Monday, November 22, 2010

Top 10 problems with on-line learning...

I was inspired to write this based on this blog Top 10 Reasons Why Learning Online is Better.

I read the 10 reasons and I was taken aback a bit. In this day of global connection, social media and interaction, and the ubiquity of cameras and sharing the 10 best idea for on-line learning contradict all those notions.

I will say the preface the post with:
Now here’s a fun list for every educator! Education (for both children and adults) is moving more and more online. At SimpleK12, we provide 100% online professional development for teachers around the world.

So, it's fun. However, the next sentence promotes their 100% online professional development. So to me it's either fun, or it's promoting reason why I should learn with them...
... I'm not sure.

Heres's my take....

To break it down one, by one:
10. No one will judge you if you don't brush your teeth right away.

Hermit-like existance #1.
There are more examples in the top 10 advocating on-line learning via a hermit like solitary lifestyle. Education or not, no matter what you are undertaking, "not brushing your teeth" should not be a "pro" to doing something. If "not brushing your teeth" makes it to the top 10 of your educational requirements I'd hate to see some of your other lifestyle top 10s.

9. The commute is only as far as your living room - yet you connect and learn from experts around the world.
Ok, fair enough. Good point. I'm glad this ranked higher than "not brushing your teeth".

8. With 24/7 access, you can do what you want when you want.
Hermit-like existence #2.
While on it's surface it seems like a good point I feel this is actually counter-intuitive to the concept of learning. Learning is done in the company of others, you learn by interacting, by watching, by observing, by talking, debating, discussing, arguing, disagreeing, sharing, etc. If 24/7 access grants me the ability to watch an on-demand webcast at 4am but not ask questions of the presenter of fellow participants (becuae thye are all asleep) what am I really learning?

And yes, it's great to learn at your own pace when you are ready, but with all the "social media/interaction" notions being bandied about these days, is learning on your own really in-line what that ideal?

7. You're not limited to learning only from the experts in your geographical area.
Yes, but that is a bit of a contrived point. I'm not enrolled in any "on-line learning" programs, yet through things like Google, Twitter, Facebook, Classroom 2.0, etc I can easily connect with people from all over the world. "On-line learning" should not be something I have to sign up or in for. If you have the internet and are interested in learning you can and will.

6. Shaving and make-up are optional.
Hermit-like existence #3.
REally? the #6 reason on-line learning is good is I don't have to worry about personal grooming (and hygiene - see #10).
I get the gist, on-line learning allows you fo focus on the learning. I went to a Jesuit high school, I get the fous on education. At an all-boys school there fewer distractions and far less emphasis about personal appearance (there was a dress code). However, the idea of a Jesuit education was never sold to me with the line "you wont have to worry how you look, there are no girls!"

Ridiculous. GIve me an education reason, not chance to slack on personal hygiene.

5. Information is at your fingertips when you need it the most.
Yes. It's called the internet. On-line learning or not, information is at your fingertips at all times. As I mentioned... Google, Twitter, Facebook, Classroom 2.0

4. The coffee at home is much better.
Hermit-like existence #4.
Stay at home, don't see people. No shaving, makeup, or teeth brushing. All the home brewed coffee you can drink! AGain, not really selling me on the benefits of on-line learning. And at #4? I would expect a much better reason than coffee for the #4 reason on-line learning is better.

Besides, nothing beats a Dunkin Donuts egg sandwich with coffee. Can't get that at home...

3. You're practicing valuable 21st century skills while you learn.
I feel like I'm repeating myself.... Yes. It's called the internet. On-line learning or not, information is at your fingertips at all times. As I mentioned... Google, Twitter, Facebook, Classroom 2.0

2. You can learn at your pace - no waiting for others to catch up or feeling like you've been left behind.
Hermit-like existence #5.
Again, the reason for on-line learning is a reason against interacting and engaging with others. I understand the premise, but it only works if there is a continual next step or a comprehensive review process in the on-line learning environment.
What happens if you fall behind because you don't understand a concept. Is every concept explained somewhere in the on-line environment? THe on-line learning environment handicaps the "ask your neighbor" or "ask the class for clarification" part of in-peson learning. Sure, you can re-watch a webcast, but if it still isn't clear where do you go?
What happens if you cruise through all the lessons? ARe there enough to keep you engaged and learning or will you top out and leave the on-line learning environment because it doesn't offer what you need?
Sort of bring me back to me "it's the internet" idea. The entire thing is a learning environment.

1. Everything's better in your Bunny Slippers!
I'm not even going to respond to this one.

Now, again, this was "... a fun list of 10 ten reasons why our teachers think it's better online..."
It still concerns me. It may be in fun, but they publicize themselves as a place for educators and an online professional development organization (and promote this blog via Twitter numerous times) and this is the list they come up with?

How about a genuine, thoughtful list of reasons? Can't manage that unshaven and in bunny slippers I suppose....

