Pontfications on the field of Educational Technology and Instructional Design.

Bare with me as I ponder the meaning of education in the 21st century from the perspecitive of an instructional designer.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

In Memory of Gramma Evie

(May 26, 1915 to September 22, 2009)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Let Us Plan How We May Re-Connect

After finishing with Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Children’s Minds-For Better or Worse, I have been convinced of one Healy’s major hypothesis. This is that computer usage by children under age 7 is probably harmful unless carefully guided by a thoughtful adult. In fact, this was the point she hammered home for most of the book, somewhat neglecting the question of how technology might be properly used for older children age 7 to 18.

Healy does offer up these guidelines, however, to decide when to use technology with children. They are listed below.

Ideal Educational Technology Usage
“If a child has sufficient cognitive skills and social development,
If technology is not substituting for important developmental experience,
If we are not expecting it to do what it cannot do,
If parenting and teaching retain priority,
If the technology complements a well-planned curriculum,
If it does not steal funds from more important needs,
If we are judicious in planning and selection of software and activities,
If we don’t become seduced by flashy graphics and digital legerdemain,
If parents and teachers ware willing to provide a human “scaffold” for technology-assisted learning…then young people may profit from wise choices in this emerging field (p.245)."

Even though I am a technology teacher for middle school-age students, I find it hard to disagree with any of these points. A few rarified schools, such as Clearfield High School, do this already and are seeing amazing results.

The sad reality is that the vast majority of teachers in my experience do not follow very many of these guidelines. In fact, the sad reality would be something like this:

Typical Educational Technology Use
We don’t consider cognitive or social development issues,
Virtual developmental experiences are often easier than real ones,
We expect it to do our job by helping them research, write, and create,
We cede our guidance through thorny issues and questionable content,
We haphazardly add in computer “stuff” in place for teacher-guided lessons,
We spend inordinate amounts of money on technology without performing an analysis of teaching needs and goals,
We purchase whatever software looks the coolest, and find ways to make it fit our lessons,
We start our students on “projects” and then spend most of our time fixing technical glitches or doing personal activities.

So I am a bit skeptical, concerned, and discouraged by the current state of affairs that I have observed in the educational use of technology. What can be done? I have a few ideas.

  • First, California schools must start from the beginning and put forth a study that examines how educators are currently using technology. The study should address successful and unsuccessful schools. Then a report should be issued to the California Superintendent of schools, outlining the best ways to proceed.
  • Second, a plan should be put together containing clear standards, such as NETS, that California enthusiastically adopts and endorses. Furthermore, these standards must be implemented across the curriculum, and not just in technology classes. The plan should include standards, best practices, and recommendations and requirements for technology-assisted projects.
  • Third, statewide funding must be issued for teacher development and time needs to be set-aside for yearly training and collaboration. Related to this, basic levels of technology need to be consistently present throughout the state, and the state should monitor and help maintain adequate levels.
  • Finally, schools should be regularly monitored, evaluated, and assisted to help them meet state technology goals.

Without clear analysis of the current problems, a plan to fix them, and follow-through with training, funds, and evaluation, technology will remain a very expensive distraction to teachers and students.

  • Healy, Jane M. Failure to connect how computers affect our children's minds--for better and worse. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998. Print.

Note: This blog post was done as the Final Blog Post #6, the final 3rd of the Book Review. It is also the final act of work I will do before being awared my MA from SDSU. Thank you TJ...!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Beware the Dangers of Digital Childhood!

I have continued reading, “Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children’s Minds—For Better and Worse” and been struck by all the considerations that are neglected by well-meaning parents and teachers
. I am referring to the dangers we subject childr
en to in placing them in front of computers without thought or guidance.

I am personally guilty of placing my own kids in front of a computer with a learning game, feeling better because they are not watching TV. I have also offered mindless “learning” games as a reward for students for finishing their work. In both of these instances, I realize I was operating under a faulty assumption. This faulty assumption was that computer “educational” games are helpful, and better than just simply playing. Rather, educational “games” for children present many worrisome risks that parents and teachers should consider.

