11 Aug 2015

The Techno-Centric Teachers: Will it ever go away?

 

“Did you check out that cool ClassDojo app? It lets you control your students and their behaviors”, “ I found a great hardware that I can add to my Tablet. I think I can find a way to use it in my classroom”, “ Hey, this tool I came across lets you take photos and add some cool interactive layers. I must fit it in one of my classes”. These are some of the talks you hear whilst sitting with teachers who are fascinated by the next big thing, excited with the  new cool tool, and they can’t wait to try it with their students (their guinea pigs).  What’s up with most of the 21-century teachers, those who are fascinated by technology, those techno-centric teachers? Why do they keep running after the first tool that appears, the first app that they download, and then they try to squeeze it in their lesson plans; whether it fits with the learning objectives or not. In fact, I have seen some teachers change their lesson plans altogether, and the learning objectives just to fit with the cool tool they would like to use. If you want proof, check out any two blogs on education and technology. I bet you that the one that updates the blog readers on new apps and tools get the much higher traffic and social media shares. The other blog that talks about how to help students learn through technology gets a much lower visitor traffic and shares. There are some exceptions of course.

Come on guys! Your are learning experts. Deep learning should be your top priority. I have seen it over and over again, every year, with so many teachers. I have rarely seen a teacher who starts with the learning target and learning activity type in mind, and then fit the right technology. It is always the other way round, with most teachers I meet or work with. They are always charmed by the novelty effect of technology. Their students too think it’s cool, but what about the result?  what about student achievement? What about learning? These are all kicked downstairs, so it seems; a bypass of trying a new technological tool.

The school administrations are not helping too. They are in the same boat with the tech-centric teachers. “We have installed interactive whiteboards in 50% of the classrooms, use them”, “We have bought great classroom projectors”, “We have subscribed all in x website, use it”, it never ends. I am really tired of hearing this everywhere, in schools and educational conferences.

Edtech vendors are also the culprits. They push so hard with their advertisements and marketing strategies, and biased research reports on how their edtech tool helped students increase their achievement in x school, or y university. That is just nonsense. No edtech tool alone can do it. Without proper alignment of technology with the learning objectives and school ecology, it won’t work. You are just deluding yourself that it works because what you see as “student engagement” you interpret as “student achievement”.

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04 Jan 2014

Why Educational Apps Alone Do Not Help Kids Learn

itunes-apps-for-kids

Like any parent,I enjoy my kid’s engaging with an educational app assuming that it is useful and that it helps my kid comprehend a new concept. Although I see great benefits in the child’s engagement with an educational app, I have a conviction that the app alone won’t help the child understand concepts or prevent the child from developing “misconceptions”. The child needs a more competent person to guide and explain concepts guarding the child from incorporating misconceptions by observing nuances in the child’s behavior during his play that the app won’t recognize. Of course, if the educational app is well designed based on pedagogical models that work, the app would incorporate a tutor and/or tutee. that would take into account all misconceptions that children might develop.  However, if one looks at all the educational apps, only few are designed and developed based on proven pedagogical models.

First, to explain my point, let me tell you about on instance with my child that prompted a parent’s attention to rectify a possible misconception. We have proudly downloaded a Math application for kids that we thought it was “WOW” because of the graphic, the human-screen interactivity, and the feedback for the kid’s responses. This particular app helps the child in counting to 10 using his fingers. The child would typically press and hold a finger or more  and the app will display visually and auditory the  number of fingers held on screen.

At first our child scarcely knew how to use the application and what it did. Eventually, after a few tries, he gave up. Later that night however, when he felt he was alone, he picked up his iPad and started playing with the Math app. First, he watched an embedded video demo on how to use the app and after 4 views he started to get the idea behind it. Then, delighted that he figured it out, he started pressing and holding his fingers enjoying the audio and visual display on the number of fingers that are in contact with the screen. I was delighted at first, observing him from behind. I however, observed, as he went along with his play, that he pressed his thumb to get a “1” feedback then he took his thumb off and pressed and held his index finger expecting a no. “2” but got a “1” feedback instead. Then, he pressed his middle finger, expecting a “3” feedback but again got a “1” instead. He was ambivalent on how if he pressed two his thumb he would get a “1” and then, with the thumb pressed on the screen, he would use his index too and would get a “2”, but won’t get a “2” if the index is pressed alone. He started looking at his index finger as if it were a no. “2” alone and at his middle finger as if it were no. “3” alone.

I had to intervene at this point to explain to him the concept and  how to think about numbers and fingers. Only then he understood the relationship between numbers and counting on fingers.

These subtleties can never be detected by apps, at least those that are not designed based on learning theories, and the child needs a more knowledgeable “person” to help the child to reach his “zone of proximal development”. Parents should also go beyond the “WOW” factor of the app and explore whether it does help their child understand a concept. Most importantly parents should be present with their child noting observable learning or mislearning and rectify errors in a timely manner.

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