September
6th 2011
The War on Teachers: technology and accountability

Posted under: American history, Gender, jobs, technoskepticism

Via commenter Susan, who sent this along with the comment “faculty need to be accountable, but not computers. . ,” In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores:

The class, and the Kyrene School Districtas a whole, offer what some see as a utopian vision of education’s future. Classrooms are decked out with laptops, big interactive screens and software that drills students on every basic subject. Under a ballot initiative approved in 2005, the district has invested roughly $33 million in such technologies.

The digital push here aims to go far beyond gadgets to transform the very nature of the classroom, turning the teacher into a guide instead of a lecturer, wandering among students who learn at their own pace on Internet-connected devices.

.       .       .       .      .       .      .       .      

Hope and enthusiasm are soaring here. But not test scores.

Since 2005, scores in readingand math have stagnated in Kyrene, even as statewide scores have risen.

To be sure, test scores can go up or down for many reasons. But to many education experts, something is not adding up — here and across the country. In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.

Read the whole thing, if you haven’t already.  This gets to one of the big issues embedded in the War on Teachers I’ve been railing about here for the past few years.  Whether we’re talking about purchasing standardized testing services or classroom technology, this represents a redirection of school district resources away from teachers (a female-dominated profession) and towards technology (software and hardware engineering and sales are male-dominated).  Lest you think Historiann is broadcasting to you from within a tinfoil-lined chamber and channelling messages she’s getting from her silver fillings–

To some who favor high-tech classrooms, the resource squeeze presents an opportunity. Their thinking is that struggling schools will look for more efficient ways to get the job done, creating an impetus to rethink education entirely.

“Let’s hope the fiscal crisis doesn’t get better too soon. It’ll slow down reform,” said Tom Watkins, the former superintendent for the Michigan schools, and now a consultant to businesses in the education sector.

I’ve been thinking over these issues since talking to a neighbor recently who works as a salesman for a tech company selling standardized testing packages to school districts.  (By the way, he sends his children to a local private school in part because he thinks that the testing frenzy is totally overboard!)  My neighbor noted the ways in which his industry caused money to be redirected out of local school districts and towards corporations that probably don’t employ as many of your friends and neighbors as the local schools do–or used to, anyway.  In addition to the redirection of resources away from local communities, it struck me that there’s an important gender angle to this shift in spending as well, and this story in the New York Times about the Kyrene School District reveals the strikingly different expectations we have for evaluating (mostly women’s) labor in teaching versus (mostly men’s) labor as shillers and hucksters for technology with little to no demonstrated value.  Big surprise, right friends?

(Just an aside here, but sometimes I think the people who pin their hopes on technology actively and willfully ignore the ways in which they themselves use computers, smart phones, and the world-wide non-peer reviewed timewasting internets.  Do children really need to go to school to learn how to use “PowerPoint and educational games?”  Srsly?  How on earth did I ever figure out these complex timewasters all by myself, without ever having taken a single PowerPoint or computer games course?  Or is the state of children’s lives now so free of playtime that we have to schedule time for them to fart around with computers during school hours?) 

What do you think?  What have you seen and heard in your local schools?  Why the free pass on “technology” and only punishment and rebuke for human faculty?

35 Comments »

35 Responses to “The War on Teachers: technology and accountability”

  1. Western Dave on 06 Sep 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    Yeah, there’s a huge gap here between publics and privates. Both have been investing heavily in technology, but the privates have invested in technology to unleash the teachers (hey, I’ve now got access to basically a good small college library and every museum in the world! Watch what I can do with that!) while a lot of the publics have absolutely no idea what to do with the technology, don’t trust their teachers to figure it out (or don’t want to) and end up using them as de-skilling devices.

    At ISTE this year, the conference/marketplace for tech education, I was really shocked at how many panels were basically schilling competing technologies, most of which sucked or had comparable free stuff out there. Very little talk of philosophy and no talk at all about the limits of technology. The realities of tech classrooms began to sink in for me. But you can have my whiteboard when you pry it from my cold dead hands, and there is no way I’m giving up my 1960s oral history wiki (if anybody does anything with oral histories from the 1960s, please contact me dsalmanson atthingie sch.org to see if we can include your oral histories in the wiki.).