Health Risks
According to Healy, there are potential risks to children’s vision (50-90% of frequent computer users have visual deterioration), and posture (children often develop a “hunch”), health (magnetic fields and radiation may harm children). Furthermore, children miss much needed physical exercise, which aids children physically, mentally, and socially.
Unfortunately, educational computer games promote virtual, rather than actual activity.

Learning RisksFurthermore, due to their developmental stage, young children who spend too much time on a computer may fail to develop the appropriate brain associations and schemas created during physical interactions. The brain responds to its environment, has sensitive periods where it moves from concrete ideas towards the abstract, and develops best when multiple body systems learn to interact in increasingly complicated situations. None of these happen when a child is sitting at a “learning” game that simply requires them to click, get shallow praise, and avoid deep thinking. Most educational games, at best, turn our children into “organic data processors”, who can spit out rehearsed facts without any real-world understanding. The risks to children’s brain development are real, and we ignore them at the risk of inadvertently harming our children.

Social and Emotional Risks
It goes without saying that too much of anything can be harmful. This is especially true regarding computer use for children. Children who spend inordinate amounts of time on the computer, playing games or “learning”, will miss opportunities to make social connections with other children. It is in these childhood relationships that children learn how to play nice, fight nice, listen, and relate. Without these opportunities, children can become highly antisocial and not know how to interact with other people. Luanne Traud, in her article, “Virtual Childhood for Real Kids”, bemoans the fact that kids are losing out on a childhood of neighborhood play and real relationships, for simulated relationships with fake pets and virtual friends. Kids need to get out of the house to interact!

Ban Computer Games!?
You are probably assuming that I want to do away with computer software for children. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Rather, parents and teachers simply need to quit treating the computer like a tutor, and realize it is only a tool. Parents and teachers alike must design how
their children and students use the computer. That's right--sit down and plan. Analyze the software that is available and align it to family, or classroom goals. Does the software promote higher thinking skills? Does it promote genuine creativity. Design a plan to use it that includes frequency, and solid connections to age-appropriate learning (standards). And adults should sit with them as they learn and talk to them about what they are learning! Only then will "computer time" be a valuable tool in learning for families and schools.

To explore this issue in more depth, you may want to watch the video discussion below.

Note: This is blog reflection #4 for Edtech 795B.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Failure to Connect ...In the Beginning

I've been reading a book recently called "Failure to Connect: How Computers Affect Our Children's Minds--For Better or Worse", written by Jane M. Healy, PH.D. It is an thought provoking look at the "often" thoughtless rush towards technology in education.

As an educator trained in instructional design and educational technology, this really caught my attention because NOTHING should be implemented in schools without thoughtful analysis of the product, and evaluation of the results. According to the author, however, analyzing and evaluating the results of technology initiatives is the rare exception in P-12 education. Some of the initial concerns of the author, which I happen to share, are:

Accountability and common sense are needed. Too often, technology initiatives are launched with little accountability, and a sheer lack of common sense. A good example of this is pointed out by the author as the US initiative to wire all schools for telecommunications (ie. Internet access) by the year 2000. All schools were wired, at enormous expense, based on the assumption that (Healy, 1998) "connecting kids to information will somehow make them more able to read and use it intellegently"(p. 19). This whole technology craze in education brings to mind the days of "irrational exuberance" in the technology stock market.

An example of technology implentation done better can be found in a case study by David F. Treagust & Leonie J. Rennie printed in The Journal of Technology Education, where six schools receiving technology money were allowed freedom to meet their own technology needs, and evaluated on success at the end of the grant period. In their study, three of the six schools met their own goals, but none of them recorded any statistically significant educational gains.

Techies, not educators, are gaining control. Another interesting point of the author suggests that educators and parents are losing control of the education of their own children. Rather, Technology companies, IT professionals, and mindless software itself are creating the agenda for what children are learning with technology. First, technology companies have a vested interest in pushing their product, and the software is usually created by non-educators. "Most is programmed by "techies"...who have little if any knowledge--or interest--in child development or educational philosophy"(p. 34). The concern is that software companies, mostly driven by profit, are having more influence on our children than we are.

