Note from Gary Stager…

In 1989, a great friend, colleague and pioneer in educational computing, Steve Shuller, authored the following literature review. Steve was Director of Outreach at Bank Street College during its microcomputer heyday, co-created New Jersey’s Network for Action in Microcomputer Education (N.A.M.E., now NJECC) and was a Director of the IBM Model Schools Project. Shortly before his untimely death Steve prepared this literature review for the Scarsdale, NY Public Schools, hoping that it would contribute to the end of tiresome discussions regarding keyboarding instruction.

Steve would be horrified that this trivial issue lives on in a field that has matured little in the past fourteen years. I share his work with you as a public service and in loving memory of a great educator.


Keyboarding in Elementary Schools
Curricular Issues

Stephen M. Shuller
Computer Coordinator
Scarsdale, NY Public Schools

August 1989

Introduction

We are currently in the midst of a world-wide revolution, moving from the Industrial Age to an era in which information is the primary product (Toffler 1984). As information processing tools, computers are central to this revolution. The ability to interact with computers is an essential skill for the Information Age, one which our schools will need to address to prepare our students to meet the challenges of this fundamentally changed world.

The educational reform movement of the 1980’s has recognized the importance of computers in education. For example, A Nation at Risk (1983) calls for the high school students to:

(a) understand the computer as an information, computation, and communication device;

(b) use the computer in the study of the other Basics and for personal and work-related purposes; and

(c) understand the world of computers, electronics, and related technologies. (A Nation at Risk 1983, 26)

Virtually every other reform proposal has included similar recommendations. The educational community has responded to the futurists’ visions of the Information Age and the reformers proposals by working to integrate computers into the curriculum at all levels.

At present, people interact with computers by typing words on typewriter-like keyboards. Even though computers may someday be able to understand handwriting and human speech, in the currently foreseeable future-which in the Information Age may be only a dozen years or so at best-keyboarding skills are necessary to make computers do our bidding. Thus, keyboarding is an essential enabling skill for using computers in schools and in society, and must be included in Information Age curricula (Gibbon 1987).

Even though there is virtual unanimity that students should learn to keyboard, there is considerably less agreement on how, how much, when, and by whom. This paper will consider the teaching of keyboarding in elementary schools, examining these questions as a guide for curriculum development.

Keyboarding and Typing: Historical Context

Computer keyboards are similar to typewriters, Industrial Age tools invented by Christopher Sholes in 1868 and first marketed by Remington in 1873 (Yamada 1983). By the end of the 19th Century, typewriters were considered reliable writing tools, and started becoming widely used in offices (Pea and Kurland 1987). The first typing instruction was provided by typewriter manufacturers in about 1880 (Yamada 1983). It took public schools until 1915 to begin teaching typing as a high school occupational skill (West 1983).

By the 1920’s, educators began to experiment with using the new technology-typewriters–to help children learn to write (Pea and Kurland 1987). These experiments were quite successful. In the largest-scale controlled study, Wood and Freeman (1932) followed 2383 students as they learned to write on portable typewriters over a two year period. They found that the students who used typewriters wrote with more expression, showed higher reading scores, became better spellers, and enjoyed writing more than students learning to write using conventional methods. Similarly, Merrick (1941) found that typewriters helped the English development of high school students. Even so, typewriters did not catch on in education.

In the 1960’s and early 1970’s, there was another smattering of interest in using computers in language arts (Balajthy 1988). Edward Fry, a noted reading specialist at Rutgers University, published a book on using typewriters in language arts which was not widely used. Perhaps seeing a new window of opportunity, Fry (1984) revised his text and reissued it as an approach to keyboarding in language arts.

Since we have known for more than half a century that keyboarding can help elementary school children learn language skills, why have typewriters only rarely found their way into elementary school classrooms, in sharp contrast to the current push to put computers into schools? One answer is that schools by and large reflect the perceived needs of society. Industrial Age schools resembled factories, and funds for typewriters were only available to prepare the relatively few students who would become clerks and typists. Information Age schools must prepare the vast majority of students to use computers because they are information management tools.

But why start elementary school students on computers? Here there is less direct pressure from society and more interest from educators who see the potential to enhance education. The two main factors spurring this interest are the transformation of professional writing through word processing (Zinsser 1983) and the transformation of writing instruction through the process approach (Graves 1983). Computers can greatly facilitate implementation of a process approach to teaching writing (Green 1984; Daiute 1985), so many educators are interested. In the current social milieu, the taxpayers are often willing to supply the necessary equipment.

Keyboarding in Elementary Schools: Curricular Issues

Given that we would like to use microcomputer based word processing as a tool to teach writing, what sort of keyboarding skills will elementary school students need? There seem to be three main alternatives. If they have no familiarization with the computer keyboard, they will have to “hunt and peck.” If they know where the keys are but not how to touch type, they can “peck” without much “hunting,” preferably using both hands. Finally, they can learn to touch type.

Everyone seems to agree that keyboard familiarization is in order, but whether to stop there or to teach touch typing to elementary school students is controversial. Advocates of the keyboard familiarization approach argue that students can type quickly enough to facilitate their writing without touch typing, that touch typing demands too much from limited time and computer resources, and that touch typing skills are quickly forgotten unless the students continue to practice regularly. Advocates of touch typing counter that students who develop the “bad habit” of keyboarding with two fingers find it very difficult to learn correct touch typing skills later and that such skills will ultimately be very important because of increased speed and efficiency.

There is widespread agreement that elementary students need to be able to type at least as fast as they can write by hand to avoid interfering with their writing process. A number of investigators have determined elementary school student handwriting rates. Graham and Miller (1980) found that students in grades 4 through 6 can copy text at a rate of 7 to 10 words per minute (wpm). Graves (1983) found a range of 8 to 19 wpm for 9 and 10 year olds when composing. Freyd and Kahn (1989) found an average rate of 11.44 wpm among 6th graders. With no keyboarding instruction (familiarization or touch typing), students of these ages can generally type 3 to 5 wpm (Wetzel 1985, 1987; Stoecker 1988). Different testing procedures probably accounts for most of the variation in these results. Wetzel (1987) reports that 10 wpm is generally accepted as a benchmark writing rate for students in grades 4 through 6.

Can students learn to type as fast as they can write with a keyboard familiarization program and word processing practice alone? The results are mixed. Freyd and Kahn (1989) report two studies in which students were able to type at writing speed with just keyboard familiarization and practice. one group of 6th graders started with an average rate of 6.62 wpm in October. With one hour of word processing per week, they had increased their average speed to 10.12 wpm in May. On the other hand, Daiute (1985) found that 11 and 12 year olds could write more words by hand in 15 minutes than they could type on the computer even after six months of word processing experience. Dalton, Morocco, and Neale (1988) found that 4th graders were initially comfortable word processing without touch typing instruction, but became frustrated later in the year as they needed to enter longer texts into the computer. In this study, however, students began using the word processor with no previous keyboard familiarization, so the results are not surprising.

Advocates of touch typing frequently claim that teaching touch typing to students who first learned to type without proper fingering techniques is very difficult or impossible (Kisner 1984; Stewart and Jones 1985; National Business Educators Association 1987; Abrams 1988; Balajthy 1988). No empirical evidence is presented to substantiate this claim, however. Wetzel (1987) interviewed several typing teachers, some of whomwere concerned about the “hunt and peck unlearning” problem, but others were not concerned, based on their own teaching experiences. West (1983) reports successfully teaching “hunt and peck” typists to use correct touch typing finger positions with about 10 hours of instruction.

By grade 3, children are developmentally able to touch type on electric keyboards. Advocates of touch typing generally agree that students should receive instruction just prior to the time they will need to use touch typing skills for word processing. If studen ts do not regularly practice typing, their skills can deteriorate in as little as six weeks (Warwood 1985). Wetzel (1987) found that students regress in their skills if they do not practice regularly after 20 hours of initial instruction. He cites business education research that students tend to retain their skills once they reach a plateau of 20 wpm. Gerlach (1987) ,found that with continued practice, students continue to improve their speed. In her study, 6th grade students who averaged 9.71 wpm after a 6 to 8 hour keyboarding course improved to 12.27 wpm four months later with continuing word processing practice.

Business educators have proposed a number of touch typing programs for elementary school students, some based on a recommended amount of instruction, others based on a performance criterion. Kisner (1984) recommended touch typing instruction in 20 to 30 minute periods, to a criterion of 20 wpm in Grade 3 or 25 wpm in grades 4 through 6. These recommendations seem to comefrom the experience of business education teachers with high school students rather than from keyboarding experience with elementary school children.

