Some observations about technology & education

               As the librarian, I get to observe many teachers working with their classes. It is a fantastic perch I get to watch from and I am always trying to “see” what it is that we are doing in school. Here are some of my latest observations, though I am not sure what they mean. (Perhaps you can help me with that part.) 

  • Technology is here to stay and yet, we’re not really sure why we’re using it sometimes. I’ve seen teachers bring their classes down to use the computers, but they are being employed in vastly different ways. Some teachers bring their students to use the internet for research, guiding them with recommended sites, while others allow their students to simply Google anything they want, and/or use wikipedia as a source. Still others only visit to have students type their essays, never using the internet or online databases.
  • It is interesting to watch students working on asynchronous, distributed learning like Virtual High School courses and the NovaNet program. Some packages include video and audio segments to go along with the standard online reading and writing. What is clearly missing is the classroom interaction, the back and forth of discussions and questions. I’m left wondering if this model works for all learners, and if the “assessments” (usually multiple choice questions) really demonstrate learning or simple recall of information.
  • I am amazed by how many students still see the computer as basically a typewriter and/or an entertainment system. When they are not typing a paper, they are trying to access music or games online because, according to them, “I’m finished with all of my work”. Besides the occasional Power Point presentation, I hardly ever see students using computers to actually “compute” anything. That is, I hardly ever see anyone using a spreadsheet to plot information or create graphs. I have never seen students creating a database, learning what fields are or how to run a query. I haven’t witnessed students independently watching educational videos from PBS, Yale Open Access, TED Talks, Khan Academy or any number of valuable information sources available online. Instead, I find them looking at Nike sneakers, cars few will ever be able to afford or the latest video from Nikki Minaj or Lil’ Wayne.
  • Finally, I posted a picture of Steve Jobs, along with a quote attributed to him, on my office window the day after he died. There is no mention of who he was, only the dates 1955 – 2011. Not surprisingly, more than a few students had no idea who he was, even though they carried versions of his ipod in their pockets and had little white ear buds hanging from their collars. One writer I read, mentioned that perhaps Jobs’ greatest contribution to our culture was his ability to make technology fun and beautiful. I leave that for others to decide. 

               There it is. Some observations from where I sit. Like I said, I am not sure what all this means, but I know that I am watching a radical departure from what school was like when I was a student. I love technology, and I am thankful for the incredible power it puts at our fingertips. I’ve learned though, that whenever something is gained, something is inevitably also lost. Many people have started taking sides on what we’re gaining and losing with the advent of always being connected. I recommend for your consideration the following books, which we have in our collection:

  •  Fool’s Gold: why the internet is no substitute for a library by Mark Herring: We just got this title in, but obviously it would strike a chord with me, being a librarian. I’ll give a more informed review when I’m done reading it.
  • The Shallows: what the internet is doing to our brains by Nicholas Carr: I’ve mentioned this book on this blog before, but I think it’s worth repeating. Carr’s thesis is essentially that our brains are “sculpted” by the thinking and learning technologies they encounter. Everything from pictographs, the phonetic alphabet and maps have all informed our minds about the state and shape of the real world around us. Now neuroscience is discovering that our latest and greatest invention, the internet, is changing how we think.
  • The Future of the Internet: and how to stop it by Jonathan Zittrain: Another new arrival to our shelves, I can’t say anything except that it promises to be interesting. According to the blurbs and reviews I’ve read, the author posits that commercial interests have already started taking control of what was once an open, democratic and often, chaotic new form of communication. The real danger for users lies in the ubiquity of the internet and the incredible power it has for gathering information about all of us.

Thank you for stopping by and I hope you found something interesting and useful.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2011. All rights reserved.


About htwilson

born in brooklyn, raised in queens, massachusetts, that's where I be.
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2 Responses to Some observations about technology & education

  1. NK says:

    thought provoking as usual.

    I see two of your ideas effecting my life as a teacher: Nova Net and the effective use of technology in lesson plans.
    the proliferation of Nova Net students this year without the expansion of our PC infrastructure means that there are significantly less PC resources for me to use for my math classes. In fact it is unlikely that my classes will be able to use Excel for our unit on Data and Stats, or use Geogebra for our units on graphing lines, systems, and quadratics, or use Powerpoint develop their presentations of their games projects in our Probability unit. My Comp class will not be doing any independent work on Khan this year. Can’t my students use these tools at home? Unlikely without guided practice in school. Will they learn Algebra without accessing these tools? Yes. Will the results be as effective as I want them to be, can I excite them about STEM, will my students be as competitive with other districts as I want them to be?
    I’ll just keep looking for other ways to get them exposed to technology.

    I am always glad that I stopped by to read your blog.
    Nancy K

    • htwilson says:

      Nancy K,
      Thank you so much no just for being a reader, but for your insightful feedback. It’s funny that our students have smartphones sometimes with better technology on it, than anywhere in the school. Please come back in the future and recommend the blog to other educators. Thanks again, and good luck.

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