Second, IT professionals in school districts are increasingly in control of what is being done with technology, rather than educators. In many districts, teachers are not allowed to install gradebooks, curriculum software (from textbook publishers!), or educational software without approval and help from IT technichians. Furthermore, they are severely limited in what websites they can utilize and must submit their choices to IT (non-educators) for approval.

Third, the software (or the students) itself is controlling what is learned, rather than the teacher. Healy shares many anticdotes where students were cleverly underchallenging themselves so they could quickly get to, or remain on, the fun games. In one instance, a boy was choosing simple math problems so he could play games. In that instance, the student learned that choosing the easiest path was the most rewarding.

Analyze and Evaluate, two key aspects of the ADDIE instructional design process, are the keys to make sure technology initiatives are properly implemented in schools and homes. If these are done carefully by instructional designers, rather than IT salesmen or technicians, our schools and children will be better off.

Note: This blog post is written to satisfy the requirements for Blog Entry #4, reviewing the first 1/3 of the above book. It should also be noted that I tried valiantly to keep the blog post under 500 words (but failed) while still making funny and relevant points. It is a tall order.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Google Wave...wave of the future?

Interesting, today I read about Google Wave which promises to be the "wave" of the future. Some are claiming it will be the end of email and other types of communication. Hmmm. Doubtful, but it may be an exciting option for people who are using collaboration tools. For instance, Google Wave will have the ability to allow synchronous or asynchronous communication, allow easy file transfer, and allow for extendability with gadgets. Since I just finished 2 years of using online collaboration tools, this should be very interesting to see as it rolls out. I, for one, will be trying it out. The image below links out to a presentation by Google.

Here is a link to "whatisgooglewave.com"if you want more information.

Note: This is NOT for Edtech 795B, although it might have made a good futurewatch post if I had time to work it out.

Let's Smash High School!

A smashing idea!

I think high school needs to be broken into two...or three, or four pieces! That's right! Smash it to smithereens! Of course while literally smashing high school campuses into pieces might delight the imaginations of teenage vandals, it wouldn't exactly solve any problems with our high school system. However, letting instructional designers develop a new multi-track system by breaking high school up into multiple tracks might solve numerous problems.

One size fits all?

If you ever spent any time inside a high school locker room, you know that one size definitely is not for everyone! Some kids are way beyond their years, while others are just starting to grow up. This same idea holds true when it comes to education. A one track and one topic educational system isn't for everyone. Multiple tracks in high school could solve this problem. By multiple tracks, I am referring to different paths that students take after middle school to refine their education. For example, students who are more artistic could take a "literature and arts" track in high school that expands on their more creative interests. Other students with a technological bent might to take a "science and technology track". It doesn't just have to be two tracks, either. School systems might return to the ROTC model for a track that puts students into a workplace environment part of the time where they learn from a future employer how to perform a job well. The more we allow our high school students to choose their interest, the more likely they are to remain interested in their education. A multiple track system can also be a life-line to those who have struggled with the "mainstream" educational track.

Come-on...Everybody is doing it!

Doesn't that phrase bring back those high school memories? Unlike smoking or drinking, however, there are valid reasons why everyone is doing it when it comes to multi-track secondary education systems. And while I hate to admit it, many European countries have been doing multi-track systems for decades.

In France, students can choose between a "stream" in science, economics, humanities, professional (think ROTC) and eight technical streams. In Germany, students are funneled into four different "schools" based on their academic abilities and interests. German students may enter apprenticeships in grade nine or ten. Other, more academic minded, Germans may stay in the "Gymnasium" until year 13 of their education.

So, my point is, why don't we do our research, begin to find out which societies are having the most success with their secondary systems, and begin pilot testing some of these systems in US districts. We will never know if it will work for us until we begin to research and bring back multiple-track systems in the US.

Hand over the keys!

Who better than to tackle this project than a team of educators…preferably trained as instructional designers. We can analyze the best track system model to adopt, design and develop a new model according to best theory and practice, put it into practice, and evaluate its success. Oh Yeah! I'm ready.

