Category: Resources

How are computers in the classroom really doing?

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By , November 22, 2010 11:31 am

This weekend, I was hit by two interesting finds in my Twitter feeds. The first takes a look at what the Alberta Teachers Association – ATA –  (via @joe_bower) thinks needs to be changed to get computers in the classroom to “actually do something (my words)”. The second is a comment from Alan Kay who goes over some points as to how computers in the classroom have actually failed. Looking to Alan’s points first. He likens what has been done with computers in the classroom to people playing Guitar Hero – players experience the fantasy of being able to play, but in reality learn nothing. Going further,he is frustrated that schools, and society at large have yet to really make use of the technologies made available through the computer to be intellectual amplifiers, rather it seems that computers, specifically consumer computer technology has essentially become the “next legal drug”. Kay suggests that evidence for this can be had if you take a look at how education, which is supposed to (in his interpretation) create a sophisticated voting public, has not been able to deliver on its mission. It seems that many of his frustrations are around the inability of those involved in any given stage of the computers in education process to focus on the curriculum.

The ATA, in its new report looks at changing from the “new chalk” approach that has seen new technologies be used in old methods to shifting to a more problem based curriculum that might encourage new ways of teaching out of necessity. The use of technology to merely create and process more administrative data is also called into question, as it seems to enable the conservative nature of education rather than encourage its ability to change. Technologies in the classroom should be used to create knowledge that is unique to each student and emergent of the situations that the student is presented with as opposed to funneling student responses into a standard score. Finally, it looks at something that the University Academy has started to realize now as well, the distinct and often fiercely independent disciplinary domains of knowledge that have been used for the past hundred years or so are indeed part of the problem and should be revised to recognize the connections rather than the distinctions.

All this was certainly interesting reading. I found that Kay was a bit too gloomy, and the ATA, a bit too optimistic. For my money, the truth is somewhere in the middle. I would love to be able to read more about what Kay has done with respect to technology integration, as a trade article is not really representative of his body of work (I think the only reason it came to light is because of the iPad/Dynabook comparison). I also hope that in some way I can help to effect change within the province and bring forward what some of the ATA has said. There is hope on that front. We now have some schools that are open year round, something that only took perhaps decades. The change of curriculum from Bio/Phys/Chem to Science to the Art of Science hopefully can be done in less time. I think it would be really cool if by the time that my daughter and her cohort hit Div II, that they only have three subject – Art of Science, Science of Art and Human Motion.

Edit: And of course, at it often happens, later in the day, I find another interesting resource that talks about the same thing – this time Mashable‘s take on how computers are helping in Education – part of their Education Tech Series. Some of the points, specifically when it comes to Kay vs Mashable, I would say that with the exception of ebooks and more efficient assessment, Mashable’s list is pretty good. Showing how computers have been used to extend the capacity of students to be able to take in and manipulate data and then synthesize it in novel ways and with others who are not physically in the same location. I would however have to agree with Kay with regards to this list. These examples are the exceptions, not the rule when it comes to computers in the classroom. Even though every school in a district may do the same thing, without the ability or structure within the school and the society within which it exists, students are not really using the computer for what it could do. They are jumping through hoops to meet a standardized assessment (hence not agreeing with all the Mashable points) and only providing the impression that they are capable, ala Guitar Hero. Some students are of course going to be able to transfer the skills and knowledge in spite of the school and the society, but these are few and far between. So perhaps the next question should be… do we really need all students to understand computing and the ways and means that it can extend capacity in the same manner?

Sir Ken on, what else, reforming education

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By , October 20, 2010 2:30 pm

It would seem that we are victims of our own “success” – those items that can be tested in a standardized environment are being rewarded when we think we are trying to get them to be “outside the box thinkers”. When the kids do, we medicate them into oblivion. I’ll leave the rest to Sir Ken.

Everything plays… some time…

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By , October 19, 2010 12:03 pm

This is an interesting article (Akst, Jef., Recess, The Scientist, v24 i10 p44) that came across my desk today, describing how not only primates but all other sorts of animals play. Not only does it show that play is something that is deeply rooted in life, but there are also some ways to define play:

Burghardt’s five criteria for play:

  1. Play is not fully functional in the form or context in which it is expressed.
  2. Play is spontaneous, voluntary, and/or pleasurable, and is likely done for its own sake.
  3. Play is incomplete, exaggerated, or precocious.
  4. Play is repeated but not in exactly the same way every time, as are more serious behaviors.
  5. Play is initiated when animals are well fed, healthy, and free from acute or chronic stressors.

What really caught my eye is that last part. Well fed, healthy and free from stressors… that sounds much like what people need to be able to learn well. So it might be something to be explored, if one can play well, can one learn well as well?

What is your Digital Birthday?

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By , October 7, 2010 1:32 pm

It might increasingly be about 6-7 months before your biological one, if you are still in diapers today, according to a study commissioned by AVG that came out today (can’t find the actual study yet). And it seems obvious to me, but maybe not to others, that parents should start thinking about what they post before their kids are even old enough to sit up on their own, much less start banging on a keyboard/panel/iPad…

CityOne – IBM and Serious Games

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By , October 5, 2010 12:05 pm

There are many games out there that can be used to get students to appreciate a host of different challenges that are faced by the globe today. We can now add city planning to the mix in a game that goes beyond SimCity courtesy of IBM. CityOne challenges players to:

Solve real-world business, environmental and logistical problems. Learn how technology can revolutionize these industries. Explore ways to accelerate process change, integrate with trading partners, and control costs with a flexible IT infrastructure.

You can jump right to the game here, but you need to jump through registration – and looking at the fields, I don’t think IBM expects K-20 students to play it … Job Title? Industry – Retail/Banking/Energy/Water? Role in acquisitions?

