Obama’s Mistake…

BottomLine

Technology should be invisible. It is the pencil and paper of our time. But until every learner and teacher-learner has sufficient and equitable access to appropriate information and communication technologies, we should enthusiastically continue to make the “T” word an explicit and high-volume part of all of our planning.

Washington Post blogger, Valerie Strauss, has invited faculty members of Columbia University Teachers College to guest blog about President Obama’s Blueprint for rewriting the No Child Left Behind law. Yesterday’s contributor was Ellen Meier, professor of computing and education and co-director of the college’s Center for Technology and School Change.

In here piece, Obama’s mistake with technology in ed reform, Dr. Meier opposes the apparent devaluing of technology as a catalyst for change.  She hones in on the document’s relegation of technology to a position of support mechanism and an element of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) theme.  She writes,

The blueprint effectively consigns technology to a subordinate role in reform, rather than recognizing it as a fundamental requirement for new millennium teaching and learning. By consolidating technology funding, it effectively silences the voices of innovative educators interested in using technology to leverage effective, imaginative approaches to schooling.

I agree with Meier’s statements and I get the same impressions from the document, which seems to address tech from a “business as usual” perspective. However, this is all part of an ongoing struggle in the ed-tech community between treating information and communication technologies (ICT) as a separate element in the endeavor of education or infusing it into the framework of teaching and learning — integrating the technology and therefore, making it invisible.

A while back, I wrote about a conversation I was part of in Austin about the prospects of the state’s elimination of a required technology class (What Difference Might One “S” Make?). With the dedicated and state-mandated class, tech gains importance and prestige — not to mention funding. But technology instruction, which carries specific accountability measures, becomes too strictly defined and separated from the rest of the school. Without the technology class, schools become more free to specialize, adapt, innovate, and truly integrate, but they lose the authority and funding to do so.

I do not believe that Dr. Meier is advocating either position to the exclusion of the other. None of us are. We are simply finding the language that describes ICT as a critical component of the education formula in a way that empowers success, provokes innovation, and is relevant to the contexts of teaching and learning in the 21st century.

Meier makes an especially compelling argument about the need for assured technology expertise in our schools and districts, people who are following trends, aware of emerging tech, and qualified to innovate by utilizing appropriate new technologies.  I was especially excited by her statement that the Blueprint’s approach…

..is more likely to result in “technologizing” the status quo —integrating technology into existing practices – rather than using technology to create engaging new learning environments.

A Word Tree
(Click image to enlarge
or click
here to launch the visualization)

Taking a closer and more quantitative look at the document I used IBM’s Many Eyes tool-set to visualize the place the tech plays in the Blueprint. I started, of course, with a word cloud, in which technology just barely shows up out of the top 150 re-occuring words in the document.  But this, in and of itself means almost nothing.  As the Many Eyes site says, “It (the tool) was designed to give pleasure, and not to provide reliable analytic insight.”

However, we get a clearer look by running a Word Tree (see left) revealing that technology is used 14 times in the document.

  • Five times it is listed along with STEM subjects.  Two of the listings are presented in a way that, to me, imply a continuum subjects, placing history, civics, foreign languages, the arts, financial literacy, and “other subjects” at the less important end — or at least separating STEM out from other subjects.
  • Nine times it is listed as a way to improve instruction, address student learning challenges, and accomplish the goals of the grant.

But even its poor showing in the word race shouldn’t, alone, be cause for concern.  After all, “technology should be invisible,” RIGHT? (“technology should be invisible” shows up in 2,700 Google-indexed web pages).

There are three objections that I have to where the blue print is taking us.

