Sunday, January 17, 2010

Students and Technology

I used to blog for my old company, but they took the blog down. I am
not actually allowed to own the writings I put up on that blog, but as
I reference them on occasion in my writing I am putting those articles
up in my archives here for reference sake. I'll put the tag GS on those
articles noting that they were originally published on the

Students and Technology

September 2, 2008 – 4:51 am by Brendan

One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is here in the United States. My initial thought when hearing the original premise of OLPC was, why not in some of the neighborhoods in the United States. OF course they planned on bringing it to the US, but we have to remember the difference between poor in the US and poor in a 3rd world country is huge.

My second thought was really what good is one laptop without support of high speed network, collaboration for teachers and students, training or teachers, and so on. It turns out that sometimes the act of giving away something like a laptop is enough to get people excited and motivated in other areas. Computers may not be the silver bullet that saves education, but they are still such a special gift that many people believe that if they can not save education they at least improve it very much. So the very act of giving one away to a child can have a tremendous impact.

Reading this eschoolnews article on OLPC at Glen Iris Elementary School in AL the first thing that struck me was the comment about the effectiveness of using a non-windows operating system. Personally, I think that is a positive for the program. Almost every trend I have been reading about in the technology biz has been about programs that are web based, or cloud computing, or what every name you use. That means the programs are specifically created to work over the web instead of with the specific operating system.

Computers are a special tool in education in that the learning how to use a computer can sometimes be thought of as important as using a computer to learn. It isn’t. Learning how to use a computer is completely insignificant compared to using a computer to learn. Yes, that is correct, COMPLETELY INSIGNIFICANT. The computer should be almost as insignificant as a pencil.

Consider this for an example; I have a three year old who likes to go to a specific web site and play games. He can use a mouse or the touch pad, but he prefers the touch pad. Learning how to use the computer was not an issue. Yes I still navigate to the page, but that is because he can’t read not because he lacks the ability to perform the actions. Computers are a tool that facilitates learning.

Now what can you do with a laptop? That is the question. Our software allows students to take tests, practice and otherwise, on line. It is scored and put into the gradebook automatically. Our software allows students to participate in discussions on specific topics, and assignments. Our software allows parents and students to ask questions in the middle of the night and not worry about interfering with teachers sleep habits. That is just our software. (Of course I’m going to mention the great stuff we can do) There is so much a laptop can do in the hands of a child it is amazing. If you like you can even participate in the discussion.

And that participation, that collaboration between teachers and students, student and student, teacher and teacher, parent and teacher, etc… is the reason computers can be the second most powerful tool in education. Second to good staff.

Here I have written this entire post and had it sitting around waiting to edit before posting when I see this video, read this article, and this article.

For some Dr. Mitra’s hole in the wall experiments show us that when learning is engaging and students want to learn they don’t even need teachers. Sometimes teachers can actually hold learning back. Which can be true, if you allow a side track for a second and look at programming. It has been known for decades that some programmers are better than others. But is a bad programmer just slower than a good programmer. Not necessarily. According to this thought, bad programmers might actually slow down the work that is being done. In other words hiring a bad programmer might actually be worse than not hiring that extra programmer at all.

When I taught middle school math I taught a very student centered program. Most of my low and average students loved the way I taught math. I think mostly it was because for the first time the hands on experiments and constant reflections I required helped them to understand what was actually going on, and suddenly they were starting to take ownership of the math in their lives (this is can be considered New Math or progressive education). My highest achieving students didn’t like my regular math class, but they loved my algebra class. For them the hands on math that related to the real world was just too messy. What they preferred was for me to give them formulas and algorithms to apply. Then they would practice with several different variations until they had it memorized and could apply the algorithms in various circumstances (this can be considered Old Math or classical education). For them that was understanding. Not understanding the math so much, but rather understanding when and how to use the correct algorithm.

In both classrooms I had to give the students a small part of the knowledge they needed to learn and get out of the way as they explored the possibilities. For some it meant exploring what does this mean and for others it meant how does this work. In either case the learning happened when the students explored either individually or in small groups, not when I presented the information.


No comments: