Much of the buzz on the edtech lists this week was generated by the release of a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, investigated the extend to which filtering software intended to prevent K-12 students from encountering pornography and other undesirable web content, also prevents access to medical information. Why is this an issue? Adolescents use the Internet to answer their personal questions about all kinds of things including health issues. They may seek information about condoms. AIDS, or drugs from the Internet when they are unwilling to ask their parents about such issues. The study seems to suggest that educational institutions use the most restrictive settings on the blocking software they purchase. If less restristive settings were used, much more health information would be available with only a slight increase in access to pornography.
I read a lot about the possible connection between educational reform and technology (see a summary of some major studies on this topic). My own optimism about this topic was kindled by a paper in the Harvard Educational Review (Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition (1989), Kids and computers: A positive vision of the future. Harvard Educational Review, 59, 73-86). My interpretation of this paper was essentially that the authors were optimistic about the future role of technology in educational reform because technology seemed to be a way to make practical some of the project based learning concepts pioneered in the 1960s. The problem with the initiatives of the ’60s was that the hands-on science experiences fizzled out when the grant money and related curriculum support ran out. Teachers left to fend for themselves did not have the time or whatever to generate the learning activities on their own. The 1989 paper argued that technology offered practical ways to implement the old ideas.
So — it is now nearly 15 years later and the technology has clearly grown more powerful and user friendly. Cindy and I (and many others) are still attempting to find out whether or not it is practical to integrate more authentic, project-based activities in classrooms. Our own interest is now focusedon a “Teaching American History” grant Cindy directs. We are working with others to see if we can find ways to increase the frequency with which elementary, middle school and high school students in history classes have the opportunity to engage in “historical inquiry.” The general goal is to diversify the mix of learning tasks that students experience (a little less text book and a few more primary sources). We hope technology is part of the solution and there are clearly some wonderful primary source collections available through the Internet (e.g., American Memories Collection]). However, as we explore the existing resources available to teachers, we realize that access to useful resources is not the only issue. For example, we have discovered that vendors providing text books also make available great supplemental materials we would categorize as primary sources. Activities based on these resources seem to be rarely implemented in classrooms. Perhaps it is the second of the two “resources” identified in the 1989 study that is the major stumbling block. Perhaps it is the “lesson plans” as well as the “science kits” that must be provided.
Learning From Online VideoOnline video would probably be my pick for the next innovation to play a significant role in education. Making predictions about such things may appear to be harmless and nearly anyone who works in the field probably has a favorite prediction. Beliefs about trends are not without consequences. The preparation of new teachers requires some insights into what the classroom environment will look like “when they get there.” I suppose pessimists would say that it will look the same as it looked 100 years ago. Perhaps some day the pessimists will be proven wrong.
In my opinion, part of any educator’s decision making process should depend on personal experience. Reading the journals and professional literature is great, but I still see value in first hand experience. So — how does one get some experience with online video. At one point, I would have suggested visting the web sites associated with major news organizations. The trend here seems to have moved toward subscription services so this suggestion no longer works that well. I now suggest that educators examine some of the work of the George Lucas Education Foundation and the examples of video developed through the inTime project at the University of Northern Iowa. If you explore these sites, consider both what the experience provides you and how you might make use of such experiences with your students.
Or – try to learn something yourself using online video. Several companies now offer instruction in the use of technology online. There are often some free topics the companies make available as demos. Try the Atomic Learning material explaining how to use iMovie.
The True Story of How Mark and Cindy Became Authors (Short Version)
Scene 1: Visitors Center – Theodore Roosevelt National Park (early 1990s)
Mark and Cindy discover the North Dakota Wildlife Coloring Book. This coloring book consisted of simple line drawings of North Dakota fish and animals. Mark and Cindy recognize that these images might be scanned and used in student projects. Mark contacts North Dakota Game and Fish to obtain permission to use images in this way. (Note: He later offers a proposal to Game and Fish that if they would hire an artist to create a more complete series of images, he would digitize the images, create a HyperCard stack to organize the images, write a short manual of suggestions for classroom use of these images, and distribute these materials to teachers. State Game and Fish names Mark Grabe to the Project Wild Advisory Board. The clip art collection still lives and is now available online.)
Scene 2: Pam Carlson’s Classroom – The Butterfly Project
The first major classroom project actually created using coloring book images was conducted in the classroom of second grade teacher Pam Carlson. Pam was known to us as a creative teacher interested in involving students in projects. We worked with Pam to implement several projects involving butterflies. One of the projects made use of clip art generated from a butterfly coloring book. Students each were assigned a butterfly, learned as much as they could about “their butterfly” from library resources, created a picture incorporating the butterfly image within Kid Pix, and eventually create a three card, Hypercard stacks incorporating the colored butterfly images and the information the students had learned about the butterfly. Newer versions of the butterfly project are still described in our books.
Scene 3: Some large bookstore in some large city (the details are a little vague)
Mark and Cindy are attending an American Educational Research Association Convention and are exploring a large bookstore (at the time we did not have this type of mega-store in Grand Forks, North Dakota). In this store, we locate a large collection of topical coloring books. There are books on plants, animals, Native Americans, historical events, etc. An idea emerges. Perhaps the company producing all of these resources does not realize just how useful all of these images would be to teachers in a form appropriate to computer supported projects. Perhaps the company would be willing to repurpose these coloring books as clip art collections and market the collections to schools. The company publishing all of the coloring books was Houghton Mifflin.
Scene 4: Loretta Wolozin (Houghton Mifflin Education Editor) Visits the Grabes in Grand Forks
When Mark returns home from the convention, he writes a proposal for Houghton Mifflin. He proposes the development of a product that would consist of a disk of clip art, a copy of the coloring book, and a short manual that would both establish a rationale for curriculum related projects using the clip art (history, biology, etc.) and would explain how to create several specific types of projects (incorporating clip art in word processing documents, incorporating clip art into more complete images using a “paint program”, simple multimedia projects using HyperCard). The proposal and a couple of sample projects are sent of to Houghton-Mifflin.
Nothing happens for several weeks. Eventually, Mark receives a call from Loretta Wolozin. She explains that the trade division (I think that was what it was called) was not interested in the clip art proposal. However, somehow, the proposal for a coloring book related clip art collection had come to the attention of someone in the college division. It turns out the ideas for how students might use technology are regarded as different and interesting. Loretta, who has the responsibility for the books used in the preparation of teachers, wants to know if she can fly to Grand Forks and look at some of our work. I can’t say I have taken many phone calls like this. Loretta came to Grand Forks, sat in front on an Apple Macintosh LC and went through our examples of student projects. I guess she liked what she saw. We are asked to submit an outline for a book and sample chapters. The core of our books then and now remains authentic student projects.
The fourth edition of the book I have just described will be released in a couple of months. Among other things, this brief description is a way of thanking Loretta Wolozin, Pam Carlson and the teachers we have worked with over the years. Taking a chance on an approach that was different, when it involved learning new skills and new ways of doing things (in the case of the teachers) or investing money (in the case of Loretta), is still greatly appreciated.
There is probably another message in this story. We have enjoyed some personal success because of what most would describe as a string of fortuitous events (translate – we were lucky). However, if you are lucky enough to do work you find to be valuable, productive and fun, you don’t always have to search for opportunities. Sometimes, opportunities find you.
I assume most folks would accept the statement that there are great educational resources available on the Internet. The issue becomes how to find “quality” resources in an efficient manner. I think search engines do a better job than most people realize. For example, the Google technique of using “Links to” in prioritizing hits is a tremendously creative way to identify what other people think are good resources.
Other strategies are emerging. One concept is that of a digital library. The idea is that an online library does not have to assemble resources in one place (on one server I guess), but can point to resources in many different places. What makes it a library is the selection process that determines what links will be included and what ignored. A good example of this approach is the National Science Foundation Digital Library. A tab on this web site allows access to specialized digital portals (Gender and Science, Earth Science Education). This specific site is new and still evolving, but it will be interesting to follow the development of this approach.
There are many ways to keep informed about edtech issues. If I had to select one resource, it would probably be Andy Garvin’s listserv WWWEDU (the pronounciation is ‘we do’ – get it 🙂 ). The link I have provided takes you to a web page providing background information about the list, explains how to subscribe, and allows you to access the archives.
Issues tend to come and go on listservs. The issue that has been hot the last few days on WWWEDU concerns the proper skill set for tech coordinators. One position that has been voiced very forcefully has been that coordinators cannot be “just” technology people. Without curriculum knowledge, “tech only” coordinators tend to turn teachers off. I guess I agree. However, as a person interested in technology AND education, I would also argue that key district curriculum advocates who do not possess some insights into the potential of technology resources and technology integration are now limiting the learning experiences of students. Perhaps I should be brave and submit this position to the list.
I found another – ed tech blog
I have run into a little technical glitch. It seems about a month ago an attach was launched on a Catholic K-12 institution from one of my servers. The attack was intercepted by the institution’s firewall. In examining the log at the end of the month, the system administrator must have identified the attack and decided to contact my institution. It is not difficult to find me, I use a static IP and my address is clearly apparent. I think I take security seriously. This certainly does not mean there are not vulnerabilities in my system. One difficulty I am aware of involves the mail system I operate. I tolerate the limitation because it allows me to do something I value and do not know how to do in another way. I allow students to take online notes and then send the notes to themselves. This mail system has been used to bounce spam email, but that is not the same as a denial of services attack. I guess one complaint in the 7-8 years I have operated servers is acceptable, but I will continue to search for limitations.
Note the strange post that follows. You can enter your own HTML in a blog entry. However, if you make an error, you can generate strange results. A blog is HTML (your post) within HTML (blogger form) and a mistake can cause a problem it appears you can’t edit.