Professors struggle with classroom technologies

The LSU Reveille, Louisiana State University’s student newspaper, reports that many of its professors are struggling to use the new technologies being installed in classrooms. Students report the teachers waste class time calling in technicians for help. Technological workshops are available to faculty, but workshop organizers say, not many professors are aware of them.

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School board considers establishing a student database

The Sentinel, of Carlisle, Pa., reports that the Mechanicsburg Area School Board may vote Nov. 9 to spend nearly $80,000 on a system for managing student data. Many school districts across Pennsylvania reportedly have had better control of student data and flexibility to customize their data storage thanks to data management systems.

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Speakers call for creative approaches

A clear theme began to emerge Thursday at the National School Boards Association’s T+L² conference in Denver–school technology has come a long way, but it is time to take the next step.

Thursday’s agenda featured two speakers who hammered home this theme in a pair of inspiring lectures that raised key questions about the future of technology in schools.

Sir Ken Robinson, Senior Adviser to the President of the J. Paul Getty Center in Los Angeles, gave the day’s opening keynote speech. An expert in developing creativity and former education professor at Great Britain’s Warwick University, Robinson was knighted in 2003 for his service to the arts. He showed the T+L² why he deserved this honor, and why he was honored as Europe’s business speaker of the year, with a memorable 40-minute presentation that mixed first-rate stand-up comedy with deep insight.

Ian Jukes, speaking at the day’s Showcase Luncheon, also combined wit with a clear passion for learning. During his high-energy presentation, which lasted 65 minutes, Jukes directed forceful words at education leaders, all but pleading with them to re-evaluate the role of technology in their schools and ensure that individual student learning remained the focus, regardless of the high-tech equipment used.

It seemed more than a coincidence that Robinson and Jukes’ lectures built on a thread in Wednesday’s keynote speech by MIT professor Michael Hawley and in another presentation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Susan Patrick, who was in Denver to outline the national education technology plan. Both Hawley and Patrick urged their audiences to recognize that today’s world is fundamentally different from that of previous generations, and that the very nature of education must change with the times–keeping the focus on the learner and emphasizing real-world relevance in curriculum-related choices.

Robinson wasted no time making this same point. He began by discussing what he called a “hierarchy in schools”–in which languages and math are at the top of the pyramid, towering over science, the humanities and, lastly, the arts. Noting that no country teaches dance on a daily basis, he complained that schools are still only educating people from the neck up.

Questioning the lack of emphasis on arts and physical education, Robinson pointed out that many societies associate a subject’s relevance with its potential economic benefit. In mainstream Western culture, the arts are scorned, he said, because of the perception that there is no money in them for anyone but truly gifted people. As a result, the notion of creativity becomes separated from, and less valued than, the concept of intelligence–even though creativity is just as important and is often what drives the greatest human achievements.

Robinson pointed to a British study in which 1,600 children between the ages of 3 and 5 were tested for their level of “genius.” In this age group, 98 percent of the children qualified as geniuses. Three years later, in the same test, only 32 percent of the same group were still classified at the genius level. By high school, only 10 percent retained this status, and when 200,000 25-year-olds took the test, only 2 percent qualified. Robinson blamed this phenomenon on schools.

“We are inhibiting the capacity for original thinking in schools,” Robinson said. Our present education system was invented in the 19th century and designed for an industrial economy. But this is no longer an economy in which 80 percent of the workers are performing manual labor, and those with a college degree are no longer guaranteed a job.”

The phenomenon of “academic inflation” has become so great, Robinson said, that he recently talked to an employer who was only interested in hiring “somebody with a good Ph.D.”

“What’s next on this spiral?” Robinson asked. “Will you need to have a Nobel prize?”

In the next 100 years, however, Robinson noted that it will be crucial for Americans to educate young people for the post-Industrial Revolution, because the jobs for which students have long been trained–and which form the basis of most curricula–are moving to Asia.