  1. The One size fits all approach the our promotion of the STEM subjects seems to ignore completely that even though we do need more youngsters pursuing a science, technology, or mathematics field, not everyone needs to, and we will continue to need smart and creative people pursuing the “other subjects.”  When people are complaining about TV, they are not usually complaining about the picture size or quality.  What they want is better stories.  Engineering is easy.  Telling a better and more compelling story is hard.
  2. In the first paragraph, Ellen Meier describes technology as “a catalyst for all educational reform efforts for the 21st century.”  On my first reading, I thought that this statement was a bit over-reaching.  But now that I think about it, she is right.  Globalization, economic transition, brand new industries and industries in decline… all of these bellwethers of change owe themselves to advances in information and communication technologies.  In addition, because of technology, information has changed in:
    • What it looks like,
    • What we look at to view it,
    • Where we go to find it,
    • How we find it,
    • What we can do with it, and
    • How we communicate it
  3. Because information is now networked, digital, and abundant, what it means to be literate has changed and so too has the meaning and method of lifelong learning.

Technology should be invisible.  It is the pencil and paper of our time.  But until every learner and teacher-learner has sufficient and equitable access to appropriate information and communication technologies, we should enthusiastically continue to make the “T” word an explicit and high-volumn part of all of our planning.

Where Obama is Getting Education “Wrong”

The caption under this Storybook Rabbit (Amber) Flickr photo was, “Never sit on the left side of the room when you have a right-handed teacher. This was like sitting behind a column at a baseball game. Except much less exciting.”

I would add that the teacher is thinking, “I have the data and I know that this is the scribble my students need to be looking at right now.”

The reason that I can not get eight hours of sleep is that I am haunted.  I become possessed by conversations I’ve had in my waking hours.  I am drawn from my sleep by cold boney fingers reaching out from the graves of past presentations — by the insightful, but initially unrealized, comments made by participants and those questions that I wish I’d answered better.

Yesterday, at Saint Marys, a private girls school here in Raleigh, I was asked, “Although I agree with your call to better prepare our children for the future with more authentic assignments, does that help us in our mission to prepare girls for college?”  Then the librarian asked, (and these questions are grossly paraphrased) “I know that Wikipedia and Google are invaluable tools — but what is the place for the online databases that we subscribe to?”

The ghost of workshops past that I must exorcise right now, was something that the Dean of Faculty said to me after the presentation.  He related a conversation he’d just had with a math teacher of many decades who told him that she started to “get it,” when the presenter suggested that we need to be asking ourselves,

What kind of questions will we ask on our tests, when our students walk into the classroom with Google in their pockets?

And then he (I) asked the audience to consider calculators — how, for years, we resisted the new devices because it wasn’t math.  It didn’t look like the math instruction we traditionally provided, and so we almost demonized the things.  But now that calculators have become a critical part of many mathematics classes, have they changed the questions we ask?  Have they changed the problems we ask our students to solve?  Has it changed the nature of math instruction?

The answer, of course, is, “Yes!”  Calculators empower learners to work numbers to an end.  They force students to transend paper and pencil, to truly utilize the language of numbers to solve problems, answer questions, accomplish goals — to learn new things.  I maintain that we should expect learning in the classroom to be the same as learning in the “real world” — that it is about ubiquitous access to the global flow of information and the tools that empower us to work that information.

It’s where the Obama Administration has it completely wrong.  According to Secretary Arne Duncan’s July 24 Washington Post op-ed, “The president starts from the understanding that maintaining the status quo in our schools is unacceptable.” (( Duncan. Arne. “Education Reform’s Moon Shot,” The Washington Post 24 Jul 2009. Web.18 Aug 2009. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/23/AR2009072302634.html>. ))  Yet, it appears to me that the status quo is exactly where we are staying.  Like the former failed administration, the answer seems to be do the same thing, just do it more, do it harder, do it longer, and our children will gain the skills they will need to “compete in the global economy.”  This is wrong on so many levels that I just want to throw up my hands give up.

  • Adopting internationally-benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace;
  • Recruiting, developing, retaining, and rewarding effective teachers and principals;
  • Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals how they can improve their practices; and
  • Turning around our lowest-performing schools. ((United States Government. Education Department. Race to the Top Fund — Executive Summary. Washington: GPO, 2009. Web/PDF. <http://www.ed.gov/programs/racetothetop/executive-summary.pdf>. ))

So back to my haunt.  What interests me about the connection made by the math teacher between the calculator and the Google’d cell phone is that they are both about empower learning.  Of the four (entirely unoriginal) education reform areas (see left) being targeted by the administrations dangled carrot ($4.3 billion), the one that irks me the most is number three — data.

