Ed Tech Thoughts on the Space Coast

Happy New Year (and the Future of Educational Technology?)

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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 is a moving target -even if the type of community is homogenous. Whereas the phonemics of reading have changed very little over the last 100 years, new advances empower us to do more with our cell phone, computer, camera, etc. every six months. Although a basic understanding of html tags might have been a high level skill a couple of years ago, with javascript, cascading style sheets and more complex coding more common now, there is a question if teaching basic html is still important.

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.
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