Comments on: The War on Teachers: technology and accountability History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Fri, 26 Sep 2014 03:40:45 +0000 hourly 1 By: Western Dave Fri, 09 Sep 2011 00:04:29 +0000 @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:

By: Canuck Down South Thu, 08 Sep 2011 20:58:39 +0000 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.

By: Anonymous Thu, 08 Sep 2011 17:41:59 +0000 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.

By: Indyanna Thu, 08 Sep 2011 04:17:12 +0000 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.

By: Western Dave Thu, 08 Sep 2011 02:57:23 +0000 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.

By: Western Dave Thu, 08 Sep 2011 02:50:50 +0000 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.

By: shaz Wed, 07 Sep 2011 21:04:11 +0000 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….

By: LouMac Wed, 07 Sep 2011 18:12:24 +0000 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.

By: Historiann Wed, 07 Sep 2011 17:00:23 +0000 “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.

By: joellecid Wed, 07 Sep 2011 16:33:45 +0000 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.