Technology sprints; understanding plods.

This being Computer Science Education Week, Tuesday evening’s #RuralEdChat was about the role of technology in education.

Black and gray cover of Koestler's Darkness at Noon
A political prisoner reconsiders impact of technology on history.

As so often happens, I ran across an unrelated passage in a novel I’m reviewing tomorrow at GreatPenformances, which struck me as related.

The novel is Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. Published in 1940, the novel is about Nicholar Salmanovitch Rubashov, ex-Commissar of the People, in an unnamed country that certainly is the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. (Koestler was a communist until 1938 and spent time in Russia.)

Rubashov is arrested for acts against the Party. He’s being held until he produces a suitable confession, at which time he knows he will be killed.

Rubashov writes a diary, meditating on his political career and contemporary history.

He says, in effect that history swings from absolutism to democracy, then from democracy to absolutism, depending on the political maturity of a country’s citizens. That maturity, Rubashov writes, depend on citizens recognizing what’s in their own best interests. Here’s part of that entry:

Every jump of technical progress leaves the relative intellectual development of the masses a step behind, and thus causes a fall in the political-maturity thermometer. It takes sometimes tens of years, sometimes generations, for a people’s level of understanding gradually to adapt itself to the changed state of affairs, until it has recovered the same capacity for self-government as it had already possessed at a lower stage of civilization. …

When the level of mass-consciousness catches up with the objective state of affairs, there follows inevitably the conquest of democracy … Until the next jump of technical civilization … again sets back the masses in a state of relative immaturity, and renders possible or even necessary the establishment of some form of absolute leadership.

Rubashov likens the ability of citizens to understand the impact of technology to the progress of a boat through a series of locks. The boat rises within its lock, but even at the top of its lock, it is far from the level to which it must rise to make progress forward. The mistake of socialism, he thinks, was that it assumed the people’s ability to understand the implications of new technology rises steadily.

The peoples of Europe are still far from having mentally digested the consequences of the steam engine. The capitalist system will collapse before the masses have understood it.

We probably would do well to consider whether the fictional Rubashov is right about how long it takes people to understand the true impact of any new technology.

If he’s right, we’re in deep trouble.

© 2017 Linda G. Aragoni

Are you a technologically literate teacher?

blog post title against collage of technology graphics

Could you, for example, walk into the office of a typical small business somewhere in America — a construction company, for example, or an independently-owned convenience store with fewer than 10 workers — and begin work immediately doing routine work, such as answering the phone and taking messages, using the office computer for recording receipts and disbursements, and faxing documents to state agencies?

Naturally, you’ll say you’d need some training. That’s undoubtedly true.

What’s also true, however, is that small business people expect college-educated people to know or be able to pick up very quickly skills that people with a high school education do every day.

I believe that being able to pick up new skills quickly is going to be the most sought-after attribute of 21st century workers.

The last time I tried to hire an editorial assistant for my publishing business, I asked people who’d lived in this community all their lives for suggestions. An ex-teacher was highly recommended.

She was interested in the work and the pay until I told her we use Open Office rather than Microsoft products because that’s what my customers use.

That was a deal breaker.

“I’d have to go take a course to learn how to use it,” she said.

The woman might have been a wonderful teacher, but she didn’t have the technology skills for an entry-level job in a small business.

If you have to go take a training course in a software program before you can use it, you can’t handle an entry-level job in a small business.

Folks, one word processing program is pretty much like another.

And if your skills are up to the challenge of the entry-level work in 2017, can you honestly say you’re able to prepare your students for today’s workplace, let alone tomorrow’s?

Related reading:

Work Experience as Education

The Collaboration Model for Entry Level Jobs

Dear Applicant: The reason you weren’t hired.

 

Why testing methods should matter to teachers

laptop computer with keys spelling COMPOSE highlighted. Banner says "Compose here."
Ignore for a moment the issue of whether standardized tests carry too much weight in education.

Do you want to handicap your students unnecessarily on standardized tests?

Probably not.

Steve Graham, who has researched and written extensively on writing in schools, says his research shows that students who take writing tests on a computer do better than those who answered in handwriting, but that is true only if the students were experienced in writing at the computer.

He writes:

A student’s mastery of the method of testing matters. For students with little experience, computer assessments underestimate their writing achievement.

(Handwriting that’s not legible produces a similar underestimation of writing skill.)

It’s 25 years since the first website went online: It’s time every student is fluent at composing at the keyboard.

It’s perfectly OK to have students use pen and paper to doodle their way to a plan for writing if that’s how they’re comfortable, but you need to have students practice composing at the keyboard regularly. I recommend practice at least once a week.

And, yes, you need to require keyboard composition even if you teach art or agriculture: This isn’t just an English teacher thing.