Note: This is for Futurewatch 4.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Wee Three Things...

You know the words...."we three kings have traveled so far....daaaa, da, da, du, da, da, da daaa". So it's not Christmas, although I do like Christmas as much as the next guy. But what I really want to talk about are the THREE THINGS. Yes, the three things that I love in instructional design. In fact, they have traveled a long way as well. What are these things you ask? They are performance analysis, principles of design, and learning efficiency. Let me suggest that these three things have a significant future in instructional design, and hopefully education as a whole.

Thing #1
Let me start with a little background on performance analysis in case this term is new to you. Performance analysis is a process by which individual or organizational performance is analyzed in light of deficiencies in knowledge, skills, and motivation. Performance analysts also search for environmental barriers such as disincentives to perform duties, as well as hindrances that make it hard for people to do their jobs. In other words, they fix organizations and people so they do their jobs as they should be doing them.

Star Light, Star Bright...

I think the future of this field is bright and has become mainstream in the corporate world. The growth area is in government, and education. This love of mine will need to be applied in government offices and school districts if our problems are going to be solved. It is not totally different than a previous topic I addressed where I lectured everyone on the need for ecological (or transformational) systemic change. within our school systems. This type of change process, which has been championed by Frank Duffy of Gallaudet University is fundamentally rooted in a total performance analysis of the district, department by department, with a an eye towards eliminating barriers to performance. Sooner or later, things will get bad enough that the public will start demanding that a true and impartial performance analysis be done on our public institutions. At least that is what I keep repeating over and over in my head.

Thing #2
Secondly, I love the principles of design. Humorously, the name which is traced back to Robin Williams of the Non-Designers Design Book, make an acronym which spells CRAP. Ironnically, Robin's own website doesn't abide by ANY principles of good design that I've learned. I'm pretty sure it is a reflection of her offbeat sense of humor.

But I digress, fortunately, for my purposes in education, this acronym can be retooled to say PARC, CARP, PRAC, or RPAC,...although I'm not sure how to pronounce the last one. So CRAP stands for the design principles of Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity. Now I don't think these principles are on the cusp of educational research, but they are certainly not going away. In fact, as a fairly young technology educator I intend to propagate these to my students for use in design projects of every ilk. Now granted, there are many design principles that can be applied, but these ideas can help students design their posters and flyers, book reports and PowerPoints, and web pages and blogs. The sooner kids understand their are actually guidelines behind how something should look, the better off we will all be.

Thing #3
I am most passionate about thing #3 which happens to be a theory with practical guidelines called learning efficiency. This theory is grounded in a brain science called Cognitive Load Theory(CLT), which as been researched and formulated by the likes of G.A. Miller, W.G Chase, H.A. Simon, and John Sweller. Notably, John Sweller has summarized the findings of CLT research and packaged them into a neat and tidy little book called Efficiency in Learning: Evidence Based Guidelines to Manage Cognitive Load. This theory packs a punch, however, as the proven guidelines are spelled out in proven techniques for helping learners and instructors to maximize their learning. The goal is to NOT overload the learner's working memory so they don't lapse into a conscious stupor called cognitive overload. What has amazed me about this theory and the resulting principles is that educators, for the most part, don't really know about them. And this is love of mine is going to play a role in the future. As the public demands more accountability from teachers and schools, perhaps due to performance analysts picking everything apart, schools will need to prove that their methods for teaching are not just based on educational gurus trying to make a quick buck, but on educational science. For my part, I intend to teach these principles every time someone hands me a microphone in front of a group of teachers. Teachers need to know this stuff!

So in the end, the wee three things that I love will have to move forward with my efforts, and the effort of designers throughout the field. If instructional designers committ to play an active role in tthe educational field, using their skills and knowledge, then education will have a good opportunity for reform. If this doesn't happen, then education will be left up to the whims of politicians and beurocrats.

Note: This blog post was published as a response to FutureWatch #3 in EDTEC 795B.