  2. Cloud on 06 Sep 2011 at 2:05 pm #

    Huh. I don’t have time to read the article right now. But my cousin was a teacher in that district. Operative word being “was”- she’s left teaching. She was burned out (at a surprisingly young age) and didn’t find it to be a very family-friendly career.

    I remember that she had a Flip camera and a few other gadgets out of that initiative. I’ll have to ask her what she thought of it all.

  3. wini on 06 Sep 2011 at 2:20 pm #

    I have long been bemused by the parents of very young children who advocate that it is important for their very young child to use their iPad so that they are not left behind by technology. Besides the obvious “how long will it take my 5 year old to learn how to use a touch screen” question, I very much doubt my young son will give a shit about iPad technology in 10 years. (Of course, I have already given in to my son’s demands to use the thing, but that’s because I am a spineless fool.)

    I have to say, however, that I was actually expecting this article to take a different turn. I thought it was going to be about how more public schools are turning their attention away from testing scores. Around here, there is a move for some school communities to be satisfied with the ranking one notch below the state’s top score. Aiming for that constantly moving marker (only a small % of schools can be ranked A++#1GoTeam!) so it doesn’t affect funding much, and it allows them to focus less on testing. The result is that those of us who have fallen out of the upper middle class into the plain old middle class can send their children to more diverse schools where testing isn’t the be all end all.

  4. Bardiac on 06 Sep 2011 at 2:48 pm #

    You know they’re going to blame the teachers for not using the technology in some “best practices” way.

    But any of us who’ve had to do on-line training of any sort know what a load of crap it usually is.

  5. Janice on 06 Sep 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    The whole “learn at your own pace with a helping hand from technology” spiel has me leery. I know that, given the opportunity, many students procrastinate or don’t know how to assess their progress in learning. Even with all of the online quizzes and assessment modules, education isn’t easy. But the appeal of “self-guided learning” and shiny technological solutions, ready to go “out of the box” seem to align perfectly with the war on teachers which is part of the war on living-wage labour!

  6. Nicolec on 06 Sep 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    I work in a school with a very, very small tech budget (I still use a chalk board, we have one computer lab, a handful of projectors etc) and our ACT scores are some of the best in the state. Would it be nice to have more gadgets? Of course, they’re fun! It’s the culture of the school not the gadgets that make all the difference in my experience.

  7. koshembos on 06 Sep 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    It is not surprising that technology became crucial to education. It is not surprising that rich school districts use technology extensively. What is surprising is the replacement of regular studies with technology as teachers. School districts are headed by educators; in many cases well educated and accomplished educators.

    I haven’t read much about the adaption process and am clueless on why the know nothings succeeded in convincing educators to go for it. It may also be that in some districts the politicians made the decision.

    For quite a few years I have been going from one high school to another in districts near my university recruiting students to summer camp in technology. It’s a very rich set of school districts. Classes are well equipped with the newest technology. Still, the local superintendents did not change the old educational paradigm. Teachers are still the leaders of teaching.

  8. rustonite on 06 Sep 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    @koshem

    school districts are not headed by educators, except maybe in tiny rural districts (although I grew up in a tiny rural district, and it wasn’t true there). they’re headed by professional administrators, with MS’s and EdD’s in administration, who make five times what the teachers they supervise make, and retire to work as consultants for industry.

  9. Historiann on 06 Sep 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    Heh. Yes–exactly, rustonite. I’m glad you picked that up from the second quoted portion of the article.

    This should be a warning to university faculty not to let professional administrators do us out of our jobs. The horse may already be out of the barn on that one–but I don’t think at most non-profit unis that it’s too late to bar the door.

    Janice has it exactly right, with respect to Monday’s post: “the war on teachers . . . is part of the war on living-wage labour!”

    And wini: I’m glad I’m not the only one to call bullcrap on that business of children and computers. I suppose that if we were talking about truly deprived children whose homes aren’t wired & whose parents don’t have home computers, that might be one thing. But the vast, vast, vast majority of children whose parents have one computer and/or a smart phone will be able to teach themselves what they need to know as they go along. Just like those of us over the age of 40 or so, who didn’t grow up with computers in our grade school classes!

