Summary: In this article I will discuss how our attempt to fix our education crisis has staggered from one approach to another. First we threw lots of tech at the problem, and this resulted in billion dollar failures. Then we threw lots of money at training teachers to use tech, and still we are seeing failures. It is only when we realise what is really wrong that we can effectively change how we teach.
“Hi Craig, I wonder if you could come and talk to our teachers about using technology for teaching?” reads the email I've just opened. I receive many emails like this and so I'm fairly sure what I will find when I get to this school.
I arrive and am soon set up in the school auditorium. Typically, the session is scheduled after school - often on a Friday afternoon. As the room slowly fills with teachers I can already read their expressions - “Why do they force us to attend these sessions?” - “Not another presentation on using computers”.
As I stand up I can see most people are looking at their devices. I suppose that's what I'd be doing at an after school session like this. I lean forward and speak into the microphone. “The worst thing we can do is train teachers to use technology.” I pause. Heads pop up. I can see them replaying what I just said in their minds, wondering if they heard correctly. I can see the questions forming. “Wasn't this guy meant to be telling us how to use computers?” I wait for the confusion to take hold and then I continue.
The worst thing we can do is train teachers to use technology...
That hasn't helped. If anything they are now even more confused. Excellent! Now that I have everyone's attention I have a precious moment - a teachable moment. That moment that every teacher desires - when our students are attentive, enquiring, wanting to hear more
Who's to blame?
I keep coming across articles that attempt to explain how we can fix the modern education crisis. Yes, there is a crisis. It doesn't take studies to tell us that our world has changed dramatically and our teaching hasn't kept up.
Our students have a daily digital diet of approx. 9 hours of tech consumption. The impact is attention spans are reported to have dropped to 8 seconds - apparently below that of a goldfish. Whether this is true or not, what is true is that most teachers are struggling to keep students engaged.
So how do we reconnect with our students? How do we make our teaching relevant in the digital age? The solution seems obvious. If technology is what engages the modern generation outside the classroom, then let's use it in the classroom. After all technology has revolutionized all other aspects of life - business, entertainment, communication, sports. It only makes sense that education needs the same revolution.
And so our first attempt to fix our classrooms saw us investing billions in technology - iPads, Chrome Books, smartboards flooded into schools. And the result? At the best we could call it a mixed success. However, many would call it a failure. Headlines telling the costly story of the failed Los Angles iPad program or research proclaiming that technology in the classroom is reducing students' grades.
Something's just not right. Surely technology should have solved our education issues, not exacerbated them. What's going wrong? Is it the technology to blame or is it the teachers? It seems unlikely it's the tech - it has proven itself in so many other areas - so maybe it is the teachers. And so now we are seeing headlines like:
That makes sense. Edtech is failing because teachers haven't been trained to use the technology. And that's why I find myself standing before this audience. This is our second attempt at addressing our modern education issues - throw money at training teachers to use technology. And once again vendors have been quick to respond to this by eagerly offering courses on how to use the plethora of tools that exist.
But we have lost sight of something fundamental in our headlong rush to modernise education.
It's not training teachers to use technology that we need, it's training teachers to teach with technology.
The difference between “use” and “teach” has profound implications. The best way to understand what's going wrong, and why I began my presentation by saying “The worst thing we can do is train teachers to use technology” is to think about cakes.
A lesson from Master Chef
Imagine some children enthused to bake their own cake after watching endless seasons of Master Chef. They're in the kitchen surrounded by everything they need - ingredients, equipment, and dollops of enthusiasm.
After hours of mixing and beating, laughing and chatting, delicious smells are wafting from the kitchen. Finally, the moment arrives. The cake is ready. The oven is opened. You reach in to extract the delicious smelling masterpiece as the children look on fibrillating in anticipation. The cake is perf....flat! It is splayed across the baking tray inelegantly like a beginner skier on a ski slope. How could all their passion, ingredients, and tools result in this disaster? Quite simple - there was no recipe. And the same applies to education.
Even the best technology mixed with enthused teachers and sprinkled liberally with the latest tech won't ensure success.
My Epic Fail
I look back at my countless forays into using technology for teaching and how often it fell flat - despite my passion and belief that it would work.
I recall one ambitious attempt in particular. I was so excited about the potential of 3D virtual worlds that I got my students to build a replica of our university - everything from the library to the lecture theatres. The detail was amazing. And so it was with great excitement that I stood at the front of a virtual lecture theatre prepared to deliver my first lesson. It took a while to settle them down as a flood of text streamed across my screen as the students “talked”. Finally, I managed to instil some order by SHOUTING (typing in uppercase) to make myself “heard”.
