So what is computational thinking? In general, it is a bit like thinking about how you think – particularly how you think about solving a problem – my cohort of educators called it METACOGNITION – and this is like METACOGNITION 2.0!
A superb resource for understanding computational thinking was published in 2016 by the renown computer scientist and mathematician: Stephen Wolfram's Wired essay How to Teach Computational Thinking
Computational thinking is really about thinking. It’s about formulating ideas in a structured way, that, conveniently enough, can in the modern world be communicated to a computer, which can then do interesting things.
Wolfram also believes that computational thinking is going to continue to grow in importance – to the point that everyone will ultimately need to use this approach for everyday life. Home automation, transportation, manufacturing, farming, project management are just a few examples of how we are structuring our activities using computers using artificial intelligence. Again from Stephen Wolfram's Wired essay How to Teach Computational Thinking:
In an age of automation, the automators will be the ones with the highest paying jobs.… except maybe for politicians, lawyers and entertainers.
What Are We Doing to Inspire Students to Problem Solve in a Computational Fashion
(or "Why I chose to create a Drone Obstacle Course Challenge")
What I am trying to accomplish with this student STEAM activity:
- Engagement - Drones are one of the most fascinating categories of technology and robotics right now.
- Three Dimensional Literacy - After becoming fairly competent in planar (two dimensional X-Y axis) digital design, I still remember the stretching of my abstract thought when going to three dimensional design.
- Students Want Relevant Math - A recent survey found that students want more "out-of-the-box, creative, relevant" math activities in secondary schools.
- Students need to exercise creativity and hone design skills - There should be a design component that the students get to create and build something.
- STEAM relies on quantification and measurement – Science and Engineering requires this and students are not measuring enough stuff themselves!
What You Need
If you want to give your students the Drone Obstacle Course, feel free to borrow my activity guidelines and even modify them. I would love you to share this with your colleagues and give me some feedback!
First Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
When I came home, I ran across this challenge that Rae Niles shared on the ADE list a decade ago. She had gotten it from an anonymous source in Abilene High School I added a few lines myself, and sent it out to my school's teaching staff with this note:
I ask you to forgive the idealistic notion that this is going to be an immediate/easy change... but let's gear up for a major change in our learning culture. Please don't take this as a challenge to the effort or quality of instruction in your classroom, it is meant more to challenge us to think about why the changes coming are worthwhile.
Let's have a little competition at school and get ready for the future.
I will use a laptop and you will use paper and pencil. Are you ready?
- I will access up-to-date information - you have a textbook that is 5 years old.
- I will immediately know when I misspell a word you have to wait until it's graded.
- I will learn how to care for technology by using – it you will read about it.
- I will see math problems in 3d, you will do the odd problems.
- I will be able to communicate richly using multimedia and review, reflect and revise my communication for a superior final product – you will write 10 facts as a summary our assignment.
- I will create artwork and poetry and share it with the world you will share yours with the teacher (and maybe the class).
- I will be able to experience just-in-time learning on demand while your teacher will try and predict when the computers might be needed and try to schedule the lab.
- I will have 24/7 access to the biggest library in human history, you have the entire class period several times a year if your teacher scheduled the computer lab.
- I will learn to troubleshoot technology problems, you will wish you had technology.
- I will work interactively with information while yours will be printed and photocopied.
- I will select my learning style you will use the teacher's favorite learning style.
- I will organize my notes electronically, archive them, learn to search and find information in my portfolio, you will struggle with heavy static books/notebooks and a bulky three ring binder with torn, smeared wrinkled and sometimes illegible content.
- I will collaborate with my peers from around the world and (maybe) you will get to collaborate with peers in your classroom.
- I will take my learning as far as I want while you must wait for the rest of the class.
- I will know the difference between and effectively use: ordered lists and unordered lists, hanging indents, a text cell, calculated field, a graphic created with vectors or bitmaps, transparency, chromakey, layers, web authoring, scripting, markup language and basic programming – you will struggle to write within the margins of your paper and build big enough tables to contain your notes, even when you reach an new understanding.
- I will build additional skills that will transfer to adulthood jobs, social interaction, politics, and life successes while you are limited to only the most rudimentary tools for learning.