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Teachers, the biggest obstacle to integrating technology...

Yes. They are. I would agree with that.

You could have a brand new lab of 30 pristine Macs, but if there in no one qualified to use them they become giant, shiny, expensive game consoles and internet boxes.

A SmartBoard just takes up space unless utilized by the teacher.

I think the human element is the obstacle to almost anything. In general, regardless of the topic, venue, device, etc it is usually the reluctance or aversion of the person which prevents proper use, integration, etc.

Example, from my own teaching experience:
For 1 teacher I got 8 clamshell Mac Books (circa 2001) up and running (2010), with a basic browser and an old MS Office suite. They weren't fast or great, but they worked and she used them daily. Another teacher has 2 brand new iMacs in her room. She checks email, prints out homework, etc. The students don't use them.

The 9 year old, obsolete dinosaurs get more use and impact teaching, and learning, far more than the 1 year old iMacs simply because the person using them is excited about the possibilities and knows how to effectively integrate the available resources into the teaching day.

I believe the old saying is "It's not the arrow it's the Indian" and I would agree with that. Don't blame the tool, blame the user.

I've always said, the problem with education is the teachers...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Should every teacher use technology?

Yes, technology should be used in every classroom.

Which technology? That, in my opinion, is up to the teacher. A teacher can use a laptop and SmartBoard to project lessons, student work, etc. Minimal technology as far as integration goes. Passive from the student standpoint.

Another teacher might have a website (a free Wikispace site) and a blog. They post homework, the students can post writing samples and help edit other's work. That is very engaging. Is it "in the classroom"? No. It's all after-school, at home engagement. It does, however, make this teacher look like they are integrating technology 100%. Engaging, no passive, involvement of both teacher and student.

Building a free website using a tool like or is a good way to easily "integrate" technology into your class. Post homework, have your students contribute and edit pages, etc. It can all be done from home so it is not an issue if your room doesn't have computers/internet. It makes you a cutting edge, tech savvy, engaging teacher, without even needing a classroom computer. How's that for innovative?

You could also get some iPads, a laptop, projector, SmartBoard, teach with nothing but technology and have everything done digitally. I know teachers who aspire to and work towards a total digital classroom.

To each their own. Using technology in the classroom is only as effective as the teacher's ability and willingness to integrate it.

Start small and work your way up. No harm in using technology. Missing out on opportunities if you don't...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My thoughts on the new Chancellor

Cathie Black was appointed Chancellor last week. New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has mayoral control over the school so he has the ability to appoint as he sees fit. And he did. No search. No public announcement until it was done. Outgoing Chancellor Joel Klein didn't know who his replacement was until 30 minutes before the public announcement.

So now everyone has their opinion. In general it is disapproval with the private selection and the "education is not a business, a business leader should not be Chancellor" kind of sentiments. Google turns up over 4,500 results for "chancellor cathie black"

Here are my thoughts:
1) Education is a business. Anyone who thinks otherwise is naive. The education industry is huge. Textbooks, software, notebooks, pencils, consultants, lobbyists and on and on. And that is not even considering the staff, employees of education companies as well as teachers, administrators, support staff, etc. If it's not a "business" it certainly has many of the characteristics of a traditional business.

2) The NYCDOE is big business. The NYCDOE has a budget of $23 billion, yes, billion with a B. As of 2009 here are the official stats of the NYCDOE:

Total Register: 1,038,741 (students)
Total staff: 139,207
Sites: 1,582

I realize you can't treat students as products and we can't treat every aspect of education like a business, but I don't know how you can deny the business aspect of the NYCDOE when looking at over 1,000 sites with 100,000+ employees, working with over 1,000,000 students operating on a budget in the billions, larger than most countries GDP (Iceland & Jamaica to name 2). If it can't be compared to a business what would you compare it to? It's own nation?

3) Cathie Black may not have education experience but she does have experience running a large corporation. You can't discount managerial experience when dealing with the numbers the NYCDOE is comprised of. What educational "expert" has had any managerial experience at even a fraction of the level the DOE runs at?

4) If the Chancellor should have an education background shouldn't the President of the Teachers Union too? How can the UFT or AFT be adequately run if not run by a teacher? Oh, wait, what is that you say? Michael Mulgrew of the UFT and Randi Weingarten of the AFT (and formerly of the UFT) have little to no educational experience?
Ok, Mulgrew was a substitute teacher and eventually a high school teacher for a few years, so he has more credentials than Weingarten. Randi went to work as a sub after she started working for the UFT (as council to the UFT president). She worked 122 days over 3 years. 40 days a year. As a substitute. She then became a full time teacher. She taught for 6 months. Then she left to "join" the UFT full time. To me that is making a half-hearted attempt to gain experience but looks more like covering herself for her future political run as the president of the Union.