Robinson concludes that it is therefore time for American educators to recognize that intelligence is diverse, and creativity should be encouraged, rather than stifled under the weight of outdated thinking. As for technology in schools, he sees a bright future. He urged education leaders to find and use high-tech tools that bring creativity out of their students, which inevitably would lead to breaking away from a limiting educational model.

“We must first do away with the hierarchy of subjects. And we must recognize that technology is not just some add-on to an existing curriculum. It is a means by which the future will be created.”

Robinson received a standing ovation for his remarks. Jukes was also well-received, although he went a step further in challenging his audience to finally deliver the “long-awaited technology revolution in education.” Jukes insisted that most schools have failed in their efforts to recognize the value of the technology on which they spend so much money.

“The value and place of technology is still being questioned,” Jukes said. “Why is that? Why is it that schools lag in the use of these tools?”

Jukes cited considerable research that backs up claims of technology’s power in school buildings, but he faulted school leaders for failing to understand bigger picture.

“The use of technology is still largely on the periphery. Technology is not transforming learning.”

Why are schools failing to maximize their technology investments? Jukes argues that our society continues to look for a cause-and-effect relationship between the presence of technology in schools and the improvement in test scores-a relationship that by itself does not exist. At the same time, he faulted educators who scorn technology for threatening traditional learning tools, including books.

“I respect their opinion, but they are wrong,” Jukes exclaimed. “Our living in a technology-rich society is a reality. … It is an undeniable fact that the world has changed.”

Jukes pointed to three levels of technology in education. The first level, known as the Literacy Level, focuses on technical skills such as keyboarding and mastering specific software packages. Jukes said most U.S. schools have never gone beyond this level.

The second level, known as the Integration Level, works technology into a traditional curriculum. At this level, a student might effectively use the internet to research a paper, or use a spreadsheet program to produce a report. While the Integration Level is a step in the right direction, it is not enough for Jukes.

“The question should be if I take the technology away, will the learning and teaching be the same?”

Jukes encouraged educators to strive for the highest level of technology in schools, the Transformation Level. In this framework, the focus is on targeting learning outcomes that can’t be achieved without the use of present-day technology. He gave one example of students instructed to recommend a travel destination for an upcoming weekend. These students would go to the internet and research the available options. They would then use the internet and spreadsheets software to predict and compare the weather in each city. Their ultimate achievement of the assigned task would come from a sequence of activities not even possible for previous generations.

The key would be learning by doing. Technology would be part of the experience of learning.

“Am I teaching technology in this situation?” Jukes asked. “Yes, I am. … And no, I am not.”

Jukes also called for professional development models that instruct teachers to learn with technology in similar fashion, because most teachers would only be able to instruct others in the way they were themselves instructed.

Through two days at the Colorado Convention Center, the speakers’ message was clear: Truly serving young people will require having the courage to acknowledge that because of technology, they live in a brave new world which requires brave new educational models.

T+L² news from the NSBA:

The NSBA, host of T+L², has used its annual conference to make a number of important announcements. Among these are the results of the NSBA Technology Survey conducted through the NSBA Technology Leadership Network. Nearly 1,000 superintendents, educational technology and curriculum directors, principals, teachers, and school board members were polled. Among other things, the survey found:

  • 80.4 percent of those surveyed said technology has made students more engaged in their own learning.

  • 47.2 percent listed funding as the biggest technology-related obstacle faced by their districts, while 45.7 percent saw the ability to adequately integrate that technology in the classroom as the biggest hurdle.

  • Only 63.3 percent of those surveyed thought their districts were doing at least a “good” job preparing students for the world they face. Only 13 percent felt their districts were doing an excellent job.

  • 67.4 percent thought the newest generation of teachers is more capable than their predecessors when it comes to integrating technology into curricula.

  • 37.1 percent said eRate funding was “very important” for meeting technology goals, while 27.2 percent said it was “somewhat important.” And 45 percent said they are already being affected by the eRate moratorium, with the majority saying they are unable to budget for the 2005-06 school year.

