Navigating Teacher Beliefs, Connected Learning, and Practice-Based Inquiry for Equitable ICT Integration (Part 2)

IISC_EqualityEquity

Revised: 4/14/2019

This February, thanks to the support of Drs. Angela Elkordy and Ayn Keneman, classmates Tori Alland, Mia Gutsell, and I had the privilege to co-present at ICE 2018 — the Illinois Computing Educators conference. Our workshop was nearly two hours and entitled, “In Real Life: Designing Digital Learning Experiences”. In planning the workshop, we felt it was important that our session not present pie-in-the-sky ideals designed for no classroom that ever existed anywhere.  We also agreed that in 2018 “in real life” digital learning should be student-centered.  Thus, we developed a session that addressed school and classroom realities most teachers face day-to-day.  Tori’s presentation focused on the nuts and bolts of instituting Genius Hour as a means of recruiting students’ interests.  Mia modeled ways for students to demonstrate their learning through collaborative creation of digital media presentations using Google Slides.  My interpretation of “in real life” and student-centeredness focused on the importance of connected learning as a framework for infusing information and communication technologies (ICT) throughout the curriculum by refining extant unit and lesson plans.  In addition, we wanted attendees to recognize that Genius Hour and collaborative digital projects are examples of connected learning.  It was our intention, too, that attendees take the ideas we presented back to their schools and implement them with confidence knowing that they already had everything they needed to do so without having to reinvent the wheel.  In essence, the session was two parts practical application and one part theory. Or, two parts how and one part why.

Educators’ Experience

As attendees were participating in our warm-up and context-setting activity, one educator asked, “Is it your assumption that we know nothing about your topic?” In the moment, it was difficult not to be defensive. It felt like an immediate challenge to the legitimacy of our presentation. The irony was that we had been planning under a considerable assumption that at a conference for computing educators our audience would indeed be highly versed in Connected Learning concepts and deeply experienced in the collaborative, student-centered content we were presenting.  However, at a point in the planning, we realized we could not make such an assumption.  Thus, we built in ways to tailor our presentations for the audience in front of us.  This included a poll designed to assess attendees’ knowledge and experience level with Connected Learning, the results of which would determine which of three presentations I would use.

Despite the above attendee seeming to imply that the room was full of educators possessing considerable knowledge about our topic, it turned out not to be the case.   This was evident not only in the poll results, but in attendees’ intense focus, participation, and the nature of the questions they asked about Genius Hour, collaborative document editing, and incorporating Connected Learning elements into instructional plans.  Their desire to know more also showed when nearly all attendees stayed well past the official session end time to continue conversation and ask more clarifying and probing questions of we three presenters and our professors.

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Why It Matters

In a previous post, I wrote about ICT use and Connected Learning as an equity issue.  Teachers set curricular priorities and make instructional choices based more often on their belief systems than their knowledge systems. These priorities and choices are based, in turn, not on what they know, but on what they believe they know and are able to do. Their decisions are also based on their beliefs about what their students are capable of learning. (More in Navigating Teacher Beliefs, Connected Learning, and Practice-Based Inquiry for Equitable ICT Integration, Part 1.) Therefore, the kinds of learning students experience are not solely determined by what teachers know, but in part by what they believe they and their students are capable of when using ICT as methods for teaching and learning.

Consider the latest data available from the National Center for Education Statistics which shows that the access gap has narrowed nearly to the point of disappearing. However, where the gaps persist race, income, and education levels correlate. When looking at how teachers use ICT, all of the numbers are troubling given how few students use ICT for learning beyond basic skills and research — whether looking at urban or suburban contexts. However, more urban teachers report they “rarely” use ICT for learning tasks that involve tenets of Connected Learning such as corresponding with others for learning, blogging or using social media to engage with authentic audiences, or collaborating to create digital resources such as wikis than do their suburban, town, and rural colleagues. At the other end of the scale, urban teachers report they are more likely to use ICT “sometimes or often” for word processing and learning or practicing basic skills than their suburban, town, and rural colleague.  These survey results would indicate urban and high poverty students have fewer opportunities to learn using ICT, than do students in suburban, town and rural schools.  And when they do, teachers more often provide opportunities for students to use ICT for word processing, basic skills practice, and research (i.e: low-level cognition, substitution and augmentation levels of SAMR).  Urban students are less likely to experience learning using digital, networked technology to create, collaborate, and work with authentic audiences and feedback (i.e: high-level cognition, modification and redefinition levels of SAMR, and the 4C’s [PDF]) than their counterparts in suburban, town, and rural school.