The cost of a laptop per year? - $300/year average
The cost of teacher and student training? Expensive
The cost of well educated US citizens and workforce? - Priceless
Photo Credit: jazzijava via Compfight cc
The podcast project was really quite ambitious and it wouldn't have been possible without Tim and the rest of our team: Dr. Mark Benno, Julene Reed, Michael Hageloh, and Dr. Larry Anderson. Every one was very enthusiastic and committed to a quality project.
The room was really quite an asset to our project, it was a standard type hotel room with an adjoined suite (kitchenette, dining room table, sofa, coffee table, living room chairs and workspace). The suite was ideal for us to set up our equipment for the person to person interviews and the panels. We had an area for person to person interviews (on the dining room table) as well as a wireless lapel microphone mixer with four mikes for sitting around the coffee table and having a more relaxed sort of conversation.
Regarding equipment, my previous experiences of radio and podcasting were strictly analog (tape and live broadcast) and digital straight into the computer. Tim Wilson brought a couple of flash drive recorders and there was a third one on loan from Apple Computer. I really had a hard time getting used to the menuing system on these Marantz flash drive decks, but quickly saw their big advantage as being much more portable and well suited to on the showroom floor style interviews and conversations. They are much less intrusive than an open laptop to leave up on a podium or to carry around. And you get save about three hours of quality audio on a gigabyte flash card. Solid state technology (no moving hardrives or such) is much more durable and requires less electricity. I ended up buying a (much) less expensive Fostex multitrack field recorder when I returned home. I have been very pleased with it and found it's display made setting up much easier than the Marantz.
Tim also introduced me to Basecamp and other online collaboration tools as a way for us to develop a plan and create a workflow for our FETC Podcast project. We really needed a common workspace and this provided us the ansynchronous meeting space we needed. The only thing I wish it had was a hourly calendar tool.
It was wonderful to hear from so many of my colleagues and friends - but it was really overwhelming to try and organize a followup to this topic. Since I am relatively new to this blogging/podcasting venue, I am not really sure how best to publish your comments.
I should probably begin with revealing a little bit more about where I stand in this process. It was actually over a year ago that I wrote the core of last month's blog/podcast. I wrote it after I had constructed a web-based, 40 item multiple choice test that we were planning on administering to our middle school's eighth grade students. As I chronicled, writing such a device is very difficult, especially if the items are being written for use beyond your own classroom, beyond your school, and potentially even beyond your school system.
Publishing my thoughts and questions has initiated many conversations, and even created some special opportunities. Earlier this month (February 2006) I spent two days with an expert panel assembled by Florida's Department of Education in the Tampa, FL area. This expert panel was comprised primarily of Pinellas County technology experts (they had written the grant funding the project) and individuals from Florida State University, the Florida Center for Interactive Media (a non-profit educational multi-media company associated w/FSU), University of South Florida, and Florida Department of Education. This was the second meeting of this group- established to guide the development of benchmarks, standards and an assessment tool for technology literacy. The final product of this grant is a performance-based assessment delivered on the web.
This tool is intended for an eighth grade audience and most of it will involve a series of tasks that take place in window that emulates the type of application typically used for this task. The Florida Center for Interactive Media (FCIM) had designed a similar tool for assessing teacher technology literacy, and the sample I saw was a task conducted in their word processor invention that they called WordTech. WordTech was not really a word processor product, but simply an intertactive screen designed to capture mouse and keyboard interaction as the teacher completed the task depicted in a list of steps to the left of the psuedo-application.
Consider for a moment what an ambitious effort this is... First recognize that the intent is to deliver this assessment to wide continuum of computers around the state via the World Wide Web. Try to distill common tasks and features of a word processor (or any application necessary for the skills being tested) down to an essential list, then create a graphic user interface that includes these in a platform/application agnostic fashion. Finally program this GUI to function as an application would, and to capture the user's efforts to successfully complete a task in a quantifiable fashion. Although the 40 item test that I had worked on had more than just knowledge-recall types of questions, it was well beyond our school or school district project's scope to create a psuedo-application to assess performance tasks.
I appreciate this effort as a big improvement over the presumptuous Microsoft/ISTE partnership-produced NETS Online Technology Assessment. In assessment tools such as this one, the skill's tested are limited to those performed in Microsoft Office, so it may be interpreted as "technology literacy = Microsoft Product Literacy". Microsoft may be commended on taking some leadership to develop such an assessment, but I would suggest it should be renamed NETS Online Microsoft Product Assessment.
