Skip to main content

My Views...

I am a skeptic when it comes to technology in the classroom. From accounts like those found in The Flickering Mind: Saving Education from the False Promise of Technology, by Todd Oppenheimer, to the works of Larry Cuban, one finds a series of issues with technology that keep repeating every generation — as if technology and the excitement that always follows it will translate into better-educated students.

Oppenheimer is an award-winning San Francisco journalist who toured the country to study how computers were used in the classroom. He began as an optimistic believer in technology and ended the work on a skeptical note, almost a "back-to-basics" philosophy based on everything from the price of technology to the lack of technical support and training teachers generally receive.

Gene I Maeroff's work, A Classroom of One: How Online Learning Is Changing Our Schools and Colleges, is authored by one of the leading experts on education. Maeroff has written 11 books in 30 years and is a leading instructor (and administrator) at Teachers College. I read his work, which also begins with an optimistic view of technology, after my own M.A. research on the use of Blackboard in Cal State composition courses. My original research had to change as instructor after instructor stopped using Blackboard... a case of poor teacher buy-in and even worse technology (which has improved greatly in just two years).

I deal with special needs students. The technology doesn't always fit their needs: even issues as simple as color-blindness are ignored. I often dictate because of my own issues with sight and information processing. Most educational software and Web sites ignore my needs and those of people with more severe disabilities.

Most importantly, I want a pedagogical defense for technologies. Getting "excited" is not reason enough to use something. I want to know what skill it improves, how it improves it, and if students can expand to use analytical skills.

Finally, I do care about the "real world" and what employers want. Our students do not write well. I know this as an employer, not merely as a teacher. I've watched students I have hired struggle to make change for customers, read instruction manuals, and compose basic e-mails professionally. I want to know how technology helps with basics because I want students to succeed outside school.

I installed publishing systems during the 1980s and 90s in three schools. I've donated small computer labs when I thought they were appropriate. But, I need to know that teachers will use the labs in ways that help students later in life.

My students already have "digital literacy" and a deep skepticism of media. They need writing and math skills. Show me how those are being improved, and I'll be right there installing the network and computers.

As for the risks of online technologies — it is an issue of teacher training. Too many teachers don't understand the risks, ignore them, or imagine there's no way a student or parent will report a minor incident. Trust me, I've resigned from a teaching post after my "mentor" tried to push off blame for minor things.

My very first year with a "real" job (1991) ended abruptly after the teacher (a genuine "character" from a bad movie) was scanning pictures and commented on the anatomy of the female students in the images. Our conflicts increased, until I finally resigned mid-semester. This man was "teacher of the year" and had the video class, yearbook, and newspaper. He also ran the drama program. All the cool toys were "his" and not the school's.

The moment there were any issues, I was the one meeting with the principal and being told I was inappropriate. Technology was too hard to explain. It was clearly my fault digital editing was being used inappropriately. I was threatened (literally) by an administrator who said, "The parents of young girls might complain about you. It might be wise to think about other paths."

And so I went back to programming and selling computers for two or three years, knowing I had nothing to do with what was happening in the lab.

Technology comes with responsibilities. Once it costs you a job, you realize it isn't always used wisely.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Slowly Rebooting in 286 Mode

The lumbar radiculopathy, which sounds too much like "ridiculously" for me, hasn't faded completely. My left leg still cramps, tingles, and hurts with sharp pains. My mind remains cloudy, too, even as I stop taking painkillers for the back pain and a recent surgery.

Efforts to reboot and get back on track intellectually, physically, and emotionally are off to a slow, grinding start. It reminds me of an old 80286 PC, the infamously confused Intel CPU that wasn't sure what it was meant to be. And this was before the "SX" fiascos, which wedded 32-bit CPU cores with 16-bit connections. The 80286 was supposed to be able to multitask, but design flaws resulted in a first-generation that was useless to operating system vendors.

My back, my knees, my ankles are each making noises like those old computers.

If I haven't already lost you as a reader, the basic problem is that my mind cannot focus on one task for long without exhaustion and multitasking seems…

MarsEdit and Blogging

MarsEdit (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Mailing posts to blogs, a practice I adopted in 2005, allows a blogger like me to store copies of draft posts within email. If Blogger, WordPress, or the blogging platform of the moment crashes or for some other reason eats my posts, at least I have the original drafts of most entries. I find having such a nicely organized archive convenient — much easier than remembering to archive posts from Blogger or WordPress to my computer.

With this post, I am testing MarsEdit from Red Sweater Software based on recent reviews, including an overview on 9to5Mac.

Composing posts an email offers a fast way to prepare draft blogs, but the email does not always work well if you want to include basic formatting, images, and links to online resources. Submitting to Blogger via Apple Mail often produced complex HTML with unnecessary font and paragraph formatting styles. Problems with rich text led me to convert blog entries to plaintext in Apple Mail and then format th…

Screenwriting Applications

Screenplay sample, showing dialogue and action descriptions. "O.S."=off screen. Written in Final Draft. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) A lot of students and aspiring writers ask me if you "must" use Final Draft or Screenwriter to write a screenplay. No. Absolutely not, unless you are working on a production. In which case, they own or your earn enough for Final Draft or Screenwriter and whatever budget/scheduling apps the production team uses.

I have to say, after trying WriterDuet I would use it in a heartbeat for a small production company and definitely for any non-profit, educational projects. No question. The only reason not to use it is that you must have the exclusive rights to a script... and I don't have those in my work.

WriterDuet is probably best free or low-cost option I have tested. It is very interesting. Blows away Celtx. The Pro version with off-line editing is cheaper than Final Draft or Screenwriter.

The Pro edition is a standalone, offline versio…