Behind me the first slide of my presentation was displayed. “GOOD MORNING CLASS,” I typed. “TODAY WE WILL...” and so I began explaining what was on the slide. While the talking had eased off, students were still morphing into animals, flying, walking...I pushed on. I clicked “Next” to move to the next slide. Nothing happened. I clicked again. Nothing. Again. Suddenly the presentation jumped three slides. “Oh no,” I groaned hunched over my computer.
Finally I got to the right slide. “IN THIS SLIDE WE SEE,” I slowly typed as I explained the slide. Half my time was up and we had only completed two slides. It's then that it hit me - “What am I doing? This is a poor substitute for a real lecture. In fact I would have been better off emailing the slides to the students than doing this. This just hasn't worked. Is it the tech, or is it me?”
Using or Teaching
It's not the tech. It's not the teachers. It's the missing recipe. In teacher talk the recipe is called pedagogy, but somehow we seem to have forgotten all about pedagogy.
Somewhere in our enthusiasm to fix our education challenges technology has become a proxy for pedagogy .
Herein lies our problem - where training teachers to use technology is assumed to be the same as training teachers to teach with technology. It's akin to assuming that because you know how to use a drill and nail gun you know how to build a house.
Just because a teacher has been trained to use Google Docs, or YouTube, or Edmodo, does not mean they know how to teach with these tools. This begs the question. Why have we ignored pedagogy - something all student teachers learn about, something all teachers know is vital? Could it be that our digital education agenda is now driven by technology companies? In fact, why are technology companies telling teachers how to teach? Or maybe pedagogy has been forgotten because we are mesmerised by all the tools, or maybe it's our lack of understanding of how modern students learn.
Education's Missing Recipe
What we need, if we are going to realize the opportunities that technology can bring to education, is an easy-to-apply, effective, and appropriate set of digital-age pedagogies.
What is required is not just digital age pedagogies but a Taxonomy Of Teaching And Learning (TOTAL) digital age pedagogies.
Designing a TOTAL digital-age approach requires an understanding of how modern students use technology, as well as the intentional and unintentional affordances provided by technology. It was extensive research into this that gave rise to the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) model - the first cohesive taxonomy of digital age pedagogies.
The ACT model provides educators with an arrangement of five active learning pedagogies for teaching in the digital age. These pedagogies allow teachers to focus on teaching then technology.
The ACT approach empowers teachers to view technology through a pedagogic lens opening up a raft of exciting possibilities. Rather than simply seeing how to use technology, teachers are now able to see how they can teach with technology
The best thing we can do
So, why is training teachers to use technology the worst thing we can do? Quite simply because as our education issues continue and it's not the teachers to blame - as they have now been trained - it must be the technology to blame. And this is exactly what we are seeing in a new wave of reports proclaiming the failure of technology in the classroom. However the issue lies not with the technology or with our teachers, but with our training.
The auditorium is quiet. Everyone is waiting to hear what I say next. A moment of attention, so rare in our modern world. I grasp this teachable moment and say,
“The worst thing we can do is train teachers to use technology...The best thing we can do is train teachers to teach with technology.
Facebook turned 14 on February 4, 2018. And the controversies continue unabated. But there’s one aspect of Facebook that should not be lost in all the noise: the extraordinary change it has brought about in how we connect, communicate, consume and share content – in the classroom, as well as in other spaces.
Putting the words “Facebook” and “learning” together may seem like an oxymoron. But my research has delved into the role Facebook has played in shaping how the new generation consumes and shares content. Understanding this is pivotal to understanding how we should be using technology to teach in the digital age. Quite simply, Facebook has changed the way that children learn.
How students learn
That’s what I’ve discovered through my research, which used a cyber-ethnography approach to try and determine how students are learning in our modern digital age. This involved essentially “living” with students while they connected, communicated, and learned in a Facebook space.
I spent an entire semester watching and interacting with students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa as they used a Facebook page as their primary learning portal. The students were given admin access to the space. This meant they could determine how the space was used: who had access to it, how it was designed, what was posted on the page, and even the level of anonymity of their posts.
This provided me with an opportunity to watch the students learn, unfettered from traditional learning constraints. However, it would take a while for the students to fully explore their learning within this new space. Initially the students would often attempt to defer to me and my guidance. Only after I repeatedly refused to control their learning experience did they begin to behave in a self-oraganising way and allow me to observe their “natural” learning patterns.
