Jules recently sent me this article ‘Edtech: Who Benefits?’ by Annie Murphy Paul. She knew that it was right up my street - and she was right. However it has made me realise a few things - or maybe helped me to articulate ideas that have always been with me. As you will read, (I’ll wait here) it explores how librarians and academics reviewed the use of computers in ‘new’ libraries either side of the tracks in Kensington, Philadelphia (Chestnut Hill and the “Badlands” - doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination to work out which is which, eh reader?). The computers the researchers installed sound like my favourite self-teaching, intuitive, Apple products - which I think also makes a difference.
Both libraries were given new tech and the two researchers, Susan B. Neuman (New York University) and Donna C. Celano (LaSalle University) who wanted to watch how the patrons read printed and digital books. They were keen to see how computers might “level the playing field” across economic lines.
As a teacher with a background in multimedia, and now as a school improvement coach (with a tendency to work in the more deprived areas of the South of England I must add) I cannot help to think this was a little naive. Put the computers in and see how the rich and poor react? Of course both groups will use what they know - and do what they know. The same would happen given a pen and paper, or a calculator potentially. You see it in Apple stores across the lands. Did all the poverty stricken patrons start messaging, taking photos of themselves and gaming, whereas their wealthy peers completed their novels and Googled their LinkedIn accounts… Or is this stereotypical? Is it more that one group has more access and therefore more digital experience on this continuum…? Was this an unfair project from the start? The rest of the piece explores the ‘digital divide’ and raises questions about what we can do about it.
So what would help to bridge this divide? What would narrow the gap instead of widening it when students (of any social class) use computers?
My view is simple: students need to MUST have the same opportunities to be creative, to be innovative and to have confidence using technology in a range of mediums. They need to be trusted to meet the same challenges, teach one another, and have the same digital foundation. There needs to be a point where the students all have the same foundation - and then they are encouraged to reach for the stars.
For over a decade, I have taught, moderated and been an examiner for Media Studies in the UK. It gets a bum deal - being the ‘Mickey Mouse’ subject against the super-shiny coding beast that is technology. However I know it is Media Studies that helps thousands of students. It not only teaches students to understand 21st century media representation and deconstruction but, more importantly, to become up-skilled in industry standard tools, rather than merely given access to the tools (as in the study above), or create a spreadsheet or pie chart.
For example, my students would be able to edit their own videos, Photoshop images and broadcast podcasts using software from Final Cut to free apps they could use on their own. They knew about cropping in Photoshop as they had done this for themselves, before they had gone on to identify cite examples in magazines and newspapers. They looked at the world of art, literature and culture through film theory, musical genres and historical movements. They knew that media re-presented life to them from body image to news values. They also could articulate their own understanding of each.
What particularly struck me is that some of these students had the lowest KS2 grades in the country - many had (arguably) never had a childhood. Did that matter when they sat before in a computer in my classroom? Only in so far they were more in need of my help with learning the industry standards, for both PCs and Macs, because they had little exposure outside of the classroom. (They wouldn’t find it in the local library I can tell you that). Students were taught to a ‘standard’ and then had digital confidence of industry standard media and mediums to start their post-school adventures.
Ultimately I prepared them for life outside of school - to the best of my ability. Was it hard? Yes. I had to battle for resources, time, and respect- for the subject and the students. Was it worth it? You bet.
As the research bears out, the library patrons’ used tech for what they wanted - for better or worse—depending on their background. Left unaided and unfocused I would do nothing but browse Pinterest, skim news articles and be judgmental amount people’s Facebook accounts, but I do have a focus and I do have some skill(z). After all I know how to teach myself tech. (I am a TechnoTeacher after all.) Therefore is the divide really more about skills and confidence, or socio-economics? And if it is the former, how do we make sure our students learn the skills they need to be productive members of society? By standing back and watching- or by up-skilling students and resourcing schools, providing courses such as Media Studies and the best tech for the next generation that we can to one end = ensuring that for all schools/ all students are computer-illiterate. Digitally literate. Digital learners. And all teachers are TechnoTeachers. that is a level playing field in my eyes.