    I suppose I worry more about technology as the snake in the garden, and believe that one can have a perfectly happy (not to mention safer) un-wired childhood. One might develop things like imagination and an attention span, which I know are ultimately more useful cognitive skills than passing fads like this or that software, as wini suggests. I didn’t start using computers until college, and I’m rather glad that I didn’t have to face the temptation and terrors of faceBook in junior high school.

  10. Tony Grafton on 06 Sep 2011 at 5:47 pm #

    Very interesting post and responses, thanks so much. I wonder what people here think about this version of things to come, from a distinguished scholar (and, at times, senior administrator) at Duke:

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/07/education-needs-a-digital-age-upgrade/

    (Forgive me if I missed an earlier discussion here, it’s been a busy couple of weeks).

  11. shaz on 06 Sep 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    @Tony: I was more impressed with Davidson’s representation of her arguments (in the Chron?) than that article, but what struck me most is that Davidson is arguing for new ways of THINKING, not new ways of teaching the same content to the same testable standards.

    e.g.: My kids’ textbooks are online. Unfortunately, that is the sum total: they put the textbook online, page by page in a clunky interface. The only ‘digital’ extras: multiple choice quizzes. Hail to the test.

    I’m probably a bigger fan of the digital turn than H’ann, but not as an end in itself. If technology is just a tool to get the same results (test scores), we’re spending a lot to use technology in the least interesting ways.

  12. Historiann on 06 Sep 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    I wish Davidson’s vision–with the exception of letting blog writing substitute for formal academic papers–could be realized. But the problem is that the educrats and the testing borg LOVE the routinization of education. They’ve got no problem with the industrial-era’s clock-time regulated vision of mass education. They’re in love with exactly Mr. Gradgrind’s curriculum and pegagogy because they can measure it, not because it’s education! And Davidson’s vision will probably never be implemented in the public schools precisely because it’s fascinating and idiosyncratic and therefore impossible to measure on a standardized test.

    On the point about blog posts as more creative and more original: yes, they are, but that’s because it’s immeasurably EASIER to write a blog for one’s peers than to write an argument driven paper with evidence, a lit review, and (perhaps even) an original contribution to the scholarship. (TRUST me–I know whereof I write!)

    Here’s what I wonder about these breathless calls for educating students for the FUTURE!!!11!!!: How is it that the digital future arrived courtesy of people who were educated in some of those same, old, boring, non-technologically-assisted ways in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, and 70s? I guess I’m instinctively skeptical that any of us can possibly guess what the jobs of the FUTURE!!!11!!! will be, let alone that we’ll be able to predict the exact skills students will need in order to do them.

    My husband and his brothers are emblematic of some of the change discussed in this article: of 3 boys, only 1 is doing a profession that existed as professions for most people when he was born. The other two are doing web design and web-related software design. How could this happen without their having written code and/or their own blogs in grammar school? It seems like the lesson of modernity is that it happens just like that, all of the time. They also both had the advantage of excellent college prep and liberal arts educations in the 1970s-1990s.

    So that’s why Davidson’s call for “a classical education” is fine by me (even if I think it’s a pipe dream for any but the privately-educated elite.) What professions will render critical thinking, good writing skills, and clarity of thought and expression obsolete? Even if they become irrelevant to 65% of all future jobs–and I’m skeptical about that–they’re still going to be very useful to the physicians, teachers, lawyers, judges, professors, consultants, accountants, pipe fitters, tool & die makers, engineers, veternarians, pharmacists, jewelers, designers, artists, and scientists of the future. (Among just a few professions in which these skills come in handy.)

  13. Comrade PhysioProf on 06 Sep 2011 at 6:49 pm #

    And wini: I’m glad I’m not the only one to call bullcrap on that business of children and computers.

    When I was in junior high and high school, we had computers. You know what we did with them? We learned to fucken *program* them, not play pointless games or stultify our minds with routinized multiple-choice tests. The way that computers are deployed in primary and secondary schools today is absolutely sickening.

  14. Tony Grafton on 06 Sep 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    The only thing that seemed wrong to me about Davidson’s thinking was her own article–I think it was in CHE. It was so lucid and well-written that it undermined her own argument. She didn’t learn how to do that by writing blog posts . . .