Jackson and Berg (1986) recommend 30 hours of instruction spread over two or three years, with weekly 30 minute review sessions. Instruction should take place in 20 to 30 minute periods, using a combination of software and a textbook. The recommended course sequence follows the traditional typing course, starting with the home row and introducing two new keys per session, with appropriate drills. Teachers should monitor the students continuously to make sure they are using proper form. Instruction should emphasize speed, not accuracy.

In 1987, the National Business Education Association (NBEA) proposed standards for keyboarding instruction in elementary schools. The NBEA recommended that elementary school students learn touch typing to a criterion of 15 wpm, and middle school students further develop their skill to a criterion of 25 wpm. Not surprisingly, the NBEA recommended that business education teachers, rather than elementary school classroom teachers, provide the instruction.

Wetzel (1985) surveyed the literature on touch typing programs for elementary school students, finding that fifth graders could be taught to touch type 22 wpm with a nine-weeks of daily instruction for 45 minutes, and fifth and sixth graders could achieve 40 wpm by spending one hour daily for a full year.

Alternatively, a more limited keyboarding instruction program consisting of instruction in correct fingering techniques and practice with a computer typing tutorial could lead to an average typing rate of 10 wpm in four weeks of 35 minute sessions or 15 wpm in nine weeks of such sessions. He also observed third, fourth, and fifth graders using word processors without touch typing instruction, finding that those who could type from 7 to 10 wpm were able to make adequate use of the computer for word processing. Given the heavy demands on teaching time in elementary schools, the relatively low level of typing skill needed to facilitate word processing and other computer activity, and the students’ ability to increase typing proficiency through continued computer use, Wetzel recommended a limited keyboarding program to accomplish a typing speed of 10 wpm in a relatively short period of time.

In a later paper, Wetzel (1987) modified these recommendations to take into account differing amounts of computer usage. If students regularly use computers at least two hours per week, Wetzel feels that they will get enough practice to sustain typing skills, justifying a 20 to 30 hour period of initial instruction in touch typing. If students characteristically use computers one hour per week or less, only a much more limited program of keyboard familiarization is recommended.

Stoecker (1988) developed a touch typing program ofinstruction designed for use by elementary school teachers. After a four week course, 20 sessions of 30 minutes each, fifth and sixth graders achieved typing rates of about 12 wpm. Stoecker’s program consists of student and teacher materials for use with any word processor. He has found that elementary school classroom teachers can learn to use this approach through a one day long training workshop.

Balajthy (1988) emphasizes the importance of integrating keyboarding instruction into the language arts curriculum. He cites recent studies showing that keyboarding can improve language arts skills, results which are consistent with the typewriter-based studies of the 1930’s and 19401s. Balajthy, like Wetzel, finds that students can achieve adequate typing skills with a limited period of keyboarding instruction-about 8 to 10 hours-followed by regular practice with computer activities. Like Stoecker, Balajthy recommends teacher- keyboarding instruction using a word processor rather than use of a software-based tutorial. Balajthy (1987) cautions that unless students have significant amounts of ongoing typing or word processing activity, touch typing instruction is a waste of time because skills will deteriorate rapidly.

One reason why Stoecker and Balajthy recommend keyboarding instruction on word processors with teacher supervision is because computer tutorials cannot monitor correct fingering and other aspects of proper touch typing. Stoecker (1988) reportsthat non-typists tend to use two fingers unless a teacherobserves. In contrast, Mikkelson and Gerlach (1988) performed acontrolled study in which third to sixth graders worked with a computer typing tutorial. Half of the students were supervised and encouraged to use proper touch typing form; the other half were observed but not supervised. The results were surprising–both groups made similar progress in typing skill, and there was no difference between groups in propensity to use correct touch typing techniques.

If Mikkelson and Gerlach’s results are generalizable, it would be possible for elementary school teachers to obtain satisfactory results by teaching touch typing through limited individual work with a computer typing tutorial. Such instruction could take place on classroom computers while other activities were taking place. If students need to be supervised to insure proper fingering techniques, then either elementary classroom teachers will need to be trained to teach touch typing or business education teachers will be needed.

Keyboarding and the Future

In their Database of Competencies for Business Curriculum Development, the NBEA defined keyboarding as follows:

Keyboarding is defined as the act of placing information into various types of equipment through the use of a typewriter-like keyboard. Typewriting and keyboarding are not synonymous. The focus of a keyboarding course is on input rather than output. (NBEA 1987, A-19)

Keyboarding is seen as a way to input information into a computer so that it can be manipulated. Thus, initial accuracy is less important than speed, ability to manipulate text is more important than formatting skills for specific types of documents, and composing is more important than transcribing (so it does not matter so much if the typist looks at the keys).

These distinctions recognize important changes in the purposes for which people type on Industrial Age typewriters and on Information Age computer keyboards. Yet, if we look closely at the keyboarding programs proposed by business educators, we find a methodology geared to the Industrial Age purpose of transcribing rather than the Information Age purpose of composing (Freyd and Kahn 1989).

This discrepancy is not surprising. As Naisbitt (1982) observed, people tend first to use a new technology in the same ways they have used older technologies which seem similar. only after a (sometimes lengthy) period of incubation do we see new directions or uses that grow out of the technology itself. So, at this point it is useful to take a step back and consider whether we might be looking at the keyboarding issue all wrong.

Graves (1983) has determined that five and six year old beginning writers compose at a painstakingly slow pace of 1.5 words per minute. At that rate, writing down a six word sentence can take up to nine minutes. Even five and six year olds who are unfamiliar with keyboards can compose more quickly and easily oncomputers than by hand (Wetzel, 1985). Graves has remarked that “one can imagine starting kids off writing on keyboards and save handwriting until motor skills are more highly refined.” (Green 1984).

Fry (1987) has proposed that schools eliminate the teaching of cursive writing and substitute keyboarding. He points out that cursive writing is not taught in European schools; students learn manuscript, and then develop their own handwriting style through shortcuts. By teaching cursive writing instead of keyboarding, Fry says, “we are training for the last century instead of for the next century.”

The issue of touch typing versus two-finger typing may be similar. Gertner and Norman (1984) have observed that the main advantage of touch typing is in copying. Copying is important for Industrial Age clerks and typists to transcribe business documents, but it is irrelevant to writers using word processing to compose and edit. By insisting on touch typing, are we training for the last century instead of for the next?

The New York State Keyboarding Curriculum

The New York State Board of Regents Action Plan to Improve Elementary and Secondary Education Results in New York calls for instruction in keyboarding to be “included in the State-developed English Language Arts Syllabus.” A state education department curriculum guide entitled Developing Keyboarding Skills to Support the Elementary Language Arts Program further stipulates that “approximately 18 to 20 hours of instruction should be devoted to keyboarding instruction within the framework of the Language Arts Program in the elementary grades.” (New York State Education Department 1986, 23).

The state keyboarding curriculum closely parallels material published by the National Business Education Association and by-state and local business education personnel. As described above, this means that the general thrust of the guide recognizes different needs and objectives between traditional typing instruction and keyboarding instruction, the recommended teaching strategies follow a more or less traditional touch typing approach. The influence of the business education community is apparent from the Suggested Readings offered in Appendix B. Of the 25 references listed on pages 29 and 30, 15 are to business education sources, and only 4 are to computer education and 3 more to general education sources.

The state curriculum clearly reflects the relative strength of business educators compared with computer coordinators in New York. For example, under “General Guidelines for Achieving Outcomes,” the guide suggests that:

business education teachers should be called upon to assist in the development of keyboarding curricula, in-service training, and selection of materials and methodology. (5)

Under “Planning for Teacher Awareness and Training:

… the business education teacher … can be very helpful in developing the plan and for training other teachers inappropriate keyboarding techniques. Business education teachers can also serve as a resource once a program is in place to conduct follow- activities as needed. (6)

Under delivery of instruction, the curriculum calls for students to learn touch typing, including correct fingering, posture, and eye contact (away from the keyboard, that is). The guide stops short of requiring business education teachers to teach the keyboarding courses, but states:

Teachers who have been trained in keyboarding methodology are of considerable importance in achieving these goals. (7)

In contrast, computer coordinators are mentioned only once in thecurriculum guide. The guide clearly views computer coordinators as technicians rather than instructional leaders, suggesting that they can be helpful in scheduling labs, repairing equipment, finding software and the like. The next sentence reminds the reader that knowledgeable high school students can also provide “considerable assistance.” (7)

To its credit, the state keyboarding guide does focus on integrating keyboarding into the language arts curriculum, as suggested by Balajthy (1988) and others. But it leans so heavily for its methodology on the perspective of the past that it is” suspect as a guide to the future.

