Technology for it’s own Sake?

Jim Heynderickx asked an important, though not entirely simple question as a comment to one of my recent workshop survey postings. Here are his ideas, and I’ll add my comments below.

A simple question: like email, will we soon be providing internal blogs or profile pages for all faculty, staff and students, but in a more protected manner? For example, profile pages that were only accessible by other school community members? This defeats the “world wide” aspect of blogs, and initially kids may not use them. However, a few years ago it was said that kids wouldn’t use the email accounts we created for them, but over time quality differences have lead to their school accounts being important and “serious” for their work.

I recently worked with a school district in Arkansas, where they have provided students with e-mail for a number of years. The instructional technology director explained that, during the first years, there was a significant amount of abuse by students. However, the consequences, when caught, were relevant to the offense (I do not recall specifics), and not a blanket, you lose your rights to the network for violating any of the AUP items. She said that the second year, there were fewer offenses and the next even fewer. She said that she could not think of any abuses for the 2004-2005 school year.

They did not achieve a successful integration of e-mail into the teaching and learning process by teaching students to use e-mail. They achieved it by integrating a need for the communication that can best be achieved with electronic mail. The focus was on communication, on the information skills, not on the technology skills.

North Carolina has had a state-wide computer skills curriculum for more than 10 years. But it is just that, a computer or technology skills. The State Department of Public Instruction just revised the curriculum, but it continues to be populated with standards aimed at technology (The learner will demonstrate the ability to sort rows with a spreadsheet program).

It makes more sense to me to wrap these standards around information skills (contemporary literacy), asking students to draw a conclusion or solve a problem from a sizable collection of digital data, and then the student utilizes the most relevant and efficient technology and skill to accomplish the goal. This approach, would encourage students and teachers to constantly explore emerging technologies in light of information problems, rather than contriving information problems around specific technologies identified by the state — years ago.

When we expect students to access digital networked information, evaluate and select pertanent content, process the data, and then compellingly express their conclusions and solutions with an authentic audience, all within an ethical context, then heated discussions of emerging technologies like blogging, wikis, IM will fade. In addition, if we effectively help students to integrate into their world the skills to access, use, and communicate information to accomplish relevant goals, they may be less inclined to abuse the technologies.

Just 2¢ worth!

5 thoughts on “Technology for it’s own Sake?”

  1. Interesting response– I like your last sentence best. What stands out is recognizing their world, and how we can have a positive impact on it. Providing relevant goals is definitely part of it, as is recognizing the value of what they achieve.

    My situtaton is unique, but becoming less so as time passes. I’m at a private independent school and close to 100% of our familes have had computers and Internet access for some time. 120 of our upper schoool students just responded to a computer use survey, and we found that about 50% have blog/personal profile pages (such as myspace or facebook), and of those about 25% check them daily (or hourly).

    Now, if you’ve plugged “Facebook” into Google News lately, you’ll find fascinating reports about how college students are using the service. It’s reported that 85% of the students are registered at some institutions. A teacher told me today that her college-aged daughter says, “You have email, we have Facebook.” If you read the reports, it’s now playing a major part in their lives, mostly good but some bad.

    Facebook now has a high school section, and it is growing. As educators, I believe we need to stay in the loop as much as possible and have a positive impact. I feel we’ve done this with email, and now I believe we need to step up to the plate on this. Much of your repsonse refers to “teaching technology skills.” Obviously, half of our student have figured out how to create and use these sites, but it’s clear that their use could be more mature and forward-thinking– just as with the abuses of email in the past. They also need clearer goals to accomplish, as you suggest.

    To do this, we have to find a little common ground to understand “their world” and have a little patience. In some ways, we need to experience it in order to advise, which is mostly what I’m learning from the blog I’ve created. All of this seems to be more under the heading of self-presentation, communication and positive networking, rather than technology skills.

    Along with this is the critical need for parents to be in the loop and to be central in the process of helping their children be ‘street smart” online. In a day or two I’ll share some of the guidelines we’ve developed for this.

  2. Changing the focus in classroom teaching approaches is a frustrating process. I work with students in teacher education as well as teachers in the K-12 schools. The semester is coming to an end and my education students are finishing projects. The emphasis the whole semester has been curriculum and how student use of technology enhances or changes how students learn. All of my students use Facebook, IM, email etc. However, they do not naturally think about bringing like tools into the classrooms. A student working on the project yesterday said, “This is really fun – too bad we don’t have time to use it”. Of course, I launched into my speech about the learning tools of today and how school becomes more irrelevant to students the more we neglect these tools. Even the young soon-to-be teachers do not seem to be able to leave behind the model by which they were taught.

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