On Thursday, the NSBA and theCenter for Digital Education announced the culmination of a joint survey to examine how school boards are applying technology and the school boards that ranked in the top 10. Rankings are available at the following link:

http://www.nsba.org/site/doc.asp?TRACKID=&VID=2&CID=90&DID=34677

Board members from the top 10 boards explained why they made the leap to going digital. Among those responding was Nancy Roche of Forsyth County, Ga., whose school board finished sixth overall.

“When we had kindergartners giving PowerPoint presentations at a School Board meeting, we decided it was time to lead them by example, not the other way around, so we decided to move toward technology,” Roche said.”

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Researchers tap business school students to sell inventions

The New York Times reports that, thanks to the technology-transfer law of 1980, more and more universities cashing in on “research breakthroughs” by turning them into commercial ventures. Students from the University of Arizona, for example, successfully developed and sold a business plan to Optica Technologies Inc. for a medical device developed at the university that detects shaken-baby syndrome by scanning a child’s eye.

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Classroom blogs may spark debates about privacy and access

The Wall Street Journal reports that administrators at a Joppa, Md. elementary school halted use of classroom blogs amid concerns over what student blogs should contain and who should be able to access them. As classroom blogs become more prevalent, educators say discussing these issues and setting policies are likely.
Note: This site requires registration.

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T+L&#178 2004 conference off to a rousing start

The National School Boards Association’s T+L² conference has made quite a comeback from a year ago, when low turnout led organizers to consider ending the 18-year-old event.

On Wednesday, the nation’s second-oldest educational technology conference showed it was completely revitalized – as thousands of educators and ed-tech enthusiasts descended upon the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. The program that included a rousing keynote speech by MIT’s Michael Hawley, an exhibit hall packed with more than 200 companies’ booths, and a number of after-hours events, including the Education Excellence Fair, and the Scantron/SchoolNet New Heights Leadership Forum, where the U.S. Department of Education’s Susan Patrick discussed ED’s 2004 national ed-tech plan and the bright future of technology in American classrooms.

Building on the momentum from last summer’s National Educational Computing Conference in New Orleans, T+L² offered more evidence that the economy has rebounded for technology companies, and addressing school needs is a big priority. Several of the vendors who spoke with eSchool News mentioned that they had recently added employees. Meanwhile, educators were quick to note the increased focus on technology in their districts and an increase in school leaders willing to embrace high-tech solutions.

Patrick, who spoke during the day at the conference and later at the New Heights Leadership Forum, was a center of attention. The federal government’s No Child Left Behind Act has left a major stamp on the ed-tech world. Companies focusing on assessment and data management continue to thrive in a climate that considers these areas crucial to the future of schools. Similarly, content providers-particularly those with research validating the use of their products in curricula-are also talking about an increased demand as schools recognize that access to massive amounts of online material makes a difference in the lives of young learners.

And with a healthy tech economy, there was even room for new solutions. A number of companies have sprung up to offer teaching tools involving computer animation. One company drew attention to its animation product by attaching motion sensors to dancers, whose movements were replicated by animated characters on giant display screens.

Teaching tools reminiscent of video games are sure to catch the attention of a generation that has grown up with technology. In her presentation, Patrick noted that students typically spend the bulk of their lives immersed in technology, but in schools, their high-tech exposure drops to a national average of only 15 minutes per week in front of a computer. ED wants to align learning environments with students’ real-world environments, and these are packed with technology. She stressed the importance of one-to-one computing and the dissonance experience by students who have computers at home find it difficult to access them in schools.

“The world around us has changed dramatically,” she said. “Students show up in our schools and wonder how these environments are relevant to their world.”

Patrick said Secretary of Education Rod Paige is a “huge advocate” of how technology can transform education, and ED keeps a close eye on how it is being implemented. She noted the role of online assessment in informing instruction and the instant feedback technology offers, enabling assessment to take place more rapidly than ever before. She also said ED is keenly aware of emerging technologies and the future they might have in education.

