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It’s The Information (Revisited)

Plugged in with iPod, head set to communicate with game guild members, game controller, game keyboard to text players without broadband, and a laptop for IMing.

Several years ago, I wrote a blog article describing a picture that I'd taken of my son, in the TV room, wrapped up in his “technology.” I'm including the picture here, since he is no longer a minor and I can no longer so easily peak in on his techventures.

In the article I suggested that it wasn't technology that defined his experience nearly as much as it was the information that he was playing with. It continues to be a central theme of my work, that it's a new information experience we should be facilitating for our learners, not simply applying technology to old teaching pedagogues.

A few days ago, an old friend from my state agency days, John Spagnolo, gave me reason to revisit that article, when he commented with some questions that got me to thinking.

Among them was:

How have “smartphones” and cellular connectedness changed the nature of information over the past 8 or so years since this was written?

I think that one significant change that has occurred over the past seven or eight years, is that I, and many other seasoned adults have, for various reasons, begun to utilized this networked, digital and abundant information environment. I often say to friends, as I slip my phone back into my pocket, that we live in a time of no unanswered questions. The answer is almost certainly waiting in our pockets or on our laps. My cellular iPad has become a welcome and valued companion as my wife and I drive across North Carolina to visit with family and old friends. It helps us to continue conversations about the news, movies, the best route around Charlotte and settle minor arguments.

For my son and daughter, I suspect that their use of these connective tools has not changed significantly over the past several years. They cultivate networks of friends and acquaintances, which have probably grown with my daughter, whose interested have expanded, and grown smaller with my son, whose interests have narrowed and become more focused. They use Twitter more and Facebook less, and are probably more likely to be interacting with friends via a specific application, such as a game or Pinterest category.

I also wonder if, in many instances, we might be finding more creative ways of using this new info-landscape than our children.

Spagnolo also asked,

How does your son connect to and interact with his information today?

I suspect that both of my children interact with information more through games and through specific applications. I was so terribly disturbed a few years ago when smart people started suggesting that the Web was dead, that apps were changing the way that we used the Internet. But apps have certainly changed the way that my children use information and I find myself preferring to use Amazon and Craigslist apps instead of their respective web sites.

Apps have become an intriguing new avenue of economy, that I've suggested to me son, where people are making a living by designing highly specialized and compelling tools for using and playing with information.

Finally, he asked,

Has the nature of information influenced the emerging “appropriate technologies” like the digital learning object called an iBook?

My knee-jerk response is, “Not nearly enough.” This current push toward digital textbooks, urged on by our Secretary of Education, concerns me. I worry that we're engaged in a race to modernize schooling, rather than a sober and thoughtful imagining and designing of learning materials and practices that are more relevant to today's learners (ourselves include), today's information landscape and a future that has lost the comforts of certainty, but become rich with wondrous opportunities.

What I enjoyed, though, about my experience in publishing an iBook was learning to hack some features into the book that were not part of Apples general instructions for using their publishing tool. This is the ultimate opportunity of digital learning objects and environments, that they can be hacked into new and better learning experiences by information artisans who see what's there and what it can become.

 

Comments

  • http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/ Ed Darrell

    “… we live in a time of no unanswered questions.”

    BUT:

    1. The internet and especially portable devices have exponentially increased the probability that difficult questions will be answered incorrectly.

    2. For teachers, no longer is it possible to ask a simple, factual question as a teaser to get students to search for the answer, and thereby learn something deeper along the way. Portable computer devices present one more non-print medium in which education appears to be abdicating its duties, and the war. (We missed radio, film, television, recorded television, and desk-top computing; now we’re missing portable devices.)

    3. No question goes unanswered, but what is really rare is a question that is worth answering; even more rare, that good question that can be answered well from free internet sources.

    Darrell’s Education Technology Corollary: When administrators and policy makers tell educators (especially teachers) they wish to utilize “new technology,” they mean they want new ways to figure out ways to fire teachers, because they don’t have a clue how technology can be used in education, nor have they thought broadly enough about what education is.

    Darrell’s Education Technology Corollary Corollary: When a teacher effectively uses technology in a classroom, it will be at the teacher’s instigation, the teacher’s expense, and administrators will get revenge on the teacher for having done so.