Conclusions and Recommendations

There is widespread agreement that elementary school students need keyboarding skills. Whether keyboardfamiliarization is sufficient or whether students need touch typing skills depends on the nature of the school’s language arts and computer education curricula.

Touch typing courses are only effective if students receive a substantial period of initial instruction followed by regular practice throughout the school year. Touch typing courses can be recommended when computers are fully integrated into the language arts curriculum and when students regularly have at least two hours of individual computer time per week. In this type of environment, the initial touch typing instruction should occur at the time when students will first become involved with computers on a regular basis. The initial instruction should be provided either by specialists or by classroom teachers who have been given training in how to teach touch typing.

In situations where students make more limited use of computers, the evidence at hand suggests that a program of keyboard familiarization is sufficient to provide adequate keyboarding skills to support word processing and other uses of computers in elementary schools. Keyboard familiarization can be taught by classroom teachers assisted by appropriate computer software.

As we move further into the Information Age, fundamental changes in our school curricula will follow, paralleling the changing needs of society. Envisioning these changes, we can imagine a time when keyboarding will replace cursive writing asan essential skill for elementary school children, complementing a language arts curriculum using computers extensively for such activities as writing with word processors. Developing an Information Age language arts curriculum with keyboarding as a fundamental skill should be a central focus of our long-range curriculum planning.

References

Abrams, Jeri. “Keys to Keyboarding.” Boston Computer Society Education Special Interest Group News 4 (November/December 1988): 6-12.

Balajthy, Ernest. “Keyboarding and the Language Arts.” The Reading Teacher 41 (October 1987): 86-87.

Balajthy, Ernest. “Keyboarding, Language Arts, and the Elementary School Child.” The Computing Teacher 15 (February 1988): 40-43.

Daiute, Colette. Writing and Computers. Reading, MA: AddisonWesley, 1985.

Dalton, Bridget M., Catherine Cobb Morocco, and Amy E. Neale.

“I’ve Lost My Story!” Mastering The Machine Skills for Word Processing. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, 1988.

Freyd, Pamela and Jessica Kahn. “Touch Typing in Elementary Schools-Why Bother?” In William C. Ryan, Ed. Proceedings of the National Educational Computing Conference 1989. Eugene, OR: International Council on Computers for Education, 1989.

Fry, Edward. Computer Keyboarding for Children. NY: Teachers College Press, 1984.

Fry, Edward. Quoted in “Keyboarding replacing writing: Penmanship should be out and typing in, professor says.” The Associated Press, 2 February, 1987.

Gentner, Donald and Donald Norman. “The Typist’s Touch.” Psychology Today 18 (March 1984): 67-72.

Gerlach, Gail J. The Effect of Typing Skill on Using a Word Processor-for Composition. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Washington, DC, 1987.

Gibbon, Samuel Y., Jr. “Learning and Instruction in the Information Age.” In Mary Alice White, Ed. What Curriculum for the Information Age? Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1987.

Graham, Steve and Lamoine Miller. “Handwriting Research and Practice: A Unified Approach.” focus on Exceptional Children 13 (1980): 1-16.

Graves, Donald H. Writing: Teachers-and Children at Work. Exeter, NH: Heinemann, 1983.

Green, John 0. “Computers and Writing: An Interview with Donald Graves.” Classroom Computer Learning 4 (March 1984): 21-23, 28.

Jackson, Truman H. and Diane Berg. “Elementary Keyboarding-Is it important?” The Computing Teacher 13 (March 1986): 8-11.

Kisner, Evelyn. “Keyboarding-A Must in Tomorrow’s World.” The Computing Teacher 11 (February 1984): 21-22.

Koenke, Karl. “ERIC/RCS Report: Keyboarding: Prelude to Composing at the Computer-” English Education 19 (December 1987): 244-249.

McCrohan, Jane. Teaching Keyboarding: The first step in making the computer an effective writing tool. Paper presented at the New Jersey Educational Computing Conference, 1989.

McLean, Gary N. “Criteria for Selecting Computer Software for Keyboarding Instruction.” Business Education Forum 41 (May 1987): 10, 12.

Merrick, Nellie L. “Typewriting in the University High School.” School Review 49 (April 1941): 284-296.

Mikkelsen, Vincent P. and Gail Gerlach. Teaching Keyboarding Skills to Elementary School Students in Supervised and Unsupervised-Environments. ERIC Document Number ED301152, 1988.

Naisbitt, J. Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming our Lives. New York: Warner Books, 1982.

National Business Education Association. Database of Competencies for Business curriculum Development, K-14. ERIC Document Number ED 294064, 1987.

A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office [1983]).

Pea, Roy D. and D. Midian Kurland. “Cognitive Technologies for Writing.” In Ernst Z. Rothkopf, Ed. Review of Educational Research, Volume 14. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association, 1987.

Stewart, Jane and Buford Jones. “Keyboarding Instruction: Elementary School Options.” Business Education Forum 37 (1983): 11-12.

Stoecker, John W. Teacher Training for Keyboarding Instruction– 4-8: A Researched and Field Tested Inservice Model. ERIC Document Number ED290451, 1988.

Warwood, B., V. Hartman, J. Hauwiller, and S. Taylor. A Research Study to Determine the Effects of Early Keyboard Use upon Student Development in Occupational Keyboarding. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University, 1985. ERIC Document Number ED 265367.

West, L. The Acquisition of Typewriting Skills. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1983.

Wetzel, Keith. “Keyboarding Skills: Elementary, My Dear.” The Computing Teacher 12 (June 1985): 15-19.

Wetzel, Keith. “Keyboarding-An Interview with Keith Wetzel.”

Making the Literature, Writing, Word Processing Connection. The Writing Notebook, 1987.

Wood, Ben D. and Frank N. Freeman. An Experimental Study of the Educational Influences of the Typewriter in the Elementary School Classroom. NY: MacMillan, 1932.

Yamada, Hisao. “A Historical Study of Typewriters and Typing Methods: from the Position of Planning Japanese Parallels.” In Dudley Gibson., Ed. Wordprocessing and the Electronic office. London; Council for Educational Technology, 1983.

Zinsser, W. Writing with a Word Processor. NY: Harper and Row, 1983.

Laptops and Learning

Can laptop computers put the “C” (for constructionism) in Learning?
Published in the October 1998 issue of Curriculum Administrator

© 1998 – Gary S. Stager

“…Only inertia and prejudice, not economics or lack of good educational ideas stand in the way of providing every child in the world with the kinds of experience of which we have tried to give you some glimpses. If every child were to be given access to a computer, computers would be cheap enough for every child to be given access to a computer.” Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon (1971)

In 1989, Methodist Ladies’ College (MLC) in Melbourne, Australia embarked on a still unparalleled learning adventure. Eighteen years after Solomon and Papert’s prediction this school made a commitment to personal computing and constructionism. The unifying principle was that every child in the school (from grades 5-12) would own a personal laptop computer on which they could work at school, at home, and across the curriculum with a belief that their ideas and work were being stored and manipulated on their own personal computer. Ownership of the laptop computer would reinforce ownership of the knowledge constructed with it. The personal computer is a vehicle for building something tangible outside of your head – one of the tenets of constructionism. By 1994, 2,000 MLC teachers and students had a personal laptop computer. This school, like most serious workplaces now has a computer ration of more than one computer per worker (teacher & student). Today, approximately 50,000 Australian school children have their own laptop. More and more American schools are embracing laptops as well.

Personal Computing – Personal Learning

Until recently, the notion of the PC and personal computing has escaped schools. Computer labs, special furniture and computer literacy curricula have been designed to make efficient use of scarce public resources. The potential benefits of using a word processor to write, edit and publish are rarely realized when access to the computer is limited and artificially scheduled. Laptops provide a personal space for creating, exploring, and collecting one’s own ideas, work, and knowledge in a more fluid manner. Pioneering schools like MLC adopted laptops for the following reasons:

The laptop is flexible, portable, personal and powerful
Students and teachers may use the computer whenever and wherever they need to. The laptop is a personal laboratory for intellectual exploration and creative expression. Learning extends beyond the walls and hours of the school.

