Sunday, November 6, 2011

Digital Writing Pads: The Future of Classroom Technology?

How many of you have heard of Digital Tablets? I'm referring to digital writing tablets that are LCD based writing tools not Tablet computers. The technology has two primary stand alone forms (like Beta and VHS) at this time: 1) Pressure sensitive LCD which allows you to write directly onto the pad with a stylus and 2) Products that capture (usually to PDF) what is written with pen on paper placed over top the LCD screen.

The Boogie Board from Improv Electronics appears the most developed and marketed product representing the pressure sensitive devices. There are several models including 8.5" and 10.5" usable writing areas. New to their product line is the RIP model that allows users to internally save pages for transfer to a computer at a later time. One very interesting feature of this product is that electricity is only required for erasing or saving the documents. Electricity is not required for writing because the surface acts kind of like drawing in sand; when your apply pressure an image forms on the screen.

The DigiMemo from Solidtek represents the writing capture devices. Their products require the use 6x9" or 8x11" paper dependent upon model, and a proprietary pen. When users write on the page, the image is captured and saved for later use or transfer and can be used as a writing or drawing pad similar when connected to a computer. The writing capture devices offer the advantage of a hard copy of the document that can be given away while still retaining a digital copy for future record or use.

When thought through, there are some definite applications for both types of device. Capture devices like the DigiMemo have real and immediate use in many settings including the medical field (to track prescriptions and other information), billing (no more need for specialized tablets with copies in triplicate or more), and any service that provides estimates or onsite billing (such as contractors). For education, students can complete homework on the DigiMemo and have a copy for future reference. Teacher could send notes home to parents and keep accurate records without the need for copying.

The pressure sensitive devices seems a little less practical at this time. Although, at approximately $28, the 8.5" models, supplied to classrooms, would pay for themselves quickly as a replacement for whiteboards and markers. The RIP currently does not have a read through feature that allows you to review notes from previous pages so you can't review what you just wrote. Also, all of the models are erase all or none at this time making them impractical for taking notes because you are unable to erase mistakes, making their use especially problematic for math and science equations). Over the past few days, these initial thoughts have been modified as I looked toward the future potential of pressure sensitive LCD technology.

It is very possible to imagine a stylus with an eraser, much like the one included Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet and IWBs, becoming part of this technology. Imagine a full size, IWB like version of the Boogie Board mounted to the wall of the classroom. The pressure sensitive, touchscreen like capabilities would eliminate the need for a the current IWB projector system. The LCD screen, connected to a computer, is a giant monitor that allows for viewing computer images, videos, or anything else normally done using LCD monitors and televisions. At this time, the cost would be high, but I'm not sure it would be much higher than an IWB system and I think the benefits would be great because projector based systems suffer from ambient lighting, glare, and synchronization issues that a static LCD screen would reduce or eliminate.

With any luck, the value of this technology will be realized and schools will no longer be tethered to a fixed location for interactive technologies currently associated with IWBs. Free to"move" their board to any location in the room without the same level of concern for lighting and mounting issues, teachers would have even greater freedom and incentive to use the interactive technologies in their classrooms. The intuitive and easy to master touch screen aspects of pressure sensitive LCD screens that free the user from the use of special stylus or pen would remove additional obstacles for use associated with older IWBs. Ease of use and practical application are two of the most important means towards overcoming the fear of technology often held by educators. The potential applications of this technology could go a long way to overcoming these barriers.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Helping Children with Autism via iPad Apps...What does this mean for ALL children?

I rarely watch televised news programs because it is just easier to visit the website then pick and choose to watch what interests me. On Sunday, while skimming through a DVR recorded event that was postponed due to a football game, I stopped and watched a news program on 60 Minutes.

The story involved the use of an iPad as an outlet of communication for some children diagnosed with Autism. Several students, aged toddler to adult, demonstrated the benefits and communication aspects of the iPad. One of the greatest tragedies of Autism is that many of the students are trapped within themselves, unable to effectively communicate their needs, wants, emotions, and thoughts that we know exist. The iPad seems to have helped many of these children express themselves as parents and teachers always hoped but never expected they would.