    • http://blog.idave.us/ David Warlick

      @Ed Darrell, I’m going to respond to your statements one by one.

      1. You say that, “The internet and especially portable devices have exponentially increased the probability that difficult questions will be answered incorrectly.”

        I ask, “How do you know?” I’m not asking this to challenge your statement. Only to make the point that the Internet, and especially our increased access to it via portable devices, gives us access to a wide range of answers, some of them right answers, some of them wrong answers, and some of them good answers. What this necessitates is an obligation to not only gain useful answers, but to be able and willing to defend them.

        I often write (though I neglected to in this post) that these changes in the nature of information mean, more than anything else, that we expand our notions of what it means to be literate. It is no long merely being able to read, understand and answer questions about what someone has handed us to read. It is also the habit of skillfully asking questions about the answers that we find and satisfying ourselves and others of their appropriateness. If I were still teaching history, I would often (daily) ask students, “But how do you know that’s true?” They’d be encouraged to ask me the same question.

      2. You say that, “For teachers, no longer is it possible to ask a simple, factual question as a teaser to get students to search for the answer, and thereby learn something deeper along the way.” I couldn’t disagree with you more. When students are limited to the right answer from the textbook or the school library, then there is little need to go further. But when they find multiple answers from multiple perspectives from the Internet, reconciling them is when the deeper learning starts to happen.

        I do agree, wholeheartedly, that “..education appears to be abdicating its duties..” We continue to believe, partly at the behest of the federal government and residents of corporate board rooms, that solving the education problem simply means doing education harder, when we need to be rethinking elements of teaching and learning, even those as fundamental as what it means to be literate. If our pedagogies can give learners compelling reasons to reconcile the varied answers that they find, then they may not only develop the relevant skills, but perhaps even more difficult, the habits.

      3. Then, referring to my phrase, “No question goes unanswered,” you reply, “..but what is really rare is a question that is worth answering; even more rare, that good question that can be answered well from free internet sources.” The fact that our children are not learning to answer good question or to question bad answers is not the fault of their “smartphones.” We, education, have come to devalue these hard questions in favor of quick and clear facts that can be easily measured. This new and wild information landscape lends itself well to deeper questions and also good and defendable answers instead of “right” answers.

      As for your corollaries, they seem born of bitter experiences, about which I really can’t comment.