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Gray – Teachers’ Use of Educational Technology in U.S.

One way to interpret these data is as indicative of a pattern illustrating a dynamic prevalent to urban schools where many teachers are reluctant to create the open, freeform conditions often needed for learning to occur.  Instead of allowing for the sometimes chaotic atmosphere conducive to learning, many urban teachers engage in “‘defensive teaching’…that is concerned with maintaining control” (Mouza, 2011).  When controlling student behaviors is the primary concern for some urban teachers, teacher-centered instruction is more often the norm than student-centered learning.  Under these conditions, the uses of ICT will be limited to low-level learning tasks with little to no Connected Learning taking place.

When viewed this way, teachers’ choices about ICT use can be interpreted as widening the achievement gap even at a time when the access gap is all but closed. The choice to use ICT and how to use it is a matter of equity where students in urban and socio-economically disadvantaged schools are less likely to use digital, networked devices in ways that prepare them for the 21st Century world of work than do their counterparts in other non-urban settings.

Whether the underlying cause is teachers’ beliefs about their students’ capabilities, beliefs about their own instructional capabilities, or some other factor, most students regardless of socio-economic class are not receiving the range of learning types digital, networked technologies can facilitate. However, the range of ICT-based learning poor, urban students experience is even more restricted.  To address such inequities, teachers’ use of ICT needs to be intentional, explicit, and pan-curricular. Otherwise, our most vulnerable students will continue to be at a disadvantage when it comes to acquiring the growth mindsets and digital skills they will need to survive and thrive in the adult world.

ICE As a Forum For Theory & Equity

ICE 2018 was an exciting and professionally invigorating experience.  In every session I attended over the full length of the conference, it was clear that the organization’s membership indeed consists of computing educators, not just computer educators.  This is not a mere grammatical distinction.  It is a sign that the organization is successfully meeting its constitutional purpose to “[p]romote the development, growth, and use of computers and technology in all facets of the educational process” (Constitution Illinois Computing Educators).  It is not an organization whose memberships consists exclusively of teachers of computer courses.  In every session there were administrators, teachers from every grade-level and every subject area, even some post-secondary counsellors.

connected_learning_graphic
Elements of Connected Learning (Image: Connected Learning Alliance)

Many, if not most of the sessions were  “how to” sessions that focused on products and processes:  Ways for students to produce particular learning artifacts or to use a particular app or set of apps to facilitate learning. These types of sessions are important in that they seek to model the nearly endless ways teachers can creatively use ICT to facilitate learning across the curriculum.  In addition to such sessions, there are opportunities for ICE to be a forum for the necessary theoretical understandings needed to influence teacher belief sets and “[f]acilitate the dissemination of information concerning computing and technology” (Constitution Illinois Computing Educators). For example, individual chapters as well as the state organization could gain a deeper understanding of the continuum of knowledge about ICT-based learning that undergirds the belief sets and instructional decision of ICE members.  Chapters could explore members’ internal anxieties regarding ICT use that impact their instructional decisions and student learning.  Such an understandings open the possibility of theoretical offerings at conferences and professional learning sessions that explicate and support the sessions focusing on practical applications.

Many of our session attendees were unfamiliar with Connected Learning, Genius Hour, or how to incorporate student-centered learning using networked collaboration tools.  This would suggest another opportunity to examine how member teachers use ICT in their classrooms.  Even though “many teachers are aware of the potential of integrating ICTs, a considerable number of them do so in a traditional, teacher-centered manner with no significant change in their teaching methods” (Barak, 2014).  As discussed in part 1, teachers’ beliefs and attitudes influence curricular and instructional choices more than any other factor. Additionally, they are more likely to teach in the same ways they were taught and employ “techno-centric and tokenistic use of ICTs” (2014) where “only a few conceptualize ICTs as means for promoting progressive education and social-constructivist learning” (2014).  The ICE conference may have revealed these dynamics even among its membership, arguably a set of more “highly functioning” ICT users than the average teacher.