The laptop helps to professionalize teachers
Teachers equipped with professional tools view themselves more professionally. Computers are much more likely to be integrated into classroom practice when every student has one.

Provocative models of learning will emerge
Teachers need to be reacquainted with the art of learning before they are able to create rich supportive learning environments for their students. The computer allows different ways of thinking, knowing and expressing ones own ideas to emerge. The continuous collection of learning stories serves as a catalyst for rethinking the nature of teaching and learning.

Gets schools out of the computer business
Laptops are a cost-effective alternative to building computer labs, buying special furniture and installing costly wiring. Students keep laptops for an average of three years, a turnover rate rarely achieved by schools. Built-in modems provide students with net access outside of school. The school can focus resources on projection devices, high-quality peripherals and professional development.

Since my work with the world’s first two “laptop schools” in 1990, I’ve helped dozens of similar schools (public and private) around the world make sense of teaching and learning in environments with ubiquitous computing. My own experience and research by others has observed the following outcomes for students and teachers.

Learner Outcomes

  • Students take enormous pride in their work.
  • Individual and group creativity flourishes.
  • Multiple intelligences and ways of knowing are in ample evidence.
  • Connections between subject areas become routine.
  • Learning is more social.
  • Work is more authentic, personal & often transcends the assignment.
  • Social interactions tend to me more work-related.
  • Students become more naturally collaborative and less competitive.
  • Students develop complex cooperative learning strategies.
  • Kids gain benefit from learning alongside of teachers.
  • Learning does not end when the bell rings or even when the assignment is due.

Teacher Outcomes

  • The school’s commitment to laptops convinces teachers that computers are not a fad. Every teacher is responsible for use.
  • Teachers reacquaint themselves with the joy and challenge of learning something new.
  • Teachers experience new ways of thinking, learning and expressing one’s knowledge.
  • Teachers become more collaborative with colleagues and students.
  • Authentic opportunities to learn with/from students emerge.
  • Sense of professionalism and self-esteem are elevated.
  • Thoughtful discussions about the nature of learning and the purpose of school become routine and sometimes passionate.
  • Teachers have ability to collaborate with teachers around the world.
  • New scheduling, curriculum and assessment structures emerge.

 

“I believe that every American child ought to be living in the 21st century… This is why I like laptops – you can take them home. I m not very impressed with computers that schools have chained to desks. I m very impressed when kids have their own computers because they are liberated from a failed bureaucracy …

You can’t do any single thing and solve the problem. You have to change the incentives; you’ve got to restructure the interface between human beings. If you start redesigning a learning system rather than an educational bureaucracy, if you have incentives for kids to learn, and if you have 24-hour-a-day, 7-day a week free standing opportunities for learning, you’re going to make a bigger breakthrough than the current bureaucracy. The current bureaucracy is a dying institution.” – U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich (Wired Magazine, August 1995)

When Seymour Papert and Newt Gingrich are on the same side of an issue, it is hard to imagine an opposing view. The fact that computers are smaller, cheaper and more powerful has had a tremendous impact on society. Soon that impact will be realized by schools. Laptop schools are clearly on the right side of history and will benefit from the experience of being ahead of trend.

Much has been said recently about the virtues of anytime anywhere learning. Laptops certainly can deliver on that promise. Integrated productivity packages may be used to write, manipulate data and publish across the curriculum. However, the power of personal computing as a potential force for learning and as a catalyst for school reform transcends the traditional view of using computers to “do work.” I encourage school leaders considering an investment in laptops to dream big dreams and conceive of ways that universal computing can help realize new opportunities for intellectual development and creative expression.

I often remind teachers that as educators, their role is to educate everyone – children, parents, administrators, colleagues and the guy sitting next to you at the counter in a diner. Educating, like learning, must be 24/7

Every school, teacher, administrator, graduate student or kid I teach gains from the expertise I developed working with every other school, teacher, administrator or kid over the past thirty years. My experiences and the insights gained from those experiences are my most valuable commodity, one I am happy to share.

Much of my work as an educator is spent helping fellow citizens and educators recognize that even in these dark days, things need not be as they seem.  This is accomplished through the sharing of anecdotes, examples of work, case studies, photographs and video of children learning in productive contexts for learning that may seem alien or impossible when compared with a school setting. This willing suspension of disbelief is dependent on compelling the case I can make. People may only choose from alternatives they have experienced or seen. A large part of my work is spent collecting the evidence necessary to change minds or creating compelling models of what is possible in a teacher’s own classroom. If one can change minds, it may be possible to change professional practice.

Recently, I led a short professional development session at a school where I showed two videos from Reggio Emilia, Italy; Utopi Quoti (Everyday Utopias) and I Tiempi Del Tempo (The Times of Time) http://www.learningmaterialswork.com/store/reggio_children_multimedia.html

Teachers at the school were able to watch day-in-the-life videos of the extraordinary inquiry-based learner centered environments of Reggio Emilia’s municipal preschools, ask questions and discuss how what they observed might inform or transform their practice in a K-8 setting half a world away. The generosity of the educators, students and parents of Reggio Emilia make such conversations possible, since their videos share models of teaching and learning that may be foreign to us or invisible otherwise.

I have enjoyed some incredibly exciting experiences as an educator this year that remind me of why I teach and of the power computers can play in the construction of knowledge. This feeling of success is confronted by the sense that members of the edtech/ICT community have no idea what I do. I have low expectations for policy-makers and the media, but the edtech/ICT community should know better, right? They should join me in advocating powerful ideas and classroom revolution. Instead, too many seem more concerned with shopping, composing clever platitudes and congratulating each other via social media. It seems that the longer computers are in schools the fewer ideas there are for using them. When my colleagues whine and complain that change isn’t possible, I know in my soul they are wrong.They too could be classroom badasses, if only I could explain what I do and they believed what kids do with me. This inability to have a wider impact makes me feel like such a failure.

Colleagues and friends like to learn about the work I do in classrooms around the world. Sometimes, I even blog about my experiences. Occasionally, I share materials I created for classroom use. Such sharing requires extra work and rarely captures the enthusiasm, joy, social interactions, interventions, epiphanies, powerful ideas or tacit gestures so critical to powerful learning experiences. Perhaps it is so difficult for others to imagine young children programming computers, learning without coercion or being _____ (mathematicians, scientists, engineers, authors, filmmakers, artists, composers…) because they have never seen it with their own eyes.

If a picture is indeed worth 1,000 words, video may be worth a bazillion.

Trust me
Oh, how I wish you could have seen the 3rd grade class I taught late last week. The kids were programming in Turtle Art, a vision of Logo focused on creating beautiful images resulting from formal mathematical processes. I drew three challenges on the board and then groups of kids, who had used the software a few times before, set off to work collaboratively in figuring out mathematical ways to “teach the turtle” to reproduce the images I shared. I could tell you how the kids demonstrated an understanding of linear measurement, angle, integers, iteration, randomness, optical illusions, naming, procedurality and debugging strategies. However, if video had captured the session, you might have seen the kid who spends half the day getting a drink of water demonstrating impressive mathematical reasoning. You might have seen kids shrieking with joy during a “math” lesson, others high-fiving one another as they conquered each challenge and kids setting more complex challenges for themselves based on their success. You may have also noticed how the classroom teacher joined his students in problem solving – perhaps for the first time, but discovering the role the computer can play in education. Video might have captured how I choreographed the activity with less than a minute of instruction followed by 45 minutes of learner construction.

Alas, there is no such video to share.

I wish you could have seen what happened when I challenged a class of 5th graders to write a computer program in MicroWorlds that would allow the user to enter a fraction and have the computer draw that fraction as slices of a circle. The problem was so challenging that I offered to buy lunch for the first kid or group of kids to write a successful program. The kids worked for days on the one problem.

If I had video, you would have seen students confront variables for the first time by using them. They also employed algebraic reasoning, turtle geometry, angle, radius and speaking mathematically to their collaborators. I wish I could share how I asked the right question at the precise moment required to help a kid understand the problem at hand, how I refused to answer some questions or give too much information and deprive kids of constructing knowledge.

I wish you could have seen how excited the three little girls were when their program performed reliably. I wish you could have seen the non-winners who continued working on their programs regardless of the contest being over. I wish you could have seen the girls showing their program to their teacher and improving it based on aesthetic suggestions. I sure wish I could share a photograph of the 11 year-old female mathematicians arm-in-arm with #1 written on each of their arms held high.

