Let’s Take a Pass on Digital Re-Hash

Blogs dealing with education and educational trends are generally informative but somewhat dry and didactic. This, of course is only my opinion, so take it or leave it. If you
agree with me though, you might be interested in reading an entry from the November 23, 2012 EdTech digest. Some of the article has good information and advice. However,  what is most salient in the post is in something that is all too often overlooked, misused and or under utilized by blog readers – the comments section. In this case, a reader used the comments section to rebut the article. Sometimes when reading essentially negative responses, I’m left feeling ambivalent or even annoyed by the presumptions and confrontational attitude of the comment writer. This reply however, was different. It was oppositional. It was confrontational. However, it resonated true as it shredded a portion of what I’d just read from one of the vaunted “experts.”

Admittedly, some of my appreciation for the comment was due to my irritation with the frequent use of acronyms and edu-speak clichés in education related books, articles and blogs. Paradigm, engaged, OIL, “hands-on interactive learning” and worse of all,  “digital native” are examples of what  makes my eyes glaze over. This trivial observation is not at the heart of the rebuttal, but there is a little attention given in the reply to the annoying use of acronyms which caused me to snicker a little as I read it.

Moving on to what really matters; the comment presented a challenge to the ideas presented in the article. Below is part of the comment by the critical blog reader, Joe Beckman. Here Joe presents the heart of his rebuttal to “The Shifting Paradigm” by Charles Heinle.

“Heinle’s approach is to accommodate new technology with a nuanced vision only slightly skewed from the drill-and-practice of, say, 1840 or so. Phooey. That is all gone, and, eventually, teachers will realize that their goal is to keep up with kids, and coach rather than pour the wisdom of old into the brains of new.. When kids can answer any question with a smartphone, your medium is no longer the massage it once was.”

 - Joe Beckman

To be sure, there is a continuing need for some content memorization. However, it should not be the focus of the school day. Joe points out what textbook publishers want to hide from and what many teachers still do not want to acknowledge even as Google hits them in the face daily. Kids can get information anywhere, anytime. They no longer need to memorize the bulk of it. They need to know the best and most effective ways to find quality information and how to manipulate the information they find to meet a need.

The only argument for continuing teaching with the goal of content memorization is to meet the challenge of the current style standardized tests. It is terribly unfortunate for students that this form of assessment is so intimately entwined with our educational system. It is in effect, the only feedback we use to gauge student learning. These tests are doing our students a great disservice in that they perpetuate the need for an outdated mode of education. Many people realize this but few teachers and educator-leaders are addressing it. If they don’t address it, test makers won’t either.

In the vein of modernizing teaching materials, an example of an important under-utilized resource for teaching is educational databases. I was recently witness to a high school senior responding to a question about how he conducts research to complete a paper. His response? Is it any surprise to know that his technique is to type phrases into Google and use what he found there? In my opinion, his answer is an indictment of how he is being taught.

There is a crying need for student exposure to and practice with using quality research resources such as Ebscohost or ProQuest.  These reliable authoritative resources are not going away in the future. Many are accessible for free from public libraries and should be promoted to students as something they can refer to throughout their  life. Also, it is important for students to learn effective search methods such as boolean searching. Finally, students desperately need to learn information discrimination; the skill of determining what is quality information from what is not. These are only a few aspects of the changes needed in education.  I won’t get into how higher order thinking skills are so often sacrificed for basic skill drill in classrooms here.

As Joe Beckman points out in his scathing comment, some so-called interactive digital textbooks are an example of the same old thing but with bells and whistles. Where will that textbook be when the student is in the next grade level or out in the working world? How will he access the information in it years later? Will he retain what he had to memorize in high school when he is bombarded daily with reams and reams of new information on a daily basis? Will the information from that textbook that he worked to memorize even be relevant or accurate when he is an adult?

Everyone in the educational world has heard the following quote, which is now more or less an educational cliché ( sorry), but it bears repeating at the risk of causing eyes to glaze over:

“We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist . . . using technologies that haven’t yet been invented . . .in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”

— Richard Riley, Secretary of Education under Clinton ( 2004)

It is sobering to realize that this famous quote is circa 2004. The fact that we are still struggling and largely failing in 2012 to adapt to this new educational arena is concerning. Your point is well taken Joe Beckman, but too many of us are not dealing with the reality of it yet, even after years of warnings.

Sources and Resources:

The Shifting Paradigm” by Charles Heinle – EdTech Digest, November 23, 2012

21st Century Skills Book:  Part One  by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel -Jossy-Bass, 2009       Buy 21st Century Skill Book online

What Would Walt Disney Learn in School Today?”  Anthony Collucci- Teacher Magazine Online:  October 20, 2010

Did You Know 3.0 updated  -thought provoking viral video

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About cclowes

I have a Bachelor's in Education and a Master's in Library and Information Science from Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. I spent two years as a librarian at Weber High School in Chicago and 12 years as a media specialist in Woodstock, IL. Presently I work in Pottstown, PA as an Technology Integration Specialist for a private high school.
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