Friday, May 8, 2009

The Important Question: Part 2 of A Dialogue

This is Part 2 of a Dialogue with Ben Grey and Respondents. Please read the previous post on this blog if you have not done so as well as Mr. Gray's Blog and the comments to his post Why Technology?: that is under discussion here.

So let's get back to the important question: What do we want our students to know, be able to do and have experienced. In other words, what are our objectives.
Let's start with CONTENT, what we want them to know.
Mr. William Chamberlain responded to Mr. Grey in this way:
"I used to believe that 'Content is King' and prided myself in trying to get as much material covered as possible. Now I realize that content is ubiquitous, what we do with it is much more important."
My argument is similar. Specific content should not be the objective of schools, although content specialists think that THEIR content is THE content that students should know. No, content is the context in which our primary objectives must be conducted. The choice of which content cannot be universally mandated. It must be chosen and I will include the ability to choose content wisely later in this post.
If specific CONTENT is eliminated from our list of objectives, then we are faced with the question of what content do we use for the context in which desired skills are to be demonstrated. I would argue that we use the content which is the most likely to be a successful context for learning the desired skills. Some possibilities include: the learner's previously known content; the learner's content in which they have demonstrated an interest or even a "passion"; the content of the teacher when the teacher can contentedly share their content with non-specialists as they learn; the content which a teacher can use to excite and engage learners; a community agreed upon content. And there are others. But I would hope that the learner would play a major role in the selection of the content. I think it works better that way!
There must be many contents for context. One of our objectives would surely be the ability to transfer skills across content areas, or contexts. This implies multiple contexts.
So what are the SKILLS we seek to teach or develop in our students? I would add that my list spills over into ATTITUDES.
1. One would be to be able to make choices about content in which to demonstrate skills. Mr. Peter Papas puts it this way in a response to the post by Ben Gray under discussion: "Shouldn't our students have access to the technologies that allow them to create, collaborate and share their thinking on subjects that matter to them?" (my emphasis)
2. To be able to exhibit skills in a variety of content content contexts, even those in which there is little or no interest
3. To be able to identify
4. To be able to collect information
5. To be able to classify information
6. To be able to describe
7. To be able to compare
8. To be able to contrast
9. To be able to make an argument
10. To be able to effectively argue against the argument we have proposed
11. To be creative
12. To be curious, that is to value questions
13. To consider questions more important than answers
14.To see answers as preliminary steps to more questions
15.To communicate effectively using the cultural tools that are prevalent in the society in which the student operates. In our current culture the hierarchy is video, audio, kinetics, written text. A warning: don't overemphasize writing even though that may be our cultural norm
16. To make contributions to the content of a listening/watching world rather than to just be a consumer. In other words, we want our students to create products in video, audio, pictures, graphics and internet delivered text. Or, to add to the information pool soon to be available in "all places at all times." (Gutenberg II, 1978)
17. To effectively reflect upon their own learning and to make adjustments as appropriate
18. to be able to evaluate their own as well as what remains unknown

And now, what do we want our students to EXPERIENCE? I use this word because there are many things we do in school which are experiences that we want to have an impact later. An example: an art appreciation course or a music appreciation course. Appreciation is even in the title! So what do we mean? I used to say in speeches that I gave that we wanted to increase the chance that our students, if in Washington, would go to the National Gallery or the Phillips Gallery rather than visit 14th street (then the red light district. I don't know whether it is still there now - but it is somewhere in Washington).
It seems to me that we must START our answer to this question with TECHNOLOGY.
Peter Papas says that our students "have the right to participate in the digital age." Absolutely. Maybe I should say ABSOLUTELY! The ability to have access to and make use of technology will determine to whom the rewards and benefits will be distributed. In fact, that is already happening.
You will have your own lists. But we must make the case for what we want our students to learn: what we want them to know, be able to do and have experienced.
If we do that, the tool of technology will be widely, and I hope, well used.

A Dialogue and Response to Ben Grey

My understanding of your argument in your blog post Why Technology?:

1. Technology use in education is being questioned.
2. Technology use in education is or may be cut.
3. Technology is expensive
4. Technology has not been proven to affect test scores
4a. Test schools may not be the correct outcomes, but they are the desired outcomes of the public and politicians
5. A defense of technology must be developed to protect budgets and personnel.

1. As educators, I would argue that our first obligation is to engage the question: What are the learning outcomes that we need and want? The failure to confront this question directly is the root of our problem, I would argue - not which tools are the best in achieving the "wrong" outcome.
2. Then we can debate how we allocate monies among the contending tools.
3. Technology is only a tool
4. We spend lots of money on other tools: books, pencils, paper, classrooms
5. What evidence do we have that they affect test scores?
6. We do have evidence that teaching to the test improves test scores.
7. What tools do we need?
8. My immediate answer (but I will think more about it) is that I must have these tools:
8a. a device to connect to the internet
8b. a connection to the internet
8c. tools to collect and disseminate information in all of its current forms:
8c1 text (so pencils, paper, or "text machines". I do think we are beyond typewriters!)
8c2 sound (so audio recorders of some sort)
8c3 video (since they are able to record audio we might eliminate separate audio collector)
8c4 still pictures (vii and viii are coming together; new devices are on the horizon that will do all of the above - for less than $ 500 plus connection fees)
8c5 I did not mention books. If we had to do without technology or books, which would we eliminate? Books, of course. We are now living in a listening/ watching culture, not a reading/writing one. So out with books. A district in Colorado has already done this!
9.After doing that, we have money for technology. But the technology should belong to the user, not the school. That's where Obama's initiatives come in. Wire the USA and get technology in the hands of users.
10. And "technology teachers". I would eliminate them as well. Every teacher should know how to use technology. Students mostly do already. We could use technology coaches for a while, or technology support teachers, but not labs and not "technology teachers."
So there is a quick look at my Strange response. I will expand on my remarks later and let you know where I print them (not in a book, but in a free blog).