For more reading, try these:
Lady Gaga can be found in the cloud. David Beckham is a regular, too. Viewers of The World Cup and the Superbowl stop by the cloud as well. Viewers of the big reality shows live in the cloud, too, whether or not they’ll admit to it. People from all walks of life, from all over the world, are hanging out in the cloud. And you probably are, too. Do you pop into Google’s cloud? The answer is yes if you use any of Google’s services, such as email and photo editing. You may use the iCloud or one by another name brand name. Your students, too, can be found in the cloud if they use Khan Academy’s online education service or communicate with each other using Snapchat, for example.
Nic and I are definitely in the cloud. Nic has set us up with a Wiggio account recently so we can organise our projects, images, and ideas and not have to sift through the dozens of email messages we send each other every week. She doesn’t know it yet, but I plan to furnish our cloud space with a big red couch. She’ll probably point out, in the nicest way, that that’s not how it works. Ah yes, but a person can dream. (Nic says: I am trying hard not to say head in the cloud here, Jules!)
We, yes you and I, and all our friends, colleagues, and distant cousins are living in what tech writer Quentin Hardy calls “The era of the cloud.” Hardy explains: “Technically, cloud computing refers to an efficient method of managing lots of computer servers, data storage, and networking.”
So far, pretty cool, right? Right. Except that almost everything I read about the cloud has to do with business. Yes, business at the forefront again. What about educators? Are we, for the thousandth time, going to end up being late to the tech party? (Nic is silently cheering at her laptop at this point - are you, reader?)
We’d better get on it. Tech writer Matt Britland believes the future of education is in the cloud. “Forget devices, the future of education technology is all about the cloud and anywhere access. In the future, teaching and learning is going to be social,” Britland announced in a recent article in The Guardian.
Devices come and go, Britland says, but the future is about access to information. With students all over the world connecting with each other to learn.
Aha! Just as with the MOOC (an edX course on leadership) Nicole and I are taking this summer, the role of the teacher will change. Our role as students will also change. We will watch video lectures by our professor our computers. We will learn to read, think, collaborate, and communicate via smart devices and social media, rather than sitting at desks in a brick-and-mortar classroom.
But where are we in today’s schools? Are school leaders ready to embrace the types of social learning that are made possible by the cloud? Or will we continue to cling to traditional ways?
Where do you think? Do you see the cloud as the future of education? Or do you think cloud-based learning is a long way off? Write to us and let us know! Meanwhile, I’ll off to pick out a couch. We want you to be comfy when you visit us there. And we may all be up here for a long time to come.
Following on from our series on reading milestones and Missions, here are our top three tips for using media to enhance children’s reading development.
1. Personalise (Nic's favourite word at the moment!) your approach as much as possible for each child. Once they have read one book, which will they choose next? Which are the ones children enjoy most? Online or hardback? How would they sell this book to another student?
2. Keep your eyes and ears open to finding new digital resources to support reading instruction. Many books now have websites, puzzles and apps that all excite young learners (see for example PBSkids.org). Remember that it’s all about creating a healthy balance between carefully culled screen time activities and good old-fashioned reading time together. Above all, make the time you spend learning to decode, exploring a story’s narrative, and discovering new books (print or electronic) a special time in the life of every reader.
3. For extra impact, we suggest that you share these strategies with the families of the children you teach. Emphasise the fact that, like most educators, you do not believe children should be exposed to huge amounts of screen time. Research generally tells us that moderation is key. The focus needs to be on helping children learn to read—and love it--using these ‘games.’ How are their experiences helping them develop as readers? Which apps are helpful and work in parallel with your reading instruction at school?
Give parents three key questions to ask when reading––from literal comprehension to learning to understand the feelings books inspire (either through conversation, home 'bookmarks' or based on student targets). Home reading can be linked to levels, but sometimes it is better to just promote reading for reading's sake. The essence of reading is well, reading! At anytime of day or night, paper or digital.
Do you agree? Did we miss something? Or have these ideas changed the way you have now approached a lesson? We would love to hear from you! Or if you want some help to integrate technology and/ or improve literacy skills, send us a message or check out our new eCoaching services!
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This is where Jules and Nic will post articles, links to interesting sites and things that we think our TechnoTeachers will like.