On the other hand, you can see that the development of psuedo-applications poses a whole new set of problems, and although I was very impressed and pleased with the results of the Florida DOE effort, I was once again reminded of the experience at the science standards project that I mentioned in my last blog / podcast- each of us value knowledge that we have attained and it is hard to let go of that. For instance...I had a hard time letting go of databases...
Growing up with Microsoft Works™ and Appleworks™ - databases were always one of the BIG THREE business applications in my mind (word processing, spreadsheets, databases). Later I moved on to Filemaker Pro™ and some flat file and relational db's for web projects. I would never claim to be a database expert, but I still see so much of what we do - managing and accessing information - in terms of databases. Consider how much of current technology is database driven: particularly search engines, shopping carts, inventories, operating system directory information, even our mail clients are (in a sense) a database system.
When Microsoft began marketing it's Office Suite™ (for the Mac first: June 19, 1989 and for Windows in 1990), they added their archetypical presentation software, PowerPoint™, but didn't include a database application. Later on Microsoft Office Professional™ included Access™ database software (MS purchased FoxPro™ database company Fox Software in 1992), but the Small Business edition, Standard edition, & Student/Teacher edition still don't include a database program.
I realize that some of the features of a spreadsheet are similar to a database program - I also realize that Microsoft has transmogrified some of the key functions of a database into Excel™. But in my mind, spreadsheets are considerably different from databases and databases are quite different from spreadsheets. It is much like comparing a chisel to a flathead screwdriver - you certainly could use either for the other's task, but isn't it better to use the right tool for the task?
But most of those in a Microsoft Office™ world are not exposed directly to a true database authoring program. I say directly because as I mentioned before, databases are all around us- even if we are not using a computer, much of our interaction with information, searching, organizing, displaying information is done within the construct of a database paradigm. So now as we are thinking about what eighth grade students should know, the question is one of perception - does a technologically literate person need to have a concept of what a database is and what it does?
Would they benefit from understanding the concept of a database record - a unique set of information made up of fields - information, pictures, data that possibly varies with each record, but is characteristic for each record in the database. Would they benefit from understanding that databases can display this information in a very flexible variety of formats, each layout particularly designed to communicate something different or to facilitate the completion of a particular task. Each layout can hide or display some particular fields that are either necessary or unnecessary for that task. Beyond manipulating the order of records by sorting, won't our students benefit from learning about search fields, filtering data with multiple queries during one search? Maybe we have dealt with that to a degree in standards and assessments regarding web search engines, but I would suggest that standards that are more directly related to understanding the development and use of databases would undergird web search engines standards and help students develop important global knowledge skills as well as the specific technology skills.
So now we return to the questions that frame the development of standards-based curriculum and assessment:
We are employing this educational industry buzzword right now: LITERACY - and in this conversation,we are talking about Technology, Media and Information LITERACY.
What do we mean by LITERACY?
Is the knowledge/skill essential for our future citizens to communicate and understand their world?
Is the knowlege/skill measurable?
Is the knowlege/skill taught explicitly (that is– does it require a conscious effort to be addressed in the curriculum)?
and probably most key regarding the database knowledge/skill example:
As we identify standards are we trying to determine what is the current state of knowledge is? — Or should the standards reflect where we want to move our curriculum?
When should the knowledge/skill be taught/assessed?
I did get a considerable number of comments on the last blog / podcast ... many of which were of the ata-boy, keep up the good work nature which I certainly appreciate!
Julene Reed was such a huge encouragement as she responded to my initial podcast invitation:
I must admit, Julene, I am not thrilled with the idea of more standardized testing either... more on that later!
from Julene Reed, Director of Technology
Palm Educational Technology Coordinator
St. George's Independent Schools • Collierville, TN
Wow! What a great commentary on educational technology and technology literacy. You are right on target with what your thoughts.
This is SUCH a moving target because of the rapid changes in this field as well as the increased knowledge base of our students. I especially agree with the thought that although our students are the "digital natives," they still have much to learn in regard to understanding and skill sets. I fear that we are making assumptions about their overall knowledge base in regard to technology that aren't necessarily correct, and yet I am not in favor of more standardized testing to address this.