  15. Historiann on 06 Sep 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    EXACTLY!!!

    Blogging is as blogging does. It offers a dopamine-like hit of instant gratification. It’s good for knocking around ideas that we don’t write about in academic publications and for making new professional and personal connections.

    Per CPP’s point: just take all of the computers *offline* & make the kids program them, old-school style like it’s 1984 again. That’ll cure that itch.

  16. Liz2 on 06 Sep 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    Finished helping my third grade child do hir homework tonight and all I can say is that no computer program will help hir. S/he needs to be able to ask questions directly of a teacher/parent and we have to work through an answer that helps hir understand. No computer program is going to know that my kid will understand solid-liquid-gas when it’s explained as poop-pee-farts. And CPP is exactly right – let the kids learn to program those machines. Ain’t that what Bill Gates did?

  17. undine on 06 Sep 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    Glad you posted about this, Historiann, especially the angle about all the testing and gadgetry taking resources away from schools & teaching. They can’t afford pencils and paper, but they can afford gadgets. What was it one of the people in the article said when asked about getting some new gadget? Something like “Forget that! What I need is Kleenex, Kleenex, Kleenex!”

  18. Indyanna on 06 Sep 2011 at 9:29 pm #

    What I perversely love/hate about this wacky tech-niche is the way it gets oceans of accolytes rocking back and forth in formation, waving their little red Mao books, and chanting the latest haiku slogans. So my favorite part of the Kyrene story was the obligatory moment when somebody offered up the latest “mantra” about having a “guide on the side,” instead of the “sage on the stage.” (Why would anyone want a guide on the side if you could get a sage on the stage?) But you could fill a wictionary with these little gleamy-eyed sound-bytes. Somebody must have invented an app for drugging people through webinars, or luring them into “breakout groups” in mescaline-laced hot tubs. Tom Watkins, of Michigan, on the other hand, must have gone to the breakout group where they served truth serum sundaes.

  19. truffula on 06 Sep 2011 at 9:40 pm #

    Late to the conversation but this topic is near and dear to my heart.

    My children do not (yet) have a computer at home, don’t (yet) use computers at school, and get along just fine. They use computers occasionally at my office and despite their great depravation on this front, manage to figure the procedures out quickly. Also, they go outside to play with other kids in the neighborhood. We all have horror stories about this or that software or coffee machine but really, home/desktop technology is designed to be easy to use. What requires time and effort is learning to think critically.

    Computers at home and computers at school are, imho, a lot like babysitting (or crowd control) via television. Plunk the kid down, turn the device on, and walk away. At home, the devices fit hand in glove with our pop fear of sending children outside to play. At school, they can cram more students into the classroom if the “teacher” task is walking around making sure everybody is still plugged in rather than interacting with students and helping them learn how to think. I’m sure there are smart ways to use computers to assist with learning critical thinking, indeed I was on the dissertation committee for a student who examined this idea in his own subject area, but at the end of the day, machines are metal and plastic and software is not magic.

    An important thread in my research falls into the subject area of “geophysical fluid dynamics.” The entire history of fluid dynamics can be read as a series of feedbacks between theoretical and mathematical (a language in which to discuss theory) developments. Theory advanced as far as the mathematics would take it, then the impasse would inspire new developments in mathematics, and so on. This still goes on today, though on the mathematical side the advances are often new computational schemes for solving the equations. The only thing computers do is increase the size of the problems and the pace at which new ideas can be interrogated. It’s handy to work a problem faster than the process would transpire in reality but that has nothing to do with quality. A bad test of a bad idea is uninformative at any speed.

    When I teach on the topic of mathematical representations of physical processes, I start with Mill v. Whewell. Wrestling around with the idea of what you may or may not claim to know is something no computer will every help you do yet it is at the heart of the scientific endeavor.

  20. albrt on 06 Sep 2011 at 11:02 pm #

    I suspect you have the causation backwards – men do not engage in a patriarchal conspiracy to prevent objective evaluation of their fraudulent enterprises. Men are lazy. Men gravitate toward fraudulent enterprises after it becomes clear the enterprise offers opportunity for fraud.

  21. Lance on 07 Sep 2011 at 1:53 am #

    I’m late, again, to the table here. I love the NYT sum of Davidson’s essay, though it scrubs away some of the nuance of her point. I’m not sure why we have to choose between Pinchon and Politico. I’ve had my students create blogs on google, and I’ve had them read and critique dense novels – in the same class! And, to be frank, I am hardly an innovator here.