The research revealed that Facebook provided students with a series of learning affordances. Affordances are “can do” oppportunies, some intentional and others unintentional, that technology spaces provide. In this instance the research revealed that the affordances at play were accessibility, connection, communication, control and construction. These affordances provide valuable insights into how students learn in digital spaces.
Once I understood this, I could turn my attention to the key need: developing ways of teaching, called pedagogies, that are appropriate for the digital age. Currently the focus on technology – the what, has distracted us from pedagogy: the how. Without understanding how best to apply these new technologies’ affordances, educators will not be able to effectively impact teaching in the modern classroom.
However, providing educators with a list of “how tos” isn’t much use without a system that makes the list easy to implement. As Dan Schwartz, dean of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, says:
Activating the classroom
That’s where the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) model comes in. I developed this model in a bid to create a taxonomy of teaching and learning for 21st century classrooms. A taxonomy is an ordered arrangement of items. One of the most famous of these is Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking. The ACT model attempts to provide a taxonomy of digital-age teaching approaches.
The ACT model consists of five digital-age pedagogies that seek to maximise the affordances of technology, modern students’ approaches to learning and the development of key 21st century skills such as creativity, problem solving, curiosity, critical thinking, etc.
The focus is a shift from passive ways of teaching (consumption) to active approaches (curation, conversation, correction, creation and chaos). This aligns with research that shows children are spending more than half their online time actively engaging: creating content, getting involved in “interactive consumption” and communicating.
Ignoring the tectonic shifts taking place in our classrooms is not the solution. Simply dropping technology into our classrooms is not the solution. Simply training teachers to use computers is not the solution. As British author and education expert Sir Ken Robinson has said, we need a paradigm shift, but it’s more than that - we need a pedagogy shift.
The young teen, Facebook, has changed how we connect and learn. But, as the OECD pointed out in its global study about educational technology: “If we want students to become smarter than a smartphone, we need to think harder about the pedagogies we are using to teach them. Technology can amplify great teaching but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.”
Bloodletting is an ancient practice where doctors would cut people to let blood out of them in the hope that this would lead to some type of cure. We may now laugh at this archaic treatment, but for centuries it was the approach that "modern" doctors thought worked. Imagine having a sore throat and the doctor says, "Don't worry, I will fix you in no time," as he reaches for the scalpel or a bowl of leaches! This is exactly what happened to George Washington...yes, THE George Washington, America's first president. On December 13, 1799 George woke up with a sore throat and was treated with bloodletting where doctors drained an estimated 5-7 pints (3-4 litres) of blood in less that 16 hours. Unsurprisingly he died a few days later!
What does this crazy approach to health care have to do with how you are teaching?
Well, according to Nobel laureate and Stanford professor Carl Wieman, how we teach today is the educational equivalent of this archaic, painful, and useless treatment. In an interview with NPR, Wieman discusses how the approach we are currently using for teaching is not only ineffective, it is detrimental to learning.
"You give people lectures, and [some students] go away and learn the stuff. But it wasn't that they learned it from lecture — they learned it from homework, from assignments. When we measure how little people learn from an actual lecture, it's just really small." (Carl Wieman)
Only 10% remember what is taught
For years Carl Wieman has been unsatisfied with the traditional "talk-and-chalk" or "sage-on-the-stage" approach, and has experimented with using active learning in his classroom. Prof. Wieman would give a lecture then a few minutes later he would test the students knowledge with a multiple choice test. The result?
Most of the time "only 10 percent would actually remember the answer. A lot of them are asleep, or lost, and I don't know whether they're getting anything out of it. If I'm standing up there talking at them, I have no clue what they're absorbing and not absorbing."
Active learning - The Solution
Seeing such poor results, Prof. Wieman dumped this ineffective, "bloodletting" and switched to using active learning approaches in his classroom. His students are now often found in small groups actively discussing the course content while he walks around the classroom helping guide their learning.
Now that his students are actively involved in the learning process, as opposed to being passive consumers, not only are they more engaged, but he is better able to see what they understand and what is causing them problems.
"I'm doing my best to understand what's going on in every one of those students' minds and challenge them and monitor how they're learning, If I'm just lecturing the whole time, what a terrible waste that would be. Half the material would be over their head, and half the material would be completely trivial to them." (Carl Wieman)
Research proven results
"I know you can double how much a student learns depending on what method the instructor is using." (Carl Wieman)
Listen to the interview with Cal Wieman below.
