Technology: the great unequalizer

According to Annie Murphy Paul and a number of researchers, technology is not narrowing achievement and opportunity gaps; rather, it seems to be widening them.

Susan B. Neuman, a professor of early childhood and literacy education at NYU, and Donna C. Celano, an assistant professor of communication at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, spent hundreds of hours observing children in the high-poverty Badlands and the affluent Chestnut Hill sections of Philadelphia. They found that technology exacerbated inequalities between rich and poor children–not because the rich had more of it, but because they used it differently. Paul writes: “They select different programs and features, engage in different types of mental activity, and come away with different kinds of knowledge and experience.”

Paul relates this to a well-documented “Matthew Effect,” a term coined in 1968 by Roger Merton. (“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.” [Matthew 13:12]). That is, when rich children use technology for educational purposes, they make greater leaps than poor children.

Not only do poor children gain less from technology than their rich counterparts, but they may even lose. In a forthcoming article, economists Jacob Vigdor, Helen Ladd, and Erika Martinez report a possible negative effect of technology on poor students’ performance: after broadband was introduced to public schools across North Carolina, math and reading performance went down in each region where it was introduced. The scores of disadvantaged students dropped the most.

Paul suggests that affluent children have more guidance from adults when using the computer; thus, they may be directed toward intellectually challenging activities.

There may be still more explanations of the phenomenon. Schools have been told that technology will help raise the achievement levels of the disadvantaged. High-poverty schools are clearly under great pressure to raise the achievement levels of the disadvantaged. So, when technology comes their way, they may require teachers to use it, even when it doesn’t serve the lesson well. (A pre-Danielson classroom observation form in NYC had a check box for technology use–nothing about whether it was used well or poorly.) I have attended PDs where the emphasis was on making use of technology no matter what, not on examining how it might or might not enhance a given lesson. At one PD, we watched a video that ended with the a principal’s advice, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

How can schools improve the quality of their technology use? Paul has a few suggestions:

Addressing it would require a focus on people: training teachers, librarians, parents and children themselves to use computers effectively. It would require a focus on practices: what one researcher has called the dynamic “social envelope” that surrounds the hunks of plastic and silicon on our desks. And it would require a focus on knowledge: background knowledge that is both broad and deep. (The Common Core standards, with their focus on building broad background knowledge, may be education’s most significant contribution to true computer literacy.)

Amen: I suspect that if schools focus on that last part–building background knowledge (and foreground knowledge, for that matter, and ways of interpreting the knowledge)–the proper uses of technology will present themselves, not automatically and naturally, but relatively easily all the same.

One minor quibble, though (minor because it’s tangential to her argument):  The Common Core, particularly in ELA, doesn’t focus on building background knowledge. It stresses the importance of curriculum but focuses on skills. Not that the Core should have specified a curriculum–but as it is now, one can “implement” the Core–to the satisfaction of state officials–without a clear sense of what is being taught and why.

In the spirit of Paul’s last point, though, schools would do well to have technology serve the lesson and not the other way around.

School leaders as ‘learning engineers’


School leaders must become “learning engineers,” write Rick Hess and Bror Saxberg in Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age: Using Learning Science to Reboot Schooling.

“Learning engineers” are “creative thinkers who redefine their problems and design new ways to better serve kids’ success.”

It’s not enough to introduce technology, they write. School leaders must rethink “schools, systems, and classrooms” to make effective use of digital  learning tools.

 

Who should drive reform?

Americans rank small class size and technology as more effective than vouchers on the pro-choice Friedman Foundation’s new survey.  That must have produced “surprise (and, no doubt, embarrassment)” at the foundation, writes Diane Ravitch on her blog.

The foundation was “quite encouraged,” writes Robert Enlow, the foundation president.
Survey respondents ranked vouchers in the middle among seven offered education reforms. Not bad for a measure that currently affects just 0.9 percent of our country’s total student population.
As for the other reforms that ranked above vouchers, who doesn’t want smaller classrooms for students? And, in the 21st century, we certainly could use more technology in our schools along with accountability.

The critical question is: Who should drive those changes? writes Enlow. Should it be “lawmakers and bureaucrats, or parents free to choose, using vouchers, and educators free to teach, not being dictated by standardized tests?”

Americans want small classes, more tech

Smaller classes and more technology  would help schools the most, say adults surveyed for School Choice Signals, a new Friedman Foundation report. Merit pay and longer school days would be the least effective of seven reforms, the survey takers said.

Beyond the book report

Middle schoolers can analyze texts without writing book reports or essays, writes Beth Holland on Edutopia. Holland suggests programs that help students create trailers, podcasts, interactive e-books and “augmented reality author studies.” (I don’t really know what the last one means.)

She includes this wonderful look at how students approach book reports from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Creativity meets technology

 Innovation:Where Creativity and Technology Meet.

U.S. adults lag in numeracy, literacy

U.S. adults are dumber than the average human, proclaims the New York Post. A new international study doesn’t quite say that. But it’s not great news.

art“In math, reading and problem solving using technology – all skills considered critical for global competitiveness and economic strength – American adults scored below the international average,” the Post reports.

Adults in Japan, Canada, Australia, Finland and other countries scored higher than the United States in all three areas on the test, reports the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).

Americans ranked 16 out of 23 industrialized countries in literacy and 21 out of 23 in numeracy. In a new test of “problem solving in technology rich environments,” the U.S. ranked 17 out of 19. Respondents were tested on activities such as calculating mileage reimbursement due to a salesman, sorting email and comparing food expiration dates on grocery store tags.

American baby boomers outperformed people of the same age overseas, reports the Wall Street JournalYounger Americans lagged behind their international peers “in some cases by significant margins.”

The results show that the U.S. has lost the edge it held over the rest of the industrial world over the course of baby boomers’ work lives, said Joseph Fuller, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School who studies competitiveness. “We had a lead and we blew it,” he said, adding that the generation of workers who have fallen behind their peers would have a difficult time catching up.

“We have a substantial percentage of the work force that does not have the basic aptitude to continue to learn and to make the most out of new technologies,” Mr. Fuller said. “That manifests itself in lower rates of productivity growth, and it’s productivity growth that drives real wage growth.”

Workers in Spain and Italy posted the lowest scores.

Old tech

Today’s kids learn to use 1980′s technology, via YouTube.

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.

Goodnight iPad

In Goodnight iPad, Ann Droyd (possibly a pseudonym) adapts the children’s classic for a new generation that has trouble disconnecting.