Posts Tagged digital divide

Fakebook, and the allure of the low-tech option

Six or seven years ago, when I was a brand new teacher, I had the idea to make my students design Facebook profiles for characters from the novel we were reading. I believe it was one of those last minute ideas, and I didn’t even have them do it on paper; they did it on the blackboard. I assigned each group a rectangular section of the board, and they had 10 minutes to draw a mock-up of a Facebook profile, filling it in with as much information about the character as they could cram in there.

They had fun with it, if I recall correctly, and I thought it was a neat way for me to assess their familiarity with the characters. I think it also allowed the students to relate to the characters and to consider them as fully fleshed-out personalities.

A couple of years later, when my school was on a 1:1 laptop model, I had 9th graders create Myspace profiles for characters from Romeo & Juliet. I assessed them on the appropriateness of the theme they chose, given the character’s tastes, and the comments they would write to their “friends” throughout the reading of the play. This was fun for the students who did use Myspace at that time (most, not all), although it was a logistical nightmare for me. And I don’t think Myspace liked it when people made fake profiles.

So it was with great interest, and a sense of my own gradual aging process, that I saw Fakebook today, via Larry Ferlazzo’s post on the best web 2.0 tools. Fakebook basically lets you do the same thing: make a profile for a literary or historical character, complete with all the fun trimmings – photos, videos, status updates, having certain friends, etc.

This gave me a strange sense of the passage of time. And once I was done feeling old and prescient, I started thinking more seriously about having my students use this tool. But I’m wary about it here, mostly due to my increasing reluctance to assign much homework, let alone homework that requires internet access. I have a few students in each of my classes for whom internet access is not constant. I also get very poor returns on homework in general. If my school had a 1:1 laptop model, I think I’d be all over this. But without it, I’m starting to consider revisiting my old “profile on the board” idea. It’s got the buy-in that comes from tapping into knowledge of Facebook, but it lends itself to collaboration with actual peers much more easily.

And while I think it’s great that someone built a tool that looks just like Facebook to let kids tap into all the multimedia options the web provides, I also think there might be something sort of fun and novel about creating a Facebook  profile on the board. But maybe I’m just being sentimental.




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On that article about the Waldorf school

Matt Richtel’s front page Sunday NYTimes piece on the tech-free Waldorf school in Los Altos has sparked a vigorous debate. In short, the article notes that several Silicon Valley exec-types send their kids to this expensive school that follows the Waldorf philosophy of eschewing technology in the classroom and instead teaching old-school things like handwriting and knitting. These kids do well, most of them will go to college, and some of their parents are happy to delay their technology inundation. The point, I suppose, is to question how effective or necessary it really is to make sure that classroom are equipped with computers, internet, and gadgets.

I think it’s an interesting model, but I don’t think it necessarily provokes any interesting ideas regarding technology in regular classrooms.

This is a community where, as many Times readers have commented, families can afford to shun technology. Parents are highly educated and highly involved in their kids’ education. There are tons of resources at home.

Perhaps more importantly, the teachers at this school are trained in – and believe in – a specific and well-established pedagogy. The administration supports the teachers and they all share a common vision.

To me, these factors are much more relevant to any Waldorf alum’s success than the absence of computers (or even whiteboards) in their classrooms. And I tend to agree with Ira David Socol’s blog post calling the article a bit of class warfare by the Times, mainly because I think it’s dangerous to suggest to voters that spending money on equipping public schools with basic technology would be a waste of taxpayer funds.

I can’t say whether that’s really Richtel’s agenda, as this Waldorf parent contends, but it does seem feasible that some readers might say, “Well if those kids do fine with blackboards and chalk, why should I pay for computers or wireless access in my public schools?”

For starters, some of the quoted arguments from parents and teachers in the article have major flaws. Like this one, from a teacher who used food to teach fractions, implying that there are better, more tactile ways to engage kids than by using computers.

“For three weeks, we ate our way through fractions,” she said. “When I made enough fractional pieces of cake to feed everyone, do you think I had their attention?” 

Nutritional abuse aside, I don’t even spend money on Dum-Dums for my kids, let alone cake. Not gonna happen.