    • Fionna Larcom

      @Ed Darrell,
      #A response to Mr. Ed Darrell:
      I recognize the validity of your opinion, however, I must respectfully disagree with you. I choose optimism. I am not naïve, nor am I blindly idealistic, I am optimistic though. I also choose to believe that there are more students like myself out there navigating the maze of knowledge acquisition. They are out there, unsure of which direction they will go in next, and not really worried about the uncertainty.
      I am one of the overlooked and easily discounted delinquents, dismissed as ‘un-teachable’ by several of my teachers, and despite by even more. I have come to view the label of ‘un-teachable’ as a failing of my teachers more than a deficiency in my ability to learn. The teachers failed to recognize how I learned, no adjustments were made in their approach to teaching, and I was an immature snot with little patience for patronizing authority figures who do a lot of talking and hardly any listening. I am a divergent thinker, public education is designed for those of the convergent persuasion.
      I don’t mean to be harsh or disrespectful toward teachers and their efforts to educate. I neither require nor desire the assignment of blame to anyone for the misconceptions I carried away from high school. I was just one of many, many students at that school. I am, however, appalled at how little has changed in the fifteen years since I conned my way into a diploma.
      Last year, or the 2011-2012 school year, I was a ‘note-taker’ for a high school in California. My purpose was to assist ‘troubled’ students who needed ‘mentoring’. I wanted to help them the way I wish someone had helped me. Sitting through the classes again, I realized that I was hearing the same lectures and the same ‘teaser’ questions that I rolled my eyes at the first time I had heard them. While I have matured out of rolling my eyes, I still have the same contempt for the ‘teaser’ questions. As far as I am concerned, ‘teaser’ questions are a tool to ensure the compliance of assigned reading, but rarely have any contextual relevance to the subject matter.
      I understand that fifteen years is not a vast length of time and that it is unrealistic to expect radical changes to have occurred in an established system. Again, I am not naïve. I am disappointed that the established system has such a shallow learning curve. You see, the public education system, like most US social programs, are static, majority-based institutions. They have been standardized and compromised to a point where mediocrity is the accepted norm. A continued resistance of mainstream technology could, in another fifteen years, lower the norm to inconsequential.
      I do apologize if you believe my criticism to be focused on teachers as individuals. I truly do not want to diminish the role of any educator. I simply want to remind all within academia that we never stop learning. No matter how many diplomas are hung on your wall, or how many abbreviations follow your name, there is still a lesson to be learned, and it is likely to come from someone you least suspect.
      Mr. Darrell, please do not underestimate your students. They are not naïve either. Yes, they may be unmotivated or lazy, but not naïve when it comes to the internet. That is where they live. They may find the answer to the simple, factual question quickly and with minimal effort, but they also have the ease of familiarity with one of the most complex concepts ever introduced to academic study, Boolean Logic. George Boole (1), a fine example of a divergent thinker and one of the coolest guys of all time, was a mathematician, philosopher and logician. He was also a self-educated man, drifting frequently from school to school and finally starting his own. His formal academic attempts ended badly primarily because he did not ‘fit’ the expected idea of student. His interests were diverse and only he seemed to see the connections. He dared to apply mathematic principles to human thought. He had a novel idea, he believed in it and trusted it even before he had scientific support for his claim. He followed through on his idea and managed to change the world along the way.
      You see, Boole didn’t know what he didn’t know. He didn’t have a syllabus warning him of what was yet to come. He followed his own sense of logic and when he came across a gap in his knowledge, he sought the information needed to fill the gap. He changed directions but always maintained forward momentum in his quest to prove his theories. The brilliant, but controversial mathematician, Augustus de Morgan said of Boole, “Boole’s system of logic is but one of many proofs of genius and patience combined … [and]… would not have been believed until it was proved.”
      It has been one hundred and sixty years since the publication of The Investigation of the Laws of Thought(2). I have mirrored Boole’s method of research and that journey led me to this web site and to this blog posting. This meeting of ideas would not have been possible without the technology you disdain. The advent of portable devises and high speed internet is truly the culmination of Boole’s work. As a result, I don’t need to know what I don’t know in order to maintain the forward momentum I could not achieve through formal college courses. I have a novel idea, I believe in it and trust in its value to society, and now I have the tools to help me find whatever knowledge I need to fill in the gaps.

      1. George Boole biographical information and de Morgan quote sourced from: http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Boole.html

      2. The Investigation of the Laws of Thought can be downloaded, for free, courtesy of Project Gutenberg at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15114/15114-pdf.pdf

  • Bridgett J

    I have been in adult education for about 5 years and I could not imagine not using technology in my classroom. I have found that if I offer learning experiences that the students are familiar with, they are more apt to want to learn the course content. The more seasoned instructors I work with have had to adjust to the students we currently teach and implement technology into their classrooms as well. If we look at the possibilities that technology may contribute to instruction maybe it can be viewed more as a blessing than a curse.

  • http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/ Ed Darrell

    As for your corollaries, they seem born of bitter experiences, about which I really can’t comment.

    I thought it was just experience. Perhaps I should be more bitter than I am. One of the basics of union/management negotiations is to get all parties to recognize what reality is before moving on.

    Last year my evaluators complained about my use of technology. Too many questions asked that students couldn’t answer with a simple computer search, too much visual data off the pages, too much video, too much math for a social studies course (in both economics and history), too much science . . .

    I was warned that unless I used more worksheets, my testing results would not measure up, and I was asked to pledge to get 5% higher passing rate on the state tests. Of course I refused. That was an impossible task.

    Not because the kids are not smart. Not because I can’t improve my teaching. Because the entire line of criticism was insane. How can any teacher improve a 100% passing rate?

    When I headed the Information Services bunch at the old OERI one of my domains was a technology demonstration center, tools for a classroom of the future. If you’ve been around long enough, you would recognize some of the stuff we had. Microsoft provided a couple of computers, one of which had access to a hard-drive dictionary, and a series of disks that provided most of the works of Shakespeare — probably prompted by Apple’s LISA having come equipped with the same documents. Visiting school dignitaries worried about how to parcel out actual use of the computer, assuming a one-computer per classroom ration in their idealized classrooms of the future. The computer and software, unconnected to the not-yet-working internet, would cost about $3,000. One conference I was invited to spent about a day pondering whether it would be more useful to equip ten classrooms, or hire another teacher (as if making such a trade-off were possible under most school funding schemes).