IBM, if you are looking, open this up to at least High Schoolers (they will fake the answers anyway) and then we might have a way to really start making some of these changes and not (ironically) fall into the same trap that IBM quotes Einstein to avoid:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Designing for Mobile – Maybe it should be all about objectives

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By , August 20, 2010 10:34 am

This is a slideshow on mobile “stuff”, but I think the same could be said about any type of design these days for teaching and learning. Specifically, if you look at the last few slides – 90-93, we have to design for:

  • diversity
  • interruptions
  • personal time
  • health/learning/quality of life

This certainly presents an interesting set of challenges, but just seeing these out there makes those who care, at least conscious of some of the things that they can’t take for granted anymore – namely the captive attention of an individual in a known location, who’s time is commanded by an authority figure and where the individuals’ prior experience and conditions are not relevant.

In my personal take, I’m thinking that when looking at any new or revised instructional design, we should take into account that the control is increasingly going to the student and that student is in an increasingly unknown environment. This makes assumptions dangerous.

But as so much of teaching/story telling/life sharing is based on assumption, where can we start from if we can’t assume some manner of common origin? I’m thinking, we work backward. If we know where we want the students to go, we can let the students fill in their own gaps between where we provide the information/resources and they provide their current understandings. Sounds familiar… doesn’t it?

I think it might just be the kicker we need to bring back objectives (learning and otherwise) to the design of out materials. That would seem to me to be the only way that we can reliably get everyone to the same level at the end of the experience. The caveat being of course, that in designing paths to reach these objectives, we can’t go around assuming things either, we need to provide all manner of templates for students to follow and understand that some of them may very well find their own way to the objective – and we have to be fine with that.

Online eBook on mLearning

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By , May 19, 2010 2:33 pm

Jan Herrington, Anthony Herrington, Jessica Mantei, Ian Olney and Brian Ferry (Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong) have put together an eBook, New technologies, new pedagogies: Mobile learning in higher education(2009, 138p. ISBN: 978-1-74128-169-9) that I think many people looking into mLearning might find useful with chapters that examine mobile device use across a range of subject areas. I haven’t looked into that deeply, but I’m sure some of the chapters can inspire mLearning ideas at other levels.

First Edition of the Journal of Cyber Ethics is ready

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By , April 27, 2010 1:08 pm

First issue publication of the International Journal of Cyber Ethics in Education (IJCEE) is on the progress. Here is the list of papers to be published in the inaugural issue by January 2011;

  1. Finding a Core Curriculum in Technology Education via ICT by Matthew Adwerds of Utah University
  2. Computer Ethics and Neoplatonic Virtue: A Reconsideration of Computer Ethics in the Light of Plotinus’ Ethical Theory by Giannis Stamatellos of University of Copenhagen,
  3. Interactive Web 2.0 Technologies by Jo Williamson of Kennesaw State University,
  4. Constructivist/Constructionist Teaching in Second Life: Pedagogical, Ethical, and Legal Considerations by Rosemary Talab & Hope Botterbusch of Kansas State University,
  5. The Relation Between Human Ethics And Cyborg Ethics by Anne Gerdes of University of Southern Denmark,

I’m on the review committee and I’ve seen some of these – they are certainly worth the time to look at when they come into print/online

  1. Expressing Ethical and Intellectual Identity Online by David Whittier of Boston University

How Millennial are you?

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By , April 9, 2010 8:35 am


It seems that this quiz might also represent “how much of a parent with a young child are you”, but regardless, when I have actual Millennials scoring lower than me, I think it is time to reconsider what the term means. It seems to me that Millennial here would be “how socially active are you and how much of your media do you access via a data link”.

Cells in the Classroom

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By , March 25, 2010 9:15 am

Nora Young and Marie Bjerede have an interesting conversation (14min approx) on Spark. It starts with the “fears” that students may use the phone to distract themselves in the classroom. Now, this is a K-12 discussion, but I’ve heard the same thing in higher ed. To that I have a couple things to say. First, in classes with older students (teens and up), the instructor might want to look at their lecture/lesson and figure out why they are not able to keep the attention of the students. Instructors also need to consider that there are some students who will never pay attention – and if they are distracted with a phone or other device, at least they are quiet (isn’t that the holy grail of our Victorian era classroom?). Second, even then most connected kid only has a finite number of friends and a finite amount of attention for the News Feed and chat in Facebook. Eventually, they will be sated and return their attention to your lesson. The more we try to limit this, the more kids will try to do it. But back to the interview.

The project (Project K-Nect) that the interview is about sounds really quite interesting and it shows how tools can help shape communication. The phone proved to be an enabler – just as other computer mediated communication tools have been shown – for kids who were quiet, it proved to be a social tool (even notice how people chimp around phones?) as teachers started to develop collaborative assignments. The phone also enabled students to connect after school as well – just as they have for farmers, students and health workers in Africa. Nora brings this last point up in the middle of the interview which Marie jumps on right away.

A small cynic in me suggests that even though there is lots of promise, the “magic bullet” has been seen before – Radio, TV, Desktop computers, laptops… and now phones – and failed to kill the apathy and stagnation that seems to be present in the school system. The difference this time however is that the full functionality of the device/technology is present just about everywhere, so the novelty factor can potentially refreshed all the time, the device is personal and is carried in the pocket and the use of the device is ubiquitous in the “real world”. Finally one other difference is that unlike say educational television which “grows up” into a documentary, which is a niche market, kids using phone tools to track finances, record and report their world are doing the same thing that other, “real world” users are doing. You know – reading, writing, sharing, calculating, logging, analyzing… school like stuff and they are doing it all the time.

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