As of now I have more faith in a business manager to run the massive NYCDOE than I have faith in the AFT president who taught only to put "teaching" on her resume to adequately represent me (Mr. Mulgrew has been in charge of the UFT just long enough to be completely irrelevant, who knows how he will represent, I see no viable record thus far).

5) Maybe the problem with education has been the educators. Maybe teachers should do what they do best, teach. Get a business leader to handle the payroll and budgets and let teachers teach. If public school systems, especially enormous urban one, have been "failing" for so long maybe a different approach at the top is a good thing. If educators as Chancellors do nothing to improve the schools why would appointing another educator be a better idea than a business leader?

I say give her time. Everyone thought Bloomberg taking control of the schools was a mistake. Among other things teacher salaries have gone up over 40% since he took over. Not so bad. Everyone thought Klein wouldn't know what to do but he brought flexibility in school budgets, hiring practices, and a measure of accountability (sure it's not a perfect form of accountability but accountability isn't a dirty word and there was none before Klein).

Cathie Black may work out well. We don't know, and we wont until we give her some time.

A parting thought, what if Bloomberg appointed Black as a setup? His comment at the end of this NY Post article makes me think he already has someone in mind behind Black:
"I'm always trying to think if any of our commissioners or deputy mayors, the way I phrased it is got hit by a truck, just as a euphemism, I know pretty much who I would make my first call to see if we can get somebody to fill in right away," he said.

Does that mean he has someone in mind in case Black is "hit by a truck" (possibly not granted the waiver by New York State perhaps?)

Someone like Michelle Rhee might sound a lot better following a Cathie Black flameout/backlash then she would as the first choice....

... just something to think about....

I'm looking forward to seeing what Chancellor Black can, and does, do....

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cell phones in the classroom...?

There are many advocates for the use of cell phones in the classroom. Mainly technology centric education folks. Mostly educators...

I'm not saying I'm against it, I'm just not sure the advocacy for their use meshes with the view of non-educators, primarily the parents.

I teach elementary school so admittedly the audience I am most familiar with is one generally without cell phones to begin with. There isn’t much of a need for a 5 or 6 year old to have a phone.

We recently had Parent-Teacher conferences. What I found interesting from my discussion with parents has nothing to do with cell phones but everything to do with technology use in general. Even in this day and age many parents still restrict computer use at home. What I heard most frequently was something along the lines of "I don't want them getting used to sitting in front of a computer, I want them to have non-connected experiences."

They understand the value of the digital age, they live it, they just want to stave off the digital overload a little longer.

The parents of my students fall, generally, into the connected, progressive, 21st Century, digital domain. They have iPhones and Blackberrys. They are graphic designers, web developers, and IT professionals. They read blogs, and I'm sure some of them blog too. Yet I find it interesting the overwhelming sentiment is "we don't want our kids to end up like us, addicted to the devices."

So it begs the question, are we as educators pushing for something the parents of our students don't want? Shouldn't we be polling parents instead of trying to convince other educators to join the ranks of "cells in the classroom, yeah!"

(Shouldn't I have polled the parents? Yes, but it only dawned on me during the conferences that so many parents limited their child's digital time. I plan a survey for next time.)

Are there any parent surveys/studies out there to give us a sense of how parents view the use of cell phones in the classroom? Not studies on cells in school, there are plenty of studies showing overwhelmingly parents want their children to be able to carry phones to school, for contact and emergency purposes. But are there any studies or surveys of parents on their students actually using cells in the classroom learning in environment?

Maybe the sentiment is different in the upper grades, but the sense I'm getting from the K-5th grade level (5-10 year olds) is "let's not turn our children into the digital addicts we've become just yet." Makes me question the concept of "digital native." But that is for another post....

We always talk about communication in education. Reaching out to parents and including them in their child's education. It seems obvious educators want the ability to teach with cell phones. How do parents feel? Shouldn't someone be asking them?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Innovation is perspective...

These days there is a lot of talk about innovation. Innovation in technology. Innovation in education. Innovation in politics (the idea has it's own website). Innovation in research. And on. And on....

... What does all this mean to me? Innovation is in the eye of the beholder.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The pen is mightier than the digital sword...

Recently I have noticed a proliferation of "embrace the tech or you are a dinosaur" type articles and blogs.

It seems as though the current voice in tech ed, or at least the voices promoted by the mainstream publications such as Tech & Learning Magazine, take the cry from the mountain top of "you are not innovative if you don't embrace everything tech!"

This concerns me greatly. Tech is great, I love it. I have 2 active blogs. A website, wiki, Delicious and Diigo accounts. I use Twitter daily. Between the desktop, laptop, Blackberry and iPad I'm very rarely disconnected. However I feel this new wave of tech ed voices are losing the forst for the trees and being a bit to strong on the evangelism at the detriment of realism and practicality.

Tech is here to stay for sure, especially in education, no denying that. I love the fact that it is. However I don't think we need to forget the technology that has gotten us here, forsake our past in the name of your future.