Saturday, May 21, 2016

What Girl Volleyball taught Me about EdTech

I am visiting my mother in Israel for a few days. Sitting around the table were some family and friends that came to say hi. My aunt was telling us about her granddaughter who is just over 15 and already 6'2". My first thought was, does she play volleyball? This is what I perceive to be a Nebraska question. After 14 years in Nebraska, I think like a Nebraskan. It is unusual for a girl who is tall not to be involved in sports. Einat, a long time friend, and an athlete, chimed in does she play basketball? The answer was No, she does not do any sport. Instead, she is modeling. My aunt explained that there were no opportunities afforded to her in sports.
Einat, who is a former pro athlete, lamented the status of women's sports at all levels. The opportunities aren't there, and there is very slow change.

I started thinking about what made the situation in Nebraska and the US different. While the status of women in the US is somewhat better than Israel, it is not dramatically different. Israelis love sports. While speaking, I realized that the main difference was schools and extracurriculars. I have to admit that I have an ambivalence towards high school sports. But through this discussion, I realized how the structure of extracurricular activities allows schools to open opportunities across ethnicity, income, and gender lines. The fact that it is a school sanctioned activity allows students who might never find such a home to "try out" new selves. In this case to try out their identity as athletes. This would not happen for many students unless schools offered the activity. In popular culture, I am reminded of the path that Jesminder 'Jess' Kaur Bhamra took in Bend It like Beckham. I am convinced that the road would open to many more girls and minority women when it is a school activity.

So what does that have to do with EdTech? Quite a bit. I hear calls to limit the use of technology in
schools or even not teach with devices. Teach thinking, basics, writing. I believe that much of this argument is coming from a middle-class belief that students will eventually get there. I make this point often about my kids. If their school fails to teach them about digital citizenship, search, or tools, I will show them. The problem is that this approach leaves too many capable students behind. Students who will not find a guide that would help them explore if they are interested in science, programming or gaming. Without schools affording to expose all students to these areas we are reproducing gap and losing some of our most talented future creators. We should teach science, technology, and making to ALL in school right NOW.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

3 Reasons Scaling Up Open Educational Resources Should be the Next Step

Open Educational Resources (OER) have been with us for over 20 years. The world wide web revolution made them accessible to anyone with an internet connection. The move in schools to 1 to 1 devices is making it possible now to rely on OER to replace curriculum companies. I believe that this is the time to scale the use of OER and move our schools boldly forward. I believe that the movement has matured enough to move from the periphery to the center of the education process. Here I outline the three most important reasons to do so.
  1.  It is democratic. Well vetted OER breaks the hold that publishers and some states (Texas, CA, NY) have had over the creation of materials. The use of OER allows districts, and potentially even teachers to exercise their professional judgment in curating the curriculum without having to create everything themselves. This will help build the professional capacity of educators to make decisions that fit the students and communities they are serving. The challenge here is tackling the potential for dealing with overabundance and the paradox of too much choice. To make this reality, a vetting process should be added to OER, so teachers have a sense of quality. Such curation is visible on sites such as OERCommons and ReadWriteThink.
  2. It is flexible. OER can be updated and corrected in real time without lengthy editing processes. In effect, we can use a Wikipedia-like process with super-editors who help maintain the integrity of the process. The value of OER is, therefore,  based on the quality of the original and the willingness of users to keep the resource updated and commented on. The use of crowdsourcing to determine the quality and maintain the "freshness" and accuracy of the information can be invaluable.
  3. It is (almost) free. Resources saved by not buying textbooks and teacher materials can be turned to making sure that schools have adequate technology infrastructure, adequate device distribution and most importantly- turn most of the savings into professional development that makes sure that teachers are well positioned to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by OER.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

An Open Letter from a Teacher Educator to EduTech Companies

I am a teacher educator. I work with pre-service teachers every day. I am also an EdTech expert leading professional development and research in this area. I love apps OERI and bells and whistle. I want my students to use tech tools for every opportunity it fits their lesson. I want them to give feedback electronically and use the best tools for the job. But I can't. The simple truth is that my students are having less open access to the technology. As a result, my students have very limited access to the tools used in their school district.