    But, to return to H-Ann’s point at the top, what I see here in southern Indiana is a model of foreign language instruction in K-12 that is increasingly reliant on Rosetta Stone software, headsets, and an occasional human being brought in to recite a few conjugated verbs. This produces children who know snippets of Spanish – enough to perform parlor tricks at a family BBQ, but not enough to respond to a simple “hello.” The great irony here is that this is happening in a town that is home to an amazing university, where all foreign language instruction happens in small, super intense drill classes.

    This plotline isn’t merely about evil administrators or county execs, I hasten to add. School officials here are still fighting the good fight about teaching art and music, and trying to keep real librarians in the libraries. They’ve had to make a very hard choice between giving kids access to a watercolor painting class (or a digital photography class), taught by a real art person who is actually permanent teaching faculty, or having a full time French instructor, or a human being in the library, instead of (yes) another computer. The first to go? The librarian.

  22. Anonymous on 07 Sep 2011 at 6:18 am #

    I question whether the rich school districts are really more likely to overuse (misuse? abuse?) technology. My kids normally go to a large very cash-strapped urban school district. Every classroom has a $3K smartboard, but as far as I could tell, they are used almost exclusively for showing movies — often movies that I would not allow my kids to watch at home. WTF? Like that’s a good use of money. And in my son’s class last year, kids had the choice of going outside to play at recess or stay indoors … and play video games. It’s not just the kids’ imagination and attention span that suffers, but also their physical fitness, emotional development, etc etc.

    This year, I’m on sabbatical in a relatively affluent college town, and there is not a smartboard in sight, computer time is very limited, and twice as much time at recess and PE. Not a coincidence, I’m sure.

  23. Erica on 07 Sep 2011 at 7:02 am #

    Technology isn’t magically better at teaching children, it’s simply better at distracting children and keeping them engaged (quietly watching the shiny object), thus allowing more and more kids to be put under the same teacher’s supervision. I’m glad there’s finally data to prove this is not able to push test scores above a particular plateau.

    My daughter’s computer class, in second grade, consists of a lot of lessons on internet safety (don’t talk to strangers, etc.) and playing with TuxPaint (a fun kid-oriented version of MS Paint, but not educational). So I’m installing kid-oriented programming applications at home for her to use instead, so she can learn how the computer is doing things instead of just “computers, whee!”…

    (For what it’s worth, I’ve taught in a Smartboard classroom. It was broken or semi-broken 50% of the year, but when it was eventually repaired, we were able to do some neat things with it that you really can’t duplicate on a chalkboard. Indispensable, though? Hells no.)

  24. wini on 07 Sep 2011 at 7:20 am #

    When I was in junior high and high school, we had computers. You know what we did with them? We learned to fucken *program* them, not play pointless games or stultify our minds with routinized multiple-choice tests. The way that computers are deployed in primary and secondary schools today is absolutely sickening.

    For realz. Also, both my father and my father in law were very early adopters (we had a PC in my house before 1980). I promise you that this gave us absolutely no advantages in terms of learning to do things with computers. (please let the quotes work.)

  25. Historiann on 07 Sep 2011 at 7:54 am #

    I think it’s interesting that everyone on this thread is so skeptical of the value of computers in grade school classrooms & of digital technology in general. Is that because we’re all closet luddites, or is it that we all figured out how to use computers & make them useful in our work on our own?

    I think in twenty years time, the notion of walking up to or sitting down with a particular appliance in order to access the web will seem quaint, in the way that walking over to an appliance affixed to the wall or sitting on a desk to make a phone call seems today. It’s almost impossible to “teach” students technology, because it’s in the process of being superannuated by the time its mass-produced.

  26. joellecid on 07 Sep 2011 at 9:33 am #

    I don’t think that healthy skepticism is Luddite at all! If chalk and talk worked for 800 years, it doesn’t become obsolete because students can look it up on Wikipedia on their own! It’s funny that people who have knowledge are no longer supposed to communicate what they know to those who don’t. Instead we’re supposed to watch and see if they need guidance in picking it up on their own.

