Since my review is more than a day late (and likely not worth a dollar), I needed to find a niche to focus on in my review. Fortunately, there was a small kerfuffle in the ed tech blogging world last weekend around whether Diane Ravitch is hostile to technology. Please, when you are reading that piece, continue all the way to the end because the author Scott McLeod, credits some of Ravitch’s critiques about education technology and lists them.
Based on the conversation started there, I decided to look at what Ravitch says in her book. My conclusion, she’s not hostile, but is skeptical about education technology. She does have some idea of progressive and meaningful uses of technology in the classroom. Here is what I found…
What the book says
Page 7 – Their school should have a rich arts program, where students learn to sing, dance, plan an instrument, join an orchestra or a band, perform in a play, sculpt, or use technology to design structures, conduct research, or create artworks.
Introduction to Chapter 17 -New technologies appear almost daily, and schools are rightly expected to help young people learn to use them. Computers and access to the Internet are nearly ubiquitous, and no one doubts that if used appropriately, these are valuable tools for teaching and learning. Ingenious teachers integrate technology into the their lessons and engage young people in science experiments, historical research, and projects of all kinds. Students today can vicariously visit other lands, not just read about them in a textbook. They can see and hear presidents giving their major speeches. They can watch the historical events that changed the world with their own eyes, as if they were there. The possibilities for teaching and learning is within reach, one where students can learn at their own pace and explore topics far beyond the assignment.
These are both pretty strong statements in favor of a progressive use of technology in the classroom, that most of us would rally around, and there were some others in the book as well. All of the negatives are well citation-ed examples of cyber-charters gone amok, and making a fortune while producing dismal results, and other blatant mis-uses of education technology. The most judgmental statement I found was that online schools are not for everyone, but even I agree with that. I suspect that the percentage that we feel it’s appropriate for is likely different (she uses the term small niche), but at this point with the entire industry taken over by for-profit scammers, and being driven NOT by any need from the public but big dollar marketing campaigns, and ALEC inspired legislation mandating that ALL students take at least one online course to graduate high school, I’m ready for a moratorium and strong weeding-out of the industry myself.
Why can’t we be friends?
Frankly the differences between progressive ed tech types and Diane Ravtich are like the differences between Diane and her old blogging partner, Deborah Meiers. All of them are at the opposite side of the ideological spectrum from the Bushes and Arne Duncan on education. Really. Scott McLeod does occasionally tick me off with a post citing Moe and Chubb, but he was also the first blogger who shared about the innovative work towards portfolio-based assessments in Nebraska, which were, unfortunately, shot-down by the US Department of Education. While I don’t agree with him all the time, he believes in progressive education. Audrey Watters in her critique of Reign of Error is clear in her dislike of what education has become and agrees with many of Ravitch’s proposed solutions. Scott agrees with many of Ravitch’s complaints about the mis-use of ed tech. If anything, they seem to feel that Ravitch is not progressive enough, which may be a fair critique, but not germane to my mind.
What (some) ed tech advocates do not seem to get
If we get a bunch of new technology for testing, that is all it will be used for in most cases. A new implementation like this is a lot like building a railroad, once the tracks are laid, that’s where the train is going. Like train tracks, once folks “figure out” how to use them for assessment, that is how they will use them going forward, without much altering of their course. After things set in, movement in other directions with technology will be like moving train tracks, a lot of effort. This track of using technology for standardized assessment is a much different use than I, and other progressive ed tech advocates think they should be used (and based on her book, Diane Ravitch agrees with us). Some teachers will take this opportunity to use the tools for other purposes, but most, getting these tools in their classroom for the first time, will use it for what they are told to use it for (testing) and little else. This was the gist of my critique of Scott’s piece about Ravitch being hostile to technology. I’d rather not get this new technology at all. Sadly I think it will be inevitable.
Others, like Audrey Watters, argue for more nuance in our discussion of education. While that’s nice when talking to folks who respect you, talking to these so-called reform folks (like Rhee, etc.) is not the place for nuance. Arne Duncan’s preferred method of negotiation really reminds one of Dick Cheney tactics wrapped up in Dale Carnegie-like charm. There is no room for subtlety, and that is not Ravitch’s role. She is a Thomas Paine, not a George Washington.
Why you should be learning about more progressive uses of technology than computer-adaptive tests and scoring bots
So where does that leave you, as a classroom teacher in these times? First, read Diane Ravitch’s book so you understand the context for all these shiny new items being bought. After that, you’re going to be really mad that your district got bonds to boost Apple and NewsCorp’s stock position, instead of getting a parcel tax to lower class-size (I know that feeling — trust me). You will have a few choices. There is refusing to use these tools at all. In the middle there is just using them for testing. I’m going to suggest a third path, which is to use them for something else. The use of these tools is not limited to testing. You can have your kids do progressive, creative, and wild things on iPads, Chromebooks, or whatever device they toss out there. Your students don’t have to spend all day on them, or use them everyday. If you just use those devices for the new tests, you are participating in creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that these tech devices are only for testing, and only for using software created by Rupert Murdoch (yeech). On the other hand, you could subvert that paradigm. I prefer to use the man’s tools against the man myself. I will be doing a post in the next few weeks giving a manifesto on HOW ed tech should look if we really want kids getting a progressive education.
To get to that end, you’ll need to listen to more than the Pearson/Agility rep/trainer telling you how to administer tests on these shiny new things, and start reading up on folks who believe in putting computers in the hands of kids to create something. I’m going to suggest reading some ed tech bloggers. Why would you want to read any of these folks, some of whom are complaining about Diane Ravitch (especially if you’re a fan)? They know about how to use these tools in the ways that Diane herself says they should be used. If you are already a progressive educator, this won’t be a leap. Here are some names, I’m sure others will be suggested in the comments section:
Who you should be following to see genuine and progressive ed tech
Audrey Watters - Yes she criticized Diane, but she is very active in the hacked education movement, and I would consider her a deep thinker on the subject. Good for the theory part.
Gary Stager - Another deep thinker. He is a follower of Seymour Paparet, a professor at MIT who brought us “Constructivism” a theory of education that students learn by constructing. Paparet also invented Logo, and one of the earliest education robots, the Turtle. Stager is firmly in the progressive education camp. Audrey pushed his book (co-authored with his wife Sylvia Martinez) in her book review.
Ira Socal - He doesn’t write as often, but Ira is a Special Education professor and is very concerned with adaptive technology issues, and open source versions. He is in the deep thinker camp, because his posts are infused with a lot of theory. His background is very progressive and includes time in a Summerhill school.
Bill Ferriter - Moving down to the applied folks, Bill Ferriter is an NBCT in North Carolina (not an easy place to teach these days). He teaches middle-school science and uses a lot of technology integration that is free and available (like having kids use their cell-phones in class). If you’re looking for how someone makes this work, he’s the man.
Larry Ferlazzo - Larry has a skeptical outlook on education technology, but made his name in blogging using online tools (free!) to help new immigrants learn English. He still does posts on free online ed tech tools. His is more of a resource with links, rather than a how-to, (although there are some links to those). He likes to find tools that don’t require a lot of planning or work to use, so he provides really easy entry points.
Richard Byrne - Another blog with lots of links to online tools. Although you will see many ads on the side for ed tech, note that the pages along the top are not for how to test kids, or use an Interactive White Board, but things like making videos, blogs, etc. that have kids creating stuff. That’s progressive.