Since most k-12 teachers do not read a sufficient quantity of professional literature, they  do not tend to link their practice to wider theoretical underpinnings. “This is not surprising , as teachers were not required to read relevant literature on teaching with technology…. [I]integrating relevant literature … is crucial to helping teachers connect their experiences to a larger body of knowledge” (Mouza, 2011).  As a professional organization for teachers who use technology, ICE is well-positioned to provide the kinds of research, literature and theoretical underpinnings most K-12 teachers lack.

For Teachers of Disadvantaged Children of Color

ICE represents an exciting space to explore the perspectives and experiences of  educators of socio-economically disadvantaged students of color.  Urban students — adolescents in particular, are no different than their suburban peers.  They are tethered to their phones, which represents considerable potential to leverage their devices for learning even in the face of very specific district- or school-wide structural, attitudinal, and technological challenges.  Looking at the attitudinal challenges specifically, they include the kinds of subtle (and not subtle) deficit thinking some educators hold about urban students’ abilities, such as the defensive teaching mentioned earlier.  Teacher beliefs and attitudes about what urban students can and cannot learn often impedes students’ developing necessary technological fluencies.  Often, teachers plan in such ways out of the belief that students “can’t handle” innovative practices (Mouza, 2011). Nevertheless, ICE chapters and members represent a dynamic constituency to influence such associated personal efficacy and social factors that impact teacher choices. ICE and its chapters are the energetic sites where, “perceived social influence from referent others has a significant positive influence on individual beliefs about the usefulness of technology … [and] social influence positively and significantly affects IT utilization” (Gu et al, 2011).  ICE represents a potentially powerful lever in moving the ICT and Connected Learning bars in urban education where ICE members are the “referent others” who, in their “post-ICE learnings” return to their schools and interact with their colleagues exert the social influence to change the beliefs and practices of technologically reluctant teachers.  ICE could be an exciting and perhaps even unexpected vector from which to advocate for the ICT learning needs of some of our most vulnerable students and thus have a positive effect on equity in urban learning communities.

Conclusion

As an organization that supports real life digital learning, Illinois Computing Educators is a remarkable professional body.  ICE 2018 was an invigorating three days of learning and interacting with several thousand enthusiastic, like-minded colleagues.  As any successful conference should, this one engendered many more wonderings than answers.  These wonderings suggest exciting opportunities for nuanced understanding of the needs, knowledge bases, and beliefs of computing educators, as well as adding theoretical learning to the organization’s already strong emphasis on practical applications.  And significantly, there is room for added interpretations of the ICE constitution where members, chapters, and the state organization as a whole become sites of educational equity as expressed through their use of learning technologies.

Read Part 1 of Navigating Teacher Beliefs, Connected Learning and Practice-Based Inquiry For Equitable ICT Integration


References:
Barak, M. (2014). Closing the Gap Between Attitudes and Perceptions About ICT-Enhanced Learning Among Pre-service STEM Teachers. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 23(1), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10956-013-9446-8
Gray, L. (n.d.). Teachers’ Use of Educational Technology in U.S. Public Schools: 2009, First Look, 70.
Groff, J. (2008). A Framework for Addressing Challenges to Classroom Technology Use. AACE Journal, 16(1), 21–46.
Gu, X., Zhu, Y., & Guo, X. (2011). Meeting the “Digital Natives”: Understanding the Acceptance of Technology in Classrooms. Educational Technology, 16(1), 392–402.
Mouza, C. (2011). Promoting Urban Teachers’ Understanding of Technology, Content, and Pedagogy in the Context of Case Development. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 44(1), 1–29. https://doi.org/10.1080/15391523.2011.10782577

Week 11- All Good Things…

image:Rijwana TasnimEleven weeks ago, the fall term started and I groaned at the thought that it would be December when it ended.  It seemed so far away.  But as the saying goes, don’t blink.  ‘Cuz here we are and it’s time to assess our learning.