    And Historiann, you are right in that technology is ever-changing, just as we are capable of adapting to new technologies on our own. I think it’s easier to pick up how to scroll using a finger on an iPad than it is to understand Aristophanes or Toni Morrison.

    I’m happy to be a “sage on a stage” and not a “guide on the side.” I do know things. And spent years in school learning those things. Sheesh.

  27. Historiann on 07 Sep 2011 at 10:00 am #

    “I think it’s easier to pick up how to scroll using a finger on an iPad than it is to understand Aristophanes or Toni Morrison.”

    Word. That’s exactly right. I also like your point about the supposed irrelevance of experts in this new media landscape.

  28. LouMac on 07 Sep 2011 at 11:12 am #

    I make a point of voting against anyone running for school board positions if they use “a laptop for every student” (or variations thereof) as part of their campaign. To me, technology in the classroom has become a monstrous red herring, easy to throw money at and easy to quantify results just by pointing a finger at all the nice shiny new gadgets. Computer acquisition becomes a goal in itself, and allows us to circumvent more complex assessments of what really needs to happen in classrooms.

    My own use of technology in the university classroom becomes outdated faster than I can (or want to) educate myself. When I started, I was the cool young prof who actually had a class website, albeit basic. For a year or two after that, using PowerPoint made me fairly innovative compared to my senior colleagues. Now, these things make my teaching Neolithic – but I’d much rather spend my time designing good syllabi, thinking about good discussion questions, interacting with students in the non-virtual world, than tearing my hair out learning Moodle, Blackboard, applying for grants to use iPods etc. I’m sure I could learn to make these tools work for me and for my students, but time is limited and I’ll choose not to for as long as I can. If the day comes when my university forces us to use certain technologies in our classrooms (and it may well come to that, in my Large State U where 100 students are becoming the norm in humanities classes which used to have 25), then I’ll seriously consider leaving the profession.

  29. shaz on 07 Sep 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    I’m not generically skeptical: google “scratch” and “MIT” for a great use of computers for kids. My daughter has spent dozens of hours programming, designing, and creating with it.

    But you know the only time her school knew about and used Scratch? In another country that hasn’t been hit by the accountability insanity, and had public school classes with 21 kids. Hmm….

  30. Western Dave on 07 Sep 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    All the technology bashing is very fun. And yes, a lot of the technology that is sold is about deskilling. But….

    There is something called Scratch that MIT created. My daughter has been doing it for a year. It’s great. My daughter also has more recess than most public school kids. Her school (the same K-12 I work in) is the largest single site Smartboard installation (that is, under the brand Smart). We know what were doing with these things. We get a lot of training, and when the training sucks, we invent our own uses. My students have become better writers because of Smartboards. When you workshop thesis statements on a smartboard it’s a lot easier to break them down, tear them apart, and revert to correct missteps on a smartboard than it is on a whiteboard. It’s also fantastic for showing kids how to brainstorm. The being able to move stuff around thing, change labels easily, etc. is really key. Plus the whole google earth + smartboards thing makes for some compelling teaching. (It also answers the question about why the river valley civilizations were where they were in ways that the textbook never really captured).

    Sure, I’ve done my share of video showing (Hello! Biography of America), but usually to fill in gaps in the textbook or replace a section I think is weak.

    Smartboards are great, if used properly. Although I use it less now that my classrooms are 1:1 laptop.

  31. Western Dave on 07 Sep 2011 at 7:57 pm #

    I realize the phrases “sage on the stage” and “guide on the side” or kind of ridiculous but for those of us who came from SLACs, the whole point was to get that model (more typically called “the seminar format”) of education. You know, where you learn by doing and an expert helps you navigate the tricky spots or throws up some roadblocks to help you develop your chops. It’s actually more labor intensive than lectures (which are basically infinitely scalable). Technology does make this easier in some ways. But in the ways most of you all described above, technology was mostly used as sage on the stage – content delivery.

    BTWs the edujargon folks have replaced “guide on the side” with “teacher-coach” but both mean basically the same thing, teacher as skills developer + content provider as opposed to simply content deliverer. So if you want to get rid of rote learning and crappy standardized multiple-choice tests, buddy up to the “guide on the side” folks, those are your allies.

