Thoughts on Education – 2/12/2012 – Is Technology the Solution?
I haven’t had much time to sit down and think about education since Thursday. It’s funny how the weekends slip away from you. I do have a big backlog of articles after having not done them on either Thursday or Friday, so I’m going to stick with more reviews today. I haven’t quite figured out what’s a good mix here, more of my own stuff or more article reviews. Of course, even in the article reviews, I am including a lot of my own thoughts as well. Right now, I’m doing article reviews when I get 4-5 articles I want to look at. However, I do look at so many places for information through the week, that it is honestly quite hard not to have that many articles to examine.
OK, so to start, just ignore the large Jessica Simpson lookalike on the page there, as distracting as her stare is there. I was interested in the article from the title, which is what gets me to save most of them for review later. So, often as I’m sitting down here to write about them, I am reading them for the first time as well. Sometimes they are so irrelevant or don’t do what I want that I simply don’t do anything with them at all, such as this one today. This one almost got a delete as well, but the concept is at least interesting, even if it links up to an older style of learning that I don’t want to encourage in my own classroom — flash cards. The article profiles a company that is digitizing flash cards and remaking them to encourage better retention and more honest use of flash cards. The more compelling idea is the creation of a schedule and the push for accountability to the students to complete their work. As the article notes, this is really an attempt to reduce the unproductive cramming before an exam and open up a broader studying schedule. However, the ultimate limitation here is the students. They are the ones who have to make the decision not to cram at the last minute, and I have a feeling that the students who would do this with this program would be the same ones who would be least likely to put off all of their learning to the last minute anyway. Still, I’m all for accountability, especially if it could be integrated with that idea from yesterday on using Google Docs to gauge student progress. So, maybe as a tool that an instructor could put together and release to the student, this could work.
“Today, students are expected to pay attention and learn in an environment that is completely foreign to them. In their personal time they are active participants with the information they consume; whether it be video games or working on their Facebook profile, students spend their free time contributing to, and feeling engaged by, a larger system. Yet in the classroom setting, the majority of teachers will still expect students to sit there and listen attentively, occasionally answering a question after quietly raising their hand. Is it any wonder that students don’t feel engaged by their classwork?”
This, again, goes back to the issues I’ve talked about in several other posts, especially the last one. If we are talking about student engagement, then I think we are failing with the lecture model, especially to the most current generation of students, which is who this article series concerns. I just have to look out at my own classes on lecture days to see the problems, with maybe 1/3 paying active attention, 1/3 paying occasional attention, and 1/3 completely disengaged from the material. Of course, is gamification the answer? Of course not. But can we learn something from this educational trend? Very likely. Perhaps it can bring in greater engagement and even foster creativity rather than rote learning.
The role of technology can both help and hinder learning. The article refers to a number of ways that technology can help engagement, through having the students involved in project based learning and higher levels of engagement, using both apps and clickers. What is interesting is what the author sees as one way that technology is reducing that engagement as well, the smartboard. I’ve not seen that criticism before, as the smartboard is often held up as one of the prime ways to engage students. “Unfortunately, our classroom is often filled with technology that only exists to better enable old styles of teaching, the biggest culprit being the smartboard. Though it has a veneer of interactivity, smartboards serve only as a conduit for lecture based learning. They sit in front of an entire classroom and allow a teacher to present un-differentiated material to the entire group. Even their “interactive” capabilities serve only the student called upon to represent the class at the board.” I have been suspicious of smartboards as a save-all, but I had never really been able to figure out why I didn’t like them. I find this argument compelling. From my own point of view, they seem to just be a new version of the chalk board, offering nothing more than you can find with the method.
“In schools, our students should be using technology to collaborate together on projects, present their ideas to their peers, research information quickly, or to hone the countless other skills that they will need in the 21st century workplace–regardless of the hardware they will be using in the future. If we’re just using tech to teach them the same old lessons. . . we’re wasting its potential. Students are already using these skills when they blog, post a video to YouTube, or edit a wiki about their favorite video game. They already have these skills; we have to show them how to use them productively and not just for entertainment. This is where Gamification comes in. Games are an important piece of the puzzle–they are how we get students interested in using these tools in the classroom environment.” I agree. Ha! What I always tell my students not to do, present a big quotation and say they agree, but I guess I’ll hold myself to a lower standard than them. Still, I think this is an insightful look at the problems with just throwing technology at the problem. You can’t just hand teachers technology and expect them to transform everything. Technology is not the solution, although effective teaching with effective technology could be part of the solution.
The last two Parts of the series deal with how this might take place in practice. I’m not going to go through all of that here, as the information is diverse and hard to summarize. So, check it out if you’re interested. I think what is most interesting is the push for self-pacing and self-motivation for students. Tying completion to rewards beyond simple grades and pushing the students to do more. This is an interesting idea, but I do wonder if our students are ready for this. That is always the problem with these articles, that they project these things into an ideal world where students are not motivated because we aren’t motivating them. Yet, the real problem is often much more complex. Our students are as varied as can be, and the reasons for motivation or lack of motivation are varied in the same way. How do you motivate students who are working two jobs, taking care of kids, sick, taking care of sick family members, in school only because their parents think they should, in school only because they think the should, and so forth. In other words, when students aren’t required to be there, such as at college, how does this push differ? Something to think about.
And, I’ll close for today with an opposite view. Here, the author is warning against the push for project-centered education, one where we emphasize interaction and group work over individual absorption of material. She makes the case that education is inherently a solitary process, where we engage with and absorb difficult material until we learn it. As she says, the emphasis on group work and interaction produces students that “become dependent on small-group activity and intolerant of extended presentations, quiet work, or whole-class discussions.” In other words, they forget how to learn on their own.
She also notes that the push away from the “sage on the stage” can be just as damaging for students. “Students need their sages; they need teachers who actually teach, and they need something to take in. A teacher who knows the subject and presents it well can give students something to carry in their minds.” I have never done much with small group work, so I can’t say one way or another how this works. I have generally done either lecture or discussions. I don’t know how to evaluate small group work, and so I have not done it. Perhaps this is short-sighted of me, but I just don’t know how to give a grade for group work that is not just on the end project. In other words, how do you hold everyone accountable? I know, from talking with my wife and remembering my own experiences, that group work is inherently unequal and very frustrating for those who want to do a good job, as they generally end up doing most of it. I don’t want to put students in that position, and have never been much for this idea. I could be convinced otherwise, but I am skeptical on the idea of small group work. I know that many of the changes I’m looking at making involve small group work, but I just don’t know what to do with it.
Anyway, enough for today. Please let me know what you think or if you have any responses to the ideas I’m presenting, as I don’t want to be working in a vacuum on this.