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.

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.