Monday, April 09, 2007

Commentary: Words of Wisdom

Tech Learning Quotes of the Month
The annual SUN Worldwide Education and Research Conference was held in February in San Francisco, with this year's theme being Education 2.0: Education in the Participation Age. The following quotes are from a student panel addressing educators, business executives, and researchers.
"In the '00s, information is being recognized as more valuable than ever before, and we're exchanging information at a much higher level than the previous age group."—University of California Berkeley student Darian Shirazi, explaining why universities should not limit information access through filtering.
"When college kids go on the Internet, they're not browsing. They know what they're looking for."—Santa Clara University's Lori Ma on how students are going to Google and other Internet sites for initial research rather than the campus library.
Also in February in San Francisco was the 26th annual Teaching Reading and Learning Diversity Conference, sponsored by reading software company Don Johnston. More than 600 educators and research professionals shared innovations and insights relevant to all aspects of technology and literacy. Below are a few highlights:
"By the year 2020, intellectual property as we know it will not exist." Mike Hall, technology director for the State of Georgia, on one aspect of the future impact of digital content.
"They're tech savvy, but not for teaching."—Sheryl Abshire, administrative coordinator of technology at Calcasieu Parish School System, on the high turnover rate of first-and second-year teachers and the need for high-quality professional development.
"The only people ready to use all the technology all the time are the students."—Eugene, Oregon's Howard Elementary school principal Kim Finch, speaking of her school's "journey of digital infusion."
source: Technology and Learning Magazine

I am a sucker for good quotes, and these really made me stop and think. The first quote "In the '00s, information is being recognized as more valuable than ever before, and we're exchanging information at a much higher level than the previous age group."— refers to universities not limiting information access through filtering. That is a valid point. Much of the learning applied today is through information gathering, not just the information itself. Filters, while arguably necessary, often filter the good with the bad, limiting access.

The second quote "When college kids go on the Internet, they're not browsing. They know what they're looking for."— also drives home the same point. While the campus library is still a viable resource, it is the ability to access information from many sources that defines the education process of today. We have become 'googlized' with the availability of search sites growing exponentially. Tools such as Technorati( allow us to pull information from specific sources such as blogs, and give us the ability to further winnow down the information to the most relevant. And do the kids know how to search? By the time they get to the college level, yes. There is no way they can get through the amount of information available without developing that skill. However, with new technologies and search engines developing daily, that is a skill that requires constant upgrading to remain viable.

The quote on intellectual content: "By the year 2020, intellectual property as we know it will not exist."— also makes sense. Look at the number of top flight universities putting their intellectual content online, without cost. You can virtually 'attend' these institutions without leaving home. Streaming videos and podcasts give you access to the best professors, and even textbooks, long a bastion for intellectual content rights, are being made available online. It is no longer the information that is valuable, but rather the way the information is analyzed. As I have often said, merely having access to information is not the same as being able to use that information effectively. We were all bombarded with the phrase 'critical thinking skills' in the last part of the previous century, and that skill is even more necessary today. I think we have probably moved from 'critical thinking' to 'critical analysis', but the ability to sort through available information is indeed a critical skill.

"They're tech savvy, but not for teaching."—is unfortunately too true. Just having the tech skills does not mean you can use the skills appropriately to teach. What I see often in professional development is the lack of base understanding for using the skills being taught effectively. My sister-in-law is a teacher who wants to use technology in her classes, but is a late immigrant to the tech revolution. She said that often professional development programs sound like the 'wa wa wa' of the teacher from Charlie Brown. A lot of talk, but, without the base skills to put context into what she is supposed to be learning, it all flys over her head. Her base of knowledge is not appropriate to utilize the skill.

In addition to getting everyone on the same page prior to teaching a new skill or program, it is essential that the timing and experience coincides with actual use. Imagine learning how to use a computer without the computer in front of you. You see all that it can do, but with no actual hands-on use, the learning process is severely compromised. Professional development needs to be professionally developed as well. In some cases, it may be effective to give instructors a pre-test prior to the professional development program to determine the experience level of the audience. That survey may mean the difference between an effective PD program and a waste of time and resources.

I don't necessarily agree with the last quote "The only people ready to use all the technology all the time are the students."— Students are not all equally tech savvy either. It's true they are probably less afraid to use technology, but that does not equate with having the actual skill for using the technology. I think it is short-sighted to assume that we don't need to teach students how to use technology effectively. They may have been doing PowerPoint since the first grade, but that does not mean that they can create an effective PowerPoint presentation.

I can go to my high school and college-aged nephews and still make them say 'huh? what is that???' when I bring up the newest tech toys and tools. There is just too much out there. These are kids who were brought up on technology. Their father is an IT manager and their mother is a teacher. They can pull apart a computer with ease (and I often go to them to do just that), but it's hard to keep up with the newest technologies. That's when they come to their aunt. I think that today's kids are born cable ready, but that alone is not enough. I believe that the previous quote about new instructors being tech savvy, but not for teaching, bears this out. We need to re-design the curriculum from the students up to the instructors, without making assumptions on the way. Just as in any curriculum, skill levels tend to vary. We have to understand those differences, and learn to teach accordingly. As Aldous Huxley said, it is indeed 'a brave new world'.