Saturday, January 19, 2013

Should We Use Digital Technology in Elementary Education?

Last week I happened to be talking about technology to a teacher when someone (not a k12 educator) intervened and said in complete confidence: "I do not know of any benefit of using technology in the classroom."

I will admit that at times I have my doubts about technology integration. There are technologies I find useless for most users (e.g. smartboards) and others I find incredibly powerful (iPads). What struck me, however, was the complete confidence- of someone who is not a classroom teacher.

I am pretty sure that when the piano was introduced, someone stood up and said that he does not see any benefit of using this new technology over older instruments. Probably stating that such technology brings disorganization and laziness to peoples way of thinking about music...

So here are my top eight reasons to integrate technology in the classroom:

1. This is what students will encounter in the world. Students who will not be exposed to technology in school will be at a great disadvantage especially if they grow up in families that cannot fill up this void- i.e. students at-risk.
2. Differetiation: The ability to tailor instruction to student needs.
3. To teach students to find and sort through information for quality and validity- as we shifted into the knowledge economy finding information is no longer the challenge. Instead it is the ability to filter relevant information.
4. Become careful consumers of media, services, and products.
5. Become global citizens communicating with people from different locations and cultures
6. Be able to answer questions about facts and basic knowledge quickly so we can move to problem solving and real world applications.
7. The ability to represent the world and learning through multiple media products.
8. Teaching students about digital social spaces.

The way I see it, technology is here part of our daily lives. Our role in universities is to explore its impact and design evidence based ways of using it in positive ways.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Gaming and being Social

A lot has been made about the role of gaming in creating lonely and isolated teens and possibly even adults. I think that it is a complex problem and that gaming can have multiple impacts on any individual- I would actually like to suggest that we stop treating the problem as a pro-con problem and instead admit that any impacts of gaming are complex (cognitive, social, emotional) and depend on both the gamer and the game.

I am a casual gamer, I usually like games that can be played with short bursts with minimal set-up times that can be learned quickly. I simply do not have the time or attention span for more. A few months ago I decided to try a social game on Facebook. I have played social word games before but not games that involved long term engagement. As I like strategy games I tried a strategy game that required me to manage resources and raise an army that can battle computer simulated foes as well as other players. When I started playing I immediately turned off the chat feature. I was not interested in the interaction just in the gaming experience. As the game is geared toward short bursts of activity I slowly built my forces over a few weeks until I decided that I was ready to challenge other players. I attacked a few small outposts. The next time I logged in I found that my forces have been attacked by multiple players and repeatedly laid to waste. This seemed to be more than just an attack. I turned the chat on and asked. The response came immediately: "This is not how we behave in this sector". At this point it dawned on me that by not understanding the social aspect of the game I was missing a window into how gamers are creating social norms and mores within games.

I do not know how this links with life outside gaming if at all. What is certain is that it does not necessarily true that gamers would be less capable socially- the need to communicate with peers whom you cannot see and develop norms and values may have great value in a digitally connected global society. There may be a great potential in developing such games to teach ideas in history and civics.
There might be some strength in helping students see the connection between their online social experiences including gaming and their behavior in the real world.

Happy New Year!