Why is everyone not using Active Learning?
With such compelling evidence, it seems strange that everyone is not using active learning techniques in their classrooms. Why is this?
Well, beyond the obvious, that some teachers might not want to change - because change is uncomfortable and invariably requires effort, there is another important reason. Dan Schwartz, who is the dean of Stanford's Graduate School of Education puts the problem of poor adoption of this effective approach down to a "mountain of goo".
"The literature on how to do this stuff is a giant mountain of goo...I can tell people they need to teach better. But if I don't give them things that are easy for them to implement, they won't do it." (Dan Schwartz)
From Goo to Good
There is no doubt that the research points to the fact that as teachers we should be using active learning approaches in our classrooms. Add to this the exciting opportunities that technology brings, and we should be seeing huge innovations in how we teach. The era of bloodletting is far behind us, yet somehow while medicine has advanced it seems in many ways teaching has not. However, without an "easy way...to implement" this as Dan Schwartz points out, moving from our old approach to a new more effective approach is going to be difficult for all but the very brave.
The Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) approach is an "easy way...to implement" active learning approaches with technology in the classroom. This research-backed approach focuses on pedagogy before technology and guides teachers in how to effectively use technology in the classroom in a new and innovative ways. Rather than simply tell teachers that active learning is powerful, or tell teachers that we should be using technology in new ways, the ACT approach SHOWS teachers how they can do this.
Based on 5 layers of increasing activity the ACT model is a digital pedagogy for the modern age that is transforming how schools are teaching around the world. To find out more about this amazing approach watch the video below or read more here.
Article source: NPR
We live in a world of massive video content - almost 5,000,000,000 videos are watched every single day, on YouTube alone, amounting to 900 million hours per month - that's 102,739 years worth of video/month. It's crazy! It's no wonder that we are having binge watching issues that we've talked about before. Video feeds our consumption addiction, and sadly is often used as the primary way in which we engage our students in the classroom. However, if video is such an enticing medium, can't we use it more effectively?
The first step is to understand your approach to teaching with technology. The ETA (Education Technology Assessment) model helps you identify the type of teaching you are engaged in when it comes to using technology in the classroom. There are two dimensions. The first is the content that can either be based around consumption or production, and the second is the learning approach which is either passive or active.
Why are we getting it wrong?
It's not the teacher nor the technology that is to blame when it comes to being effective in the classroom. All too often I come across reports saying how technology is bad for teaching and learning. This is akin to saying that a knife is bad for cooking because a chef cut his finger. It's all about technique...not just the tools. Even the most enthusiastic amateur chef with the best equipment still needs a recipe to produce great food. So too for teachers with technology. The recipe we need is a digital pedagogy. The problem is that until recently there was no digital pedagogy, quite simply because we just didn't understand how our modern generation learns with technology.
The @CTIVATED Classroom approach, the result of years of research, is a first of it's kind digital recipe (pedagogy) that is designed to guide teachers to be more effective with using technology in the classroom. The pedagogy shows teachers how they can shift their teaching from the less ineffective quadrants of the ETA model (PC/AC/PP) to the highly effective active-producer (AP) quadrant by teaching using the various layers from curation up to the higher layers of creation and chaos.
Harnessing our 900 million hour addiction
So, we have an addiction for video content, but passively consuming content is not the most effective way to learn. So rather than consuming video content how about engaging your students in actively producing video content. There are so many ways this can be done (and I cover many of these in our online course). Here's an example of two videos created by students that show how powerful this pedagogy can be.
Not only are students motivated as they become creative, but they have to carefully think through their content before creating the script. Additionally, the movie is an artefact that remains as a testimony to the students learning and also is a great tool for further conversation and even formative assessment. What a way to develop the "World's Best Students"!
The World's Best Teacher
One of the best parts about the @CTIVATED Classroom approach is that it does not only apply to your students. We are all students after all. And so there is no reason why you can't also be actively creating videos rather than simply consuming them. Not only can you have the "World's Best Students" you can become the "World's Best Teacher". Watch this video for some real inspiration of what is possible. #ENJOY being an @CTIVIST!
Computers began reaching the business world during the 1980s. Companies used them to automate many routine manual tasks. This led to what economist Robert Solow dubbed the Productivity Paradox. In 1987, he famously quipped: “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”
The problem Solow had identified was that while computers could automate manual processes, real productivity gains would only be experienced when technology was actively used to reinvent business processes.