Early on, I had several colleagues pointed me to technology standards that they were familiar with:
from Dr. Helen Barrett
Researcher and Consultant • Kent, Washington
ISTE developed Technology Standards for students, teachers and administrators.
Their website gives information on how many states have adopted these standards.
from Patsy Lanclos
George Lucas Educational Foundation Faculty Associate
Palm Education Training Coordinator/Provider
from Kurt Johnson
Utah State University • Department of Instructional Technology
State of Utah Core Curriculum Objectives for 3-5, 6-8, and 7-12 are here.
However, they started their development loosely based on ISTE but do not reflect them in the current structure.
from Paula White
Gifted Resource Teacher
Albemarle County Public Schools • Crozet Elementary
And Virginia has a technology consortium who is certifying teachers inNETS*T standards. . . It's a pretty rigorous procedure where teachers submitartifacts to show their expertise and are evaluated by trained evaluators.
This was really quite usefuI information, and I while I had referenced the NETS project and recommend that all teachers familiarize themselves with it, I think it is significant that "my state has adopted, or modified these or similar standards."
These comments did cause me to to try and clarify the focus of our discussion– the question I am asking is how much impact is it having? Is there a consistent, conscious effort to develop these skills at the student level in any school system? How is it being fleshed out?
We all know that when a state adopts or creates a set of standards or policies that doesn't automatically change what the students are learning in the classroom... it is a decent first step, but in reality only a first step.
I think that other than with some of the nation's tech savvy superstars, technology skills are not being addressed. Maybe occasionally as the need arises, but is the exception and is not occurring with any scope and sequence such as we see in curriculum mapping in other curriculums (reading, writing, math, science, social studies).
My sense is that these Technology Standards have not gotten the attention that they deserve, and most students have not had formal training in how to use a spreadsheet application, or how to vet the reliability of a website. It is very hit and miss (with the emphasis on miss!)
So we have the Standards, what is the next step?
Here is what I really want to discuss- do we need to develop instructional goals that are tied in to the standards? Should we develop a test? Who should be accountable for teaching (which?) these goals? Do we really want or need another standards based test? Will technology standards get the attention that they deserve without this? Can we justify the high expense of technology in education in today's accountability climate without this? Is technology literacy possible ?
-- I really liked how Mr. Simi's county has organized and created a scope and sequence for the technology standards!
John M. Simi, Technology Specialist
Shelby County Schools • Memphis, TN
We have attempted to do what you are talking about in my district. Two years ago, we developed a set of student technology standards based on the ISTE NETS as well as our own Tennessee state standards. We placed them in a matrix format and suggested at what grade level the various skills should be introduced, developed, and mastered. We also included examples of activities that could be used to help teach the performance indicators included under each standard. The examples we chose are lessons that use that particular technology skill but are taught or used within the context of another curricular area such as science or math for example.
We have been encouraging their use and many of our administrators require that their teachers reference these standards in their lesson plans. I'm not sure we can measure the impact just yet (I love Dr. Barrett's quote from Einstein) but we at least took a stab at giving our teachers some direction about whatthey should be teaching their students in an effort to make them technology literate before they leave our school district. I think this is still a wide open debate and I look forward to following the continued discussion.
If you'd like to see what we've done in my district:
-- John --
from David F. Warlick
The Landmark Project
I listened to your podcast early this morning and enjoyed it. The music is great, and it is very well produced.
The content, however, leans in directions counter to my current writings and preaching. I'm afraid that I have to hit the road right this minute, but will get back to you as soon as I am settled and have a little more time.
Again, great job!
-- dave --
-- I hope to hear more from David on this, I have been reading his blogs on and off for about a year, and am often inspired. I would really like to get with a few folks with some different views together on Skype or iChat!
from Joseph Morelock, Director of Network & Information Services
Canby School District • Canby, OR
We have been using the NETs standards for a while in our district as well for several years, and have several folks trained in using the ISTE standards. I am going to go out on a limb here...but I think that they are actually quite antiquated in their scope and their focus. They were developed in a time much different than our current reality, and with the convergence of "just-about-everything," I worry that they do not translate well for the future. The tools are really invisible to our students...they use them to communicate and create. We are no longer in the old world of "Web 1.0"- the simple downloading of information that the web revolution started. We are quickly moving toward "Web 2.0," where anybody is an expert ("blogs"), and information is open to change ("Wikipedia"). A simple Google search is not so simple, and may come up with undesirable results for our researching students.