    And oh yeah. Lego robots.

  32. Indyanna on 07 Sep 2011 at 9:17 pm #

    Well, I’m going to partially concur with, but partially dissent from, Western Dave on aspects of the sage/guide question. At the SLAC I went to the whole point was a diversity of models. The seminars were great, arguably the best part, but they were so largely because of the ratio and context they were in (about 1 in 4) with more traditional courses. I don’t remember if we called the latter “lecture” courses, but they were predicated on the assumption that the best-informed, highest-degreed person in the room would work from the *front*, rather than the side, and the acquisition of “content” was in fact the objective, something I didn’t and don’t have any problem with. Questions were welcome, discussions broke out, and written assignments were frequent, creative, and rigorous. But paying all that tuition to find out what the kid in the yellow sweater from Rocky River who always sat by the radiator knew or thought about Stalin’s New Economic Policy wasn’t the idea. (Nor ze hearing what I knew or thought about Jacobin delegates on mission in Lyon or Marseilles). It was unambiguously heirarchical but not at all oppressive. I’m not sure that “provide” v. “deliver” had or has that much operational utility in analyzing the methodology.

    When we went from those courses into seminars the discourse was informed, better distributed than it might have been otherwise, and not mushy or self-indulgent. The worst model is probably the “oppositional-hybrid,” where the masters of curriculum insist on large classes, faculty members want to furnish seminars, so they group classes of seventy in circles of six and rush around frantically trying to “scale” the guide/coach personna. The kids fumble along trying to figure out whether they think General Washington and his men should or should not have plunged into the icy Delaware River that bitter Christmas night–a question that isn’t really attackable intellectually in that context–and the previously most articulate go home the best affirmed by the experience while the least go home relieved but also confused.

    I learned years later from the transcript of a memorial service that the guy who taught me Russian, Soviet, and French Revolution history–in both formats–had studied with a “major professor” at Belgrade U. who as an adolescent was arrested for helping to start World War I! The kid was a Black Hand gofer who was swept up in police action the day after the Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo. The ringleaders were executed but he was not, and, rehabilitated, he went on to have a distinguished academic career. Quick research suggested that the guy lived because Maria Theresa’s son and co-Emperor had during the 18th century pushed through Enlightened Despot-type laws constraining capital punishment. Don’t know if the latter is at all true, since I went over to the American side. But it’s the anecdote I always think of when I say that assessment advocates don’t know anything. How do you “assess” in any remotely predictive way the ability of liberal education to keep on percolating so many years later, in so many bizarrely kaleidoscopic ways? You don’t.

  33. Anonymous on 08 Sep 2011 at 10:41 am #

    Oh smartboards, fartboards. If you are talking about elementary education (which I am, though maybe I’m the only one), the focus should be on the three Rs. And I have *never* seen any app or gizmo that has improved on pencil and paper, flashcards and … interactions with the teacher. Not even close. In my craptastic school district, they are used as electronic babysitters.

  34. Canuck Down South on 08 Sep 2011 at 1:58 pm #

    I’m (very) late to the discussion, but I think Indyanna hits on a lot of points just above that tend to get left out of discussions of different types of teaching–ie., how much value is there in unguided group work? Or even hearing what the opinionated kid has to say about problem x? Every now and then a seminar really works, but that’s more because the professor is *very* good at guiding it than because the students are particularly good at listening to each other–and for that kind of guidance, you need a thoroughly experienced, and pedagogically-inclined, professor–a “guide from the side” certainly won’t help.

  35. Western Dave on 08 Sep 2011 at 5:04 pm #

    @Canuck Down South Pedagogically inclined and experienced describes a lot of high school teachers. I think it’s a good model for high school teachers, whose focus is more skill oriented. @The next time you are in Philly, contact me and see how my daughter’s school uses Smartboards, ipads, laptops, etc. etc. You’ll be impressed.

    Even though my school is a technology leader, it’s kind of odd because most of the teachers, including myself, are technoskeptics. Our general approach is to go to the tech team and ask if there is a technology that accomplishes a particular task that we want to do. They go find it, teach us how to use it, and we go from there.

    And that leads to stuff like this: http://muralinmotion.tumblr.com/post/7043849696/mural-in-motion-performance-6-26-2011-mural-in

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