The best businesses soon realised that computers were not just a tool to improve efficiencies but to redesign business processes. This sort of thinking has given rise to many modern innovative businesses like Twitter, Uber and Airbnb.
Now schools are falling into the same trap as businesses did 30 years ago. They are focusing on the wrong objective when it comes to using technology in their classrooms.
The wrong objective
I recently came across a newsletter written to headmasters of schools around South Africa. It began by posing a question:
On face value this seems like a good question to ask. But it contains two dangerous flaws. The first is that visible “improved…outcomes” is presented as the main reason for using technology. The second is assuming that the relationship is just between “technology” and “improved learning”.
The writer, from an organisation representing school leadership, went on to list the advantages of using educational technology, using phrases and words like, “Time is freed up”, “convenience”, “ease of handling”, “efficient way of collecting and storing information” and “immediate access”. These phrases point to the underlying perspective that many teachers have about the goal of technology in the classroom. It is seen as a means to improve classroom efficiency.
This perspective also pervades students' perceptions. A research project just completed by one of my Masters students, which we hope to publish soon, found that 92% of students listed technology providing “improved access to information” as a key reason for using it for learning.
Stuck in the industrial age
While businesses might be excused for initially adopting an efficiency objective when it comes to technology, schools cannot. This objective has already been shown to be ineffective for businesses. More importantly though, efficiencies – unlike for business – should not be the objective of successful teaching.
British educationist and author Sir Ken Robinson has famously called on schools to abandon the efficiency-driven, industrial paradigm.
Schools have lauded the rise of a new era in education that celebrates diversity, opportunities and innovation. However, most are actually using technology to reinforce these same industrial approaches rather than revolutionising the classroom.
Pursuing efficiencies to get students through more content, faster and with less effort, is the wrong objective. The focus should be on effective rather than efficient teaching. Technology is not just about computerising existing processes – it is about rethinking ways to teach and learn.
The missing pedagogy
The second flaw in the letter-writer’s question is the mistaken assumption that technology is the only factor that has an impact on learning. This makes the serious mistake of ignoring pedagogy, or ways of teaching.
There is a framework that sets out how this can be avoided. The TPACK model argues that there are three key elements for effective teaching with technology - Technology, Pedagogy And Content Knowledge. Teachers know their subject content and increasingly know how to use technology. However, without the “glue” of an appropriate pedagogy or method, technology can’t be effective in teaching content.
But many schools seem to assume that the technology vendors whose solutions they’ve implemented will be their teaching guides. It’s rather ironic to have teachers led by technologists! Other schools simply ignore teaching approaches, assuming by handing out iPads effective learning will spontaneously take place - leading to some spectacular failures.
The key to effective technology-based teaching is effective technology teaching approaches. Simply copy-pasting traditional approaches is ineffective. This is confirmed by research that I completed recently, which found that digital teaching methods must revolve around active learning approaches to bear fruit.
A digital pedagogy
Technology affords opportunities to move from traditional passive consumption learning to active approaches. These include curating content, engaging in conversation and developing content through iterative cycles of correction.
Such approaches form the basis of what I call the @CTIVATED Classroom model, which is designed to support those who are teaching with technology.
The letter I quoted from earlier concluded that, “Staff must be taught to use the technology.” Only part of this is correct: they must be taught how to teach with the technology. If this is ignored, educational technology will entrench the very approaches we were trying to change.
“Video killed the radio star,” laments the catchy lyrics of the old 80s song by the Buggles.
This trend, of one technology killing another has continued, as streaming media killed videos, smartphones killed cameras, and tablets killed PCs. But once more we have been surprised, this time by the technology taking over classrooms.
Schools are faced with a difficult decision - what technology would work best in the classroom? Laptops, tablets, smartphones, or something else? And, does it really matter? It turns out, contrary to what most would had predicted, the technology most used in the classroom is not what was expected, and this may have a huge impact on how our students learn.
There's little debate now. Technology will be used in our classrooms. Even schools who are resisting the move will inevitably be swept along by the biggest change to impact education since the invention of the printing press. Most schools have narrowed down their options to two contenders - iPads/tablets or laptops? However it’s still difficult for schools to decide, especially when multi-billion dollar corporations woo them with impressive presentations as they compete for a market predicted to be worth $50 billion in 2016. However, maybe its not the device that schools should be preoccupied with, but rather how students use these devices.