Why should you trust me without evidence? I could post the program they wrote, but it might make as much sense as Swahili to some of you, while others will ask if the students were “gifted.”

My fourth graders are using Pico Crickets as their robotics construction kit. They are currently figuring out ways to bring stuffed animals to life with locomotion, sound, lights and senses. If you could see the class you would immediately appreciate the wide range of expertise and learning styles represented. Some kids have never built anything or played with LEGO while others have lots of experience. There are children very close to programming and reanimating their animal while others are busy building the tallest LEGO tower, giving a stuffed monkey a Mohawk haircut or shaving a teddy bear. Each student is working at their own level in their own way

I wish you could have seen the workshop I whipped together with little notice for seventy high school teachers in an economically challenged region. I wish you could have shared their joy and laughter while engaged in recreating old-time radio broadcasts from the 1930s and 40s. Along the way, they learned to record, edit and enhance digital audio without a bit of instruction. They fanned out in teams across their campus in order to find quiet places to record and discovered a powerful literacy activity they could use with students the next day. They also learned that tech skills could be learned casually in the context of a rich project.

Photography
Many schools have an uneasy relationship with photography, video and student identity. Some schools allow photography without the use of student names or the school identified. Others use initials or pseudonyms to indicate student identities. Some schools have prohibitions on publication of photos online. Some schools have no prohibitions whatsoever. Occasionally, I encounter schools that do not allow photography of any sort.

None of this is new to me. The tension over photography often mirrors fears of the Internet My doctoral research was with incarcerated teenagers and required me to take photographs without student faces being visible. I got pretty good at that, but such carefully designed “shots” makes it impossible to show the life of the classroom.

If schools, parents and teachers would embrace photography and video, school would be better for children. I truly believe that.

Here are but a few arguments for classroom photography.

Documents and tells learning stories
Photography and videography may be used to capture learning stories that make thinking visible to teachers, invite other learners to contribute to another student’s thinking, inspire peers to build upon the knowledge or accomplishments of classmates and preserves the intellectual life of the school.

Communicates with parents
Photography and videography provide an authentic way to demonstrate what students know and do for parents.

Honors student work and accomplishments
The publication or even casual sharing of student project-work via media honors their accomplishments without badges, grades or other coercive gimmicks.  Citizens are most likely to support schools that provide evidence of innovation.

Beautifies the school
Photos and video displays of students actively learning sets a tone for a school and reminds inhabitants of what matters.

Shares exemplary practices with fellow educators
Colleagues may learn what’s possible and new pedagogical practices if they are able to visit other classrooms vicariously. A fancy formal term for this is called “lesson study.”

Avoids hypocrisy
Parents should be educated that putting a student’s photo or poem on the Web will not result in alien abduction. They should also be reminded that advocating for a newspaper photo of their kid kicking a goal is of less value than sharing classroom practice as a means to inspire and improve education in their school and beyond.

Photos are useful
In addition to their educational function as documentation that makes thinking visible for teachers planning learner-centered interventions, photos may be used for public relations and school publications.

It’s nice to share
‘nuff said

The following is a paper I wrote for a conference in 2006. The problems I identify have become more acute since. One day, I’ll revisit this work. In the meantime, feel free to share this or comment below. (Hopefully the formatting wasn’t made too terrible during the move to this blog)


Has educational computing jumped the shark?

Gary S. Stager
Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology
Presented at ACEC 2006 – Cairns, Australia – October 2, 2006

ABSTRACT

Incremental approaches to classroom computer use have been slow to produce significant educational benefits. Criticism of educational computing is often validated by a lack of compelling models created in the absence of vision or adequate leadership. However, this paper departs from critics who suggest that computers should play little or no role in the intellectual lives of children by arguing that the opposite. Computational technology needs to play a much greater role in the learning process and is essential to the sustainability of schools.

Despite the societal shifts resulting from widespread access to computers and the Internet, schools and other educational organizations remain committed to outdated notions of computer literacy instruction. Such efforts, along with the allure of online delivery and assessment, serve to centralize curriculum at the very moment the identical technology could be used to revolutionize the learning process. Individuals once at the forefront of the learning revolution promised by the widespread availability of powerful computational and communications technology now preside over the use of that technology to reinforce the least effective educational practices of the past. This leads inevitably to a lowering of educational standards and a diminution in the learning opportunities available to young people.

INTRODUCTION

This paper is not offered as an exhaustive review of the literature regarding the current state of educational technology use in schools around the world. No one paper could possibly do so. It is intended to stimulate discussion among members of the academic and practitioner community regarding current trends and their possible consequences. The author bases his observations on work as a teacher educator, consultant, teacher, researcher and educational journalist in schools across the United States and Australia, in addition to recent efforts in Canada, Brazil and India. The author speaks at more than a dozen educational technology conferences annually, consults with industry and writes a magazine column read by approximately 100,000 educational leaders each month. These various activities afford the author a rare perspective from which to identify patterns of rhetoric, policy-making and pedagogical practice.

Some of the evidence presented in this paper may strain credulity. However, the practices and products in question all exist. Alfie Kohn said, “In education, satire is obsolete.”[i] The confluence of magical new technology, an increasingly high-stakes educational system and the capitalistic desire to profit from this tension results in strange, but real challenges for schools.

This paper attempts to alert educators, members of education-related industries and policy-makers to trends that while at first glance appear to indicate progress, especially since they involve high technology, may actually result in expensive detours, distractions and disasters.

Critics (Alliance for Childhood, Cuban, Oppenheimer) often assert that computers do not belong in school for a variety of ideological, financial or developmental reasons. However, I agree with Seymour Papert that computers are today’s primary instrument for intellectual work, and central to the educational enterprise. If for no other reason than the fact that computers are already a part of the world of kids, we must respect the role they can play in children’s lives and develop ways to maximize the potential of technology. I have spent the past twenty-four years helping students use computers in intellectually rich and creatively expressive ways that defy current notions of curricula or educational standards.

After four decades of advocacy for computers in education, Seymour Papert corrected the record by suggesting that, “Computer scientists weren’t supposed to bring computers into classrooms. They were supposed to bring computer science to children in classrooms.” (Papert 2002) Papert contends that the failure to use computers in new ways as an instrument for educational progress is the result of an imagination gap. (Papert 1997)

Soon after bold creative teachers began tinkering with computers in their classrooms, schools embarked on the well-documented process of assimilating them. Computers were corralled into odd “lab” arrangements and children made an occasional field trip to the lab for the purposes of being taught “computer,” often by a teacher possessing few qualifications. Special computer literacy curricula was developed to meet the needs of inexperienced lab teachers and limited student access. Trivial work done during lab time failed to inspire other teachers to integrate computing into the life of their subjects and motivated teachers were quickly discouraged by too little access to too few computers. Educators with little or no technological fluency are asked to serve on committees where they use a crystal ball and develop “tech plans” not yet invented and students they have not met.

I postulate that the educational technology challenges associated with teacher professional development, inadequate funding and the demand for standards are not our primary problems. They are symptoms of an imagination gap and shortage of honest reflective practice that threatens to rob children of the potential afforded by advances in communications and computational technology.

Some may view this paper as a cautionary tale. Others may find that it affirms their tacit concerns while some will disagree violently with my hypotheses. This paper should not however be misconstrued as an argument against the widespread of use of computers and related technologies in appropriate ways across all subjects and grade levels. Many critics of educational computing alert us to the trivial ways in which computers are used. If school computers are used in dubious ways, the solution is not the abolition of computers, but more thoughtful practice.

It is remarkable that there remain proponents of a view that computers should play no role in education despite the transformational impact they have had on nearly every other aspect of society. Like many other educational innovations, the use of computers in schools may be dismissed as a failure before it was seriously attempted. It is well known, but seldom mentioned, that most children touch a computer for minutes per week in school. It is ridiculous to assign failure to the computer when access is so meagre and a vision for its use eludes most educators.

JUMPING THE SHARK

This author’s body of work challenges conventional arguments against the use of computers in school based on concerns over funding, child welfare and alternative priorities while joining Seymour Papert in offering optimistic scenarios in which computers may create efficacious opportunities for knowledge construction. However, recent observations of educational technology practice within American and Australian classrooms, as well as the changing rhetoric found in professional publications and conferences leads me to conclude that educational technology may have “jumped the shark.”