“We want to transform education, not just modernize instruction,” Patrick said. “Technology integration is a limiting term. Simply integrating technology doesn’t transform the experience. It assumes the current way of doing things is right. We have to look at new ways.”

By contrast, keynote speaker Hawley, the Director of Special Projects at MIT, downplayed his own high-tech resume to focus on the role of students and teachers. A true renaissance man, Hawley is a talented pianist who won the Van Cliburn piano competition, a passionate sports fan, and the founder of Friendly Planet, which produces books about how young people learn in the developing world.

Hawley told two very personal stories. In the first, he described his “up close and personal” experience of watching Lance Armstrong win the Tour de France. A longtime cycling fan, Hawley recalled how MIT researchers had helped a younger Armstrong analyze his cycling style, and how this led him to improve by as much as 10 percent. Hawley noted Armstrong’s willingness to learn from others, including non-traditional sources such as the MIT scholars. He also said part of what makes Armstrong such a great student of his sport is a belief in teamwork and his personal graciousness. After losing a grueling leg of the Tour, for example, Armstrong told reporters that just seeing the joy in his victorious competitor made him happy as well.

In another story, Hawley spoke directly to teachers, marveling at the role they can play in an individual student’s life. He recalled his own piano tutor at Yale, who just happened to be the head of the piano program at the university’s music school. After hearing Hawley play piano once, this professor convinced him to turn away from football and soccer and instead make the most of his musical talent. Hawley said that this professor’s continued support in the years after he left college helped motivate him to compete in the Van Cliburn competition.

His message to teachers was that no matter how much technology might come into classrooms, it is still up to teachers to use of this equipment in giving students a different perspective on life that motivates them to improve themselves (like Armstrong) or explore new areas (like his own experience with the piano).

As if in sync with Patrick’s call for a transformation of the learning experience, Hawley called on school leaders to “think about stuff differently.”

Such an optimistic and pioneering spirit was certainly reflective of T+L²’s opening day.

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Dell TechKnow program excites eighth graders

The Courier-Tribune, of Asheboro N.C., reports that the Dell TechKnow computer learning program made eighth grade students at East Middle School in Montgomery County jump up and down. The students got to rebuild a computer that would become theirs to take home. Each computer also includes year of free internet service.

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Some districts lighten bans on cell phones at school

The Bucks County Courier Times reports that some schools in the state of Pennsylvania are relaxing bans on cell phone usage, allowing students to make calls or text-message during lunch. The policy change seems to be working. One administrator told the paper: “If you ban them, you’ll spend all your time confiscating them.”

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Students learn cyber safety lessons

In recognition of Cyber Security Awareness month, officials from the U.S. Homeland Security Office visited fifth and sixth graders at a Virginia elementary school Oct. 22 to reinforce what students have learned about how to stay safe online.

The school assembly, called “Staying Safe in the Cyber World,” marked the first in a series of similar events across the country to be presented by Erik Smith, director of incident management at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s National Cyber Security Division; Steve Godwin, youth empowerment manager for i-SAFE America Inc.; and Mary Radnofsky, president and chief executive officer of the Socrates Institute.

On behalf of the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA), the trio will talk to elementary and high school students nationwide about the importance of updating antivirus software regularly, choosing hard-to-guess passwords, steering clear of illegal file sharing, and not sharing personal information online.

“No matter how you deal with computers, there are always threats out there, just like anywhere that you work or play. There are going to people you know and people that you don’t know,” Smith said. “And of those people that you don’t know, some of them might want to get something from you.”

Smith, who inconspicuously photographed the audience of 10- to 12-year-olds before the assembly began, cautioned the students to be aware of who’s around them and who they are really talking to online.

Statistics behind Cyber Security Awareness

Here’s why America’s children require additional education and tools to stay safe online:

  • One in 5 children had received a sexual solicitation or approach over the internet during the previous 12 months (source: 2000 study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children).