Now I love data.  I love what you can do with data.  Data visualization is one of my favorite themes to follow on Twitter.  But what’s wrong with “Building data systems that measure student success and inform teachers and principals..” and wrong with so much of the prevailing conversations about education reform, is that it’s about empowering teaching and schooling.  It’s designed to help us do our jobs better as educators — when we need to be figuring out how to empower our students to do their jobs better as learners.

Obama, through Duncan, wants us to use data to measure student learning — and by result, to further limit what we teach to that which can be measured.  What we should be doing is helping our students to use data, so that they can measure their world and better understand their relationship with that world — what can’t be measured.

The bottom line, in my opinion, is that we are continuing down the same dumb path of thinking that we need high school and college graduates who know the answers to old questions.  This is wrong!

It’s new questions that will define our future.  Today, we need graduates who can invent answers to the “new questions.”

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Hearing on “The Obama Administrations Education Agenda”

Click image for larger version…

I got this one in this morning as well, Arne Duncan’s testimony on Capital Hill.  I can not find that the hearing will be aired on C-Span, but I’d love to see what he says. 

So let me ask you,

“If you were a member of House Education and Labor Committee, what questions would you ask our Secretary of Education?”

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What Does Broadband Mean?

A lot of the stories I grazed through early this morning on my iPhone were about the U.S. stimulus package and, specifically, how a significant portion of that money was going to the tech industry.  One of the expressed concerns  was that much of the money would be going to large corporations, such as IBM, Cisco, and AT&T — and perhaps at the expense of innovation.  I have to agree with this concern, though innovation is only part of the intent of stimulus, and many of the projects (problems) in my country are huge.

Flickr user, Keith Lam, posted this picture of the Cotton Bowl playing on his laptop — in the airport.  He posted the photo to Flickr via e-mail.

One such huge project (problem) is broadband expansion — making broadband information (The knowledge economy) available to all U.S. citizens.  One of the questions being struggled with is, “What is broadband?”

Congress has earmarked $7.2 billion in stimulus aid to deploy broadband in underserved parts of the USA. But what does that mean, really?

The Federal Communications Commission is trying to come up with answers. At the request of lawmakers, the agency is in the process of defining “broadband,” “underserved” and other terms. The FCC is advising the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which will make the final call on how stimulus money gets doled out. (What’s ‘broadband’?)

Definitions vary wildly.  AT&T, according to the story, suggests a tiered approach, saying that 200 kilobits per second is a good starting minimum for a definition of “broadband.”  Intel, on the other hand, says that 100 megabits is more reasonable.  Considering how much of the content flowing around the Internet today is multimedia (i.e. YouTube), I’d side with the 100 megabits.

The challenge is getting it out to rural areas — and so much of the U.S. is rural and underserved by access to information.  According to the story, the median download speed in the U.S., as of 2008, was 2.3 megabits.  That rate was provided by a Communications Workers of America survey (see State-by-State Bandwidth Ranking).  Of course some states are much lower, Montana mentioned with only 1.3 MB.

The story then attempted to compare the U.S. broadband with that of other industrial countries, by listing the mean bandwidths for Japan (63mbs), South Korea (49mbs), France (17mbs), and Canada (7.6).  I have put together a data table that includes a number of factors that make achieving higher mean bandwidth easier in some countries than it is in others.

This is no excuse, however, for not bringing people into the knowledge age with all haste, and my country has floundered too long.

So, my question to you is, “What is broadband to you?”  I’m not interested so much in numbers, as I am in what kind of access to information should citizens from any country expect to have in the 21st century?  What do we need to know and what does that information need to look like?

Thanks in advance.

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