    Today students walk into class with a computer about 1% the size of the micros used then, equipped with software far beyond the capacity of those old machines and with live radio-telephone and radio-data links to some of the best libraries in the world.

    In most schools today, students are asked to turn that technology off.

    Fionna Larcom noted:

    Sitting through the classes again, I realized that I was hearing the same lectures and the same ‘teaser’ questions that I rolled my eyes at the first time I had heard them. While I have matured out of rolling my eyes, I still have the same contempt for the ‘teaser’ questions. As far as I am concerned, ‘teaser’ questions are a tool to ensure the compliance of assigned reading, but rarely have any contextual relevance to the subject matter.
    I understand that fifteen years is not a vast length of time and that it is unrealistic to expect radical changes to have occurred in an established system. Again, I am not naïve. I am disappointed that the established system has such a shallow learning curve.

    There’s the problem I was talking about. In education, we missed the film revolution for the most part, we missed broadcast revolutions, we missed the calculating machine revolution, we missed the micro-computer revolution, and in my judgment we are missing the Information Super Highway revolution.

    We can’t ask the old teaser questions — some kid in the back row has his iPhone on, and he’ll look it up. It was probably irrelevant 15 years ago, but it’s been answered well by seven different people complaining about it with brilliant essays and YouTube videos. Besides, Fionna’s cousin was in my class last year, brilliant woman, and she blogged the entire course. Smart students just copy her answers, even the once-original jokes complete with misspellings and mis-punctuation. They’ve got the answer. What did you want?

    Testing means evaluators are looking for quick hits on improvement in bubble-guessing — “why don’t you reward that student with the correct answer and ask another teaser?” the rater asks. The teacher asked that stupid teaser because it was recommended by the district’s curriculum Wizards of Smart. We know the raters are watching for that question. The teacher now proceeds to ask a follow-up question, but with a risk. The rater has moved on. Classroom discussion, especially discussion not oriented to a specific question on the state exam, is wasted time, to the raters.

    Essays? Seriously? For English, sure. But not for math, not for social studies, not for chemistry or physics.

    Serious thought to ask a question that will prompt thought is largely unavailable. Time to probe serious issues gone. ‘The district practice test includes three questions on Robert LaFollette, and you’d better cover those questions even if that means shorting Teddy Roosevelt, Wilson’s 14 points, the Triangle Shirt-waist fire and the 19th Amendment. One question each for those topics.’

    That kid on the couch, with his smartphone, streaming music, watching something on television and conversing with friends? I have the tools to engage him, there and then, interactively, and get him to the more interesting, tougher questions that don’t just tease a little search through the index, but that pose wonder for a lifetime, and which can never be answered fully.

    I’m not paid for that time. I’m not rated on it, because it’s not in the classroom with 30 other kids. It helps the student learn how to use technology to get at really interesting questions, but that question is not on the state test. The marvelous and funny six-minute animation the kid shows me before class gets “extra-credit” on the district’s computer, and I’ll get a visit from the raters about the wealth of extra-credit on the record for certain students (who are attendance and discipline problems in other classes . . .).

    In Texas, today, the State of Texas will argue in court that adding more money to schools is useless, because the state has screwed up the funding apportionment so badly that new money can’t be spent wisely.

    In many ways, the old “rising tide of mediocrity” that Gardner and Goldberg warned us of sounds like a day at the beach today.

    I applaud your efforts to use technology well to aid education. I hope you succeed. If you do, I will applaud your efforts. Keep it up. Good luck.

    Fionna, in 1983 — 30 years ago, twice the timeline you proposed — we hoped to spur the education system to teach modern kids, using technology appropriately and well. Just over a decade ago we derailed those hopes, requiring testing in a system designed to make all schools run harder, and kill those schools when “harder” isn’t enough (federal law requires that “enough” be raised until all schools fail, as incentive to the high achievers). Ouch.

    I don’t mean to sound cynical, really.

    My cellular iPad has become a welcome and valued companion as my wife and I drive across North Carolina to visit with family and old friends. It helps us to continue conversations about the news, movies, the best route around Charlotte and settle minor arguments.