It’s a moment. A defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak. That instant that you know from now… it’s all downhill. Some call it the climax. “We call it jumping the shark.” (Jon Hein – www.jumptheshark.com)

In this case, jumping the shark applies to the possibility that we have reached the tipping point where even exuberant proponents of educational technology must question whether the system’s implementation of it is now causing as much harm as good. This radical view goes beyond Papert’s predictions of assimilation in which the school system will naturally attempt to use new technology to support old practices and the “assimilation blindness” (Papert 1977) in which critics simplistically compare the computer to other classroom objects. At first glance the proposition that “educational technology may now do more harm than good” would seem to agree with critics of computers in the classroom. However, the common ground is limited to concerns about the quality of education afforded children.

While much criticism of educational computing is concerned with an erosion of control, uniform curriculum, traditional assessment instruments and industrial notions of efficiency, my fear is that educational technology is now being used to strengthen such instructionist tendencies at the expense of children. In other words, the current trajectory of educational technology is dominated by practices and objectives that succeed in making schooling much more like the desires of the technology critics and therefore squanders the enormous potential to revolutionize education that inspired so many ed tech pioneers for more than a generation.

Much of the rhetoric now embraced by an increasing number of people who previously advocated exciting visions of children using computers in personally liberating ways treats students in an instrumental fashion subordinate to the goals of the system. What some in the past may have deemed the utopian aspirations of educational computing proponents have now been silenced by classroom practices more inflexible and reactionary than before microcomputers entered schools.

These Are Not Happy Days

Unlike in the television show, Happy Days, when Fonzie jumped a shark while waterskiing in a leather jacket, the precise moment in which educational technology began its decline is not easily identified. A number of trends, marketing triumphs and political conditions converge to create the current malaise. Anyone of these variables alone would be troublesome, but together they create an alternative educational reality where friends and foes do little to realize the transformative promise of learning technology.

Just a few of these variables will be explored due to space constraints.

The Dominance of Information Technology – Our Homemade Straightjacket

Educational computing has experienced a semantic sea change over the past fifteen years. In fact, the word computing is hardly mentioned in the literature. Educational computing gave way to terms like informatics, ICT, information technology and just technology. When the vast capabilities of computing are reduced to, “just another technology,” we are then safe to make comparisons to a zipper or Pez dispensers.

It was the educational technology community, not external forces that debased the language we use to describe our efforts. Computing is a verb connoting action, technology is a noun – one more checkbox on an arbitrary list of curricular objectives. The C in ICT is at best cosmetic when the vast majority of students remain unable to email, collaborate or publish online despite the lofty (and readily ignored) goals of official technology standards. Our noble profession is increasingly referred to as “the industry.” Language matters. It shapes practice.

Since the widespread deployment of the Internet in schools during the mid 1990s, the function of the school computer has been reduced to that of information appliance or worse. Contemporary literature, popular and academic, focuses almost exclusively on the use computer for information retrieval and the occasional regurgitation of that information in the form of PowerPoint presentations or web pages. The false complexity associated with designing a web page or slideshow lulls spectators into believing that the students were engaged in an intellectually meaningful activity, when that assumption is often incorrect.

Recent doubts about such activities have not led to wide-scale challenges to the practice of digital book reports. Instead a new pedagogy of information literacy has emerged, complete with workshops, workbooks and literature attempting to fortify and justify the use of computers to support dubious educational practices. Edward Tufte, Seymour Papert and very few others outside of the practitioner community, have taken the unpopular step of revealing that this emperor has no clothes. The genuine effort expended by children creating such products is difficult to disregard, but the context of those efforts and the validity of the task needs to be challenged.

Another unintended consequence of this IT imbalance is the emphasis placed on student research. Actual research in the spirit of the work conducted by historians or scientists is an enormously valuable intellectual enterprise. The process skills associated with authentic research should be a universal part of every child’s education. The Internet offers unparalleled opportunities for students to engage in research in ways never before possible, particularly the ability to publish for a limitless audience and engage in collaboration with others across time and space. This is where the majority of the Internet’s power as a new learning medium resides. However, schools tend to focus on “looking stuff up,” delivering content and monitoring student progress. These uses are not only antithetical to the extraordinary power of the Internet, but their dominance creates unintentional consequences regarding Internet safety, censorship and security.

Simply stated, if the dominant metaphor for using a computer is looking things up, then it should come as no surprise when children look up in appropriate stuff. This eventuality consumes scarce resources and diverts our attention away from using computers in ways that ennoble a creative and intellectual renaissance in children. The hysteria caused by both fear of using the Internet and the fear of not using the Internet causes schools to employ legions of network managers who are given unprecedented budgetary and educational discretion, along with very little oversight. Teachers wishing to do the “right thing” are often precluded to using the school network in educationally justifiable ways due to policies and technical obstacles created by non-educators with unilateral power.

The Total Cost of Dependency

I call this phenomenon, the total cost of dependency. It relates to the unintended learning costs of over-promising and under-delivering reliable Internet functionality and subsequent benefits. TCOD also applies to situations that result from settings in which the network functions perfectly. Educators accustomed to unreliable network access abandon the use of computers and those lucky enough to have access to fully functional networks too often focus on the use of the Internet to the exclusion of other forms of computing. The popular advertising slogan, “the network is the computer,” is inapplicable to K-12 education.

Proponents of the network-centric view often tell educators that as soon as there is enough bandwidth, everything they ever dreamed of will be possible. There is plenty already possible for learners to do with computers and the fixation on the Internet is depriving too many children of those rich experiences. If there ever is limitless bandwidth, computers will be television, not a constructive medium for active learning. For children trying to make a movie, program a robot, animate a poem, build a simulation or design a video game, regular ubiquitous access to a sufficiently powerful computer is far more important to both the job at-hand and a student’s intellectual development, than is net access.

Hooked on Office

A web browser and Microsoft Office are the most used software applications. Both applications represent critical tools for personal productivity and communication. However, learners should also use computers in constructive ways – as an intellectual laboratory and vehicle for self-expression. Adults seem amused by the sight of children playing Donald Trump dress-up, “Look how cute she is! She’s wearing mommy’s heals and using Excel!” However, the dominance of Office applications in schools places a disproportionate emphasis on using computers to get “work” done[ii], versus using computers to learn. While the two goals are not mutually exclusive, I assert that the balance of educational experiences should tilt towards learning and process rather than product.

DISTURBING TRENDS

It is impossible to predict which specific technologies or pedagogical practices that will withstand the test of time. However, there are several technologies popular in schools that warrant review.

Skinner Rocks!

The growing assault on public education led by the Bush and Howard administrations is manifest in the obsession with testing, data, standardization and punishment. The dissection of learning into sequential bite-sized decontextualized fragments directly benefits the textbook, testing and integrated learning system companies. These are divisions of the same multinational behemoths. These conspicuous relationships advocate for Orwellian schemes like, “No Child Left Behind,” and have expensive technological “solutions” at the ready.

The market for inexpensive drill-and-practice software evaporated long before the enduring fantasy that if you get the software just right, every toddler will master long division subsided. Today, expensive instructional management systems are sold to poor schools terrorized by the threat of sanctions accompanying low performance on standardized tests. Although these systems have not changed much in forty years, they are no longer seen as a window onto the future as much as a life-saving attempt by desperate underprivileged schools.

The folly of teaching machines, personalized learning and continuous assessment date back to the invention of computers. Bad ideas are timeless. Government policies and easy-to-produce high-profit teaching systems from well-heeled corporations create a perfect storm for using computers in low-level disempowering ways.

Early advocates rebelled against CAI when excitement about computers in education was infectious. Today is different in that that these pioneers now make purchasing decisions and create a climate in which these systems dominate the landscape. Today, membership organizations purporting to represent educational progress, such as ISTE, are engaged in “monetizing” the testing craze and rushing to create “high-stakes” computer literacy examinations.[iii] Every child must now be above average every minute of the day.

Such regressive practices are no longer typified by children sitting at banks of computers wearing headphones or in the back of the classroom playing Math Blaster. Teaching systems have gone wireless and centralized simultaneously.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S LESS!

Two categories of such systems dominate the marketplace and classrooms; “smart” boards and “clickers.”