Lean Back vs Lean Forward
One way to look at how students use technology, and hence its potential impact on education, is called the “lean back” vs “lean forward” approach. This model, originally developed by Jakob Nielsen in 2008, considers the position we adopt when we engage with technology and the resultant impact this has on how we use technology, in other words our engagement style. For example, when I grab a laptop I naturally want to sit at a desk. This is referred to as lean forward device usage. By contrast when I use my iPhone or iPad I am more likely to use it sitting on a chair. This is called lean back device usage.
A lean forward device, like a laptop, typically sees the user more active but with shorter attention spans as they switch tasks and skim content. They are designed to be used with a mouse and keyboard, more often seated at a desk. The benefit of lean forward devices are that they lead to greater activity, with increased brain activity associated with skim reading, searching, and content creation.
By contrast a lean back device, like an iPad, sees the user more passive, but often with longer attention spans as they consume content. They are designed to be navigated with the flick of a thumb, while sitting comfortably on a couch. The benefit of lean back devices are that they lead to greater reading, and consuming of content, especially during “dead time”, such as while commuting or waiting (Whirlpool).
What goes around...
When it comes to learning, lean forward and lean back approaches have been around for centuries.
However, while elements of Lean Forward 1.0 and 2.0, and Lean Back 1.0 and 2.0 are the same , there are also elements that technology has introduced that are different. One of these is the impact on attention spans. For example, while Lean Back devices, such as TVs, are considered to have longer attention spans, the newer instantiation of smartphones and tablets has resulted in what is called “second screen” syndrome, where users simultaneously use their smartphones or tablets while watching TV.
While second screen usage allows for users to engage with others about the content they are seeing, from a learning perspective this is resulting in shorter attention spans and increased cognitive load. So, while a useful model, Nielsen’s model predates the rise of smartphones and tablets, and as such doesn't consider other potentially important aspects that need to be considered, especially when it comes to education.
What’s best for learning?
Schools are trying to select a technology that will best enable effective teaching and learning in the classroom. Craig Will, argued that its no longer as simple as lean back and lean forward, and proposed a Mind:Engagement model.
In this model he maps activity and absorption. The middle area is dominated by consumption, while the upper right quadrant, which would be considered the goal of educators - high activity and high absorption, is where students are using their devices for search, curation and communication, in other words activity. Gigaom Research, referring to marketers, suggests they “direct their advertising dollars to the upper right quadrant of the Engagement Style grid.” Educators should be doing likewise.
It’s not what device should be used in the classroom that educators should be concerned with, but rather how the device is used in the classroom. Current approaches are failing because schools are simply attempting to replicate old consumption based approaches with new technology devices. And so blackboards have become smartboards, books have become ebooks, and teachers have become YouTube videos. Approaches grounded in consumption are simply receiving a new silicon coating.
What is needed are approaches that encourage active engagement in the classroom, not passive content consumption. Lean back devices, such as tablets encourage more passive content consumption, while lean forward devices tend to encourage more active content creation. However, despite this, as Will's model points out, what is more important is how the device is used.
The rapid rise in tablets has seen reports predicting that tablets will take over the classroom, thereby making it an easy decision for many schools to make. However once more analysts have been “shocked”. A recent report has now revealed that Google’s Chromebook makes up half of US classroom devices. Unlike laptops, Chromebooks (aka Netbooks) are lightweight laptops that have little on-board storage, with most applications and data residing on the web.
"While it was clear that Chromebooks had made progress in education, this news is, frankly, shocking. Chromebooks made incredibly quick inroads in just a couple of years, leaping over Microsoft and Apple with seeming ease.” ( J.P. Gownder, Forrester)
Is this a shift arising from the failure of iPads that was widely reported in the media over the past two years? Is this a shift that signals a move by schools' from consumption-based approaches to more activated classrooms? Whatever the reasons for this shift, it seems Apple has already noticed as indicated by their recent entry of the iPad Pro into the market. This new device, which combines a larger screen size plus an optional keyboard and pen, is clearly targetted and not only content consumption but also at content production - everything from the middle to the top-right of the Mind:Engagement model. And according to early reports, its being suggested that the “shocking” swing towards Chromebooks in the classroom is already being eroded, as once more we witness another shift.
Forget the device
“Forget the device. Focus on web-based applications that best meet the needs of your students and teachers...more schools will officially embrace what has already been happening under the radar for years: BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Students will bring in all kinds of technology ranging from smartphones to laptops.” (HuffingtonPost).