Here is the deal,  curriculum companies turn into Tech companies joined by startups in the field. They all try to sell district-wide products. The problem is that they are selling to school districts, but my students who are in practicum, internship and student teaching in the same classrooms do not belong to the district. As a result school districts do not want to pay for licenses that will not benefit teachers or additional students.

The problem is that more and more the cost is locking my students out of the materials they need to teach. There are hundreds of thousands of pre-service teachers in the US. EduTech companies, please figure it out. Use some of the capacity for innovation to create a profile for pre-service teachers.

Help us make the next generation of teachers connected capable and ready to go.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Are Devices Eating your Students Brains?

Children's Games, 1560, Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Kristen Bailey recently shared this article:
Screentime Is Making Kids Moody, Crazy, and Lazy. Penned by Victoria Dunckley for Psychology Today the article discusses the evils of screen time. A moment of parental panic ensues as author attempt to sell her book through over-generalizations and fear. No parent wants her kids to be moody, crazy nor lazy.

Dr. Dunckley's work has a basis in fact, what concerns me is the overreaching sweeping statements. Screentime Is Making Kids Moody, Crazy and Lazy is such a better title than say: "Parents and kids need to be reasonable about screen time especially in the evenings". OR "Moderate balanced use of screen time can be a meaningful part of a healthy childhood.

The dire warning in Psychology Today is especially challenging given other stories about screen time and video games from the same publication. For example:
Video Gaming Can Increase Brain Size and Connectivity by Christopher Bergland

Dunckley's work emerges from reverse engineering of causes in cases she sees in her practice as a Psychiatrist.This kind of work excludes any ability to see normally behaving children and teens who have access to screen time. And, as I pointed out before, explosive titles sell books- because they prey on our base emotions, in this case, fear, combined with the tradition of screen bashing in the US. 

So, what should we as teachers do? Traditionally, we stay on the safe side, if we are not sure if something is dangerous we stay away from it. The problem with that approach is that it ignores the cost and risk in not engaging. In the case of screen time, the cost is that some students will emerge into the world of college and work without a solid footing in how to engage with digital technologies effectively. Without a reasonable capacity using digital technology students are at a disadvantage as citizens, workers, and consumers. I argue that we cannot afford to just turn it all off.

 what we should do is consider a few approaches:
  1. Put reasonable limits around screen time. Devices are alluring, once they are in front of us it is hard to resist the urge to interact. As a result teachers and parents must establish clear rules about when device use is reasonable. In my class I ask my students to turn off sound notification, ring and dings of all kinds. In addition, there are times and activities in which devices are expected to be off. To prevent problems I often ask students to turn their devices upside down on the table or close the screen down.
  2. Know your students/ children. Some students are more susceptible to the effects of screen time. As you use devices in your classroom, you will learn what the limitations of each student and design individual plans.
  3. Model appropriate device hygiene. Students emulate our behavior. We need to model device hygiene by using similar guidelines to the ones we want kids to follow. If we check our device every minute or so it will be hard to expect our students to behave differently. For example, I discuss my strategy of leaving my phone in my office to allow me to teach without any interruptions. This kind of a metacognitive model (or think aloud) can help students reach self-regulation (#5).
  4. Consider the feedback time. Different uses of devices create different feedback cycles. Quick feedback is very motivating but can desensitize students to stimuli. The trick is to include different kinds of feedback systems that do not over rely on quick feedback. For example, video games are often mentioned because of the immediate feedback and reward system. Some games, however, are not reliant on such a reward system- for example Minecraft.
  5. Teach self-regulation. Self-regulation is the ability to manage behavior with minimal outside intervention. It limits disruptive behavior and impulsivity and makes sure that we think before we react. Devices make self-regulation harder- hence the need to teach it through modeling, practice, and feedback.
In short, I claim that the digital environment around us can be problematic BUT it does not follow that kids will be Moody, Crazy and Lazy. Instead, I argue that with thoughtful application students can learn to use devices to enhance their learning so they can be full citizens of the world.