Living like it’s 1986

Blair McMillan wanted to go outside to kick a ball to his five-year-old son, but Trey didn’t want to leave dad’s iPad. Blair and girlfriend Morgan banned all post-1986 technology from their home for a year, reports the Toronto Sun. Both parents were born in 1986.

No computers, no tablets, no smart phones, no fancy coffee machines, no Internet, no cable, and – from the point of view of many tech-dependent folks – no life.

“We’re parenting our kids the same way we were parented for a year just to see what it’s like,” Blair said.

Trey and his 2-year-old brother play Super Mario on an old-school Nintendo in the basement.

Blair went through cellphone withdrawal. “I could almost feel my pocket vibrating.”

Morgan uses a computer at work. At home, she reads books. “We’re just closer, there’s more talking,” she said.

On the down side, Blair and the boys all have mullets.

Are iPads worth it?

Are iPads and Other Classroom Gadgets Really Helping Kids Learn?  Maybe not, writes Peg Tyre on Take Part.

Wall Street is pouring money into education technology companies, but the enthusiasm may be cooling: Investment in education technology declined in 2011, Tyre writes.

Every new wave of technology that has been tried in classrooms—radio, television, videocassettes, desktop computers and smartboards—has ridden a wave of enthusiasm, rapid adoption and, then, brutally dashed expectations.

“First, the promoters’ exhilaration splashes over decision makers as they purchase and deploy equipment in schools and classrooms,” said Larry Cuban, professor emeritus of education at Stanford University and author of Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classoom in an email to me. “Then academics conduct studies to determine the effectiveness of the innovation [and find that it is] just as good as—seldom superior to—conventional instruction in conveying information and teaching skills. They also find that classroom use is less than expected.

While some teachers are using iPads in the classroom in effective ways, most are not, writes Tyre. And hoped-for savings may be illusory.

Adding in training, network costs and software costs, iPads cost school districts 552 percent more than textbooks, writes Lee Wilson of PCI Education on his blog. Wilson’s chart is below.

                                 

In a Broad Foundation debate, panelists ask: Which is more important, great teachers or great technology? (I guess we can’t have both.)

One-per-child laptops flop in Peru

Five years ago Peru partnered with One Laptop Per Child to give low-cost laptops to 800,000 public school students, writes Innosight’s Michael Horn. Digital technology was supposed to improve learning and fight poverty. The $200 million initiative “has largely been a flop.”

In an eSchool News story, one person “wonders if it may have even widened the gaps between rich and poor students in the country,” Horn notes.

Ouch.

Yet this was entirely predictable ahead of time.

. . . Technology by itself does not transform anything in any sector. What tends to matter far more is the model in which the technology is used.

The One Laptop Per Child initiative in particular gathered significant publicity and hype for its admirable goals, but people implementing it in many countries appeared not to have thought through the professional development teachers would need or, even more importantly, a redesign of the schooling model itself to leverage the considerable benefits that digital learning can deliver.

The U.S. spent well over $60 billion to equip classrooms with computers with little to show for it, Horn writes.  A potentially disruptive technology has been used to sustain the existing education model, not to transform it.

There is a long history of schools using technologies to, in effect, sustain the chalkboard and prop up the 20th-century factory model classroom with the teacher in front of 20 to 30 students of the same age. The recent hype over electronic white boards has been only the latest incarnation of this.

“Districts spending wildly on iPads and other devices should take note” of technology’s limits, concludes Horn, co-author of Disrupting Class

 

Duncan pushes e-textbooks

The Obama administration wants an e-textbook in every student’s hand by 2017, writes USA Today.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski and Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants states to use textbook funding for digital learning materials and tablet computers. They’ll jawbone companies to lower prices to schools.

Administration officials say Web-connected instructional materials help students learn more efficiently and give teachers real-time information on how well kids understand material. “We spend $7 billion a year on textbooks, and for many students around the country, they’re out of date,” Genachowski says. In five years, he predicts, “we could be spending less as a society on textbooks and getting more for it.”

While up-front costs for tablet computers are high — new iPads start at $499 — he says moving from paper to digital “saves a ton of money” in the long run. “We absolutely want to push the process.”

Core Knowledge blogger Robert Pondiscio said the enthusiasm around educational technology is “magical thinking.”

“I wish there was even 10% as much thought as to what is going to come through these devices as in getting them into kids’ hands,” he says. “It’s not a magic bullet. We need to worry about what is on these tablets while they’re sitting in kids’ laps.”

Karen Cator, the U.S. Department of Education’s technology director, says tablet computers will extend the school day and engage students.

In my school days, I’d go home, finish my homework and read for three hours or so. OK, I was not normal, even among my studious friends. But I don’t think that gee-whiz devices will engage kids who don’t read well. Not for long, anyhow.