I would add, when it comes to Education Technology, focus on the education, not the technology, focus on training teachers not choosing devices. It's when we consider how we use technology more than what technology we use that our schools will have the best chance at transforming the classroom.
Recently the Collins English Dictionary selected the 2015 word of the year. The word was “binge watching” a word that reflects our drastically changing lifestyles. It basically means "to watch a large number of television programmes (especially all the shows from one series) in succession.” Lexicographers noticed that its usage was up 200% on 2014, hence awarding it the “word of the year” title. Binge watching may be exactly what’s wrong with education.
Binge watching is not just about consuming endless hours of Netflix movies one after another, it's about a more fundamental issue - our obsession with content consumption. It’s an obsession that extends beyond our living-rooms and into the very hallowed sanctums of our classrooms. It’s an obsession fuelled by student habits and misguided teachers. It’s an obsession that is resulting in what might be termed “binge watching classrooms”.
CONSUMING MORE THAN SLEEPING
There are many exciting opportunities for us to use technology in our classrooms, however we are increasingly seeing reports that technology is not improving learning. What’s going wrong? Is it technology that is at fault or is it how we are using technology that is the problem? I believe part of the answer to this important question may be found in the 2015 word of the year - binge watching.
Common Sense Media’s recent report on media use by tweens and teens reveals that teens are now spending more hours consuming media than sleeping! The average American teen is spending about nine hours a day on entertainment media alone. However we must be careful of sensationalism that paints all media usage with a single brushstroke.
All too often, when seeing children on their devices, parents respond with, “You’re wasting your time”. Yet, while there may be times when this is true, these devices are not like the single function devices that parents grew up with. In the past if a child was spending lots of time in front of the TV it was obvious they were doing only one thing - watching TV. However modern devices allow for a wide range of activities from consumption to conversation to creation. Even sitting in front of a TV a child today could be doing anything from having a conversation, playing a game, watching a movie or creating a world in Minecraft.
So what are children doing with this 9 hours of their day? In support of the word of the year, more time is being spent on “Passive Consumption” than on any of single activity. As the chart below shows, on average children are spending about 40% of their media time on “passive consumption” as compared to only 3% of their time on content creation.
The Passive Classroom
If this was all that was happening it might be easy to dismiss this as, “well it’s their time, let them do what they want.” However it's when this trend is picked up by teachers and implemented in classrooms that we have cause for concern, and that is exactly what we are seeing.
Schools are making a headlong rush to digitize the classroom, yet this mostly implies digital consumption. The media is awash with stories about tablets being rolled out or smartboards being installed or YouTubed classrooms. All of these technologies have great potential, yet at their core they are all about consumption. They do little to move the learner from a passive consumer to an active engager. Reading ebooks on a tablet, or watching YouTube videos, while digital, is all about content consumption. Yet this is where many schools are spending their energy and resources. The result is fuelling our students “binge watching”, passive consumption diet, and resulting in more and more studies suggesting that technology is not working in the classroom.
However, maybe it’s not the technology that is not working, but our use of the technology. There is no doubt that our education system needs a revolution - but a revolution is not doing what we have always done and just silicon coating it. A revolution, with revolutionary devices that we are now equipped with, needs new approaches to teaching and learning. One based not on passivity but activity.
The Activated Classroom
What is exciting is that the seeds for an activated classroom approach are already found in our children’s current media habits - all we need to do is harness them. Common Sense Media’s research shows that while children are only spending 3% of their time creating content, they are nonetheless choosing to spend some of their “down time” actively creating. In addition to this teens are also spending 25% of their time in “interactive consumption” and 26% communicating. Relooking at teens and tweens use of media we see that they both spend about 55% of their time on active online tasks. It is these activities that hold promise for the future of our classrooms.
With more than than half children's time spent on active media engagement we need our teachers to encourage this activated style of learning in their classrooms. Where teaching and learning is not about consuming prepackaged content but engaging in active content curation. Where teaching and learning is not about passive content consumption but exciting opportunities for conversation around content. Where teaching and learning is not about watching recorded video lesson but learning through creating their own videos.
This is the call to an activated classroom. If we are to escape the portend of 2015’s word of the year, the Binge Watching Classroom, we will need to, as teachers, step forward and become education activists!
It wasn't many years ago when Sir Ken Robinson made a landmark speech from the TED stage calling for a revolution in education...before it is too late. Amazingly many educators rallied to the call and soon schools around the world were rolling out technology in their classrooms - iPads, laptops, smartphones, BYOD...the fervor was palpable, the excitement electric, the results...dismal!
