Sunday, September 16, 2007

Here is a post I made today for my class on learning technologies:

All of the authors (Engelbart, Schank and Cleary, and Valdez) made a distinction between the role that technology currently plays in teaching and learning and the potential role that technology can play. What seems to be of most interest to the bloggers so far is why the potential usefulness of technology in the classroom has not been reached.

Most would agree that teacher competence/comfort with the technology is a primary requirement for the technology to be useful in the classroom, and as Laura added there are other factors, like administrative and tech support that are important too. I want to add one more requirement to the list before moving on: the software has to be well designed.

Something that resonated with me from Schank and Cleary is that the authors admitted to the shamefully poor design of most educational software out there. Granted they were writing in the 90's, but I think that is still the case today. A lot of software is still written from top to bottom with only a vague idea of who the user is going to be. If a teacher (or any user) can't sit down and immediately figure out how to use the software, then the developer has failed. This is my opinion as a software developer, but it is not an uncommon one. My point is that as much as educators (and all users) need to familiarize themselves with new technologies and approach them with a workable attitude, the technologies have to lend themselves to being easily understood. Unless the creators of educational technologies are working together with educators, no progress can be made towards reaching the potential of technology's use in the classroom.

So what is the potential role of technology in the classroom?

Like textbooks, technology can be a source of information. Like pencil and paper technology can be used for creative purposes. To quote form Valdez, "A reasonable conclusion is that classroom computers and other technology can play many instructional roles, from personal tutor and information source to data organizer and communication tool" (from the overview). I think technology is already being used as an information source (web-based research) and a communication tool (email), and maybe as a data organizer (blackboard, excel), but I don't think classroom technologies have yet to reach their potential as personal tutors.

Each student has unique abilities and interests, but it is exceedingly difficult for one person to attend to the varied needs and interests of 30 young minds in the typical classroom. Technology can help, although it will mean changing the way we think about schooling. Something that I think is the most important point that I took from my reading of Engines for Everybody is the need for more student-directed learning, what Schank and Cleary also called natural learning. To summarize Schank and Cleary about natural learning, students learn best when they are the ones choosing what to learn and when. This doesn't mean that kids should be turned loose in the streets, this can happen in a regular classroom with a regular teacher (check out this biology class example).

I would like to further discuss the ways in which technology is or can be used to personalize each student's education.

1 comment:

  1. I am writing a test comment to see about the formatting...

    Here is Englebert's conclusion:

    "Three principal conclusions may be drawn concerning the significance and implications of the ideas that have been presented.

    First any possibility for improving the effective utilization of the intellectual power of society's problem solvers warrants the most serious consideration. This is because man's problem-solving capability represents possibly the most important resource possessed by a society. The other contenders for first importance are all critically dependent for their development and use upon this resource. Any possibility for evolving an art or science that can couple directly and significantly to the continued development of that resource should warrant doubly serious consideration.

    Second, the ideas presented are to be considered in both of the above senses: the direct-development sense and the 'art of development' sense. To be sure, the possibilities have long-term implications, but their pursuit and initial rewards await us now. By our view, we do not have to wait until we learn how the human mental processes work, we do not have to wait until we learn how to make computers more intelligent or bigger or faster, we can begin developing powerful and economically feasible augmentation systems on the basis of what we now know and have. Pursuit of further basic knowledge and improved machines will continue into the unlimited future, and will want to be integrated into the "art" and its improved augmentation systems--but getting started now will provide not only orientation and stimulation for these pursuits, but will give us improved problem-solving effectiveness with which to carry out the pursuits.

    Third, it becomes increasingly clear that there should be action now--the sooner the better--action in a number of research communities and on an aggressive scale. We offer a conceptual framework and a plan for action, and we recommend that these be considered carefully as a basis for action If they be considered but found unacceptable, then at least serious and continued effort should be made toward developing a more acceptable conceptual framework within which to view the over-all approach, toward developing a more acceptable plan of action, or both.

    This is an open plea to researchers and to those who ultimately motivate, finance, or direct them, to turn serious attention toward the possibility of evolving a dynamic discipline that can-treat the problem of improving intellectual effectiveness in a total sense. This discipline should aim at producing a continuous cycle of improvements--increased understanding of the problem, improved means for developing new aug mentation systems, and improved augmentation systems that can serve the world's problem solvers in general and this discipline's workers in particular. After all, we spend great sums for disciplines aimed at understanding and harnessing nuclear power. Why not consider developing a discipline aimed at understanding and harnessing "neural power?" In the long run, the power of the human intellect is really much the more important of the two."