 

When I looked him up online

A recent post by Eric Stoller about why “getting Twitter matters” to higher education’s student affairs folks was being shunted around Twitter yesterday morning.

The nub of Stoller’s argument is this:

Laptop computer screen bearing quote "Digital capabilities / literacies are important. They are connected to employability, revolution, activism, teaching, learning, communication, engagement, etc."

As it happens, I’ve been thinking about the importance of digital capabilities/literacies a bit lately.

My local school district recently hired a new superintendent, Timothy R. Ryan,  who got exactly two sentences on page three of the school district’s June newsletter.

When I read the news, I did what I always do when “introduced” to people I’m likely to meet in person: I looked Ryan up online.

A few weeks later, I was chatting with a stranger. Before long the conversation got around to the local school.

The woman told me about a big hassle she’d had with the administrator who didn’t want her kid to be an exchange student, and her futile attempts to get anyone to respond to her concerns.

She concluded by saying she hoped the new superintendent would turn things around.

“But I have my doubts,” she said, “because I looked him up online and—”

I completed the sentence for her: “And he doesn’t have a digital presence.”

Advanced computer skills for Common Core

Educators have been wailing that students may not have the advanced computer skills necessary to show the extent of their learning when tests aligned to Common Core State Standards roll out.  I have spent quite a bit of time poking around the standards in English Language Arts.  I hadn’t seen any I thought required  advanced skills, but what do I know?

Curious about what advanced computer skills might be required, I signed up for a webinar offered by Atomic Learning on the integration of Common Core and technology. The webinar  began with quotes from teachers about the computer skills they feared their students would not have. Among the vague rumblings of fear were a few specifics.

One teacher feared students wouldn’t be able to open a PDF file.

Another was concerned that students would not know how to copy text from one file and paste it into another.

There’s no way to know whether the quotes are representative even of clients of the company, let alone whether they are representative of American teachers.

But it is rather scary to think even a couple American teachers consider opening a file and copying and pasting to be “advanced computer skills.”

Visionary educator anticipated 2012

Twenty-five years ago, the late Freeman VanWickler anticipated today’s harsh educational climate and began to prepare for it.

VanWickler saw distance learning as the only way small rural school districts could overcome the challenges of demographics and geography and provide quality education at affordable prices. Under his leadership,  the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in New York’s Delaware, Chenango, Madison, and Otsego counties had an nationally recognized distance learning program.

In that pre-Internet era, classes were created by dial-up connections between computers, which delivered graphic content, while audio was provided by speakerphone. The program’s best teachers, such as  Michael Foor-Pessin of Otselic Valley Central School District, former Colgate University and Norwich High School teacher Raymond T. Howes, and College of Saint Rose special education professor Edward Pieper, understood how to overcome the audiographic technology’s limitations by focusing on its assets: It was an almost ideal medium for small group instruction.

Unfortunately, the policy makers of the DCMO BOCES could not see understand how students could possibly learn when they could not see a teacher lecture. And today’s drivers of online education—declining funding, teacher reductions, emphasis on post-secondary education—were years away.

Distance learning seemed a silly waste of money to school boards and administrators.

VanWickler relentlessly sought publicity and funding for the program, but it was a battle he lost.

When VanWickler retired,  under his successor the distance learning program was dismantled.

Today VanWickler’s successor has retired, and distance learning is the fastest growing segment of education.

In Memoriam
Freeman A. VanWickler
June 18, 1927 – April 13, 2010

[fixed broken link 2016-01-31]

Using technology to deliver professional development

How to get teachers to use technology in  their classrooms is a major concern of some educational administrators and of almost every instructional technician. The most common approach to the problem appears to be offering professional development training. The training often takes the form of workshops and short courses during designated times.

Many of the PD training program descriptions I’ve seen are for generic presentations designed more to show what the technology can do than to show what a teacher can do with the technology. Teachers complain they have to go back to their classrooms and figure out on their own how to use the technology in their situation.

I wonder if a more useful and cost-effective program could be developed using technology to deliver the professional development to teachers in their classrooms at times when they need it.

One technology that might be used for professional development on a small scale is a wiki.  Suppose a school working at implementing Common Core standards in its classes were to allow teachers to create an discipline or area-specific wiki to which all teachers in the school have access.  Having representation from teachers of, for example, math K-12 would allow teachers to see how one years’ program can be made to build on the previous years’ instruction.

Another way to offer PD on a small scale is to using a free services to embed a live chat feature into the webpage of the school’s IT program. Instead of teachers having to figure out on their own how to use a technology for their needs, they could simply join an online chat with the IT person.  Those same teachers might see the value of putting the same feature on their webpages so they could provide outside-class help to students or meet with parents whose schedules don’t permit them to attend conferences. [The chat service I initially suggested, Wibya, is no longer available. Zoho.com has a chat service for collaboration and another designed especially for support desks. A free, one chat channel is also available from Embedded Chat.]

