Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Would Love Your Responses to These Questions

A recent graduate of my high school has some questions for me (now us, if you'll agree to help):
I am now attending CU Boulder and love it. . . . I have chosen to write about our education system and how we need to "re-invent it" to make it 21st century literate. I am going to research how to best integrate technology into the classroom. . . . I was hoping I could interview you for my paper. I have many questions about technology and how to best place it in classrooms.

I will just start by asking you some starter questions via email for now.
  1. My professor is great however he is not very technologically savvy and is having a hard time believing my argument that technology should be integrated into the classroom. He told me it is just a "fad" in today's education. How would you respond to those who believe that technology won't benefit our education system and it is just a "phase"?
  2. Where do you see the US in comparison to other countries such as India and China in ten years if we stick to our traditional education system? Where do you see it if we change our educational system to incorporate more technology and move away from the traditional education system?

  3. Do you have any readings or sources you would recommend about technology in the classroom?
I'm responding to this student myself, but I thought it might be helpful if they also received some of the collective wisdom from my network. So I'd love it if you'd leave a comment below, write your own response and link to it or, if you'd rather, you can email me directly.

Thanks for your help.


  1. Can you post the replies you get, particularly to #3?

  2. 1. It depends on what he exactly means - ICT is an integral aspect of education now, but it is too often used because it is a "fad", rather than used efficiently and effectively to enhance learning. However, attempting to ignore technology means that he will never be able to see the potential of it.

    2. China is more likely to overtake everyone in everything, simply because there is a willingness to learn and innovate. India seems to be still stuck in the "filling the empty bucket" paradigm of education, so that independent learning is still developing. Sheer numbers alone result in both countries producing brilliant people.

    3. Our latest blog post is about our take on technology in education. Put simply, the focus is, generally, wrong. We need to look at what is really being learned and, then, if it is appropriate, use ICT.

  3. 1. We integrate technology into nearly every realm of society today - personal, business, science, arts, music, sports - and not because it's a fad. It's because it lets us be more effective, both qualitatively and quantitatively. It would be quite a stretch to assume that education is alone in not being aided by technology. There have certainly been faddish uses of edutech, but inexorable trend is towards more use of technology as learning, research and knowledge tools, not less.

    2. The question of US vs. China/India isn't a technology question. If we take as our end goal achieving higher standardized test scores, then maybe in 10 years we're competitive. I hope not though, because if we do that well on those tests we've spent a huge amount of time and energy doing the wrong thing. If we focus on integrating our education with the entrepreneurism, innovation and diversity that constitutes the US's greatest strengths, then there is no reason why we can not continue to lead the world educationally and economically. Whatever choice we make, the huge gap that has existed technologically and educationally between the US and the world will continue to close, just because the rest of the world is improving so quickly.

    3. Short book list, maybe not as edutech as you were looking for, but technology without an educational philosophy that supports it is...well, just a fad.

    Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: Allan Collins and Richard Halverson

    *World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students, Yong Zhao

    A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown

    Mindstorms, Seymour Papert

    Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century, Cathy Davidson

    Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, Tony Wagner

    * The Zong book has some good comparisions between the Chinese and US educational systems, which may help you on your question #2.

  4. 1. Sure. Technology in many ways is a fad in education right now. But I guess it depends on the way you're defining words like "technology" and "integration." If you're making the case that we can be more thoughtful or create better projects or demonstrate our learning better (possible integration definitions) by using digital media (one definition of "technology"), well, that's not faddish. That's trying to do the essential work of teaching and learning better. That's worth doing or thinking about or working on. But if your professor, or you, believe that technology is bells and whistles and shiny things, then I'd agree that that's not worth spending time on. A poor technology integration would eliminate time for thoughtful work to happen - and that'd be bad. So focus on what you mean when you say technology and integration. I've seen lots of bad work done in new technologies (pasting a worksheet into a Google Form, for example) that doesn't make learning better - it just pretends to. Don't do that.

    2. I'm less interested in where other countries are until I know what you mean by those first two terms. If we do lots of bad technology integration over the next ten years, it doesn't much matter what other folks do - we've pretty much ruined our own situation. I'd argue that if we did the "traditional education system" well and with some sort of fidelity to some core principles - democracy, freedom, thoughtfulness, critical explorations of the world, an awful lot of reading, writing, and making, etc - we'd be ready to face whatever's coming from whatever direction.

