In learning to use technology, teachers should come to understand its possible uses, not learn simple tasks by rote.
Anyone who's been reading my column regularly knows this is my favorite soap box. When I look at teacher technology standards, I see long lists of prescribed skills. Trying to describe every little attribute needed to use technology successfully in the classroom misses the point and appears to teachers as overwhelming. It's "The Berenstain Bears" and "Too Many Techno-Standards."
Far too often technology proficiency is narrowly defined as mastering a handful of office competencies. It does little good to list and describe each micro-skill because as technology changes those micro-skills also change, disappear and new ones evolve. Standards often become idolized long after the techno-skill disappears: I've seen standards for initializing floppy disks.
It's much more important to give teachers a sense of the range of possible uses of technology and where any given technology activity may lie in that continuum. Instead of trying to identify every single task a teacher might need to perform, I would like to suggest a taxonomy of technology approaches.
Phone calls and e-mails still work. So do notes in backpacks.
But Memphis Community Schools last week added another way to help parents and teachers communicate with each other: an online grade book with a built-in message system.
Cheryl Hay of Memphis looked at her son's grades on the Web site this week.
"I found everything I needed to find out," Hay said.
She left messages for two teachers and heard back from one of them the same day via the message system.
"I was impressed," said Hay, whose son, Michael, goes to the high school.
The system, called WebGrader, should replace printed mid-marking-period progress notes in the fall, saving the district mailing costs and making sure parents get the information.
Memphis is one of a few Blue Water Area districts to use online-grade software, and people there still are getting used to it. Others said it seems like a good idea, but they're unsure about spending money from tight budgets.
The extension of this for the University world would be, "What if we did this as a professor?" Do we (academics) believe our students are smarter collectively than us? (Hint) If we don't we need to look at the students more closely. They are gaining.
What if I Did This as a Teacher?"
Got this e-mail today from one of the teachers at my school who has been sipping the blog Kool-Aid:
Hey Will. I've been doing all this reading about weblogs and journalism for a research paper that's due Friday (for a graduate class I'm taking). As you know much of it goes into the value of transparency and news as a conversation. I began thinking about how I could use this with the Lamp and Journalism classes and things kind of went in a different direction. Bear with me here....
I was reading an article from the Neiman reports by Paul Grabowicz that said, "Weblogs also can give readers insight into the reporting process itself. This helps strip away the mystique-and misunderstanding-that surrounds so much of what we do as reporters."
And it hit me, what if I did this as a teacher? What if I (or perhaps my student teacher) set up a weblog which demonstrates the lesson and unit planning process and invited feedback from students and parents? How many times have we listened to kids complain about a project we've handed out or called work stupid or a waste of their time? If we invited them into the planning process would they take more interest and ownership in their own learning? What if we posted the objectives and the content that needed to be covered and then let them see how we try to get them to reach those objectives and evaluate their learning. And of course during all of this feedback would be welcome.
As Dan Gilmour says, "Our readers collectively know more than we do." I believe my students and parents collectively know more about US history in the 60's and The Catcher in the Rye (for American studies) than I do, or perhaps the topics being covered in Journalism 2.
Alright. I'm done now. I'm sure I'm not the first person to think of this, but the possibilities are exciting. I don't know if my kids would even care to participate or if the administration would be comfortable with this, but I'd like to give it a try. So, what do you think?
Educating the Net Generation
A New EDUCAUSE e-Book The Net Generation has grown up with information technology. The aptitudes, attitudes, expectations, and learning styles of Net Gen students reflect the environment in which they were raised—one that is decidedly different from that which existed when faculty and administrators were growing up.
by Josh Hirschland
Spectator Staff Writer
January 27, 2005
A new exam from the creators of the SAT, GRE, and AP is replacing reading analogies with prompts to surf the net.
The New Jersey-based Educational Testing Service, the world’s largest private educational testing organization, has introduced the Information and Communications Technology literacy assessment. The new test, planned for general use in 2006, may serve as a measure of success for job applicants, as the SAT does for college applicants. If the ICT proves effective after being administered to 10,000 undergraduates at more than 20 universities nationwide on March 31, it could join an ever-growing list of standardized tests that students take over the course of their educational careers.
In a PowerPoint presentation by David Williamson, a research scientist for ETS, and Gordon Smith, director of systemwide libraries at Colorado State University, ICT literacy is defined as the “ability to use digital technology, communication tools, and/or networks to access, manage, integrate, evaluate, create, and communicate information ethically and legally in order to function in a knowledge society.”
The web-based test looks to assess both technical literacy, which covers mastery of applications, such as word processing and database software, and information literacy, which covers accessing, evaluating, and applying information.