Surprises

One of two main projects for this term asked us to examine our foundational beliefs about educational psychology and pedagogical theory.  The assignment didn’t ask me to do much more than I’ve been asked to do before over the course of my 30 years in the profession.  However, the exercise facilitated a few realizations about the evolution of my beliefs.  First and foremost, my constructivist beliefs inflected by social cognitivism, pragmatism and metacognitivism hold up to and compliment teaching and learning with educational technology.  I have found as well that they are reciprocally being informed and re-formed by the technology of the times, namely mobile, social, and networked technologies.  In the course of writing my final paper, it became clear that I needed to find a way to incorporate aspects of the budding “learning theory for the 21st century”, connectivism.  For even though I’m still not convinced that connectivism is a full-blown pedagogy (yet), as it is articulated now, elements of it are worth exploring as we develop curriculum and instruction and assess what constitutes powerful learning for the networked age.    These are some surprises that will certainly influence my future studies as well as my practice.

thinking differently about school and educational technology in teaching and learning

While Dr. Leonard Waks’s ideas were not practical to implement in their entirety, his text, Education 2.o: The Learningweb Revolution and the Transformation of the School does have me thinking differently about school and the role of educational technology in teaching and learning.  Even though the paradigm shift he is calling for will likely take a generation or more to accomplish — if it is ever realized in its entirety — many of Dr. Waks’s ideas are useful.  First and foremost, he challenges readers to confront how thoroughly outmoded the industrial model of schooling actually is.  Not only that, the histories he includes provide much-needed perspectives and insights into our current times.  The evolution of schools to support the factory-based, industrial economy of the 19th & 20th centuries and the roles of diplomas and degrees as employment sifters and social allocators during those centuries all stand in stark contrast to the evolution of the internet, the complexities of schools and school systems, and the open, networked information and knowledge economy in which we now live.  Even though the model of the open learning center as described in Education 2.0 is problematic in a number of ways, the text still begs the question:  To what extent are we serving students by continuing an educational model that is yoked to a dead economic model and the social structures that developed from it?  Indeed, as a result of reading Waks I clearly see just how misaligned our current school paradigm is with the needs of the modern world.  It has made me very conscious of which school structures are impinging on or even making 21st century learning impossible to do.

Future ed tech topics and pedagogical techniques of interest

I would like to learn about a plenitude of topics in regard to educational technology and technology-based pedagogy.  I look forward to accumulating more tools and processes for implementing technology-infused learning in the high school classroom.  I very much would like to learn more about how to get “technology reluctant” teachers to incorporate more technology in their instruction, getting them to facilitate more student learning with technology.  I would also like to acquire more techniques to support teachers who already use technology, getting them to SAMRize their student learning even more than they think they already do.  I would greatly appreciate a course or workshop about developing powerful, engaging online learning using platforms such as D2L, Google Classroom, etc, both for high school students and for teacher professional learning.  Finally, I would love a course or workshop in which we create digital badges to promote professional learning in the digital age.

All Good Things…

From the moment I saw the title of this course and the text that would provide its foundation, I was excited.  Indeed, I have learned much. Significantly, I’ve experienced several unexpected learnings, which is what makes learning really exciting.  Not only was the material of high quality, but so were my classmates.  They have been a special group.  Discussions on the boards were lively, supportive, and challenging which facilitated our learning both through and beyond the text.  Each week I extended my understandings of what I read through application or discussion with my classmates and their shared perspectives.  Certainly, this course has been more proof just how much students — no matter their age and experience — learn from each other — even beyond a text or curriculum.

Week 2- “Education & Change” and the American High School

Introduction

Two ideas in this week’s reading particularly stuck with me, not because the notions are necessarily new, but because of how they were elaborated, placed in the context of our course work, and how they then framed my reflections on my high school experiences.  These ideas certainly, then, have implications for our work as professional educators as well.  Those ideas are schools as places of initiation and education as a “process by which a culture transmits itself across the generations” (p. 12).  However, the notion of education as transmitter becomes a different matter altogether as Waks makes the distinction between education and schooling, at which point one sees schooling as transmitting itself across generations en lieu of education — or at the very least, alongside it.  

My High School According to Waks

The high school I attended consistently ranked among the top public districts in the state.  In

IHHS Crest
Image: RHSAPTS

the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, it was the epitome of the suburban district delivering a “conventional curriculum-based schooling” (p.11) for the mostly college-bound upper middle-class students it served.  About a dozen years out from the first rumblings of the Internet (back when it was a proper noun), the faculty and curriculum of my high school absolutely set a path for a “‘particular way of becoming a person-in-society'”(p. 12) .  It transmitted the college prep culture across the generations from the Postwar/GI Bill years of the Greatest Generation through  the Vietnam years of the Baby Boomers to those of us in Generation X.   However, the society my high school sought to initiate me into would no longer exist by the time I graduated from college.

