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EdTech Update





Future predictions at odds


Is technology mankind's salavation or its doom?

It seems like everytime I open a newspaper or link from a social networking site, I am confronted with some form of prognositcation related to technology and both its immediate and long range impact oh the human condition. And these predictions are often diametrically opposed. For example:

  • The automation of jobs will lead to mass unemployment and a further increase in the income gap; or automation of jobs will fill the roles of rapidly retiting baby boomers and free workers from mundane tasks, giving them time to pursue creative pursuits.
  • All children need technology skills like coding to thrive in tomorrow's economy; or tech skills are highly overrated and we need instead to be developing interpersonal skillls, empathy and creativity.
  • Schools are being improved with technology permitting personalization and motivation; or education is being destroyed by technology, off-loading what should be professional, human tasks to programmed instruction.
  • The Internet is the death knell of libraries; or libraries are more important than ever in helping users understand and use technologies that may be new to them and by providing critical venues for face-to-face interactions.

The dichotomies are not as simple, of course, as my examples sugget and most of these predictions have "both and" discussions waiting to happen.

Sadly, I often feel the victim of social media's use of click-bait in accessing these articles. Just what are qualifications of people writing these predictions? Are they doing it to guide and inform? Or simply to generated revenue via clicks? Who does Buzzfeed and Edsurge and New York Times hire as writers and what are their qualifications to pontificate and what may be their unstated biases? And how, exactly you define bias, anyway?

The ability to select, analyze and evaluate information, a long-standing goal of information literacy units and the librarians behind them has never been more important - or more difficult.

I like to think of myself as a critical user of information and ideas. But increasingly wonder if I am up to the task of knowing if Wall-E or The Terminator is what the future holds. And if I can do anything about the direction except keep my fingers crosssed.

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Do you have a backup (book)?


Having a good backup is the first rule of computer security and sanity. In case of media failure, your thesis, book draft, lesson plans or last will and testament, ought to be stored in at least two places. For anyone who has lost a draft of any form of writing or lost data of any type, a corrupted or lost file can ruin your whole day. 

Having a backup book, however, is also a necessity for me.

I cannot remember a time that I was not actively reading a book. Whether Henry Huggins or Hardy Boys or Robert Heinlein or James Bond or Michael Connelly (or occasionally a college text), I have always been "working" on a book. Reading a book is as much a part of my day as is breakfast. One of Johnson's 3 rules of travel is "Always have a book to read" since much of vacation time is spent waiting. I have carried books to the top of Kilimanjaro and into the depths of Columbian mountains and in a canoe into Quetico. I guess if I have a serious mental health problem it is an addiction to reading.

This addiction also includes not just having a book, but having a backup book, knowing exactly what I will read next. What if I were on a flight to Narita with 6 hours to go and finish the book I was reading! The horror! This is why I like taking my Kindle on trips. I have enough books downloaded on it to last me for 20 years in solitary confinement or a week on a cruise ship.

My guess is I am not alone in having a fear of being without access to a book. Judging from my friends, many of us, have not just a backup book, but huge backlog of books on our Kindles or by our bedsides or on hold at the library. It seems to me, librarians are especially prone to this phobia (Does a fear of not having a book have a name?)

While I try to make a very limited use of social media, I do like Goodreads to help control my fear. Goodreads is a great source of getting book recommendations from like-minded people, creating of list of "want to read" titles, and recording those books you have read - over the course of a year or eventually over your life, I suppose. Once or twice I have started reading a book and thought "Gee, this sounds familiar" and go back and look at my Goodreads list to find I did read the book a few years earlier. If it is a mystery, I usually go ahead and reread it anyway since I usually don't remember who-done-it.

I also write a short review, a sentence or two usually, so inform others about my opinion of what I have read. 

Do librarians and others for whom reading may be a passion, get kids onto Goodreads or another social reading site to help stimulate their interest in reading? (I could not find any age restrictions for Goodreads.) If not, shouldn't we actively encourage this healthy form of social networking?

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Personalizing or depersonalizing learning with technology?


Diane Ravich, a thinker and writer for who I have great respect, enumerates "5 Risks Posed by the Increasing Misue of Technology in Schools (EdSurge, Dec 29, 2017). I agree with all of them, but I think this one needs a bit more explication:

Risk Two: The Proliferation of 'Personalized Learning'

Personalized learning, or “competency-based education,” are both euphemisms for computer adaptive instruction. Again, a parent rebellion is brewing, because parents want their children taught by a human being, not a computer. They fear that their children will be mechanized, standardized, subjected to depersonalized instruction, not “personalized learning.” While many entrepreneurs are investing in software to capture this burgeoning industry, there is still no solid evidence that students learn more or better when taught by a computer.

There are some very distinct definitions of "personalized" learning. The one Ravich describes is certainly one the education industry promotes, one in which the programmed instruction basically controls the educational experience. It consists of sophisticated, yet mindless, activities that supposedly teach basic skills and move the learners ahead based on some kind of in-program assessment. The teacher, if there is one and not just a lab monitor, turns the student over to the machine. Which really does not give a damn about the child except for the data he/she generates. 

Yet I see two other uses for technology that are a better description of personalization. The first is a modification and extremely targeted and monitored use of systems like the one above for intervention for kids not learning in the traditional classroom. Depending on what research you read (published by independent researchers or by company-owned researchers), this approach may or may not be effective.

The other description that technology allows for personalization, however, is when the professional teacher, knowing the child, can use a learning management system to provide materials and activities fitted to individual ability and interests. Rather than replace the teacher, the technology augments the ability of the professional to reach every student.

Tom Snyder, a software developer, wrote in a 1999 article predicting the future of educational technology:

“A presidential commission has been established to study the growing inequity in computer allocation. Apparently, most computers are being used to deliver instruction to poor kids in the inner-city schools, putting these students at a clear disadvantage. All the best jobs and places in incoming college classes are going to applicants who were ‘fully teacher taught'.” from “Technology, Trends, and Gizmos: A Timeline for the ’90s and Beyond” Technology & Learning, September 1990, 92-98. 

As it turns out, Synder is partially right. The poor have access to computers; the affluent have individual devices and human teachers who know how to use them constructively.

I would hate to see personalization turned into a dirty word in education, when its concept is so important. Let's call programmed instruction what it is - depersonalized instruction - and fight to keep it from being called personalized.