  • Eighty percent of children surveyed who use eMail receive inappropriate spam on a daily basis. When asked what their reactions have been when they see improper eMail content, 51 percent of respondents said they have felt annoyed, 34 percent have felt uncomfortable, 23 percent have felt offended, and 13 percent have felt curious (source: June 2003 survey conducted by Symantec Corp.).

  • Forty percent of children do not discuss internet safety with their parents. In addition, 37 percent of survey respondents said their parents would disapprove of their internet behavior (source: 2004 national study conducted by internet safety education foundation i-SAFE America Inc.).
  • “Even though they told you I was from the Homeland Security Office with the government, I did a couple of things when I first came here. I took nice pictures of everybody [and] you didn’t even know,” Smith said. “I’m not going to do anything bad [with the photos], but someone else might.”

    In addition to watching a video about online safety, students were reminded to follow these suggestions:

    1. Be a safe and responsible citizen. Don’t tell your passwords to others, and don’t give out personal information such as your name, eMail address, credit card number, phone number–or even your school mascot. “Has anyone ever thought their school mascot might be personal information?” Godwin asked. “It’s very dangerous to share personal information.”

    2. Tell your family to protect your home computer. Use antivirus software and a firewall.

    3. Do not open eMail attachments or click on links in eMail messages from someone you don’t know. “Just delete it out. It might be a virus or Trojan horse, or it might be a picture you shouldn’t see,” Godwin said.

    4. Use hard-to-guess passwords and change them regularly.

    5. Disconnect from the internet or turn off your computer when it is not being used.

    Much of the presentation also focused on why students should avoid illegal file sharing.

    Radnofsky told the students about kids in three states who had their homes raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for illegally sharing movies, music, software, and games online. One of the kids who posted the movie “The Hulk” online before it hit theaters reportedly faces three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

    “How could he have avoided this?” she asked. The kids volunteered answers such as “wait for the movie to come out” and “he shouldn’t have copied it in the first place.”

    In another example, she asked students how they could avoid the plight of a Florida sixth grader who is being charged with a felony because he changed his grades on his teacher’s computer.

    For the students, the cyber safety and ethics talk reinforced much of what students had been studying during the entire month of October.

    “The online skills students learn today and throughout their academic years will be invaluable in their home and work lives,” said Diane Painter, technology resource teacher for Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools.

    Painter’s weekly lessons with the students are based on content from Disney’s CyberNetiquette Comix, NetSmartzKids.org, Disney’s Surf Well Island, and AOL’s SafetyClicks! curricula.

    “I hope it opens their eyes,” Barbara Poor, a sixth-grade teacher at Deer Park Elementary School in Centreville, Va., said of the assembly. She explained that many of her students have free reign to surf the internet at home, and they are copying and downloading files. “They need to know” that it’s not right, she said.

    At the assembly, students received cyber safety information to share with their families, and a lucky few received prizes such as t-shirts, hats, firewalls, wireless routers, and antivirus software courtesy of NCSA’s sponsors.

    The event at Deer Park Elementary School was later followed by one at Westfield High School in Chantilly, Va. Similar events for students are being planned at other schools throughout the nation.

    Links:

    National Cyber Security Alliance
    http://www.staysafeonline.info

    Deer Park Elementary School’s Cyber Netiquette Lesson Plans
    http://www.fcps.edu/DeerParkES/kids/CyberSafety/index.htm

    Disney’s CyberNetiquette Comix
    http://disney.go.com/CyberSafety/index.html

    NetSmartzKids.org
    http://www.netsmartzkids.org

    Disney’s Surf Well Island
    http://disney.go.com/surfswell

    AOL’s SafetyClicks!
    http://www.safetyclicks.com

    i-SAFE America Inc.
    http://www.isafe.org

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    Plano ISD, Spotsylvania named largest most high-tech school boards

    The Free Lance Star reports that the Spotsylvania County (Va.) School Board was chosen as one of the most high-tech boards in the country by The Center for Digital Education and National School Boards Association. Spotsylvania finished second in the biggest school population category next to Texas’ Plano Independent School District.

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