Summer term of the Western State Normal School (1912)
Image: By Western State Normal School (Kalamazoo, Mich.), via Wikimedia Commons

The predictable and orderly “rules of governing…that build up around all of the significant aspects of life in society” (p. 28)  my high school teachers were preparing us for were not those of the social, networked, collaborative, knowledge economy in which we currently live.  As an educator, I can look back now and see quite clearly the assumptions our teachers made about who we would be as adults reflected in what they taught us and how they taught it to us.  They initiated us to be professionals and business people, specifically working in New York City, mostly in high rises, offices and cubicles.  Aside from the occasional think/pair/share exercise, I can’t recall a single small-group-activity-to-large-group-shareout I ever experienced in four years of high school classroom learning.  Yet I do remember an entire lesson dedicated to learning how to do the “subway fold” with a newspaper.  (This is a particular kind of large-scale origami that with a specific set of folds, flips and turns allows one to read a broadsheet newspaper on a crowded train without the paper ever taking up more space than a trade paperback.  I even remember the class being instructed to turn to the business section to start the fold and then our teacher coming to each of our desks to watch us demonstrate the fold as an individual performance assessment.)  Talk about initiation.

My high school was also the perfect example of mass schooling that habituated us “to the norms of industrial life rather than academic learning” (p. 40).  The only exceptions to that would be my “egg-crated” French classes and “extracurricular” theater program. I can point to real learning from those experiences. Still, if I had to estimate, I’d say my high school learning consisted of 25% education and 75% schooling.  It really wasn’t until college that I can begin identifying multiple courses that exposed me to much more new knowledge and understandings than I can count — even if it was done within a hierarchical model.  But from my high school experiences, I can write well and I can still speak, read, and write French.  I can present in front of audiences of all sizes.  I can fold a newspaper like nobody’s business.  But math stumps me both conceptually and practically.  When it came to math I wish I had been allowed to “build up [an] active capability sufficient to perform with enjoyment in activities and share in their values” — and for me, this entailed different methods than were consistently employed throughout my K-12 experience.  Given my deep fascination with language, what if I had been encouraged to explore math as another language with its own vocabulary, grammar and syntax rather than as mere formulae known by “rote learning unconnected to performance” (p. 30)?  I imagine I would have had a very different experience of math then and far less anxiety about it today.

Waks’s 7 characteristics of the hierarchical/industrial/factory model (p. 38) map directly to my high school.  So too were we examples of Sizer’s point that the architecture and grammar of contemporary schooling have changed so little in the past 100+ years and we were so stuck in that way of schooling that college as the next step after high school wasn’t even conceived of as optional (p. 39).  In my family, the question was never, “Are you going to college after high school?”  In my family, the questions were, “Which four-year college will you attend?” and “Will you attend close to home and commute, or will you go away to college and live on campus?”  As a teenager, I was barely even aware of my astounding economic luck to have those as my options, never mind understand the underlying assumptions.

The Sticky Framing Question

I keep returning to the question of the ways in which my high school was a success or a failure in terms of Waks’s beliefs.  In terms of how it functioned as an institution that “introduce[d] order and predictability [and] consist[ed] of rules governing the practices that build up around all of the significant aspects of life in society” (p. 28) — such as life and society still were in the early 1980’s — I would say it was successful.  Where it failed was in the administration’s and faculty’s ability to see what was coming just five years down the pike, adapt to it, and prepare us accordingly as best they could.  Admittedly, a nearly impossible order given the architecture of schooling.   So they schooled all of us such that we could attend college and then take our place in a stable, lifelong, white-collar career with a single company that would then provide the benefits we need through retirement — just as our parents and grandparents had experienced.  It makes me laugh even to type that today.  For Gen X, those work and societal scenarios were already obsolete by the time we graduated college.  And that meant years of struggle, doubt, and misbelief about our own success when, by the age of 28, we were already on to our second or third job placement.  Sadly, those outdated notions were only reinforced by the older generations who questioned our ability to hold a job and admonished us to “settle down” and “make a decision” about what to do with our lives.  My high school and the educators who staffed it did not recognize that “social, political, religious and economic institutions work together in an interdependent institutional order” and that several of those were about to change “in fundamental ways [and that education] must adapt” (p. 28).  That was so at the dawn of the information age and it is so again as a Civilization 2.0 reveals itself through a truly global, collaborative society connected through the digital, networked devices that  billions of people carry in their pockets.  Nearly every institution has been impacted by the internet and information and communication technology — particularly our social, political and economic institutions.  Yet our educational institutions have been slow “to give”.