I am pushing us (my district) more toward a pervasive approach to technology use and media understanding, and I have to agree with Gordon that we are not spending enough time on the "Media Literacy" and evaluative practices of available media with students. They are swimming in more information available on their mobile phone than any of us had access to in all of the books we have ever read. We need to help them categorize, evaluate, interpret, and add value to information and the media they find.
Take a look at the Partnership for 21st Century Skills group's work: http://www.21stcenturyskills.org
-- Joseph --
-- This is one of the confusing "melds" of this topic, Joseph– I have heard this topic addressed from a computer-centric, a media-centric, a information-centric, and an applications-centric view. For instance, there is the whole visual literacy viewpoint that seems very important to me. If we are claiming to create a technologically literate populous, is it enough to know how to create a new slide in PowerPoint? Is that really what we mean by technology literacy, or should they have a sense of the general characteristics of an effective PowerPoint slide?
-- Brucie baby, you are dancin' around the fire so nimbly! First you lead with right hook - the unfortunate fact "what gets tested, gets taught" and then you give us the left jab: "our institution is riveted into this infinite loop of testing" And finally I hear the fear that one of the few fun things in education -technology- is about to be codified into another drill and kill lesson (maybe?)
from Dr. Bruce Ahlborn
Northbrook Junior High • Northbrook, IL
Let me suggest that what gets tested, gets taught.
While we know better (I think we know better!) our endeavor seems to be focused on coverage, not uncoverage, on misunderstanding, rather than understanding. I think the question to ask would be which local, state and national tests include items that reference any of the standards listed in the NETs project.
Although we know better, our institution is riveted into this infinite loop of testing.
Gordon you are correct, these standards have not received the attention they deserve. I think you should ask about how schools build accountability for integrating technology into the curriculum.
I think for students, the opportunity to engage in learning experiences involving technology, may well be the best motivation for them to show up to school. Think about it, drill and kill, direct instruction, fill in the blank, word search, grinding boredom or engaging in creativity and thinking and problem solving and collaborative projects.
Gordon, sorry for the cynical rant, but then again, you asked.
-- Bruce --
I hope not Brucie, I hope not!
from Dr. Helen Barrett
Researcher and Consultant • Kent, Washington
The ISTE Standards have received that criticism, that they are both outdated and too general, but they were also written to be more timeless, so that they would not have to be rewritten when the next "new thing" was introduced. The student standards not only cover basic operations and concepts, but also social, ethical, and human issues, and tools for productivity, communications, research, problem-solving and decision-making. The teacher standards, which I am much more familiar with, were designed around the teaching, learning and assessment process.
Those who criticize the standards tend to point out specific applications that are not covered that change over time, which is precisely why they were written with such a broad scope. One criticism is also that the broader the competencies, the more difficult they are to assess. ISTE has been working on several books and online assessments to address that issue.
I think the issue is really ACCOUNTABILITY. In schools, we tend to (have to?) teach what is tested, and some states have started moving toward the EETT 8th grade assessment outlined in NCLB. But as schools struggle with the other testing requirements of NCLB, technology is far behind the priorities of reading, writing and math. I hear that schools are under so much pressure to meet "adequate yearly progress" that technology tends to be used in ways that support achieving higher test scores. One thing we rarely asses though, is student engagement.
In this environment, we need more scientifically-based research (SBR) on the impact of technology to support student engagement and achievement. We KNOW it works, but how can we PROVE it? The challenge with this type of SBR is that it is expensive to do, and often provides very narrow results.
