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.


Research: Little Writing Instruction Even in Best-Regarded Schools

The years between 1979 and 2009 were a time of great changes in education. They saw the development of new technologies for writing, research, and instruction; a growing demand for evidence-based practice; and imposition of high stakes testing.

To see how the teaching of writing in America’s middle schools and high schools changed in those 30-years, Arthur N. Applebee and Judith A. Langer of the State University of New York at Albany studied 20 schools chosen because of their reputations for excellence in the teaching of writing. The researchers looked not only at the English classes in those schools, but also math, science, and social studies.

The researchers found that in schools with excellent reputations for teaching writing:

  • English teachers are doing a better job of teaching the writing process today than 30 years ago.
  • Students write more for their English classes than for any other subject.
  • Students write more for their other subjects combined than they do for English.
  • Only 19% of writing assignments were a paragraph or more; the remainder were “writing without composing” activities such as fill-in-the blanks.
  • Writing counts less than multiple choice or short answer questions in assessing performance in English even on locally-created tests.
  • Other than math classes, less than a third of classrooms studied use any technology.
  • When technology was used, it was usually used by the teacher.
  • Roughly 6 in 10 students hand-write their first drafts; only 23% at middle school and 42% at high school composed first drafts on computer.
  • Outside of science classes, embedding media into writing is rare.
  • Collaboration on writing projects is rare outside English classes where fewer than ¼ of students collaborate with peers for editing or responses.
  • Contemporary teachers’ notions of good instructional practice for teaching writing are research-based.
  • Contemporary teachers’ instructional practices mimic those of 1979, focusing on short-answers and copying from the board.

To find out what the authors think is responsible for these conditions in schools with reputations for excellence in teaching writing and how the conditions are likely to influence implementation of the Common Core State Standards, see the full article:

Applebee, Arthur N. and Judith A. Langer. “A Snapshot of Writing Instruction in Middle Schools and High Schools.” English Journal 100.6 (2011): 14–27.