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EdTech Update





Will school-issued devices stop the summer slide?

In Mind/Shift's post "Schools Let Students Take Laptops Home in Hopes of Curbing 'Summer Slide'" (June 27, 2017), author Mollie Simon writes:

“Summer is the most unequal time in America,” said Matthew Boulay, the interim CEO of the National Summer Learning Association. “I think we tend to have this idyllic view of what childhood summers are, but the reality is that for kids living in poverty, summer can be a time of isolation and hunger.”

While some students head off to camps and family vacations, others are left without the resources that accompany a school year, including school lunches, sports teams and a place to go while parents are at work during the day.

Creating more equitable summer learning opportunities is why our district decided to let our 9-11 grade students keep their Chromebooks over the summer.* With the Chromebook, the hope is kids will continue to read the online resources both we provide as a district and those they find of personal interest and relevance at the public library and other places online.

Infographic source

For me, using a device to access reading materials outside of school (including over the summer) is one of the most powerful reasons for our 1:1 program. A long time devotee of Stephn Krashen and his book The Power of Reading, I am convinced that keeping kids reading over the summer will do more to close achievement gaps in our district than summer school.

Yet another part of Simon's article gave me pause when she observes:

Letting students leave for break with their laptops in hand is not enough to cut back on inequality though, New York University professor Susan Neuman said.

“One thing we too often focus on is the sexy interventions like sending home a mobile device, but those people who haven’t had the experience will use them differently,” she said. “In low-income groups the kids would use the games and cheap thrills [available via computers], whereas those kids that had been mentored with a parent next to them use it as a prep school in a box.”

Neuman said it’s important for schools to provide parents with information on the best way to use the devices. Since not all parents are equally familiar with technology themselves, schools can level the playing field by telling them about good online learning sites and best practices for limiting screen time.

This is an area on which we need to continue to work - parent education. We will be starting this fall with offering "Digital Parenting" classes through community ed. but they will focus on safe and ethical use, not necessarily extending the conversation to positive educational uses as well.

Any suggestions for programs that help parents, especially those in lower socio-economic levels, become more proficient in helping their kids use their devices to eliminate the summer slide?


*This decision was not made without some concerns on the part of staff members - What about the kids who move over the summer? What about the kids who will just use the device to watch movies? What if the device gets lost, broken, stolen? Each are probably legitimate concerns for some students, but it seems to me we should make decisions based on the behaviors of our best students who are the majority of our kids.


BFTP: Fairness - remove the word from your vocab

...fairness isn't an objective feature of the universe. It's a concept that was invented so children and idiots can participate in arguments. Scott (Dilbert) Adams

As with most districts, our technology needs and wants outstrip our technology budget. So too often the question of "fairness" comes up when allocating resources. Is such an allocation fair to the elementary program? fair to the kids at ___________ middle school? fair to ________ teacher or _________ department?

Like Adams, I don't believe fairness should be a factor in making budgeting decisions. The concept of fairness is so situationally dependent, it really has no meaning at all. 

Is it fair when the slow running zebra is caught and eaten by the lion? Seems fair to the lion; not so much to the zebra.

If two classroom computers are given to a teacher who uses them well and no classroom computers are given to a teacher who does not use them at all, should the term fairness even enter the conversation?

Instead of asking if an allocation decision is fair, what if we asked if it:

  • Creates equity of opportunity?
  • Advances district-wide goals and proven learning strategies?
  • Supports a proven best practice?
  • Enables an experiment with a high chance of success and replication?
  • Provides children with special needs a means to achieve?

Remove the term fairness from your vocabulary - even if it doesn't seem fair.

Image source

Original post May 21, 2017


Dad's computer rules updated

A co-worker and I will be giving a series of "Digital Parenting" workshops through the district's Community Education Department this fall. With about 5000 Chromebooks now in the hands of our curious 12-18-year-old students, we thought this might be a popular topic in our community.

This topic has been a favorite of mine ever since Carol Simpson asked me to write an article on the subject. That article, "Developing an Ethical Compass for Worlds of Learning", was published in MultiMedia Schools' November/December 1998 issue and was later recognized by the University of California's MERLOT as a distinguished. It's still a pretty good read if I do say so myself.

Only half-jokingly I brag that in that 20-year-old article, I coined the idea of "digital citizenship." The passage:

...while families and the church are assigned the primary responsibility for a child’s ethical education, schools have traditionally had the societal charge to teach and reinforce some moral values, especially those directly related to citizenship and school behaviors. Most of the ethical issues that surround technology deal with societal and school behaviors and are an appropriate and necessary part of the school curriculum.

Close enough? The article eventually became the  book Learning Right from Wrong in the Digital Age: An Ethics Guide for Parents, Teachers, Librarians, and Others Who Care about Computer-Using Young People (Linworth, 2003) that won an award too. Suffice to say, it's fun to be back and engaged with a subject I care about.

In revisiting some of my writings, I've found most of the concepts are still valid, but the language needs updating. For example in the passage above, I would replace "church" now with "spiritual organization." In 2006, I posted Dad's Computer Rules, inspired by Vicki Davis's "11 Steps to Online Parental Supervision of your Children" on her Cool Cat Teacher Blog, Sept 16, 2006. Sensible and sensitive advice.

My updated list for my now grown son that I published in Learning Right From Wrong in the Digital Age reads:

Dad’s Household Computer Rules

  • Obey the law. I don’t have money for bail or fines.
  • Respect others’ privacy (and I will respect yours).
  • Do not give out ANY personal information about yourself or the family.
  • Be truthful about who you say you are in online communications.
  • Talk to me if anything about a website concerns or confuses you. I know that bad sites can be accessed accidentally.
  • Download and install software only with my permission. I mean it.
  • Be as smart, skeptical, and cautious online as you are elsewhere. NOBODY online wants to give you free money or needs your password to anything.
  • Do only those things you would do if I were watching you. I just might be.
  • Watch how much time you spend online. Too much and you'll go blinky and possibly psycho.
  • Be kind in your online interactions. Be thoughtful about what you say and share and post. A potential employer, a possible soul-mate, and your grandmother just might be reading.

As of this writing, my son at age 31 has never been arrested, seems to have fairly decent values, and hasn't been abducted by anyone. Oh, and he as a college degree, a job he loves, and a very nice girlfriend. Whew!