How about instead of saving those slide shows for big presentations, the IT people make less sophisticated resources for teachers, such as a set of slides about 5 free ways to make copies of an assignment available 24/7 to students? That PD could be made available to teachers 24/7 via one or two of the technologies described in the slides.

Other more ambitious uses of technology might be workable in some situations.

Suppose a school district or a group of schools or districts were to offer a professional development program on the order of the Homework Hotline where kids call in with questions and a teacher talks them through the solution.  Instead of live video on cable TV, teachers could join the PD Hotline by going to an online meeting site.

Different discipline areas could be available different days with facilitators sharing responsibility for responding to teacher requests for help with particular classroom problems.  Having directed a distance learning program, I know it would be challenging to find and train people to facilitate a PD Hotline, but the results might be worth the effort. Among other things, the program might use a great teacher to teach the most difficult-to-teach students but also give that great teacher opportunity to teach the brightest and best: your faculty.

Some PD Hotline sessions might be designated for cross-pollination across disciplines:  English language arts teachers might be joined by the fine arts faculty, for example, or the social studies faculty joined by the foreign language faculty.

Use of meeting technology would permit all PD Hotline attendees at a session to suggest options.  Additional resources should be provided via services the instructional technologists want teachers to use: a public folder in Dropbox for documents, Slide Share presentations, etc.

I know none of theses ideas would achieve 100 percent participation from faculty.

I know none of theses ideas would result in seat-time records so important to state education departments.

The ideas might not work at all. I probably have 6 or 8 ideas that don’t work for every one that does. I’ve never found that failure rate any reason to stop thinking.

What do you think?

Photo credit: Help Me 🙂 uploaded by djayo

[Links updated 2014-04-01; Lin repaired 2016-01-22]

Google’s privacy policy and schools

Supreme Court building in Washington D.C.
Supreme Court, Washington D.C.

As you are probably aware, Google is changing its privacy policy March 1. If you or your school use any of Google’s 60 applications—from g-mail to YouTube—or visit sites that use Google service, the changes will affect you.

By agreeing to Google’s new privacy policy, you allow Google to combine all the data it has about you and mine that data. You also agree to let Google turn over that information to any government agency that asks for it.

Getting rid of all Google services by March 1—the date the company’s new privacy policy goes into effect—would be a nightmare. And the alternative to accepting Google’s privacy policy is to not use any of its services.

Europeans are not happy with Google’s proposed policy. They know what can happen when a government gains access to data about citizens held by private organizations. They saw it in the old Soviet Union, in Nazi Germany, and they see it today as government-sponsored terrorists assassinate relatives of their political opponents continents away.

Schools silent on privacy policy implications

Aside from newspapers and a handful in the Congress, Americans don’t seem a bit bothered by the new policy. Schools are notably silent on the topic, although the potential ramifications of this move for schools is enormous.

Schools are pushing for teachers to use Google documents, Google Voice, YouTube, Google Scholar. They show teachers how to use class Gmail accounts to get students access to websites and use blogger to set up their own accounts.

I  hadn’t paid much attention to the implications of the privacy policies I signed, either. It was not until I clicked a link on Twitter and got a message from Google thanking me for joining YouTube that I realized where the policy change could lead.

My local school district uses a Google site as its website. By setting up a Google site, the school board signed a contract with Google. That contract gave Google the right to:

access, preserve, and disclose your account information and any Content associated with that account if required to do so by law or in a good faith belief that such access preservation or disclosure is reasonably necessary to:
(a) satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request,
(b) enforce the Terms, including investigation of potential violations hereof,
(c) detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or technical issues (including, without limitation, the filtering of spam), or
(d) protect against imminent harm to the rights, property or safety of Google, its users or the public as required or permitted by law. [italics added]

Google doesn’t say it will turn over documents in response to a legally executed search warrant. All an agency has to do is ask.  And Google doesn’t have to notify you that you are the object of a search. In effect, by using a Google service you waive your Constitutional right to protection from unlawful search and seizure.

I don’t know whether anyone on my local school board read—really read—the contract the school signed. They should have, but I suspect no one did any more than I did when I signed up for a host of Google services.

The real question is, what do we do now?

Petition for a delay in policy implementation

I am not unaware of the irony of posting this tirade on blogger, a Google service. However, given how little notice Google gave of the policy change, I’d have to do nothing but replace Google services for the next 10 days in the hope of meeting the March 1 deadline. So I’ve done the one thing I could do immediately: I’ve signed a petition asking for a delay in  putting the policy into effect, giving more time for consideration of the ramifications of the policy.