The media was soon filled with bad news stories, such as the failed iPad program in LA, research "proving" that technology is making our kids "dumber". Yet amazingly thousands more schools every day join the revolution, waving their iPads victoriously to celebrate change - when nothing has changed. The revolution is ending before it has even started. We need a paradigm change urgently, however paradigm changes are not easy...or are they?
Watch this short video to find out about the urgent need for us to change how we are using technology in our classrooms, before its too late!
My son Joshua (10) wants to know what it would cost to build a bridge between South Africa and Australia. That’s the third question in the last ten minutes. “I dunno,” I confess, and he replies: “But how much do you think?” I direct him to Google.
There’s just no getting away from young children’s questions. They are naturally inquisitive.
In my university lectures, it’s a different story. Wrapping up, I ask: “Right class, any questions?” Thirty silent seconds pass. “There must be a question. Anything?” More silence, and then a hand goes up. The student asks: “Umm, will this stuff be in the exam?”
That’s not the type of probing question I was hoping for. Children’s insatiable curiosity and search for new knowledge is getting lost somewhere along the way. Where have we mislaid the art of the question?
Seek and ye shall … get impatient?
More and more, children are being told to shut up, take notes and do well in tests. Participation is discouraged. This attitude follows them to university: former Yale professor William Deresiewicz complains in his book Excellent Sheep that “curiosity is dead”.
Deresiewicz believes that even elite schools are simply manufacturing students: they’re smart, they’re driven – but they have no intellectual curiosity. They don’t ask questions.
Former maths teacher and tech guru Dan Meyer agrees. Modern students are “impatient with things that don’t resolve quickly”, says Meyer. He explains:
There’s a strange paradox at work here. We live in an era where information is more freely available and easily accessible than ever before. Learning has, broadly speaking, evolved in three stages. First, knowledge resided in books or was held by experts. Students had to “knock” – to go looking – to find the answers. Then came Google, and with it students learned to “seek” because it was right there at their fingertips.
With the advent of Facebook and other social networks, we’ve entered the era of “ask”. Knowledge resides in the minds of the network, so students can just throw out a question on their Facebook page: “Hey guys, how would you answer this question that our professor set?”
My PhD research traced the impact of this shift by exploring student learning on Facebook. Students don’t read lengthy documents – like academic papers – any longer. They don’t go hunting for answers. They just put a question out to their network, sit back and wait for the answers to come their way.
There’s the paradox: in the online world, asking is ubiquitous. But offline, in spaces like the lecture theatre, asking questions is a dying art.
The quest for the question
There are several ways in which teachers and parents can instil a love of questions that will last a lifetime. Take my son’s bridge question. “Josh,” I say, “that’s a great question. I don’t know the answer but it would be fascinating to find out. I wonder if anyone has ever thought about it? Why don’t you Google it and see what you can find?”
Now the kicker: “And while you’re searching, see if you can figure out what material would have to be used”. He looks at me for a moment, replies "OK”, grabs his phone and starts tapping away. We’re starting with one question and one answer – then going in search of more.
This building curiosity floods the brain with dopamine, which gives kids a positive push to learn and know more.
One recent study suggests that teaching children philosophy and guiding them through questions that lead to more questions has a positive impact on their progress with maths and reading.
For university students – like my silent class – one process of using questions to stimulate critical thinking and idea generation that works well is the Socratic method. This provides a space in class for questions, debates and for students to challenge their teachers and each other – respectfully.
In a research paper about the method, Sharon Jumper says that Socratic discussions are:
This technique is being applied well by a number of websites that flatten traditional classroom power structures. The sites try to encourage learning through questioning. Socrative, for instance, turns learning into a game: students compete through questions and answers.
Other sites like Socratic use gamification and also encourage students to put questions to the online community which has gathered there to learn. This sows the seeds of discussion – and paves the way for more questions.
Technology is a powerful way to get children and students asking questions. Researchers have found that widely available tools like WhatsApp can be used to encourage questions. Even the shyest person can be emboldened to use the messaging service rather than sticking their hand up in front of classmates.
In a world full of questions desperately needing answers, isn’t it high time that we reignited the dying art of asking questions?
Dr. Craig Blewett is an education technology consultant, speaker, author, and developer of the #ACT_ digital-age teaching approach.
Dr. Craig Blewett is the author and founder of the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) approach. He helps schools and universities around the world towards the effective use of educational technology.
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