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Archive for September, 2015

Are computers a waste of time for schools?

Posted by jturner56 on September 21, 2015

Last week the OECD report Students, Computers, and Learning: Making the Connection led to a interesting array of headlines, including “Computers in classroom have ‘mixed impact on learning: OECD report“, “Worldwide Study: Students Who Use Computers Frequently in School ‘Do Worse’ and my favorite from a local Hong Kong newspaper, “Computers a waste of class time.” I still await the follow-up push for practical action if this is indeed the case.

Of course if one looks a bit deeper, say to the interview with the report’s author Francesco Avvisati in “The Global Search for Education: Can Tech Help Students Learn?“, they would have seen that technology can support a culture of innovation in education, that the key elements for success require teachers and school leaders having the vision, and ability to make connections between students, computers and learning, and that the relationship between digital technologies and learning is not a simple, linear comparison. The OECD Director for Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher, goes further in the OECD Report Forward, noting that while schools lag considerably behind the promise of technology, technology can enhance experiential learning, cooperation and collaboration, inquiry-based pedagogies, project-based learning and formative assessment. There are weaknesses identified, but no call to go backwards or even stall. Schleicher’s call is to “provide educators with learning environments  that support 21st-century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st-century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world.”

This of course does not prevent second-order analyses, such as by Larry Cuban in “Lack of Computers May Be a Blessing” using an Irish Times headline), where he zeros in on three takeaways (lack of PISA score improvements, conventional pedagogies for teaching Internet reading, and that ‘tech can amplify great teaching, but great tech cannot replace poor teaching.‘) I wholeheartedly agree with the third point from the OECD study, but I would have also added “…particularly with limited educational leadership”.

I suppose this just all reinforces the need for teaching critical thinking, for which Peter Ellerton recently highlighted the need to be able to evaluate arguments, logic, psychology (including biases) and the nature of hypotheses, theories and scientific laws.

If we just rely on standardised testing of closed knowledge (where we know all answers before we allow the question) we can continue at best to expect a limited window based on

  • ability to know the answer before the question is put as the only measure of achievement
  • expecting all students to be at the same point in their learning journey at the same time
  • expecting that all students can do the same thing within the same amount of time
  • how students demonstrate learning is homogenous (be it thinking, writing or problem solving).

Why still an issue after 30 years? That’s a leadership question of what is valued and in what ways. Those who adopt narrow perspectives on whatever side of the discussion don’t help.

Me, I’m just a practical guy. As I worked with Grade 6 last week on developing their digital literacy I could see how use of computers helped advance not only this literacy, but also through providing a medium for worthy and visible assessment mechanisms, as well as connecting and developing teacher tasking and advancing student meta-cognition (thinking about thinking). (I have written previously on the research behind this, and the rubric developed). Working with teachers remains where the real action is at. We can only continue to show what is possible and hope values shift to accommodate what learning, working and living in digital domains requires.

Where there is good education there is hope.


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What is the relationship between computers and learning? And where does school fit in?

Posted by jturner56 on September 13, 2015

I was remind of these questions when I came across Valdemar Setzer’s (2000) Review of Arguments for the Use of Computers in Elementary Education. Drawing on contentions from Papert and Oppenheimer, Setzer calls for a more humane approach to education (no argument from me) and sees computers for learning as something to be left with older learners (debatable). While predating debates on digital-related issues of information singularities, personalised choice and distraction, interestingly it did include Papert’s prediction regarding the impending pressure of home and personal computing on educational reform.

What it raised with me was revisiting the basis on which I view computers in school education. My belief, forged in the 80s, is that through cognitive feedback loops computers can help build stronger relationships with learning through personal ownership connected learning, and meta-cognition (thinking about thinking). Digital constructions at all levels play an important part in evidence of learning. Strongly influenced by Papert, it remains relevant to my contemporary considerations (although the connected part was added later, reflecting the impact of TCP/IP technologies and a belief in Socratic reconceptualisation.)

Like the Book as an extension of personal and social connection with learning and memory, digital can amplify and extend cognitive potential for

  • information access
  • personal and social constructions and publishing
  • personal learning (including motivation and engagement)
  • widening connections

While demanding new approaches to inquiry, adaptability and creativity that embrace digital affordances.

What is your belief built on?

As for the implications for schools, after 30 years we are still debating what digital in school education means. Perhaps Audrey Watters (2015) is right when she points to the ongoing arguments over the purpose of public education regarding “God, country, community, the economy, the self”. Digital is often slanted towards the latter two. Perhaps as Shapiro (2014) notes, we are in ideological battles where the the curmudgeonly old oligarchy defends its kingdom with the promise of “progress,” but offers only more of the same.Depending on one’s view, the system is “stuck”, “constrained”, “impersonal”, “viewed through an industrial prism”or “violating principles of spirit, motivation and naturalness” (CEA 2011).  Yet it endures. Perhaps because of certification defensiveness, social conservatism, justifications of meeting perceived needs (“just needs to improve”), mirroring of social structures, or just plain economic efficiency. Or perhaps because viable alternatives have to date not become embedded to a systemic level and therefore the battleground remains as it was (even while limited “alternative” abound). I see school as a mirror of the society we aspire to, not the other way around.

Education remains at the forefront of the battle for “a future world that is better than the one we live in” (Shapiro 2014). Good teaching remains at the core of this. Digital is significant, but only part of this while schools remain a people business. Long may it do so.

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School has on its own momentum

Posted by jturner56 on September 4, 2015

Three weeks in and already planning for next year; while playing musical chairs with time, resources and choices for the here and now. Such is any school year.

More practical than philosophical; yet empowered by the ideas and interactions across students, teachers and the wider school community.

If vibe is good (reference The Castle) all plays well.

Good hearts empowering good brains for a good year.

May your school year be as so.

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