What did Einstein say? "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." ISTE has put up a website on research in educational technology with studies that meet high standards: http://caret.iste.org/
I agree that the Coalition for 21st Century Skills has compiled an impressive set of competencies, and their web site provides a rich set of resources. Underlying their entire spectrum of 21st Century Skills, Tools, Content, Context and Core Subjects is Assessment. Just look at their database of assessment tools, and you will see a lot of tools that can be used for assessing ICT Literacy. Most of them are not free, or work only on Windows, including the one that ISTE developed with Microsoft (a discussion on this list from at least a year ago)! There is also a High School Survey of Student Engagement: http://ceep.indiana.edu/hssse/
-- Helen --
In the middle of Dr. Barrett's eloquent defense of ISTE Standards, is one of the motivations that I have for pushing this discussion out in the open. I fear that statement as schools struggle with the other testing requirements of NCLB, technology is far behind the priorities of reading, writing and math. I hear that schools are under so much pressure to meet "adequate yearly progress" that technology tends to be used in ways that support achieving higher test scores. One thing we rarely asses though, is student engagement.
It really concerns me that I see so many classrooms where technology is only used to send memo's around, print tests from textbook publishers, post grades to the central offices, and most recently (in our district) the big emphasis is on accessing student score data for "informed curriculum decisions". The only time the students get to use the computers is for an electronic worksheet -remediating their skills for our state tests.
So again the question, is the only way to impact the curriculum, to cause administrators to attach value to student technology skills, to get true integration to take place– Is the only way to make us all accountable for technology standards?
from (a former roommate Jeff Johnson
Director of Technology
Greendale School District • Greendale, WI
Paraphrasing Bernajean Porter:
- If you don't know it's making a difference, why are you doing it (referring to spending scarce funds on technology without having assessments and reporting mechanisms in place that look at the relationship between technology use and learning)
- You get what you get because you do what you do
- Where did anyone get the idea that learning with technology was optional
Bruce hit on the key word: accountability. When a school district decides it's important enough to develop assessments for how technology impacts what happens in the classroom, and hold everyone accountable for meeting standards, change will be more likely to take place.
We've been talking about standards for years but our system of reporting academic progress to parents and to the Board is glaringly absent of references to technology as it applies to curriculum and assessment.
In 2000, Wisconsin developed a document that provides educators with two matrices for looking at how the state's information and technology literacy (ITL) standards relate to the four core content areas. In theory, once teachers see the relationship between their content area standards and the ITL standards (killing two birds with one stone), they'll be more likely to see how technology "fits" and do that. But if it's not important enough to schools to hold teachers and administrators accountable for making that happen, it probably won't.
-- Jeff --
I got so many more comments, there just isn't time to spell them all out... but I really appreciate you all mulling this over with me.
So were quite adamant that the technology standards should be entwined in the regular curriculum. That is the main direction we are going now at our school – each of the MESH subjects are being assigned some domain(s) to cover. At any rate, I sure hope that we are able to give these skills the attention that they deserve! Let's keep the discussion going!
or listen to the stream in your webbrowser-
however you chose to join me, I hope you will share your thots back with me, comment below or send me an email!
I would like to begin my podcasts with what I think is a very important question for educators in this day and age:
What is Technology Literacy?
and maybe just as important, once we have a definition-
How Do We Measure It?
Everybody has to be accountable...If you don’t have a goal, you will never experience success...Standards driven curriculum...Data driven decisions...
With these new mantras we have entered the post-industrial age education system. Willingly, or unwilling, we find ourselves marching to the orders of a system that threatens us with a loss of enrollment (and therefore funding) if our students don’t achieve in the top 20% on standardized tests (nevermind that these standards seem to change their thresholds annually).
After all, no child will be left behind, will they?
In the early nineties, I found myself meeting with lead science teachers from around the state of Florida. Reacting to number of national and international studies and resulting treatises on the state of science and math education, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a govenor’s task force of national scientists and educators laid the groundwork for the greatest science education reform effort since President John F. Kennedy entered our nation into the space race.
It was actually a curious event, with secondary and post secondary teachers sequestered in each of the disciplines (physics, earth science, life sciences, chemistry) developing test items that interpreted very general guidelines from the science benchmarks project.
During a few moments of lucidity, I was able to stand back from my speciality area (biology) to look at things from a more global perspective. Clearly, we each felt that the our displine carried more significant key pieces of knowledge whilst our colleagues of other disciplines were mired in severe cases of detail-itis. After all, who in there right mind should expect an eighth grader to comprehend Bohrs atomic theory or remember what type of rock gneiss is?!
No, it certainly wasn’t an easy process.