    An already-education person using technology to improve interactions with other people. Idyllic, no?

    But if we already know the road between Dallas and Houston, and we use the iPad only for games “to keep the kids quiet,” or to find the McDonalds instead of the dozen fantastic, local barbecue joints, if we don’t listen to news, if we use the traffic reports only to get through the freeway faster instead of finding an interesting place to stop, if we use the iPad to fast-forward through the latest Hollywood release to replay the blood spatters and boob-shots instead of finding the photo of Herbert Hoover on George Bailey’s office wall and ponder what year that would have been — if we’re not already educated to ponder the world and ask valuable questions worth arguing over, have we met the challenge of technology in education?

    If we become computer and internet and hand-held-device literate in order to advance our literature, myth and story literacy, in order to advance our numeracy, and in order to advance our social relations with others — wonderful!

    But calling a nuclear-tipped missile “The Peacemaker,” doesn’t make it so, and doesn’t short circuit the rest of the hard work needed to make peace.

  • Fionna Larcom

    Ed,
    I am so glad you replied, I understand your frustration now. I misinterpreted your first post and I apologize for jumping to the wrong conclusion. Now, having more information, I believe that are jaded, not cynical. We have that in common. The ‘system’ failed us both.
    I am a career student of the worst kind, I do not possess the patience necessary to actually complete a degree. In terms of credits, I have the equivalent of a masters degree. Unfortunately, my transcript reads like a course catalog and bears no resemblance to a degree plan of any sort. Also, I am either an ‘A’ student or a ‘D’ student. If my interests wain or shift away from a discipline, I can’t ‘suck it up’ or ‘buckle down’, ‘grit my teeth and get it over with’, or any other unpleasant experience cliche. The ‘Ds’ all occur at times where I made the attempt to ‘grin and bear it’.
    My lack of diploma didn’t bother me until this past year. I decided to take a break from school and actually get a ‘real’ job. I discovered that without that piece of paper, I was limited to entry level or menial positions. I have been out of school for about a year, I have roughly $50,000 worth of formal education in my brain and I earn minimum wage as a cashier at a 76 gas station.
    I still maintain the opinion that a diploma is as useless as standardized testing and as asinine as the worksheets you mentioned. I have no interest in a multiple choice education. I will choose the essay any day of the week. You said:

    “Essays? Seriously? For English, sure. But not for math, not for social studies, not for chemistry or physics.”

    I am curious as to whether they chose to ignore the fact that none of these disciplines would exist without the publication of ‘essays’. Without the insights and advancements shared through publication there would be nothing to teach. Then again, maybe they are truly unaware of this obscure piece of logic. They may not recognize the correlation between an increased emphasis on statistic heavy scientific methodology and the decreased accessibility of published findings. The cynic in me has pondered whether the abdication of basic grammar is a requirement for a doctoral degree. Is scientific credibility determined by how well the scientist disguises their humanity? It would seem so, at least from the perspective of one of my psychology professors who advised me to ‘be cautious’ of my ‘creative writing style’ when using the APA format (I used the Robert Burn’s poem ‘To a Mouse’ as a running theme for a comparative essay on early behavioral psychologists. She did not appreciate my comment that, technically, the APA format is inappropriate for a comparative essay where no argument or claim is involved. The objective of the essay was to describe each psychologists approach to behavior. I thought the poem appropriate due to the large number of mice and rats who lost their lives to the behaviorists. Not long after this, I knew that a degree in psychology was not in the cards.
    I have discovered a degree at the University of Washington that might be more my style. It is a Bachelor of Arts with a major in the Comparative History of Ideas, sounds kind of interesting. For now, though, I am in the compilation stage of my ‘project’. I believe I have enough supporting documentation to prove at the least the potential of my idea. Now I just have to assemble it so that it will make sense outside of my brain.
    If this one is accepted and I can convince a few people to see the world the way I do, then my next project is education. Our society has grown so used to slapping the proverbial band-aid over the cracks that no one seems to have noticed that the patient, as you said, died ‘just over a decade ago’.
    p.s. I just can’t reconcile the idea of ‘too much math’ being used in conjunction with ‘economics’. Um… yeah.

  • Pingback: Darrell’s corollaries of education + technology: No good work goes unpunished, most opportunities missed « Millard Fillmore's Bathtub


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