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BFTP: Old folks and technology

We’re so far behind our students. How do we catch up and move past them so that we can then teach them things they don’t know?

When I read this quote from a teacher in Dangerously Irrelevant, I was just plain saddened. How has it come to pass that teachers no longer recognize that there are values, skills and understandings that they already bring to the classroom that are far more important than technology skills?

I think this old column still holds up pretty good...


Old folks and technology
Head for the Edge – Nov/Dec 2002

John Lubbock, a 19th century astronomer, once wrote:

There are three great questions which in life we have to ask over and over again to answer:
   Is it right or wrong?
   Is it true or false?
   Is it beautiful or ugly?
Our education ought to help us to answer these questions.

I think of those words often when I hear educators worry about kids being more adept and comfortable with technology than those of us who were growing up when the earth was still cooling.

It’s hard not be humbled when a situation like this occurs as related by Monica Campana of Palm Coast, Florida, on LM_Net:

Last month Google was blocked by our district because kids were doing image searches and actual pictures loaded on Google image search hit page that aren’t blocked by our filter. Safe search in Google can be turned off by the kids. I vented, fumed, researched, emailed Google, but finally gave up and taught the kids how to use a few other search engines. One week later one of my seventh graders pulled me aside and whispered that we could still use - the Canadian version of Google, as of yet still not blocked. I had to laugh because I should have asked the kids in the first place. 

Many of us turn to those younger than us for technology help. (Older I get the more it seems like the more young people there are around all the time!) When I need help editing a digital movie, I turn to my 16-year-old son. He downloads movies, burns CDs, and uses IM to visit with folks around the world. If I need help getting the networked printer to work in the office, our 20-something network coordinator is the one I ask. When her fingers fly through the control panels they are a blur. Hands down, kids can do the technical stuff and are more comfortable with much of this stuff than I will ever be. And my VCR DOESN’T blink 12:00 either.

In Growing Up Digital (McGraw Hill, 1999) by Don Tapscott calls the kids who have grown up with a mouse in their hands the Net Generation. Of these Net-Geners, he writes, “For the first time in history youth are an authority on an innovation central to society’s development.” I am not exactly filled with hope for the future when I think that the young, spiky blue-haired guy with more studs than a Minnesota snow tire is leading cultural change. (Darn, that sounded just like something my grandfather might have said!)

What I hope we don’t forget is that the same great issues of education that Lubbock identifies are still with us today and are perhaps more important than ever. When our students download music, we need to be there to ask if there is a copyright question involved (right or wrong). When they find sources of information on the Internet, we need to be there to ask them if the information is credible (true or false). When they put graphics into their presentations, we need to be there to ask them if those visuals contribute to the message they are trying to get across (beautiful or ugly). I like to think the questions we can help answer are more important in the long run than “How do you create a new background on a slide?”

We need to help make sure our students not only know how to use these new electronic marvels, but use them well. A short list of tools is below with some of the sensibilities about their use with which we geezers can still help:


No matter how sophisticated the N-Geners are technologically, in matters of ethics, aesthetics, veracity, and other important judgments, they are, after all, still green. By virtue of our training and life experiences, we can apply the standards of older technologies (the pencil, the podium, the book) to those which are now technology enhanced. And we’d better. Given the choice of having Socrates or Bill Gates as a teacher, I know which one I would choose.

Increasingly the teachers and librarians who can survive and thrive in schools ever more permeated by technology will need to view themselves as “co-learners” in many learning experiences. Remember that “life-long learning” applies to us as well as the kids.


So after re-reading this, I am asking myself "What in the hell are we doing in our staff development efforts in technology that is so belittling to teachers?" Have we truly lost sight of the fact that the end result should not be using technology well, but using technology to teach well?

Good grief!

And just remember...

 Original post December 12, 2009


An educational Fitbit?

My daughter and son-in-law got Fitbit wristbands for Christmas. These small, simple devices track one's physical activity, number of steps taken, flights of stairs climbed, and monitor one's sleep patterns. (Much discussion around "How does it know I am asleep?) Others versiojs monitor heart rate and who knows what else. 

Many of us like to know our personal metrics and use them as motivation to improve. Outdoing one another and issuing challenges and taunts were already part of the Fitbit experience in the first couple days of use while the kids were visiting. I understand the motivating faction as an avid user of MapMyWalk on my phone, charting number of books read on Goodreads, weight loss (I wish) by stepping on the scale each morning, and tracking my financial health using online access to my 401 accounts. It's fun to keep track.

As more educators recognize the power of gaming (really just using metrics in an agreed upon manner to judge performance), how long will it be before we see a Fitbit-type device tied to a school's LMS? Or does such a creature already exist? I know IXL Math and MyOn Reader both allow students to track their own progress - or at least number of problems solved or pages turned.

What other ways might students be able to monitor their own academic pursuits to improve their academic health? Numbers of ...


  • Pages read
  • Math problems solved
  • Words written
  • Lines of code written
  • Graphics edited
  • Movies made
  • Hours of educational games played
  • Any higher order thinking activities done???


Is there the mental equivalent of laying on the couch eating junk food while watching mindless television? Wait, that's probably bad for you both mentally and physically. Fitbits do a good job for many getting people moving their bods. Can we create a similar device to get kids to move their minds as well?


Tech Trends for 2015 - I wish

It's that time of year when pundits predict the coming educational trends and breakthrough technologies for the next twelve months. All very interesting and all rather optimistic. What amounts, for the most part, to wishful thinking.

I am not going to confuse predictions with wishful thinking - I'm just going to go right ahead and wish. Given that I have hoped for most of these things for many years, I am not overly optimistic that 2015 will be the banner year that any come true. But it doesn't stop me from wanting these things for my students, my teachers, my profession, and my society ...

I wish 2015 is the year

  1. Learning objectives will drive technology plans.
  2. Learning objectives will drive the selection of student devices in 1:1 programs rather than brand loyalty, cost. or ease of management.
  3. Teachers got more excited about new learning activities than new apps.
  4. Administrators see technology as operating expense, not capital outlay, when budgeting.
  5. Libraries and student personal technologies are universally recognized as fundamental for all students in an equitable and modern education rather than nice extras.
  6. "Personalized" education is a result of student/teacher collaboration and an open LMS, not a corporate buzzword used to sell overpriced adaptive reading and math programs.
  7. Classroom teachers are given autonomy in the classroom - and be worthy of that trust.
  8. Schools change to meet the needs of our minority population rather than expecting our non-white population to adapt to our traditional methods of education.
  9. The number of mandated tests will begin to decline.
  10.                                               (Intentionally left blank for you to complete.)

In looking for an image to accompany this post, the results of my GoogleImage search showed two distinct attitudes toward wishful thinking: 1) it is a waste of time, possibly even destructive, 2) it leads to accomplishments that otherwise may never happen. Hmmmmm...

I would like to think in my daily activities, I take concrete actions and make conscious decisions to make some of the things in my list above happen. I also recognize that I have a very limited amount of influence over not just what happens in my own district, let alone the state, the nation, or the world.

But hey, what else does one have to do? 

Image source