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EdTech Update

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Tuesday
Nov012005

PDF of Tech Skill Assessments

I've combined the five separate entries of technology skill assessments for incoming HS freshmen into a single .pdf document. Comments are always welcome.

See original post if this makes no sense.

 

Tuesday
Nov012005

Appreciation for technology cynics

I read with considerable amusement the following letter to editor in this month’s Eutopia magazine last night:
PLUS ÇA CHANGE . . .
I read with considerable amusement your editor's note claiming that the latest rounds of technology are going to change human beings, and that the upcoming generation will "amaze us" (October 2005). This kind of nonsense has been claimed since time immemorial. Previously, it was claimed or hoped that the printing press, universal literacy, radio, television, the computer, ad nausea would transform us human beings in ways that would "amaze us."
But what is the evidence? Do human beings behave with more love, compassion, humanity, kindness, decency, etc., than before? Are we better, more moral or ethical people than our ancestors? Not if we honestly evaluate ourselves.
Please tell us which of our new gizmos will make us more loving, caring, and decent human beings who will treasure, respect, honor, and cherish our humanity. So we will change, and everything will remain the same. Thus it has been throughout recorded human history.
VICTOR HRUBY
REGENTS PROFESSOR OF CHEMISTRY
THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
TUCSON, ARIZONA
I am not going to champion any assertion that any technology has made us more humane, although, my understanding was that  being “humane” was the reason given by Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin for suggesting the invention of the technology that bears his name to the French Revolutionary National Assembly in the 18th century. I also would argue that whoever invented indoor plumbing had a very decent streak – especially toward those of us who live in colder climes. Not having to walk into the cold several times a day has made Minnesotans much happier and probably more civil to each other.

Having overly-high expectations of technology (improvement of the nature of humanity) makes it easy to be cynical about all technologies. But quite frankly, I rather enjoy technology cynics. Wired Magazine now has its own: Tony Long whose first column, The Dark Underbelly of Technology, is a good read.

I’ve been known to be a tad suspicious of technology myself in columns and articles:
If I remember, there was some old Greek (Aristotle, Socrates?) who defined technology simply as an extension or amplification of humans’ natural abilities. This make a great deal of sense to me. The telescope - an extension of the eye. The telephone - an extension of the ear. The automobile - an extension of the leg. The computer – an extension of the brain.

Doesn’t it then make sense that technology would naturally amplify both humanitiy’s best and worst tendencies?

Can we use technology to improve human nature? Do unreasonably-high expectations create cynics?

Monday
Oct312005

Advice to the library-lorn?

Now and again, I get an e-mail from someone in the field who asks for help or advice. I am humbled by being asked and try my best to respond. But now with this blog, the person asking advice might actually be able to get something of value - from you the blog readers! Below is a slightly edited version of an original e-mail, identity removed, and posted with the original sender's permission. My response  interspersed:

___________________________ 

Hello Mr. Johnson,
I am a school librarian in a 7-12 private school. I am also a doctoral student at ____ in instructional technology. These two aspects of my life forces me to live in two completely different worlds.
At [the university] I'm part of seminars and discussions that deems technology not only a way of engaging net-Gen students but a necessity for our nations progress in  our 21st global environment. I visited NECC and witnessed the amazing things technology can do. I'm excited about the prospects for technology integration in the future.


Do remember the rightful goal of many college programs is to make idealists of graduates - a good thing since the real world makes realists (if not cynics) out of practitioners all too quickly.) My experience is that most college teachers are theorists and have little experience putting these theories into practice in real schools.

For the most part, the "prospects for technology integration" have remained "prospects" on the whole in most schools. Change comes slow, hard and fitfully sometimes. It's frustrating. Read John Peterson's response to a short editorial at http://pedersondesigns.com/2005/10/29/warning-technology-guys-using-the-word-pedagogy/
 
But to me, all the fun in my work is seeing if I can't make theory work in practice. It's a real challenge, corners are cut, philosophies diluted, and timelines lengthened. But it's what keeps me coming to work every morning.

Then I return to school, and I get depressed!
At school, besides the library, I also have responsibility for the computer lab and technology teaching. As your latest article in Learning and Leading with Technology attests, students prefer digital information. I have to  force students to even look in the library for information by asking  teachers to require at least a book or two in student bibliographies. Since libraries are black holes financial support for materials seems to get scarcer and scarcer. In this month's Teacher-Librarian the editor claims that colleges cite research inadequacies as a common weakness of incoming freshman.


As the parent of a Net Genner son, I finally have decided that one is better steering the camel in the direction it is already heading and stopped trying to get him to regard "books" in the same light I do. Personally, I enjoy the depth of learning books can provide, but even I use them very little anymore it seems to meet both my professional and personal information needs. (Sigh.) And take a look at bibliographies of current professional articles - how many of them would pass the "you must use two books as sources" test? I would select and stock materials in print format that kids will actually use - either for recreational reading or meet very specific demands of the curriculum. Put your scarce dollars for resources into subscription online materials that are authoritative - online reference materials (ie World Book online, Facts on File online, etc.) and full-text magazine periodical databases.

You are NOT going to change this generation of digital natives, but you can give them good skills to survive in a digital environment, awareness of invisible web resources, great search strategies and ability to determine the authority and reliability of digital information.

My next disappointment is the computer lab. I've tried to encourage things such as blogging in class discussion. We ended up with students writing things that were inappropriate. We constantly have to monitor students for safety and appropriateness. It seems I'm constantly having to pull back just when I feel the most excited about the enlightening and enticing learning potential for technology.


I know this will sound very cavalier, but the monitoring and correcting of student technology use is a major part of our jobs. Making mistakes and learning from them really is educational. And if we don't guide students in school on all aspects of safe, appropriate and ethical tech use, who will? (I don't think a lot of parents know enough themselves to do this.)
 

I don't believe I am unique in my feeling of "How can I get this all to work?". My goal, of course, is to prepare our students for lifelong learning beyond the nurturing walls of secondary school. However, I feel caught between my desire to give them wings to fly and  tying them down to keep them safe and on task.

 

Sue


Sue, don't you think every real teacher feels this way? Give them wings - but make sure they are pointed to a desirable destination. Oh, think percentages too. How many your kids are really behaving inappropriately? Could a small percentage be coloring your view of all Net Genners? I wish I had a quick and easy response to this, but there isn't one - only on-going attempts to maintain balance.

____________________ 

 OK, folks, help Sue out. Please. Comfort? Advice? Commisseration? Please help! I'm send her this blog entry address so she can check for your responses!