I posted the following as a response to Corey White’s comment on my February post, “Advocating for differentiated content filtering.” This was a lengthy comment, and seemed to justify its own post. Hopefully my tone here is not too confrontational.
Corey: Like many in IT in our schools, your comment reflects an assumption that part of your job should be filtering out websites that students could use to be off task and “not productive.” My position is, that should not be the role of the IT staff. Teachers have the responsibility of designing engaging work for students, and in MANY, MANY cases, they are not doing this. See Phil Schlechty’s excellent book “Working on the Work: An Action Plan for Teachers, Principals, and Superintendents” for more about this.
As far as your idea of “leaving creativity to the art department,” I strongly disagree. Encouraging and supporting creativity should be EVERYONE’S job at school. Unfortunately many teachers and administrators have a “fill the pail” mentality when it comes to schooling. They view their job as trying to fill the pails (brains) of kids with a fixed amount of content, rather than trying to provide students with opportunities authentically engage in meaningful work with interesting content. Creativity and curiosity play a natural role in authentic learning, and that is why I continue to maintain that we should emphasize creativity in our schools.
You lament how kids can’t use a spreadsheet, create a webpage, edit an image in PhotoShop, do a mail merge, or create a formula in Excel. My questions are:
1- What problem-based learning contexts are teachers providing for students which require and invite them to use Excel as a tool, to solve REAL problems– not simply equations that a teacher pulls out of a textbook, out of context, or invents but doesn’t relate to the real world students understand? I agree students should be able to use spreadsheets to analyze and chart data, identify trends, predict outcomes, etc. How are teachers at your school regularly challenging students to do these things in meaningful contexts, where students are genuinely interested in doing the work and finding the answers?
2- In relation to students not knowing how to create a webpage… Have you checked how many of your students have profile pages on MySpace, Facebook, Xanga, and Myyearbook? Chances are quite a few of them do, certainly a high percentage should if they follow national trends like those highlighted in the summer 2007 National School Boards Association Report “Creating and Connecting.” Creating and maintaining a profile and webpages on a social networking website IS “creating a webpage.” Are you wanting students to use a program like Frontpage or Dreamweaver to create a website? Gaining experience creating content on a social networking site, keeping your profile private, and carefully monitoring the content that is published and “tagged” by you as well as your peers to monitor the electronic portfolio which Google is amassing about everyone are all important skills.
3- In terms of photo editing, has anyone at your school created and sponsored a digital photography contest for students? Having a contest like that could be pretty affordable and yield some great benefits. Setup categories for the types of skills you want students to develop. If you want them to learn photo compositing, then have that as a category. Rather than limit them to PhotoShop, which is very expensive and likely beyond the computing budget of most families, introduce students to free, open source photo editing programs like Gimp which they can use legally both at school and at home for zero dollars.
4- In regard to your lament about students apparent inability to do a mail merge, how many teachers at your school can independently do a mail merge? How many local entrepreneurs in your community can do a mail merge independently? Certainly it is great if people know how to do a mail merge, and I am a big fan of learners of all ages knowing how to powerfully manage and manipulate data not only in spreadsheet programs but also in flat as well as relational database programs. How sure are you that “doing a mail merge” is a critical 21st century skill, however? Many times in school, I think we make assumptions about things EVERYONE needs to know how to do– from memorizing the quadratic formula to writing a haiku, that really seem pretty silly and irrelevant when you consider the skill sets of people living and working quite successfully out of school.
I do appreciate your input and comments on this thread, Corey, but I continue to maintain that tiered content filtering is essential and an overall focus on both creativity as well as authentic student engagement in our schools is direly needed. You raise some points that are valid: My challenge to you is, DO something about them, rather than just lament them.
Start a digital photography contest at your school.
Help a teacher develop an integrated lesson which involves so much data to process, that students ASK for a tool (like a spreadsheet) which can help them aggregate and analyze it. Invite students to help design the project so it focuses on a local issue of real importance, in which they, their families, and/or others in their community have a genuine stake and interest. If their learning is situated in that type of context, I think you’ll find the impact of their learning experiences will be far greater, and many more of them will learn digital literacy skills alongside traditional literacy skills. Teaching in a problem-based learning environment is a lot more work than simply lecturing and delivering content to students, but it is the type of learning environment our students need to remain engaged in school work. Too many kids today are BORED by school. As the adults running our schools, it is our responsibility to remedy this situation.
As a last suggestion, please consider introducing all the teachers at your school to EduTopia. They publish a free, monthly magazine for educators and have a fantastic site dedicated to helping teachers learn about new ways to help students engage in project-based learning, cultivate digital literacy skills, and improve the opportunities for learning in our schools in other ways. The price is right, the resources are free, and chances are high if you share this with your faculty you’ll find at least a few teachers who will love some of the ideas and actually implement them for the benefit of your students.
There are many things we can lament when it comes to schools and students, but there are also lots of good things we can DO to try and improve things. We’ve all got to do what we can.
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On this day..
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- Site visit UT College of Education: Year 3 of One to One Computing - 2005