Like all technologies, no one can effectively predict what long-term impact this technology will have on children with Autism and all children. Will we decide that the benefits are only for children identified with a "disorder"? Should we refrain from allowing "normal" children to use this technology because it may rewire their brain in some manner making these children harder to teach using traditional models of education?

I hope that educators do not allow the fear of the nontraditional dictate their opinion and use of new technologies. This story went beyond my academic interests. My own daughter exhibited and still does show some signs of being within the spectrum of Autism. As an infant, she rarely took naps, showed minimal interest in the emotions of others, tended to not make eye contact, was obsessed with lining things up and creating order, and when she began speaking she often expressed herself in the form of stories rather than traditional expressions of self. She was interested in the computer so I set up an account for her as soon as she could understand how to click and make things happen...sometime shortly after her first birthday. She began to modify many of her behaviors soon after.

I don't know if using the computer helped her. I'm not sure if playing Sesame Street and Starfall until, at least on one occasion, she fell asleep with her head on the keyboard resulted in changed behaviors through the repetitive modeling and digital interactions. What I do know is that my belief in the necessity of incorporating authentic use of technology into our system of education seems to be repeatedly validated in study after study that demonstrate increased motivation, collaborative thinking, developmental gains, and now possibly developmental acceleration in language and communication skills for the students that actively participate in authentic digital and online activities. I also know that my daughter and son have minimal interaction with computers at school indicating that many teachers are ignorant of these benefits and how to make use of the technology, or simply choose not to use the technology as a result of their own beliefs or fears.

The education revolution has begun, will you choose 100 years of tradition and rhetoric that support creating the Model A student through the factory teaching model designed to create a standardized student or will you choose applications and methods that are current and relevant allowing students to explore topics from their strengths, developing the whole child, each one as different and creative from the next in their own unique way.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Digital Natives and Immigrants. Hogwash!!!

I know this is not the first time you have heard this opinion expressed by me but...The existence of the Digital Native is a myth. That's right, they don't exist. This has been my opinion since I was first exposed to the term nearly three years past and current research is backing up my belief.

Much like the debunking of multitasking, the belief that Millennials are somehow inherently better at using and understanding digital technologies has been examined and found lacking. In a recent post in his blog trainingwreck, Dan Ponterfract provides information regarding how the myth of the digital native started, why the belief is a myth, and recent research findings.

Results from the research seem to indicate that because technology is such an integral part of the lives of so many, the use of technology by all individuals follows a bell curve model. A small percentage of individuals use new technologies immediately, most eventually choose to use successful technologies, and some will never incorporate the technology into their lives.

So rejoice all non-Millennials, you are not doomed to obsolescence simply because you were born after a certain date. You can and very likely do use many technologies more efficiently, with greater purpose, and with greater frequency than many of those Digital Native creatures of mythology.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Self-efficacy for Technology Use: No Kidding!

Recently, a growing body of research has focused on self-efficacy as a factor that impacts teacher willingness to integrate new forms of technology into their classroom. I don't see how this was a surprise or even particularly research worth. I'm not belittling the research or stating that it didn't provide information but technology is just another "new" item for teachers. Previous research of successful curricular integration practices have demonstrated the buy-in and self-efficacy of the staff are major contributors towards longevity of the attempted "new" program.

So why do another study on self-efficacy? For me, such studies only serve to perpetuate the belief that technology is somehow different than any other curricular practice. The perpetuation of this misguided belief that segregates technology from other classroom pedagogy practice shows the prejudice which many educators and researchers continue to harbor when considering technology use in the classroom

It is time we stop making excuses for our lack of technology use. We need to cease asking if it will raise standardized test scores, if it fits our curriculum, if we feel comfortable using Web 2.0 technologies. The questions we need to ask are: Why isn't technology part of standardized testing as it already is in many nations that are using Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) and the Programme or the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)? Why isn't real technology use required in our curriculum? Why is how we feel about using technology more important than the comfort level of our students?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Facebook not detrimental to GPA

I just read No, Facebook is not ruining your grades followed through a link via MindShift and thought it a very relevant read in preparation for one of our book discussions for Saturday. The article summarized recent studies that found students, whom average 106 minutes a day on Facebook, suffer an average .12 GPA loss for each 93 additional minutes spent interacting with social media. So if you spend more than three hours a day on Facebook you will have a 3.38 GPA instead of a 3.5 GPA.