Conclusion

Reflecting on this week’s readings through these framing questions has left me a bit dispirited.  Heidi Hayes Jacobs is fond of asking teachers, “What year are you preparing your students for?”  From my high school experiences as a student and the evidence I see as a teacher and consultant now 30 years on, the answer —  at least in urban schools — more often than not is indeed the 1990’s. Society has changed several times over in the years since I was in high school, and yet too many of our schools chug along in the same, centuries-old, outmoded paradigm.  Still, Waks helps us remain optimistic. “Mass secondary education is an accident that turned into an institution.  As we re-imagine education in the Internet age, remember that today’s system is an unshapely human invention that today’s humans can replace by another invention better suited for our times” (p.21).  That’s encouraging, even if it is a long road ahead.


Waks, L. J. (2016). Education 2.0: The learningweb revolution and the transformation of the school. New York, NY: Routledge.


Link to Framing Questions

Week 1- Responses to Intro/Ch.1 of Education 2.0 by Leonard Waks

While there is no requirement that we need to keep a blog for this course, I have gotten used to doing so in order to keep a record of my own learning.  Consequently, entries here may be sporadic.


The first week’s discussion prompt

“What do you think Dr. Waks’s purposes and intentions are in his book, Education 2.0? Are you sympathetic to those purposes? Do you have any skepticism about his approach or where you think he’ll be going in the book? Are you excited to read this book? Why or why not?”

To begin, the full title of this text is very alluring: Education 2.0: The Learningweb Revolution

Education 2.0 book cover.
Source: Amazon.com

and the Transformation of the School.  Even the graphic on the cover draws one in in unexpected ways.  Featuring a flat screen computer monitor with a mortar board perched on a top corner with a digital wire frame model of a hand extending from it.  At a quick glance it’s easy to interpret that model hand as grasping a human hand and drawing it in towards the monitor/the digital world.  But in fact, it’s extending a diploma, which even in its outward motion, still simultaneously draws one into the digital realm of the monitor as the method of attaining the credential.  It’s quite a subtle, yet powerful visual representation of the title, and likely the themes contained therein.

Acknowledgments

As someone who has “a thing” for theory in so far as it has practical applications, the fact that the very first person Dr. Waks acknowledges is John Dewey (along with several other philosophers and theoreticians) is a good sign in my book.  I learn best by starting with a global view and then scoping down to see how the big picture applies to the real world.  To start with these big picture thinkers is encouraging.  That said, it could also signal that the text will be mostly theory with little suggested action.   Looking at the table of contents, only the last chapter, “What Needs to Be Done?”, contains a verb in the chapter title.  This gives me some pause given the book title includes the word “transformation”.  So, I will predict that it is the readers who will have to do the lion’s share of developing the actions needed to bring about the changes implied or suggested in the text.  I find it interesting too that I’m reading the acknowledgements of a text with a Web 2.0 eye — as a kind of descriptive narrative of the author’s collaborative network.  Connected learning and the 4 C’s in analog form.

Introduction

Insofar as Waks lays out his proposition “that the Internet and its new social tools have much to contribute to such new social models of learn and living,” I am sympathetic.  He rightly and succinctly sums up the extent to which schools have ineffectively employed computers for education and only as add-ons for furthering the industrial model of schooling.  Already by the bottom of page xi I’m considering all the ways I’ve been complicit while believing I was doing something cutting edge (at least as far as my technology use when I was teaching — which last was in 2006).

As a coach and consultant, however, I’ve been using Web 2.0 technologies for professional learning much more.  But after three classes in the LTE program I realize that even that work has not pushed the envelope sufficiently.  I’m finding a high degree of relevance when Waks writes,  “Researchers will conduct assessment studies pitting high-tech and no-tech instructional methods against one another in a horserace — with inconclusive results.  These responses inevitably miss what is most important about the new technologies — that they are already [emphasis added] facets of new ways of life with their own distinctive processes and ends” (p. xii).