Smart Furniture

“Intelligent” white boards may appear as cost-effective strategies for advancing a school’s technological capability, yet these Pre-Gutenberg technologies may ultimately reinforce the worst of existing classroom practices. They reinforce the dominance of the front of the room and omniscience of the teacher. Facilitating increased lecturing and reducing education to notes on a board represents a step backwards. We should question the widespread appeal of these products. The sales success of clever furniture is undeniable, but its actual use is less clear.[iv]

Classroom as Game Show, Teacher as Huckster

A new category of products has hit the educational technology market and enjoys remarkable sales. The more academic-sounding acronym, classroom performance systems (CPS), has been created to bestow. With a CPS, each child watches typically unattractive multiple-choice questions displayed on a screen in-front of them and on-cue punches what they think is the correct answer into a handheld remote-control device. The software can then present the teacher and class with the correct answer and a tabulation of student results. Such a system requires learning be reduced to its simplest, most binary form and gives aid and comfort to the misguided notion that continuous assessment is synonymous with teaching.

Teachers report to me that their “colleagues” find it difficult to design their own quizzes for these systems. The result of this difficulty marketing agreements with textbook publishers who happily provide, for a fee, questions that require little more than a smile from the classroom teacher. This contributes further to the deprofessionalization of educators and does little to help them embrace the constructive use of computers in their classrooms.

One vendor, eInstruction, reports sales of 1.8 million “response pads”[v] and is suing a rival over their patent entitled “System and Method for Communicating with Students in an Education Environment.” That’s funny; I didn’t realize that teachers need remote control devices in order to communicate with students.

One corporation, Qwizdom, announces on its website that “Instant data just got even faster!” What’s faster than instant? Qwizdom refers to being part of the “audience response industry.”[vi] There is no illusion that teachers are more than performers and students spectators. Furthermore, emphasis on faster instants does violence to the promise of personal computers as incubators for project-based learning and deep intellectual engagement.

David Thornburg, reminds us that a contestant on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” is allowed to think about a problem, poll the audience or phone a friend before pulling the trigger on her answer. CPS systems prohibit such thinking practices.

Both “intelligent boards” and “clickers” reduce education to the delivery and regurgitation of information and make it simple for centralized authorities to monitor classroom activity and reduce individual students to data.

Immobile Laptops

Australia’s greatest contribution to the world of computing was the pioneering embrace of laptops in education. Back in 1989-90, MLC and the State of Queensland embraced laptops as personal knowledge machines that brought the theories of Dewey and Papert to life. Today, laptops are no longer about powerful ideas, personal responsibility and the decentralization of knowledge, but tools for information delivery, constant assessment and global competitiveness. Some schools now promise that when they implement 1:1 computing, they will not change the curriculum at all. This is not virtuous; it’s idiotic and a waste of money.

Politicians propose laptops for teachers as if they were not the last workers in society afforded such luxury. Teachers performing clerical tasks and other chores, not transforming education, justify the investment.

The Governor of Maine needed to allow local schools to decide whether student laptops could go home as a matter of petty political expedience. Now other jurisdictions slavishly debate the merits of laptops going home as if this were a reasonable issue and 50% of Maine schools expand the digital divide by tethering mobile computers to the schoolhouse. If one student in one classroom looks at an inappropriate webpage, skittish vendors will render laptops useless in order to sell them to a school 2,000km away. Policy should not be predicated on historical accident or local politics.

It took more than a decade before defeatist language like pilot, initiative, project or experiment followed “laptop” in discussions of school computing. Now it’s the norm. This implies that the decision to embrace ubiquitous computing may have been a mistake rather than on the right side of history.

Schools are increasingly purchasing large quantities of student laptops without any constructive software, like MicroWorlds, and doing so with the encouragement of computer manufacturers. Some student laptops don’t even have a paint program installed. This is a brilliant strategy if the school teaches the humanities only. Mathematics and science learning stand to gain the most from the problem solving and computation afforded by the laptop, but such innovation is impossible in many schools.

Hardware manufacturers peddle laptop carts and governors propose a laptop on every desk fifteen years after thousands of students responsibly cared for their own portable computer at home, school and in the community. The metaphoric, as well as physical, locking-down of student laptops disempowers students and frustrates teachers needlessly. This hysteria represents a systemic backlash to the unprecedented creative and intellectual freedom bestowed upon learners.

One American school district had more than sixty million dollars (US) in-hand for student laptops. The educational goals accompanying the laptop purchase were so unimaginative and incremental that one politician was able to derail the entire initiative. Too little was done to excite the hearts and minds of citizens who want the most for children. (Stager 2005c)

Many new laptop schools pretend they invented the idea and disregard the lessons of their predecessors. They will recklessly change platforms just to get mentioned in the newspaper. Many Australian independent schools realized that changing their blazer colour was as useful a marketing ploy as integrating student laptops and didn’t require any institutional effort. The endless demands for evidence that laptops “work” demonstrates our community’s lack of capacity for growth and resistance to progress.

CONCLUSION

Computers are remarkably flexible devices capable of use in a wide range of contexts. A recent article in Technology and Learning Magazine profiled what the magazine’s editors determined to be the ten best returns on school technology investments. Not a single recommendation involved a learner doing something with a computer. This is a historic opportunity to seize powerful technology to help reinvent the nature and diversity of learning. We should embrace every opportunity to do so by keeping our “eyes on the prize” and avoiding detours. The needless focus on superficial planning, support for retrograde technologies, information addiction and welding laptops to furniture are symptoms of conservatism, ignorance and fear. Not long ago, the educational technology community were the warriors boldly leading schools towards an uncertain future filled with unprecedented learning opportunities for the children they serve. Somewhere along the line we have become reactionary and distracted by self-interest and costly detours.

We are duty bound to create compelling models of innovation and must define our terms, challenge accepted norms and set a course that amplifies the potential of children.

REFERENCES

  • The Alliance for Childhood. (2004) Tech Tonic: Towards a New Literacy of Technology. Available online at http://allianceforchildhood.org/projects/computers/pdf_files/tech_tonic.pdf
  • Cuban, L. (2001) Oversold and Underused. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Harel, I., and Papert, S., editors. (1991) Constructionism. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.
  • Kafai, Y., and Resnick, M., editors. (1996) Constructionism in Practice: Designing, Thinking, and Learning in a Digital World. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Kohn, Alfie. (2000) Transcript of the talk “The Deadly Effect of Tougher Standards.” The Harvard Education Letter. March/April 2000. Available online at http://www.edletter.org/past/issues/2000-ma/forum.shtml.
  • Mclester, Susan. (2004) Top 10 Returns on Investment. In Technology and Learning Magazine, November 2004 issue.
  • Oppenheimer, Todd. (2003) The Flickering Mind: The False Promise of Technology in the Classroom and How Learning Can be Saved. NY: Random House.
  • Papert, Seymour. (1990)“A Critique of Technocentrism in Thinking About the School of the Future,” MIT Epistemology and Learning Memo No. 2. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory.
  • Papert, Seymour (1981) Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas. NY: Basic Books.
  • Papert, Seymour (1993) The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer. New York: Basic Books.
  • Papert, Seymour. (1997) Why School Reform Is Impossible” In The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 6(4), pp. 417-42. Available online at http://www.papert.org/articles/school_reform.html
  • Papert, Seymour (2002) “Papert Misses ‘Big Ideas’ of the Good Old Days in AI,” from a press release published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. July 10, 2002. http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2002/papert.htm
  • Stager, Gary. (2001) “Computationally-Rich Constructionism and At-Risk Learners.” In Computers in Education 2001: Australian Topics – Selected Papers from the Seventh World Conference on Computers in Education. McDougall, Murnane & Chambers editors. Volume 8. Sydney: Australian
    Computer Society.
  • Stager, Gary. (2002) “Papertian Constructionism and At-Risk Learners.” In the Proceedings of the 2002 National Educational Computing Conference. Eugene, OR: ISTE.
  • Stager, Gary. (2003) “The ISTE Problem” In District Administration Magazine, February 2003 issue.
  • Stager, Gary. (2005a) “Gary Stager on the State of Ed Tech.” In District Administration Magazine, January 2005 issue.
  • Stager, Gary. (2005b) “Gary Stager on Effective Ed Tech.” In District Administration Magazine, February 2005 issue.
  • Stager, Gary (2005c) “Laptop Woes. Bungling the World’s Easiest Sale.” In District Administration Magazine, October 2005 issue.
  • Tufte, Edward. (2003) The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint. Cheshire, CT: Graphics Press, LLC. Information available online at http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/powerpoint

[i] Kohn has repeated a version of this quip in numerous contexts. One is available online at http://www.edletter.org/past/issues/2000-ma/forum.shtml

[ii] Despite the often underwhelming quality of such “work”

[iii] I am in possession of a December 2004 email sent by ISTE’s Washington D.C. office asking state ed tech directors to contribute to the creation of a “high-stakes” computer literacy test that ISTE would then sell back to them on behalf of a corporate partner. After months of denials, the ISTE CEO admitted to scheme at NECC 2005 and indicated that regardless of the propriety of the initiative, his membership organization needed to monetize this trend before others did. You may read the memo at http://www.stager.org/istememo

[iv] According to a March 30, 2006 press release, one manufacturer, “Smart Technologies,” has sold more than 250,000 whiteboards in every U.S. state and 75 countries.