These efforts became beginning what our state (Florida) calls the Sunshine State Standards. Starting with science, then math, one by one, each subject area has been obligated to reassess its curriculum, identify key benchmarks, and designing learning objectives that can be tested on a statewide basis. Once a standard has been established, you have something to shoot for and attain. If you and your students can be expected to attain that set of standards, you can and will be held accountable to do so. So finally, education- one of the few industries that didn’t have sales volume or widget production numbers to be measured by- had a uniform measure of accountablity. Whether it is fair, whether it is good or bad... that certainly leads to another discussion.
I think we can all agree that standards-based instruction will help us think more carefully about how we are spending our time in the classroom and what we hope to achieve as teachers.
And now we are at the threshold of facing the same challenge as educational technologists. I think that everyone agrees that technology skills have become an indicator of a well-educated citizen.
A Nation at Risk, 19831
“The people of the United States need to know that individuals in our society who do not possess the levels of skill, literacy and training essential to this new era will be effectively disenfranchised, not simply from the material rewards that accompany competent performance, but also from the chance to participate fully in our national life.” A Nation at Risk also identified computer competence as the fourth "Basic Skill".
Even the No Child Left Behind legislation eloquently notes the role of technology literacy in today’s school system:
Technology is a driver of change.
Technology is the fundamental cause for societal shifts toward globalization and the new economy. Society now requires a highly educated populace that exhibits technological, visual, and information literacy in the context of critical thinking, cultural awareness, and social responsibility—skills for the 21st century. The bottom line is that schools must provide opportunities for students to develop these 21st century skills.
Technology is a bridge to higher academic achievement. Research shows that when technology is used appropriately—in the context of sound learning theory—children learn more, even as measured by conventional tests.
So, if we are to strive to produce a technologically literate populus, the obvious challenge will be to identify what critical technology skills would necessary for a high functioning, average functioning and minimally functioning adult in our society.
The definition of technology literacy changes considerably depending on who you ask...
According to the National Academy of Engineering:
Technological literacy is a much richer concept than computer literacy, although the two are often confused.
Technological literacy can be thought of a comprising three interrelated dimensions (knowledge, capablities or skills, and ways of thinking and acting - what we in Science Education called habits of the mind) these dimensions help describe the characteristics of a technologically literate person:
A technologically literate person:
• Recognizes the pervasiveness of technology in everyday life.
• Understands basic engineering concepts and terms, such as systems, constraints, and trade-offs.
• Is familiar with the nature and limitations of the engineering design process. • Knows some of the ways technology shapes human history and people shape technology.
• Knows that all technologies entail risk, some that can be anticipated and some that cannot.
• Appreciates that the development and use of technology involve trade-offs and a balance of costs and benefits.
• Understands that technology reflects the values and culture of society.
Technological literacy encompasses three interdependent dimensions: (1) knowledge; (2) ways of thinking and acting; and (3) capabilities. These dimensions can be placed along a continuum-from low to high, poorly developed to well developed, limited to extensive.
Different job and life circumstances require different levels and types of literacy.
However, other definitions prevail- in 1996 The U.S. Department of Education defined technology literacy as "computer skills and the ability to use computers and other technology to improve learning, productivity, and performance." It lists four goals related to technology literacy that ensure all students and teachers have equitable access to and effective use of technology:
• "All teachers in the nation will have the training and support they need to help students learn using computers and the information superhighway."
• "All teachers and students will have modern multimedia computers in their classrooms."
• "Every classroom will be connected to the information superhighway."
• "Effective software and on-line learning resources will be an integral part of every school's curriculum."
It stands to reason that (as educators) we are going to be asked to produce evidence that we are succeeding at this task as well as reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic... especially considering the relative expense of infusing technology into education. Many states have already begun to devise technology benchmarks and standards. Leading the national charge to create a measure of technology literacy is ISTE. ISTE is the International Society for Technology in Education.
As I think about this task, I would like to offer some observations:
Technology literacy is defined differently by different cultures (and societies). Although technology can be a great equalizer, the skills used by a student in a small agrarian town may be quite different from a student in large city with a technology based industry.
Technology literacy measures also require us to look forward and prepare our students with skills that will be important in the future. We must a bit of a futurist to sift through all of this and distill it down to skills that are likely to remain important for our students as adults.