    3. I think the previous commenter's reading list is a fine start. Begin with _Mindstorms_.

  5. I'd like to address an underlying theme to the question rather than the questions themselves.

    1) "Technology Accelerates" -- a quote from "Good to Great", by Jim Collins.
    Technology doesn't fundamentally create anything new. Integrating tech into classrooms for its own sake has no value.
    However, anything that you are doing - for good or ill - can be accelerated with technology. If you are wasting time, Facebook can help you waste it more. If you are researching, google can help you find more/better/faster information.
    This seems to lead into the next point:
    2) Media has moved from "100% consumption" (just sitting and watching TV) to a lot of self-expression, self-creation and self-publishing. (Even if that's just searching for, reading, and commenting on TV shows.)
    10 years ago if you wanted to read about something that just happened, and make comments on it to the world at large, that was unheard of for the average person.

    Kids are inquisitive, curious, and interested in *things* in general.
    However, normal schooling seems to still be largely feed information (playing them TV shows), rather than *accelerated interaction.* (where they interact to an extreme level).
    Today, someone can wake up and say they want to learn about *creating* computer games (rather than just playing them) and you get a 12yr old Thomas Suarez giving a talk at TED about how he makes apps.

    Technology needs to be harnessed not to shove information into kids, but to enable them to learn. (No, I don't have any suggestion on how to balance this with a standard curriculum, which there does seem to be a need for. The lack of historical context and political and geographical blindness is astonishing.)

    Which brings us to 3: Don't expect to keep jobs in the USA if you don't have anything special to offer.
    Again, technology accelerates. It used to be that you needed to hire local people for your business. In many cases, it's preferable to have people come into the office.
    However, on the other extreme, there are (seemingly) extremely successful businesses, such as 37signals, that *has no office*. Their employees are spread around the world. They hire (nearly) regardless of their time zone and instead search for skill, quality (and other factors).
    So if companies simply need people who have some basic skill and can execute it like a machine, then now, due to the internet, there are millions upon millions (billions?) of them that can be reached.
    One of Seth Godin's books is called: "Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?" it seems in today's society, the answer is often "no, I'm not indispensable."
    The quote went something like this: ExxonMobil's CEO was asked why they returned so much money to shareholders rather than reinvest in the business. He responded that they didn't have enough talented people to run new projects.
    Likewise, Google, Facebook, etc are fighting over comp-sci engineers.

    I haven't done exhaustive research, but it seems high-level engineers in all the "sciences" (computer, chemical, etc) are always needed for more R&D. Society will keep pushing the boundaries of tech. We can have enough lawyers but can never have too many engineers.

    And people wonder why they can't get a job with their often minimal non-useful schooling...
    If the US continues to have an atmosphere of kids strolling through school and expecting it's their right to get a job, those jobs will continue to shift to those who are trying to advance in life and put in an extreme effort to get a more thorough education and be something special.

    There are plenty of "conventional" educated lackeys. What is always in demand (and thus earns money) is those that are are beyond conventional. Super educated (in something that matters), super-adaptable (tech is always evolving), people skills, etc.

    In a round-about fashion, I believe I answered #1 and #2. I hope that my facts are correct.

  6. A1
    I think talking about integrating technology is a phase, integrating it is here to stay because that's what people real life, i.e. use technology to make life easier. No one really talks about using whiteboards as a phase and we'll go back to blackboards and chalk. Tools may be viewed as fad-ish but what they represent are often not. For example, there are different blogging tools and blogspot used to be THE tool but now there are choices, e.g. wix and weebly seem to be the current 'fads'. However, blogging - or reflective writing, as I phrase it when talking tech integration sometimes - is here to stay. It is digital journal writing.

    Comparing countries via test results have been critiqued, particularly the measures that are in place to do such comparisons. Included in this is often the lack of consideration of culture. Back in my corporate days, there was talk of how process management was a much easier concept to adapt by those in India than in the US. I see the same in education now, where drive for creativity may run in the opposite direction of strategies to do well in the international comparisons (or streamlining/optimising processes that everyone follows). There are camps that do argue that promoting creativity has a positive impact on tests as a consequence....or eventually.

    Where to begin? I've seen "Shift happens" video so many times because it is often used to inspire integration of tech. I'd start with that one.

    Strategic use (or not use) of technology - or any teaching resources - depends on the teacher, the students and the social dynamics. What works for some may not for others depending on context. But, we try. that's what we do. We try because a conscientious teacher is always looking at how to optimise learning.

    hope this helps.