What I found more interesting were the findings that indicated the type of interactions students (and it stands to reason adults) have with social media seemed to result in higher or lower grades. Students who engaged in more social activities had lower grades than those who primarily used Facebook for informational activities.

I think this is extremely important information for anyone considering using social media in their classroom. If our goal as educators is to prepare students for life after school, it seems logical that we engage students in informational and academic uses of social media thereby providing modeling and guided practice of the beneficial applications of the technology already utilized by our students. As I have said before, digital natives may know technology but that does not mean they know how to constructively use technology. Failing to do so may hinder student performance during future collegiate and professional endeavors.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Overcoming Twin Barriers to Using Ed Tech

When taken to their root, arguments against incorporating technology into the public education system often can be expressed as one of two barriers: 1) there is not enough research data to prove the effectiveness of technology as an education tool and 2) the cost is too high. Accordingly, when countering these arguments, technology enthusiasts offer two standard rebuttals: 1) but we KNOW it works, just look at what the kids are doing and 2) but $499 ($249 for PC users) isn't THAT much money. Neither of these arguments really stand up well within the current combination of standardized testing and depressed economic conditions. However, there is legitimate reason for the lack of research detractors of technology crave to have and hope for overcoming, or at least significantly diminishing, the barrier of cost when considering the addition of technology to the curriculum.

Real research, rather than the "find five sources about this in the library or online and include them in a paper that summarizes information" assignments so often portrayed as research within State Standards and classrooms across America, is extremely difficult when applied to examining the impact of educational technology on classroom teaching and student learning. In fact, real research in education technology is nearly impossible because real research requires the results pass the test of reliability. Additionally, research must not only be replicable but also repeated before accepted by skeptics.

I am not stating that previous educational technology research is not replicable but I will state that there often is no real point in replicating a previous study that examined a specific technology when, at the time of publication, the technology may already have been supplanted by a new technology. Indeed, who today would research The Impact of Windows Based Operating Systems on Teacher Self-Efficacy and Pedagogical Practice. Who would compromise your control group, DOS users. Do current teachers even remember DOS?

Additionally, many detractors of educational technology want percentages, statistics and other numbers that can be graphed to demonstrate proof of student gains. Such numbers usually come from Quantitative Research, favored by supporters of standardized testing (Want to challenge this statement? Name one member of Congress that does not unintelligibly quote statistics like they are ordering their favorite menu item). As expressed above, such research is rarely feasible leaving supporters of education technologies to rely on Qualitative Research, the kind that is often viewed as lesser research by the skeptics. Thus we are left with the unfortunate reality that Quantitative Research, the research least likely to be used when examining the impact of educational technology, is what is required to overcome the rabble rabble rabble of naysayers and detractors, is just not feasible.

Why should we provide all students access to an iPad? Why not? Oh yes, the $499 price tag. Why do we need iPads? Why not buy a PC or Android based model? Because we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all tablets are not created equal, that why. True. But listen up Mac fanboy (or girl, I'm and equal opportunity aggravator) there are alternatives out there that are not an iPad, but that is exactly the point. Look, iPads are cool. They have multi-touch, apps for everything, good battery life and so on. But there are many alternatives that do more for much less. For example, aWindows based netbook is around $249 (quick math, 1/2 the price), has the same size screen, a kid friendly typing experience, enough battery life to last a normal school day, and uses software and cloud applications that allow for greater independent and creative thinking than most apps (by the way, most educations apps are far from free) which tend to provide a singular or very limited prepackaged experience.

