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 10- Predicting the Most Important Trends in Ed Tech

NMC/CoSN Horizon Report 2016

The NMC/CoSN Horizon Report 2016 K-12 Edition reads like a state of the union for educational technology outlining key trends, significant challenges, and important developments in the field.  Its evaluation of trends and developments as short-term (1 yr or less), mid-term (2-3 years), and long-term (4-5 years) are reasonably assessed.  So too is categorizing challenges as solvable, difficult, and “wicked”.  Much good information is included here.  Organizing each trend into bite-sized pieces with a sort of preamble; Overview; Implications For Policy, Leadership or Practice; and then substantial For Further Reading offerings  to further explore each subject.

Professional Development

An element of professional practice that I’ve been wrestling with over the course of this year has to do with professional development for k-12 teachers.  There is much to get excited about in this report and some trends are already underway.  However, at the risk of injecting a cynical note into the discussion, I’m not sure how many of these trends will become embedded in American practice until we address professional learning.  Through 47 pages of the NMC/CoSN report, professional development is mentioned 11 times.  In fact, “Rethinking the Roles of Teachers” is a significant challenge addressed in the report as a “solvable challenge”, even if it is buried midway into the report and is the second of only two challenges the authors consider solvable.

I would argue that no trend mentioned in this report can be implemented without significant professional learning for teachers and administrators alike.  The dismal quality of much American k-12 PD, little budgetary support, and teacher attitudes towards it will all have significant impact on whether and which trends come to live in any given school or district.  As such, professional learning and “Rethinking the Roles of Teachers” is the lens through which I will read this report.

Trends

Of the trends outlined in the report, those I think will gain traction in the next five years include  collaborative learning, students as creators, rethinking the roles of teachers, personalizing learning, and online learning.  They are likely have the best chance of taking hold in American education if for no other reason than they fit within the current paradigm and do not require technology necessarily to provide powerful learning experiences.  Collaborative learning, project- and problem-based learning, and personalized learning are already a part of teacher vocabulary.  Online learning is gaining traction via flipped classrooms and blended learning.  With this foot in the door, technology can be incorporated in ways that modify and redesign extant units and lessons.  With some shifts to what they offer, professional learning providers deliver can accomplish such modification and redefinition of existing lessons and in the process realign teachers away from teacher-centered instruction and towards new roles as guides and facilitators.  PD providers need to present learning such that teachers receive “hands-on experiences … to help integrate technology in the classroom [and] create agile environments that support the development of professional learning networks where educators can seek guidance and inspiration from peers and around the globe as they rethink their pedagogies and curricula” (p. 24).   Through their own hands-on experiences, teachers learn as we want their students to learn in the digital age.  With such experiences, teachers are more likely to transfer their experiences to their students.  Back in their classrooms, then, teachers facilitate experiences that extend students’ collaborative learning out through digital networks, empower them as creators of content and not must consumers, teach them to recognize and pursue their own interests and learning goals, and do more and more of all these activities online.

Impact on Educators

I predict that online learning will become a path to personalized learning not just for students, but for teachers too.  I predict that over the next few years, teachers will figure out they can completely personalize PD, learn anytime/anywhere, at their own pace, and not have to contend with one-size-fits-all PD.  I am especially excited about the prospects for digital badging.  As it becomes increasingly popular, more and more educators will be able to extend their personalized, online learning even farther as they accumulate only the skills and content knowledge needed for their own specific professional learning needs.  In fact, some states are already experimenting with digital badges as a way for teachers to maintain their credentials along side CPDU’s and potentially even in place of them. When these trends take off, online learning for both teacher learning and student learning will become de rigueur.

Good for Schools

All these changes will be good for schools, yes.  But mostly, they will be a boon for students and learning.  Young people are so disconnected from their school experiences right now.  Many teachers teach for compliance and completion because such work is easy to grade and translates into easy measurables like GPA’s and graduation rates.  But completion and good grades do not equal learning.  And compliance and completion methods are mostly divorced from the kinds of social learning young people are used to doing with and without their networked devices when they are not in school.  Perhaps one of the biggest challenges to getting more technology-based methods in the classroom is getting teachers to see themselves as facilitators and not experts.  The image of themselves as experts keeps many teachers from trying things they don’t think they know well enough to teach.  This is especially so with technology given how vast a landscape it is and how constantly and rapidly it changes.  Prior to the digital age, it was a little easier to operate with the expert mindset.  But the internet age has given us access to the sum of human knowledge and there is no way anyone can know all of it.  The mobile age has given us a multiplicity of ways to access that knowledge and ways that are persistent.  There is no way to be expert in all affordances either.   In a blog post for a previous class I wrote about this very subject.

“As Bryan Alexander said in the Teaching and Higher Ed podcast, ‘There’s a lot of churn.  But …overall we were right.  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….  Teachers are hired to be experts and we can’t be expert in everything online.  Therefore they have an extra layer of anxiety to participate in the social world of the web and they’re not the expert.  They’re average users.  And that is very hard and threatening.  That’s why teachers have had a hard time using the web for teaching and learning.’  Yet we have to push through that anxiety and not only take our place in the digital world, but also guide the younger generations to their own critical and constructively participatory place in it as well.  And as we do, let’s keep in mind ‘There’s too much to master.  No one can master it all.’ So ‘grab one particular corner of it [like Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, etc.] and get comfy with it.’”

T.A.T.Too, “Critical Thinking and Information Literacy”

 

Once we can get to this point as a profession — where teachers shed their self-perceptions as experts and dive deep into their “one particular corner” of the internet or social media to feel “comfy” with it — then many more of these trends stand a chance of sticking.  Then school will again be a place of interest and joy for our students and not a drill and kill testing mill.

Final Thoughts

Another significant shift needs to occur around what kind of PD is prioritized.  For any of these trends to become a meaningful part of teaching and learning, teachers need to seek more learning about how to incorporate the broad concepts each of these trends represents and how technology plays a role in each. They need far less PD that is merely training for specific apps.  Indeed, teachers already in the classroom will need quite a bit of focused, long-term learning so they can become “guides and mentors, modeling responsible global citizenship and motivating students to adopt lifelong learning habits by providing opportunities for students to direct their own learning trajectories” (p. 24).  If  administrators and teachers prioritize professional learning to focus on a limited set of student-centered outcomes that map to and differentiate for teacher learning needs, then these trends have a chance of taking root.  The extent to which schools sustain limited PD over time and partner with PD providers who deliver quality learning experiences will also impact success.  But where professional learning is piecemeal, random, low-quality, one-off, and conference-based,  I don’t see any of the trends in the report taking root in any consistent way that is beneficial for all learners.  

 


PD Issues in Ed Tech Video

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 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!