Then there’s this one, from a Google exec who is proud that his kids don’t yet know how to use it.

“It’s supereasy. It’s like learning to use toothpaste,” Mr. Eagle said. “At Google and all these places, we make technology as brain-dead easy to use as possible. There’s no reason why kids can’t figure it out when they get older.”

I used to think that, too, until I actually worked with a classroom full of “digital natives” who clearly weren’t figuring it out. I’ve written about it.

So it’s easy to write off this whole Silicon Valley Waldorf thing as another example of the privileged being able to pretend times are different, like this guy, who paid $30 for this cellphone handset.

But I definitely understand the backlash against the mad rush to fill classrooms with technology. I know from experience – both my own and those of teacher-colleagues of mine – that some schools will dive head-first into expensive and time-consuming affairs with a particular technology because it hits on the buzzword of the moment (ahem…curriculum mapping…ahem). And when professional development hours are devoted to these projects, they are taking teachers away from the humanistic parts of teaching that Waldorf teachers rightly value.

In talking about this with my brilliant wife, she brought up Sesame Street, which sought to use the medium of television to bring a research-based curriculum to all preschoolers, in effect leveling the playing field between those who could afford preschool and those who could not.

And that’s the impetus behind the best edtech happening right now, but it requires a degree of infrastructure in our schools.

Now, my brilliant wife went on, many people took Sesame Street‘s apparent endorsement of TV too far and plopped their kids on the couch for hours on end, hoping the magic of educational programming would make their kids smart.

So we see where she’s going with this. There are definitely teachers who rely on their TVs in the classroom as a crutch in lieu of a lesson plan, and we may well do this with our internet and our iPads in the future (or the present). An overburdened teacher in a difficult school may even be more likely to do this.

So it’s everything in moderation, isn’t it? Good teachers know they have to continue to engage their students on a human-to-human level, just as they know they cannot pretend that the ballpoint pen hasn’t been invented yet.

And it’s about thoughtfulness and buy-in from all parties. If administrators, teachers, and parents all agree that we should try using iPads in math because of a body of research that suggests good results, we should do it. And if we all are swayed by a body of research that recommends teaching knitting and cursive handwriting, let’s go for that.

Enough false dichotomies, enough reactionary extremes. Most schools need to be equipped with computers and wireless internet. And if not, there better be tons of cake.

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Knewton sponsored this infographic, which I found through edsurge. I’ll comment below the graphic. Ok, hello again. So I love this idea. When a close friend first showed me Sal Khan’s TED talk on flipping classrooms, I was seriously inspired and hopeful. My experience has done little (if anything) to convince me that homework, in the traditional model, works at all (although that didn’t keep me from giving my students a boring speech today on why they need to do their homework so they can develop their skills. Why do I say that if I don’t even believe it?)

But there is a HUGE problem with this, isn’t there? I can’t possibly be the only one who sees it. The idea is that every student will watch videos or lectures at home, online, right? But, no. I teach in a suburb of Denver, not East Timor, but even here I have a handful of students in each class who don’t have consistent internet access at home. So doesn’t the digital divide simply tear this whole system then fall apart?

I run into this problem when I assign homework on Edmodo, so I just try to have a paper option available for those kids. If that’s not possible, I tell them they could have extra time to get online assignments done, since they would have to do them in the library on their own time (and 9th graders at my school do not have any study periods during their first semester). But that creates a logistical headache for me. In fact, most parts of teaching create logistical headaches for me.

While the digital divide might not be the crisis it was ten years ago, there is still a correlation between household income and internet usage.  So while I’d love to flip my classroom around and be a “guide on the side,” I’m afraid I can’t do that entirely just yet. This all makes me all the more thankful for my 99 minute blocks, though, so I can be that “sage on the stage” for 20 minutes or so, and then make my way to the sidelines (sorry – football is back!).

Also, I’m sorry if I offended anyone from East Timor, or Timor-Leste, but I actually looked up the countries with the lowest rates of internet penetration before throwing that out there. I first wrote Tajikistan, because I though it sounded funnier, but it turns out there’s even less internet in Timor Leste.

And if you haven’t seen Khan’s TED talk (and missed the link above):

And anytime someone says “flip,” I can’t help but think of this:

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