More information 

CNN: Google knows too much about you

The Washington PostGoogle privacy policy: Who will be affected and how you can choose what information gets shared

The Daily Mail (UK) ‘Google will know more about you than your partner’: Uproar as search giant reveals privacy policy that will allow them to track you on all their products

Forbes: Google’s New Privacy Policy: When Consumers’ Worlds Collide, the Company Stands to Profit

New York Times: F.T.C. Tells Consumer Watchdog to Mind Its Own Business

Photo Credit: U.S. Supreme Court, Washington, DC uploaded by davidlat  http://www.sxc.hu/photo/657696

[Note: After this post was uploaded, I moved the blog to wordpress and closed all my Google accounts.]

Resourcefulness in the Web 2.0 world

A group of teachers were discussing options available to students who didn’t have internet access at home.  One teacher said teachers should treat access issues as a means of promoting resourcefulness. Kids could just go to the public library or to someplace with wireless access.

I decided to test how well that theory would work in the rural school district in which I live.

Bainbridge-Guilford CSD is primarily in Chenango County, NY. BG takes in small bits of two other counties: Delaware County, across the Susquehanna River, and Otsego County a few miles to the northeast.

For the sake of making things easy to follow, let’s say BG 11th grade social studies student Terry Nonet is assigned a team project on Monday that’s due the following Monday. It requires students to divvy up online research and put their findings in a Google doc.

Terry is in luck. He has a week to work on his project. He’d have been in trouble if he had one or more online assignments to do overnight. With a week to arrange to get Internet access, he may be able to complete the assignment.

The Bainbridge Free Library has four public access computers, available for one hour on a first-come, first-served basis. The library is open several times when Terry could go there outside of school hours:

  • Monday: 1 pm-5 pm; 6 pm-9 pm
  • Tuesday: 1 pm-6 pm
  • Thursday: 1 pm-5 pm; 6 pm-9 pm

Terry ought to be able to get to the library even if it’s 20 miles from his home and his family has only one car which his mom needs to go to her minimum-wage job in Norwich. Terry might have to miss work or leave his younger siblings unsupervised after school in order to do his social studies project, but meeting such challenges will promote resourcefulness and help Terry appreciate the value of a good education.

Terry has another possibility.

The Chenango County Public Transit system stop in Bainbridge is just three blocks from BG High School. For a buck, Terry could hop a bus after school (there’s one that leaves Bainbridge at 4:30 pm) and go to Sidney where the Sidney Memorial Public Library has six public access computers available one hour per day to anyone with a fine-free library card.

The Sidney library is open until 8:30 pm so even if Terry has to wait for a computer, he ought be able to get access for an hour. If he needs more time, he could hike out to Kmart and use the public access computers there. It’s about a two-mile walk from the library to Kmart, but Terry could have free use of the computers adjacent to the customer service desk for 15 minutes.

The only difficulty Terry might encounter if he goes to Sidney to use the Internet is getting home. The next bus back to Bainbridge won’t leave until 5:50 the following morning. Meeting such challenges will promote resourcefulness and help Terry appreciate the value of a good education.

Terry hasn’t exhausted all his possibilities yet. He could go to a public library on Saturday.

There is no public transportation on Saturday in Chenango County so he’d have to hitch a ride to Bainbridge or to one of the member libraries of the Four County Library System that are open on Saturdays and provide public access computers. He’d have to present a fine-free library card, wait his turn, and do all his work within an hour, and get back home again. With a little luck, he’ll be able to do that and go to his part-time job and take care of his younger siblings while his mother goes to her minimum-wage job in Norwich.

Of course, with all the waiting around for public access computers, Terry probably won’t have time to do his part of the project and interact with his team, too. Terry’s teacher will probably mark him down for that. And since he won’t have the opportunities for online interaction that his more affluent peers with their laptops and broadband have, he’ll be at a disadvantage if he goes to college.

Meeting such challenges will promote resourcefulness and help Terry appreciate the value of a good education.

The really sensible thing for Terry to do is get himself a laptop computer with wireless access so he wouldn’t have to depend on public libraries for a computer. If he’s really careful with the money he has left after he buys groceries for the household and doesn’t take any time off from his part-time job to go to the library to do his homework, he ought to be able to save enough money eventually to buy a laptop so he can do his homework in a place that has free wireless access.

Apparently, the only unsecured wireless access point in Bainbridge is the public library. The service is available 24/7, but unfortunately there is no public place where Terry can use a laptop after school when the library is closed unless he goes to Bob’s Diner, which is probably not the best place to do a social studies assignment.

The other public libraries in the Four County Library System offer wireless. There are also two Delaware County businesses that offer free wireless access within eight miles of the center of Bainbridge. But even if Terry had his own laptop, there’s the problem of transportation to and from the wireless access site. Chenango County public transport stops running before 7 pm weekdays and there is no weekend service. Delaware County has no public transportation at all.

Meeting such challenges will promote resourcefulness and help Terry appreciate the value of a good education.