Sunday, September 25, 2011

Euthanizing the Education Experiment #edchat

Image Source: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-o6luWQG_UFA/TmpvfbXDCQI/AAAAAAAACcg/oKO-eRGNHwE/s1600/euthanasia%2Bdoctor.jpg
Doug Johnson (Blue Skunk Blog) and Stephen Downes (Half an Hour) had an interesting exchange earlier. The question was fundamentally, Are teachers today experimenting on kids when they use technology in the classroom?


Children are not rats on which educational experiments should be endlessly run. Until we have a body of evidence, hopefully gather by lab schools or non-commercial researchers, we ought to be following best practices as outlined by our professional organizations.
Educational technology experts may be doing both students and themselves a significant disservice by advocating a single, unproven approach to educational practices
Stephen's response to Doug's assertions is a blog entry long, but I found this particular section relevant:
Children are lab rats on which endless experiments are run. Coaches try out new practice regimes, advertisers try out new commercials, toy companies test out new games, media companies experiment with new genres (and retread pop idols), clothing manufacturers try out new fabrics, and hospitals try out new treatments. There's no way to get the evidence other than by experimentation - demanding "best practices" with no experimentation is inherently self-contradictory.
Few would deny that public schools not only experiment on their students constantly, they use taxpayer dollars to bring in large companies (e.g. Read180, Successmaker, Voyager, Plato, Compass Learning to only name a few) that promise BIG changes but whose results are easy to quantify, but yield less than desirable results according to some opinion leaders I've spoken to in schools. This experimentation often occurs without parent consent, and it's foolish to believe that school boards even understand how wrong efforts are. Given glossy charts, slick presentations, who wouldn't believe these are effective interventions? 

In  a  knowledge  construction  setting, technology becomes a tool to help students access information, communicate information  and  collaborate  with  others.  In  today’s  classrooms  there  is certainly the need for some knowledge instruction but a great deal of student activity  might  involve  \ knowledge  construction  given  the  explosion  of information.  We  do need  to move  away  from  students coming to school to watch teachers work. (Source: Michael Fullan, Technology and the Problem of Change, 1999)
Yet, in our schools, it's about content knowledge, right? Even though Fullan (1999) encourages knowledge construction, we still insist on using technology to instruct, and we train principals to watch teachers at work rather than help them create learning opportunities for students.

Some would argue that this last minute scramble for technology tutoring is really a procrastination on the part of administrators afraid to invest in solid teaching. That's what makes "reform experts" like Michael Schmoker, Michael Fullan, and many others such an attractive group. If only the "Let's get back to basics" group focused on the fundamental units of the classroom...the instructional leader, the classroom teacher, the student, and the parent(s)/guardian(s). 

I also take issue with the assertion that "educational organizations" know what they are advocating. Organizations are full of people, some of which are as hide-bound and determined to cling to the past, to their way of doing things as anyone else. Flip technology integration on its ear, if a tech expert was challenged to teach without technology, how would s/he go about it?

“The most important thing any teacher has to learn, not to be learned in any school of education I ever heard of, can be expressed in seven words: Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.” ~John Holt
There's no simple, cut-n-dried answers, though. Before we euthanize the educational experiments going on in schools, maybe we need to decide what we are trying to accomplish.

After all, there's no path ahead that's perfect. All are replete with dangers and will subject one to criticism...why not decide on a path and then follow it to achieve the easy to measure, desired results? Ok, ok, that's a silly question.

It's a question that came back to mind again after I read this article on Do Principals Know Good Teaching When They See It? 

“It takes expertise to make expertise,” Fink and Markholt say, yet coaching in schools is “still the very rare exception, not the norm.
“We believe that K-12 education, as often practiced, is a quasi-profession at best, because we do not, in fact, have common standards of professional practice.”
From a technology perspective, the answer is a resounding, "No." You see, my workshops in several large districts have revealed, again and again, that principals really don't have a clear picture in their mind of what qualifies as technology integration. The most common response after observing technology use was positive. Simply, technology integration occurred at the "desired" level because it was present. 
It's when we think we know, but do not, that we callously commit the most grievous damage.
-Stephen Downes
To help principals get past that idea of technology use being great because it's present, I emulated Dr. Chris Moersch's approach of showing videos at various levels of technology implementations and then asked principals to assess what level. I also asked them to explain their reasoning. We had great conversations, but a 55 minute session only scratches the surface. Often, principals don't develop the technology skills, or they take a simplistic approach to technology that discounts it as a distraction from the "important" things kids need to be learning and teachers need to be doing.

Still, the idea that using technology in a classroom is an experiment causes concerns among many. Take a moment to reflect on this article:
The “elephant in the room”–for proponents of educational technology–is how the success of technology implementation in the classroom is gauged.  In this case of this particular article, results on a standardized test are the measure of success or failure.  As we are all well aware, there has been much gnashing of teeth related to the merits (or lack thereof) of standardized testing.  When educational professionals struggle to be convinced that standardized testing measures what is truly relevant to our students, I think it is a bit presumptuous to make judgements about the “value” of technology based upon these results.
Source: Jeff Delp, Balancing Technology and Pedagogy 
Each day that goes by, I start to believe--without the support of research--that school leaders have forgotten what they once knew, are walking in circles trying to find it again as everyone yells at them to get it right, and technology will be a casualty of that fear-mongering, except when purchasing technology is in the best interests of those who will profit from the purchase.

As an educator, the landscape of what we expect in society has changed dramatically. The tools to survive and thrive in a vibrant, digitally-rich environment are ever-changing. Should learning in this environment be our focus? I'm not sure...but I do know that yesterday's lessons = #FAIL.



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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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