Technology literacy is about more than just computers and networks -in spite what first comes to mind for many of us, technology extends its reaches beyond this into all areas of our life. Unless we limit our selves to discussing computer technology literacy, we really must address other areas of human innovation.
Technology literacy should be software and platform independent. Regardless of what you think about Microsoft’s pervasive presence, a technology literacy exam should not be based on the Microsoft Office Suite or any other specific software or operating system. This will make the task even more difficult.
Technology literacy is also very difficult to describe a scope and sequence for. Or maybe the term would be to “impose” a scope and sequence. There is such a great deviation from one classroom, school, and school district in equipment and task emphasis. Of course this has been one of the benefits of standardizing education objectives for other areas of education.
Although in many ways the students we teach are truly "Digital Natives", they still have much to learn. My experience is that although our students have grown up surrounded by the internet and other forms of technology, there are still many gaps in their understanding and skill sets.
Of course, I still have a lot of thinking to do about this topic. I would be interested in hearing some of your observations. I really hope to include some of your comments (from either text or recorded voice format) in my next podcast.
Here are some of the key questions-
- Does the education environment have significantly different needs than corporate/business world?
- Is it the role of Information Technology (or Management Information Systems) employees to establish how, when, where and what technologies will be used?
- How do we elevate (or in some educational communities establish!) the role of the Educational Technologist so that he/she is the one consulted as the administrators make technology decisions?
- Do I have to stop teaching to become an effective Network Administrator/Technology Coordinator?
There was a simpler time when school networks were phonenet (telephone cables) strung between a handful of computers, so that they could share a common printer. There was a time when teachers decided what hardware and software they were going to use. Not all that long ago, a help desk was near the front of the classroom, right beside the teacher’s desk.
Unfortunately, for many schools and school systems, that which some forward thinking educators longed for and saw great potential in also became a curse to our independence and self determination... when schools became networked, the principals and superintendents (who may or may not be very tech savvy) began looking for recommendations from those guys that were managing the mainframes and the dumb terminals.
At many schools and school districts around the nation, suddenly the MIS and IT folks moved from a support and data archiving position to becoming the technology authorities. The question to consider: - is ALL technology expertise the same?
If the educators weren’t proactive, politically astute, and visionary when it came to technology, they quickly lost their choice. Where no one with an education background came forward to learn networks, servers and new applications, the superintendents and principals took the counsel of those who had little experience in facilitating learning: those trained in a business model for technology.
What a tragic situation... is there still hope to regain control of educational technology? This takes us back to the meeting with the director of the education department...
I believe we have reached a stage in the evolution of professional educators - the modern teacher - that warrants a careful examination of a new literacy: technology literacy. What part does education play in providing a new generation of successful technology users- and who will take leadership in defining what technology literacy means? And who will decide what and how technology will be used in the educational profession?
Will teachers ask for an individual well versed in pedagogy to assist them in integrating technology as an “learning tool”? Will administrators recognize the importance of a technology integrator that knows something about Bloom’s Taxonomy and constructivist theory? Or will our education community rely on the guy who just got out of trade school and passed his MCSA (Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator)?
Or as I asked this director of the education department- will you provide an advancement path for the teacher who is seeking a graduate degree with practical coursework that better prepares them to produce a technologically literate population? Are we encouraging quality educators with an aptitude for technology integration to take leadership positions? And maybe an even more important question for those of us in PreK-12 Education: Will we be able to make the Educational Technologist an influential member of our profession?
It takes a tremendous amount of time to plan, set up, manage and close down a school fundraiser... and this all takes away from time I could/should be spending running the technology that I have. But that is the problem with having a vision and a passion for learning - you realize that there is always more that you could be doing and equipping your colleagues to do.
We get a very limited amount of money each year for upgrading or buying new equipment or technology. I have estimated that we would be cycling our teacher computers every 10 years with out fundraisers, grants or special programs. Can you imagine working on a 10 year old computer?!!! And that is for our staff computers- we are even less adequately funded for student-use technology.
Each year Stone sells Chick Fil A Calendars for their annual technology fundraiser. I hope that you will consider purchasing at least one and maybe help us sell a few to your friends, relatives or co-workers. They cost only $5 and $3 of that will go to the school if we sell 1000 of them! Each calendar has a coupon each month for free beverages or food at over 1215 Chick Fil A restaurants throughout the eastern US.