Monday, September 16, 2013

NYTimes: "No Child Left Untableted"

At The New York Times, Carlo Rotella's “No Child Left Untableted” is a good look at what's happening to those who'll be our students in a decade or so. Rotella calls the businesspeople "smart and well-intentioned," but he does have some reservations. A few quotations, with some thoughts:
  1. There are a lot of people who are trying to make informed, thoughtful choices about educational policies, like Greg Anrig:
Greg Anrig, vice president of policy and programs at the Century Foundation and the author of "Beyond the Education Wars: Evidence That Collaboration Builds Effective Schools," [says that]  The research on successful schools and good teaching . . . highlights the importance of relationships among the people in a school: administrators and teachers and students. “None of these studies identify technology as decisive.” Where technology makes a difference, it tends to do so in places with a strong organization dedicated to improving teaching and where students closely engage with teachers and one another. “A device that enhances such interactions is good,” Anrig said. “But kids focused on the device, isolated, cuts into that.” 
2.  But others are focused more on the financial killing to be made. 
The first time I met with Joel Klein, the chief executive of Amplify and an executive vice president of News Corporation, he checked his e-mail on his phone a lot, even as we talked about the concern that technology isolates rather than connects people. I pointed this out, and he, in turn, expressed wonder that I don’t even allow the use of laptops in my classroom.
First, I’m impressed that Carlo Rotella sat through this epic display of rudeness, when most of us would have walked out. Second, I love the irony of this: that Klein can’t be bothered to hold an actual conversation with a person sitting in front of him but is most interested in preaching his vision. Of course, that’s what salesmen do—talk and only listen just enough so that they can interrupt you with selling points--but if you’re buying a car, you have a choice of which pitchmen to listen to. Children in schools equipped with Klein’s lucrative-for-Amplify “vision” won’t have that choice.

 3. But at least Klein still thinks teachers have a role to play: 
They might begin by transferring to it what they already do now — existing lessons, homework, tests — but it can only make the hoped-for difference in how and what students learn if teachers come up with new ways to use it. “If it’s not transformative,” Klein told me, “it’s not worth it.”
 [. . .]
He did go on to say that he wouldn’t put fourth graders in a MOOC — a massive open online course — and that he would exercise great restraint in introducing technology into a kindergarten classroom.
Should I say "Well, that's big of him"? No? Okay. I won't.

4. But data is the future: 
Soon, games that know what a student has read (the tablet’s library will contain 1,000 books) will be able to strategically sprinkle a particular word in his path based on how many times the research says you need to see a new word in order to learn it. In a few years, according to Leites, advances like “gaze tracking” and measurement of pupil dilation “will revolutionize” the gauging of cognitive response by making it possible to determine exactly what students are reacting to on the screen.
Am I the only one who finds this a little creepy and a little sad?

5. The teaching end of this article fares better, as in the training session with Robin Britt, the “Personalized Learning Environment Facilitator (PLEF),” which I misread initially as “pelf,” Sinclair Lewis’s slang word for “wealth.”
Britt repeatedly made a fluid gathering-and-pushing gesture with both hands, as if demonstrating a basketball chest pass, as he said: “Then you move that group out, they’re off practicing to reinforce what you just taught them, and you pull together another group, or you go to an individual, then you flow them out to the next task. Gather and flow.”
I hadn’t seen this passage when I used basketball as a metaphor the other day, but in this context, it’s individual basketball. Passing from person to person among the players themselves doesn’t seem to count. Still, it's interaction.

6. What will interacting with screens for six hours a day do to their eyes? Well, what does it do to your eyes?
And overstimulation can just plain hurt. Erika Gutscher, who teaches science at a year-round school in East Cary, N.C., that has been piloting the Amplify tablet since March, reports that she and her students love the tablets but get headaches if they use them too much.
Haven’t you found the same thing—that too much screen time numbs you or can give you a headache? Not to mention the (dead horse topic alert: cursive!) issue of brain connections made when students use pen and paper to write things down.

7. And a big-picture view from Sherry Turkle. 
Sherry Turkle, an M.I.T. professor and a prominent Cassandra who writes about the unanticipated consequences of our immersion in electronic technology, described some aspects of tablets in the classroom to me as “the dystopian presented as the utopian.” She said, “We become smitten with the idea that there will be technological solutions to these knotty problems with education, but it happens over and over again that we stop talking to kids. . . . “There’s a reason they call them ‘discussion groups’ and not ‘conversations,’ ” Turkle said. “You learn how to broadcast, which is not the same thing as what you and I are doing now. Posting strong opinions isn’t a conversation.”

Thank you, Sherry Turkle! “We stop talking to kids.” Or we stop having discussions with each other in classrooms. Or we look at cell phones and check email while preaching our message without listening.

And Britt, the PLEF trainer, gets it, too:
As he told them more than once, “It’s the teacher, not the technology.” 
Asked how to handle students goofing off on the tablet in class, Britt reviewed the mechanics of the app blocker. “But,” he added, “that’s a case where maybe you want to use proximity instead.” Proximity? A couple of the trainees started scanning their tablets’ apps in the hope of finding that feature. Maybe it controlled a miniature drone. But Britt moved up the row of desks to stand right next to the questioner and said to everyone: “You already know how to do this. You keep going with the lesson but you move closer, you show him you can see what he’s doing.”

"You already know how to do this." Yes. Yes, we do. And you can't find everything you need on a screen. 


Lindsay said...

Oh, my gosh, you're totally right about eyestrain.

I guess it never occurred to me that they might actually make everything done in the classroom be done on the iPad --- I guess I had assumed it would be just some things.

(I do have one thing that would make me happy about iPads becoming classroom staples --- the fact that they can be used so effectively as communication devices for people who can't speak. They are WAY cheaper than older types of communication devices, and they can do a lot more things.)

Lindsay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
undine said...

Lindsay--I agree. The iPad would seem to be great for accessibility issues. I'm not sure if they use the tablet for everything, but to me, it's the variety of shifting from screen to paper that makes meaning pop out.

Anonymous said...

Why must it always be iPads? Why not save thousands of dollars on cheaper tablets with free software on? Oh: because then you'd have to hire competent IT staff to set them up and lock them down. But seriously; the costs of iPads vs. an anyname Android tablet, why does this even begin to be the default? My suspicion: because the people ordering the purchases have heard of iPads and consider anything else dfferent and strange so assume that the students can't cope because they couldn't. But this model is already assuming a classroom most such people couldn't teach in, and perhaps as you suggest, Undine, because they understand what works in teaching better than the people who could. The head needs to meet the hands in some other way than this expensive facepalm.

(Hey, remember Palms? Didn't we have this conversation about them too, long ago... ?)

undine said...

tenthmedieval--I love this: "The head needs to meet the hands in some way other than this expensive facepalm."

And I do remember Palms! I have a PalmPilot and a much-beloved Handspring circa 2000 that I can't bear to part with, though the main key doesn't work any more.