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EdTech Update





BFTP: Why robots make the best teachers

This very interesting story from the BBC, Could robots be marking your homework? brought to mind an old post. Since Pearson is now working on an AI tutor to go along with its worksheets, I expect many politicians and school admins who rise and fall on test scores will buy in, and robots will indeed come into schools. Self-driving classrooms ...

Why Robots Are the Best Employees by Kathy Sierra (2006)

  1. They don't challenge the status quo
  2. They don't ask those uncomfortable questions
  3. They're 100% obedient
  4. They don't need "personal" days.
  5. ... because they don't have a personal life
  6. They never make the boss look bad (e.g. stupid, incompetent, clueless, etc.)
  7. They dress and talk the way you want them to
  8. They have no strongly-held opinions
  9. They have no passion, so they have nothing to "fight" for
  10. They are always willing to do whatever it takes (insane hours, etc.)
  11. They are the ultimate team players
  12. They don't complain when you micromanage (tip: micromanaging is in fact one of the best ways to create a robot)
  13. They don't care what their workspace is like, and don't complain if they don't have the equipment they need
  14. They'll never threaten your job
  15. They make perfect scapegoats
  16. They get on well with zombies 

I think we can all agree that Kathy Sierra's observations about robots being the best employees holds true for teachers as employees in general, but there are some additional, specific reasons that teachers especially ought to be more robotic.

So why do robots especially make the best teachers?

  1. They always follow the mandated curriculum (and love the Common Core).
  2. They let nothing get in the way of good test scores.
  3. They give no special treatment to individual students.
  4. They have no special passions that take away time from teaching the basics.
  5. The do not tolerate ambiguity - only right and wrong.
  6. They never laugh, never get mad, never show excitement, never use sarcasm.
  7. They are easily programmed by politicians.
  8. They never break their computers, demand an IWB, or let their students use their iPads.
  9. They pay attention during meetings.
  10. They don't to be away from class for staff development activities.
  11. Their grades and lesson plans are always in on time.
  12. They work well with robot students.

When robots take over the world, we can all just relax.

Original post August 6, 2012


How do we measure joy?


Steve, a very smart high school math teacher I once worked with often reminded me of the statement above. For all my tales of how technology increased student engagement, enthusiasm, and excitement, he refused to be convinced of technology's efficacy unless I could provide him hard data. Stories were simply not enough.

I thought about Steve when listening to Dean Shareski at our state technology conference this past week. My friend Dean has authored the new book Embracing a Culture of Joy: How Educators Can Bring Joy to Their Classrooms Each Day and that was the topic of his keynote as well. It was a wonderful talk, full of humor and examples and pictures of happy children. A talk much needed by we dour technologists in the audience who tend to dwell on things like firewalls and E-rate and operating system upgrades. Who can argue against schools full of happy children?

But I think Steve would not have been particularly convinced that Dean's advice was really helping kids. And Steve represents a large segment of parents, politicians, and educational reformers. Those that need the numbers to make a case.

Any form of research that shows direct causation statistically in education is nearly impossible.  In an old column, A Trick Question, I suggested this as an answer to those asking how to show empirical evidence that a library program is having an impact on student achievement as measured by standardized test scores:

There is an empirical way of determining whether the library program is having an impact on such scores, but I don’t think you’d really want to run such a study. Here’s why:

Are you willing to have a significant portion of your students (and teachers) go without library services and resources as part of a control group?
Are you willing to wait 3-4 years for reliable longitudinal data?
Are you willing to measure only those students who are here their entire educational careers?
Are you willing to change nothing else in the school to eliminate all other factors that might influence test scores?
Will the groups we analyze be large enough to be considered statistically significant?
Are you willing to provide the statistical and research expertise needed to make the study valid?”

And I concluded that I know of no school willing to conduct such a study.

Substitute technology or engagement or joy or a new textbook series or new teaching method or new classroom furniture or ___________________ for library program in the quote above and you can make the same argument.

Educational leaders will continue to use both anecdotal and empirical evidence, probably more to make their cases for preconceived beliefs than in the spirit of true inquiry. That's life. Use both your head and your heart in making all your choices.



BFTP: ... and I turned out OK

This Blast from the Past is more relevant today than when I wrote it five years ago. We cannot afford not to educate every child to his or her highest potential given economic trends. I am beginning to realize just how lucky my (Boomers) generation had it economically. I'm not too worried about my own kids and grandkids, but I am very concerned about a lot of their peers...

Scott McLeod took some geezers to task in his post "We didn't have [x] when I was a kid and I turned out okay".  He writes:

Here's a statement that I'm getting really tired of hearing:

"We didn't have computers when I was in school and I turned out okay. There's no reason why kids today need 'em."

I'm sure that this argument was offered in the past as well:

"Buses? We walked to school barefoot, in the snow, uphill both ways!"

"I don't want to pay for indoor plumbing for the school. We didn't have it when I was a student and I turned out alright."

"Electricity? Pshaw! Do you know how dangerous those wires are? When we were kids we had oil lamps and candles and everything was fine."

I suspect quite a few of the folks who say they turned out OK without [x] actually did turn out OK. They raised families, made a comfortable living, and contributed to their communities. And they did do so without the benefit of computers, the Internet, cell phones, or even Facebook.

But I would also remind these folks who turned out OK despite not having today's technologies that there were a few other things they didn't have as well, including:

  • International competition for both blue and white collar jobs.
  • Automated factories and farms that require less human labor.
  • Increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence on customer support lines and elsewhere that eliminate the need for "routine cognitive tasks."
  • A lack of political clout from organized labor.
  • Competition for small business from big box stores and online merchants.
  • A labor market that requires post-secondary training as the entry point to a decent paying job.
  • The need to establish professional networks and develop an online portfolio of work.
  • Openly partisan cable news channels and thousand of online pundits.
  • The requirement that one must be creative, solve problems, and evaluate sources of information in order to be a valued member of an organization.

I don't doubt the sincerity of people who believed that they "turned out OK." But I do wonder if they could make an accurate assessment of their chances for success in today's technology-infused economy?

Personally, I don't hear parents or employers doubting the need for students to have access to technology in schools and good technology skills. There is certainly debate and even a lack of understanding about how one defines and how one achieves IT literacy, but the recognition for its need by parents has been around since the mid-90s at least.

I turned out OK, I guess, growing up before personal computers were even a gleam in Wozniak's eye. But that is not the case for the little folks I see in the school hallways everyday. They'll need more skills and abilities than I will ever dream of having.

Original post November 7, 2011