In praise of print

In “Across the digital divide,”  Seanan McGuire writes a passionate and intelligent piece about why we need books and libraries in the age of e-readers.

McGuire says:

…every time a discussion of ebooks turns, seemingly inevitably, to “Print is dead, traditional publishing is dead, all smart authors should be bailing to the brave new electronic frontier,” what I hear, however unintentionally, is “Poor people don’t deserve to read.”

McGuire puts a human face on a big problem for American education and the American economy. I haven’t run across McGuire’s fiction, (I rarely read fiction less than 25 years old; You can’t tell if a novel will last until it’s 25.) but having read her nonfiction, I’m going to look for her fiction.

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.

Is the tech use infographic reliable?

An infographic on students’ use of technology is zooming around cyberspace this morning. Twitter users among the ed tech and digital-tools-in-the-classroom gurus are retweeting that “Twitter enabled classrooms produce better grades.”

Come on folks, let’s apply those 21st century information analysis skills you’re always saying students need to use.  I don’t expect tech-obsessed Matthew Panzarino over at The Next Web to read analytically for education information, but I do expect educators like Miguel Guhlin to pay attention to the nuances.

The source of the infographic is onlineeducation.net. If you visited the site, you know it’s a directory of online educational programs that’s supported by those programs’ advertising. The About page gives no information about the site owners. Those two facts alone should set off alerts that the information may not be reliable.

Did you notice that the individual facts on the infographic are not cited? Does that suggest anything to you?

Did you check the references listed on the infographic? They are not hyperlinks, so you have to retype the URLs. If you do get to the sources, what do you find?

One source listed is EducatedNation. EducatedNation should not be confused with the NBC News site EducationNation. EducatedNation is a blog whose about page says it “consists of two writers,” whose names are not given.

The EducatedNation piece consists primarily of a news release from CourseSmart™, a company that sells digital textbooks and other digital course materials, about results of a study done for them by Wakefield Research. Most of the facts on the infographic are from this news release.

The next largest source of information for the infographic is the Pearson Foundation. You’ll remember Pearson as the greedy, publicly traded, for-profit educational publishing company that Web2.0 educators are always criticizing for taking money away from public education.

Got that?

The two main sources of the infographic are companies that sell the products the infographic describes.

I’m pretty sure educators would think there was something fishy about a study commissioned by a drug company that found the company’s new pill was the greatest discovery since aspirin.

It’s instructive to compare Wakefield’s summary of the study results, posted to its blog, with the CourseSmart™ spin on those results. CourseSmart™ focus is that digital devices are about to take over the world and educators shouldn’t be left behind. Wakefield says “hardcopies still reign supreme” while predicting “a shift toward more digital textbooks among college students can be expected in the future.”

The section of the infographic that Twitter fans are emoting over says:

#BetterGradesAhoy!
Students in classes that use Twitter to increase engagement have been found to average 5 grade points higher than those in normal classes.

I spent over an hour finding the original source for that. I thought it might be Rey Junco blog listed in the sources, since Junco specializes in students of social media in higher education. However, it turned out that the URL cited on the infographic leads to  another infographic that is based on Rey Junco’s study comparing students in college classes using Twitter and those in regular college classes.

Once more, ed techies, ask yourselves whether as educators you’d let students get away with such sloppy work as wrongly attributing a source. If you do and your students end up in my first year English class, there will be hell to pay.

(If you are one of those cutting-edge, think-outside-the-box folks who says we should get rid of grades entirely, you should also ask yourself why the fact that a technology improves grades make the technology seem valuable to you. I know you won’t ask yourself that, but you should.)

Finally, what you’ve been waiting for, the place where I finally say finally.

The introduction to the infographic says:

While it’s no secret that college students are addicted to technology, the specifics of their gadget usage have never been scientifically studied — until now. While the extent of students’ dependence on tech might be a tad alarming, there’s good news too: much of their screen time is spent learning.

Notice, please, that infographic doesn’t say students are spending screen time learning course material. In fact, the material emphasizes that using digital technologies mean students spend less time studying.

Also notice that all the data on the infographic is about college students behavior.  No matter how many times you retweet the link to the infographic, you cannot make the data apply to a third grade class  in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Curriculum planning in the digital age

Take a look at what curriculum planning looks like in the digital age.

The Foreign Languages Curriculum Review by the Holliston Public Schools in Holliston, MA. is an all-electronic  “document” with more content than many school districts’ websites.

The material is available online for school personnel, students, parents, and the public.

The Curriculum Review contains:

  • an overview of the curriculum review process,
  • statement of goals and philosophy,
  • list of desired learning outcomes,
  • articles, bibliographies, doctoral dissertations dealing with foreign language teaching
  • position papers on diverse learning styles,
  • papers on keeping instruction in the target language,
  • a budget showing required funding for foreign language instruction.

Each section is hyperlinked. You can move around easily with a click of a mouse.

The review was prepared by a school committee comprised of people working at the building level and the district level.  Their goal was a complete the alignment of the district’s current curriculum practices with state and national standards for PreK-12 students with best practices in foreign language education.  Holliston offers instruction in Spanish, French, Mandarin and Latin.

The entire project took three years. It was time well-spent.

[2016-02-03 repaired broken link]