The two-hour assessment test consists of three sections. In one, “Display and Interpret Data,” test takers have to form a visual representation from a given set of statistics; the “Advanced Search” section has student use a ProQuest-like search engine to find articles pertaining to a specific subject; the third, “Comparing Information,” has test takers summarize, evaluate, and use information from sources, such as e-mails, Web sites, and advertisements.
The perceived need to test ICT literacy stems from the difficulty many students have in differentiating between accurate and misleading information in the ever-growing volumes of data on the Internet. According to the presentation, “ICT is changing the very nature and value of knowledge and information, [and] impacts the way we live.”
Over the past two months, the Internet search engine Google has attempted to address this problem. In November, it launched Google Scholar, a service that uses its meta-crawling technology to browse academic texts. A month later, the company announced that it would digitally scan tens of millions of volumes from libraries at institutions including Harvard, Stanford, and Oxford.
Columbia offers several programs to help students improve their computer research abilities. The University’s library system offers tutorials on widely used applications, including PowerPoint and Photoshop, in addition to training sessions designed to familiarize students with Columbia’s LibraryWeb and improve their use of search engines. Student can also schedule one-on-one sessions with library faculty.
Assistant Director of AcIS Walter Bourne explained that “AcIS’ most important role in digital literacy is providing the digital environment in which students, faculty, and staff can apply and continue to develop new digital skills.”
To this end, AcIS provides students and faculty with computer help desks, communication tools, such as CourseWorks, and advice for staying safe online. AcIS also offers workshops on subjects including Web design, publishing, and finding resources online.
“Technology and learning about it used to be almost entirely dependent on technical groups like AcIS and its predecessors,” Bourne said. “But technology is so prevalent, diverse, and accessible now that this is no longer the case.”
Anice Mills, a reference librarian at Columbia, said, “I can only imagine that [ICT skills] will be more important in the future.” But when asked about the efficiency of the new ETS assessment, Mills replied that “the jury’s still out on whether one can test or one should test these skills.”
Kyle Carraro, CC ’05, felt that ICT literacy is very important at Columbia. He said that “going here, now more than three years ago, you have to use your computer to communicate,” noting that Columbia’s primary means of communication with students is now e-mail.
Administrators in AcIS, the Columbia library system, and the Public Affairs department did not return questions about whether they had considered administering the test at Columbia.
The number of tests that students face is expected to grow with President Bush’s announcement two weeks ago that he plans to increase accountability testing. With No Child Left Behind in place and the federal government requiring schools to increase testing of students’ abilities, Eduventures, a Boston-based research firm, estimated that pre-collegiate testing is a $2 billion industry. More students are taking both the ACTs and SATs to improve their chances at getting into highly selective institutions like Columbia.
Last year, the non-profit ETS brought in $825 million, administering 25 million tests in 180 nations. The company has been in the news recently for their updated SAT, which will be administered for the first time on March 12 of this year
A Florida theme park is helping parents keep track of their kids--by giving them wristbands embedded with high-tech radio signal technology.
Wannado City issues the radio frequency identification (RFID) wristbands to all visitors as part of general admission to the park, according to a release from Texas Instruments, the maker of the wristbands. The theme park opened last month in the Fort Lauderdale area.
The wristbands contain special microchips, or RFID tags, that wirelessly signal their whereabouts to reading devices throughout the 140,000-square-foot facility. Visitors can locate other members of their group by using touch-screen kiosks throughout the park that are linked to the system, called SafeTzone's Real-Time Locating System.
People have used RFID technology for years to track and identify livestock and lost pets. More recently, it has been put to use to monitor humans, and hospitals and prisons have begun to use RFID wristbands to keep tabs on patients and inmates.
One company, called Applied Digital Solutions, is even experimenting with injecting RFID chips into people's arms. Mexico's attorney general grabbed the headlines last month when the Mexican government announced he'd been injected with the company's chip to give him access to high-security facilities. The country is also studying the technology as a tool for combating kidnappings.
Businesses are finding new uses for RFID technology too. Wal-Mart Stores, Albertsons and dozens of other major retail chains and consumer goods manufactuers are slapping RFID tags onto merchandise with the hope that the technology will help them juggle inventory efficiently. Pharmaceutial makers are examining RFID systems as an antidote to the counterfeit drug trade.
Texas Instruments said it and its partner RF Code have installed the SafeTzone's Real-Time Locating System tracking technology at Paramount's Great America in Santa Clara, Calif., Wild Rivers Water Park in Irvine, Calif., Dollywood's Splash Country in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and Wet 'n Wild in Las Vegas.
Steamboat Springs Ski Resort in Colorado also plans to install the system. A LegoLand in Denmark is using similar technology to reunite kids separated from parents at its amusement park.