[v] http://www.einstruction.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=news.display&menu=news&content=showArticle&id=115

[vi] http://www.qwizdom.com/download/PressRelease020306.pdf

Although I’m only 48, I have been working in educational computing for thirty years. When I started, we taught children to program. We also taught tens of thousands of teachers to teach computer science to learners of all ages. In many cases, this experience represented the most complex thinking about thinking that teachers ever experienced and their students gained benefit from observing teachers learning to think symbolically, solve problems and debug. There was once a time in the not so distant path when educators were on the frontiers of scientific reasoning and technological progress. Curriculum was transformed by computing. School computers were used less often to “do school” and more often to do the impossible.

Don’t believe me? My mentor, Dan Watt, sold over 100,000 copies of a book entitled, Learning with Logo in the 1980s when much fewer teachers and children had access to a personal computer.

Things sped downhill when we removed “computing” from our lexicon and replaced it with “technology” (like a Pez dispenser or Thermos). We quickly degraded that meaningless term, technology, further by modifying it with IT and ICT. Once computing was officially erased from the education of young people, teachers could focus on keyboarding, chatting, looking stuff up, labeling the parts of the computer and making PowerPoint presentations about topics you don’t care about for an audience you will never meet. The over-reliance on the Internet and the unreliability of school networks ensures that you can spend half of each class period just logging-in.

Teachers with post-graduate degrees are being compelled to receive iPad training. My 95 year-old grandmother figured it out all by herself. No tax dollars were harmed in the process. Apparently, we also need to provide teachers with interactive white board training so they may hung unused in their classroom, just like all of their peers.

We have National Educational Technology Standards published by the International Society for TECHNOLOGY in Education that are so vague pedestrian that no computing is needed to meet them. In fact, it’s likely one can satisfy the NETs without the actual use of a computer. Despite standards and district tech plans that are a cross between a shopping list and a desperate plea for teachers to consider modernity, most school kids are powerless over the technology so central to their lives. Nobody even bothers to ask the question Seymour Papert first posed 45 years ago, “Does the child program the computer or does the computer program the child?” This is a tragedy.

What kids do get to do with computers tends to be trivial and inservice of the educational status quo. Gone are the days when educational computing conference programs were home to the most progressive thinkers and revolutionary ideas in education. Teachers were considered thought leaders and scholars who were required to write peer-reviewed papers in order to present at such events.  Today one merely has to promise 75 quick and easy things to do in 37 minutes with the hottest product being peddled to schools. Another popular topic is incessantly about how your colleagues won’t or can’t use the latest fad.

I am sorry, but social media is not a school subject. There are conference workshops on using Twitter and masters degrees in educational technology that culminate in a rap about hashtags.  If social media is any damned good, it needs to be as complex and reliable as a dial-tone.  PLN, PLC, PLP, etc… are just fancy alphabet soup for having someone to talk with. We should not need an National Science Foundation grant to make friends.

I had an educator approach me at a conference recently to volunteer that “Our school is not ready for Google Docs.” Set aside whatever you happen to think about Google Docs; it’s a word processor in a Web browser, right? I told the tech director, “Congratulations, your school district has apparently managed to employ the last breathing mammals in the solar system incapable of using a word processor.” Isn’t it odd that technology directors are not held accountable for such failure over three decades? Could they possibly be enabling co-dependent behavior and helplessness in the teachers they are meant to lead?

If the percentage of teachers using computers remains constant over time, regardless of how we lower expectations, shouldn’t we ask a great deal more of them and set our sights higher?

I’m so old that I knew the guy responsible for “Guide on the side, sage on the stage” (Chris Held) and “Ask three before me,” (Leslie Thyberg) I even knew the gentleman responsible for “computer literacy.” (originally called computing literacy) His name was Arthur Luehrmann. I often find myself mumbling, “I knew Arthur Luehrmann. Arthur Luehrmann was a friend of mine. You sir are no Arhur Luehrmann.”

When Luerhmann coined the term, “computer literacy,” he intended it to mean computer programming the intellectual pursuit of agency over the computer and a means for solving problems.

Don’t believe me? Read this 1980 paper transcribed  from a 1972 talk.

I know what some of you are thinking. Not every kid needs to learn programming. You don’t have to be able to fix a transmission to drive a car, blah blah blah…

First of all, the educational technology community and schools seem to have decided that no kids should learn to program. I’d be happy with the same nine-week programming class I was required to take in 1975.

Second, computer programming is not like fixing a car. It’s much more like designing the car, making sure all of its systems work in an integrated fashion, mitigating the environmental impact of cars and imagining their impact on society. Computer science is a legitimate science that has profound implications for learning all sorts of other powerful ideas, working in diverse fields and making sense of the world. You just would not know this if you go to school.

Why would it even occur to educators to deprive children of such rich learning opportunities?

If you have the audacity to speak of digital literacy or technology literacy and do not teach computer science, then this is the first time in the history of education when the functional definition of “literacy” has been so devalued, diminished and degraded. All other expectations for literacy increase over time.

There you go Stager, you radical crank. How dare you ask teachers to develop new knowledge and empower students? You’re just some stupid utopian who happened to have a great 7th grade computer programming teacher 35 years ago. Well, I’m not alone.

In January, I was in London to keynote at BETT. At the same event, the Secretary of State Michael Gove announced that the UK government was scrapping the “harmful and dull” national ICT curriculum and replacing it with computer science at all grade levels. He called the current curriculum a mess and wondered aloud why schools bother to teach Excel or PowerPoint to bored students? Coincidentally, I wondered in 1996 why we were investing so heavenly in ensuring that we create a generation of fifth graders with terrific secretarial skills?

When a conservative politician and I agree on education policy, who could possibly be on the other side?


Related reading:

ictqatarIn March I had the great honor of being the keynote speaker at the 3rd ICTQatar ICT in Education national conference in Doha, Qatar. That was my 3rd trip to Qatar over the past couple of years.

Following my keynote, a nice young gentleman asked if he could interview me. I was happy to oblige and we found a vacant lounge area on the college campus where the conference was being held. That’s when the hijinx began.

First of all, the interviewer didn’t have a tripod. I convinced him that going handheld was a bad idea and helped him prop the camera on top of a camera bag. Then midway through the interview, one of his colleagues inexplicably walked into the lounge, headed to the light switches and cut our lights. After we objected, the guy spent a few minutes trying to turn the lights back on. After failing to do so, he shrugged and said, “Go somewhere else.” Eventually, the lights were turned on and a tripod emerged.

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Despite these technical difficulties, I believe that the interview came out quite nicely and I was able to explore some issues in-depth. You might think of it as my “UnTED Talk.”

If you have 42 spare minutes, you might wish to watch this video. Pleae not be put-off my the incredibly unattractive poster image displayed in the static video player below.

Many thanks to ICTQatar for the terrific job of putting the video on YouTube.

I can’t wait to join you at ACEC 2010 this April 6-9 in Melbourne as a keynote speaker. 2010 marks my 20th anniversary of working in Australia and Keynote debate at NECC 2009ACEC ’92 was the first conference I ever keynoted – in Melbourne coincidentally! I’ve been the keynote for at least one other biennial ACEC Conference (perhaps 2), since.

I know how many of my Aussie, Kiwi and other non-American friends had wished they could have voted in US presidential elections – the world might be a better place. However, there is one US election where your vote counts.

I am a finalist to be a keynote speaker at this June’s International Society for Technology in Education Conference (ISTE) in Denver. A keynote speaker will be selected by you, the voter!

This is quite the honor!

The other finalists are Peter Reynolds, Chris Lehmann, Alan November and Jeff Piontek.

Please vote  here (http://bit.ly/3nvfV9)

Voting ends on Friday January 15th (US time). Don’t miss out! Help put the “I” into ISTE!