But what if your school really wants a tablet? Audrey Waters posted information about a new $35 tablet ($70 when not subsidized by the Indian government) from DataWind Ltd. The tablet does not do all that iPad does but it does much more than either the Kindle or Nook. It is a reader, can access the Internet, allows you to read and write e-mails, and has Apps (not directly from the Android Market but Apps none the less). This new tablet is not free but considering the reader functions and the increased availability of e-texts, the up front cost of the unsubsidized $70 version would still have a near immediate payoff. This tablet is capable of completing many of the same tasks of both netbooks and iPads at a fraction of the cost making them a viable potential educational tool for between 1/4 and 1/7 of the price of current technologies being purchased by the schools.

Most detractors will probably not be swayed by my words. In fact, many probably haven't made it this far into my post because they are already actively searching for research or opinion that offers refutation to my information. Good! While they search for additional information, the techies will continue to find new ways to effectively use and implement new technologies.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Means to Ending Innovation. Start When They Are Young.

Does it seem to anyone else that we are in an innovation wasteland? Even our movies have become a list of retreads from the 70's and 80's. Innovation Starvation, by Neal Stephenson. explores potential reasons for why innovation and invention seem to have reached a level of stagnation. One interesting idea, though not the one I wish to write, is to blame Science Fiction writers who have ceased to write about alternate realities with powerful beneficial technologies. Instead, these writers now choose to write about the dangers and potential harmful implications or results from current technologies effectively leaving engineers, whom it is strongly implied are less than creative, struggling to come up with their own ideas.

While this is certainly interesting, of greater concern for me is the assertion that the Internet, which provides immediate and exponentially growing availability to information at the fingertips of anyone at anytime, has created an atmosphere that stifles innovation. What? How can this be? According to Stephenson, the managers of for-profit corporations utilize the Internet as part of their risk analysis research and, because so much information is available, the decisions made are more likely to be low-risk, high success, quick turn-to-profit plans. In essence, the Internet has take away of the uncertainty that often led to the failures which Thomas Edison indicated were beneficial for his work stating: "I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward."

In the Before Internet (BI) age, failures were the means to success. In general, people did not sit around and have "eureka!" moments they collaborated. At the 2010 TED Conference, Stephen Johnson provided a very different vision regarding the role of the Internet. Johnson believes the Internet aids rather than limits creativity and innovation. In his speech Where Good Ideas Come From, he explained how the Internet functions as the modern day collaboration equivalent of the gatherings at coffee houses during the Age of the Enlightenment. In this context, a location of collaboration and sharing is the key for innovation.

Within Johnson's concept, the problem is not the ability to share ideas but rather that fact that those most likely to innovate are now in the employ of for-profit corporations. These corporations limit innovation to ideas that have the greatest potential to result in immediate profit while having the least potential to result in even minuscule loss. Since society moving innovations often rely on failures, providing opportunity for the inventor to refine and develop further their idea, profit-based, cost-risk formula corporate control is counterproductive to the innovation process. Within the confines of a for-profit organization, collaboration is necessarily limited to the workers under the employ of each individual corporate entity, further diminishing the potential for the collaborative sharing of ideas found to stimulate innovation.

I know this is a long post and some of you reading may be wondering just what this has to do with education. Let's examine the school choice movement. Charter and other for-profit schools are being developed under the idea that competition within the education system, much like the theory that competition between corporations, will increase the overall performance of schools because the best schools will thrive and innovate while the worst will cease to exist. But under what criteria, performance, and standards will these corporate modeled for-profit schools show increases in learning? Based upon the current corporate model and the resulting stifling of innovation that results, for-profit schools will show improvement on the current, the tried and true, the areas that are safe and low risk. Is this education?

If allowed to continue and thrive, the school choice movement will move education towards the same problems found within other profit based organizations. We will cease to develop and encourage innovation because attempts at innovation involve risk. Through risk analysis, for-profit organizations strive to minimize risk while increasing profit. For-profit schools will move the Innovation Starvation from the adult realm into the realm of childhood. How soon after will we observe Kindergarten students who no longer have the creative capacity to color that apple green, paint the sky purple, or make the multicolored play-dough hamburger.