  Still, I find it a low bar creatively.  Nevertheless, it’s clear that the ability to create content is strongly influenced by access to the tools of creation.  Household income and school budgets are key determiners of such access.

Given the length of this post so far covering only one of my two stated areas of interest, I’ve decided to spare readers some time.  I’ve created a short video compressing a few of my take-aways on teachers’ personal and professional use of ICT.  Enjoy!