One of the challenges I regularly face as a coach and consultant is getting both administrators and teachers to actually integrate ICT methods into their priorities and practices.  For the more resistant, they live in that “horserace”.  The difference is that to them the results are conclusive and no-tech or low-tech wins the race.  For many of the teachers I work with they either have no interest in digital learning or they believe they don’t have the time to become expert enough in it in order to teach with it.  Yet the refrain I keep singing is that the technology is already here and impacting all our lives.  Not just the lives of teens.  So why are we not using it to teach students who are completely connected the other 16 hours a day they are not in school?  Why are we not teaching them how to be responsible, thoughtful, creative users of that technology as well?  Consequently, I felt validated reading the above passage and am quite sympathetic to Waks’s message and mission.

Chapter One: Young People
Book cover for danah boyd’s It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked youth
Source: Yale University Press

My “leisure” reading this summer was dominated by danah boyd‘s It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked teens.  So I found chapter one, “Young People”, to be quite resonant.

“[T]eens are true adults whose development is artificially inhibited by constraining institutions, especially schools.  Freed from these constraints, teens are highly capable — in some ways more so than adults” (p. 6).  As a high school teacher who has taught mainly 9th graders throughout my career, I’m always amazed at exactly what teenagers can do when we adults set up just enough of a scaffold and then get the hell out of their way and watch.  I’m never completely prepared for their boundless creativity, flashes of profound insight and wisdom, and righteous yearning for justice.  With 5 decades+ on this earth, I know what horrors humans are capable of.  Yet I still shake my head in disbelief when I see or hear something terrible a person or group of people have done.  I’ve wondered if that is because I’ve never quite grown out of my own teen mindsets.  I wonder if that’s why I believe “teens are awesome, because (some of us at least) still have little bits of innocence from our childhood combined with maturity as we turn into adults” (p. 6).

Finally, Waks articulates something that I have long believed and could not fully formulate, which is Rawls’s “Aristotelian principle”.  It hurts my soul as a human being and makes me scream “Malpractice!” as an educator when I walk into a classroom and see students copying information from a textbook into a packet; then to see the teacher walk the room at the end of the period checking for completion of said packet and calling it learning.  This is so far below what humans need to thrive because “other things equal, human beings enjoy the exercise of their realized capacities (their innate or trained abilities), and this enjoyment increases the more the capacity is realized, or the greater its complexity” (p. 9).

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

With all of these experiences in my own practices, I am quite sympathetic to Waks’s intention and purposes.  From my learnings so far in the LTE program, I absolutely believe in his purposes, his mission.  I believe getting educators to incorporate the technologies that are relevant to the lives and experiences of 21st century children is a key to rejuvenating student interest and excitement about learning.  And it would certainly seem as if this is Waks’s project. If pushed to articulate where I’m skeptical, I would say it’s around the combination of what may be a significant amount of theory, combined with his stating that this is not about “fixing, reforming, or improving today’s schools, but at laying out a new blueprint for an educational transformation — a shift to a new paradigm for new kinds of educational organizations.”  I’m not skeptical about the need for such work.  I’m skeptical because it seems to call for a razing of very old, entrenched institutions and very deep-seated societal beliefs about those institutions.  And while I may be someone who can get on board with blowing it all up and starting from scratch, societies do not respond quickly to the kinds of paradigm shifts Waks is calling for.  What I sense from Dr. Waks so far — and I share — is a sense of  urgency to bring about this paradigm shift.  What I fear is that it might take generations to happen to the extent we need it to.  That said, I think it is no accident that chapter one as a whole is about young people (not “children”, by the way).  As such, it implicitly makes young people the foundation, the center, the reasons for the next 14 chapters to follow.  That not only excites me.  It makes me hopeful that if society can see and believe that this project is about young people and their future, as well as our collective future, then we might be able to make this paradigm shift sooner rather than later.


Waks, L. J. (2016). Education 2.0: The learningweb revolution and the transformation of the school. New York, NY: Routledge.


Dr. Leonard Waks talks about MOOCs

 


Link to Framing Questions

Week 5: Collaboration and Ed Tech Research 

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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!