On a visit to my mother this week, I picked up a 1945 book on teaching remedial reading that must be left over from her master’s program in education back in the ’50s. (It advocates delaying phonics till second grade, after students have memorized a bunch of sight words.) Among the strategies for motivating struggling readers, the author suggested letting them use a typewriter to write the new words they’ve learned. Kids will be excited by the technology, the professor wrote.

I’m sure that e-books are the wave of the future, but schools should be careful not to spend before they’ve figured out how new learning materials will improve learning.  Do students need an iPad? A Kindle or Nook equivalent? Some new, cheaper device not yet available? Yes, publishers will lower prices to compete for market share, but schools need to make sure they’re not locked into one company’s products or blocked from using free open-source materials.

Kids add digital media to TV time

From birth through age eight, children are spending more time with digital media such as computers, video games, cell phones and video iPods, concludes a study by Common Sense Media, a San Francisco nonprofit. However, most screen time still is devoted to watching TV.

Half of children from babies to 8-year-olds have access to a smart phone, video iPod, iPad or other tablet device. Some 47 percent of higher-income parents have downloaded apps for their children, compared to 14 percent of lower-income children, leading to warnings of an “app gap.”

Half of low-income families with young children have a computer at home compared to 91 percent of higher-income families.

Computer use is pervasive among very young children, with half (53%) of all 2- to 4-year- olds having ever used a computer, and nine out of ten (90%) 5- to 8-year-olds having done so. . . . Among all children who have used a computer, the average age at first use was just 3 ½ years old.

However, TV is still king of the toddlers’ jungle. In a typical day, nearly half of babies and toddlers watch TV or DVDs for an average of nearly two hours. For all children in their first year, the average is 53 minutes of TV time versus 23 minutes being read to.

Two-thirds (65%) of 0- to 8-year-olds watch TV at least once every day (ranging from 37% of 0-1 year- olds, to 73% of 2- to 4-year-olds and 72% of 5- to 8-year-olds). Forty-two percent have a TV in their bedroom, and 39% live in a home where the TV is left on all (10%) or most (29%) of the time, whether anyone is watching it or not. Children this age spend an average of 1:44 watching TV or videos in a typical day, compared to :29 reading, :29 listening to music, and :25 playing computer or video games.

Black and Hispanic children and lower-income children spend much more time with media than whites and children with educated parents. Sixty-four percent of low-income children have a TV in their bedroom, compared to 20 percent of children in affluent homes.

Smart phones and iPads are becoming baby toys, notes the New York Times.

Jeannie Crowley, who helps faculty members at the Bank Street College of Education integrate technology into teaching, got rid of television at home because of the ads and branding.

But Ms. Crowley hands her iPad over to her 19-month-old daughter, Maggie, to play with the Smule piano app. And at bedtime, the family often watches “30 Rock” on the computer, Maggie dancing to the opening music. The toddler also loves YouTube videos of barking dogs.

And she is also adept with her mother’s smartphone.

“She learned how to unlock it, observationally, about two months ago.” Ms Crowley said. “About two weeks ago, she was on the train with me, and she popped the slide bar.”

. . . Most of all, Maggie likes to watch the cellphone videos her parents take of her stomping on leaves, getting sticky sap on her hands or wearing her new pink polka dot pajamas.

My step-granddaughter, two-year-old Julia learned to access the ring tones on my old cell phone. She presses a button, the tune plays, we dance.

New tools, old thinking

North Carolina school districts are using $3.5 million in Race to the Top funds to “put Apple iPads in the hands of students and teachers at two low-performing schools,” reports the Raleigh News & Observer. Durham Public Schools Superintendent Eric Becoats said, “Our kids are telling us, ‘This is how we learn. This is what we want.’”

New technology rarely provides a new way to learn, writes Rick Hess, who’s unimpressed with “digital natives.” In schools with one-to-one computing, personal computers, and iPads, students typically work on “graphics, clip art, powerpoints, or adding sound and visual effects to video shorts.” Or students go to “Wikipedia for material to cut-and-paste into powerpoints or word files.”

. . . I had a chance to spend a couple days visiting acclaimed “technology-infused” high schools. Yet, most of what I saw the technology being used for was either content-lite or amounted to students using Google-cum-Wikipedia as a latter day World Book Encyclopedia. Making powerpoints and video shorts is nice, but it’s only us “digital tourists” who think it reflects impressive learning.

A “digital native” who uses an iPad to find Wikipedia’s entry on the Harlem Renaissance isn’t learning more than an encyclopedia-using student 25 years ago, Hess argues. Today’s student may learn less because it’s so easy to cut and paste text instead of copying information (or taking notes!) by hand.

I’m a huge fan of using technology to rethink schooling. But it’s the rethinking that matters, not the technology.

Amen.