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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Reporting from the EduTech Front

I take Will's point, and agree that most districts are not planning with the intention to exploit available technology. But if the impulse is "Every kid has a cell phone! Full speed ahead!" can I just urge some circumspection before we throttle up.

I tried a little polleverywhere experiment earlier this year. I am in love with the idea of this technology. My school has a few sets of clickers, and they are a total pain. All hail clicker functionality using the tiny computer the kids already have in their pockets! The kids were amped, too. When I started talking about how I wanted us to try out polleverywhere, and giving them instructions like "find the slope, and text your answer to this number!" there was a palpable "this is so cool" energy running through the room.

Except! 1. Not every kid has a cell phone. My students are predominantly middle class, but we are a large public high school and serve plenty of families who consider cell phones for their kids a luxury. Also, ironically I suspect some of these non-cell-phone-having kids are from families trying to adhere to what the school is telling them, that cell phones are technologia non grata up in here. Even if you bring them, you are expected to keep them turned off and out of sight during the school day (unless a teacher gives you explicit permission to use them for a classroom activity.) Not every kid has a cell phone. Not every kid with a cell phone has texting enabled. How to employ them as a learning tool when not every kid has one is a major teacher training challenge that needs to be addressed. It basically limits us to opt-in kind of use, like a project where students can choose from several options, and one of them involves a cell phone. Or small group work, where only one group member needs access to unlimited texting. I can not think of a good solution for kids without a phone if you are trying to implement it as a frequent whole-group feature.

And 2. Turns out my classroom is a Verizon dead zone. AT&T and T-Mobile work fine, but Verizon is the dominant carrier around here. More than half the kids were not getting enough bars to send a text.

So much for my grand polleverywhere plans.

My other jaw dropping technology moments this year have come from the class blogs. Or rather, from panicked and frustrated kids the morning after they tried to access the class blogs. (This goes double if Geogebra was embedded - I've basically given up on that.) Here are some choice quotes: "I am not good at logging into things." "Our computer at home runs Windows 98." "It wouldn't load the page. Something about cookies." And my personal favorite, "Whenever something is on the Internet, I can't take it seriously." By this point, I've been able to plan with these kids a way for them to use a school computer during the school day. But this was not nearly as easy as the "They're All Digital Natives! They Will Teach US!" propaganda would have us believe.

Maybe it's just a matter of time before every single student, indeed, carries a cell phone. Maybe Verizon will install another cell tower near my school. But for what it's worth, these are my realities on the ground.


  1. Great thoughts, Kate. I, too, have a set of clickers and have tried polleverywhere. Same problems...clickers take a while to setup (30-45 minutes for a fresh software install on my new laptop...grr!) while polleverywhere takes a few minutes. Some, but not all students have cell phones and sms capabilities. For those that do, it's great fun. For the "have-nots," it's just another reason to ask for an upgrade at Christmas, but until then feel less fortunate. What's the answer? Not using these tools at all until they're universally accessible and function efficiently? I don't think I know the answer either.

  2. I use clickers quite often and I find them to be fairly useful. I have a set of Smart Response clickers, so they integrate fully into Notebook software, which is very nice. I noticed that you have a different brand - maybe you can trade them in. ;) What types of problems do you have with your clickers?

  3. Matt - Thanks. No easy answers here.

    Craig - I've used the Smart product in a training, and they seem ok but expensive. I don't see my district buying them when they already bought these other clickers, and I don't blame them. My main complaints are, their computer software is clunky, and you have to set up all your questions ahead of time. Also we only have 2 classroom sets for 15 teachers, so it's not like I can use them every day. So I have to eat up class time teaching the kids how to use them every time. They don't integrate nicely and add enough value to the class to make them worth the extra prep time.

  4. Hi! I just started following your blog and really like it! I have a TI Navigator in my class which I love love love. I know they are expensive but awesome. Our school has 3 sets and I am the only teachers who actually uses them! :( I have also wanted to use class blogs but didn't really know how I wanted it to be or what I really wanted the kids to do with it. Maybe next year when I can really sort through that! :)

  5. Call me a techno optimist, or a techno opportunist, I still think we need to be thinking about what changes when (not if) the networks and the devices are in the hands of kids and not schools. I totally appreciate the realities on the ground right now. That post wasn't meant to imply that everyone has this today, right now. Not even close. But I just believe it's coming, and we have to think deeply about what changes in terms of curriculum first and infrastructure second.

    Thanks much for reading.

  6. I am just starting to realize the issues with tech in education as well. Our district just this semester got every kid their own gmail address. I was/am super excited about using google docs, having them do quizzes on the google forms like you posted previously, etc.

    But then the kids come in with, "My internet wasn't working last night" or "my sister had a paper due and I couldn't get on the computer" or "the school website was down last night" etc. etc. So, I struggle with giving them zeroes for tech problems that may or may not be real. Meanwhile, a week later and only half of the kids have done anything with the simple assignment of "set up your account and e-mail me."

    It's new them, so they're not yet used to checking this e-mail account nightly and such, so I don't want to "blame" them for it, but come on!

  7. My son was required to have a graphing calculator for alebra 2 (no problem---he'd one one in a math competition last year). My son has been required to submit his programming assignments by e-mail (no problem--we set him up with an e-mail account last year). We could handle him being required to have a laptop (I gave him my old one this summer), but no one in our house has a cell phone, and we'd certainly not get one (and the associated monthly fees) just so he could send text messages in class. I think that this concept may need some rethinking.

  8. Will - Thanks for commenting. I'm just wondering at what point we start to assume that all kids have a device. How can you /expect/ all to have access when I don't think you're prepared to /require/ all to. I think these plans will need to account for kids who don't, for a long time. Either the school needs to be prepared to give them an adequate device so they can participate, or teachers need to learn how to differentiate across individual students' access.

  9. Easy for me, since I am a skeptic. But what do you lose if these things don't work? I'm not getting how they increase learning, or improve learning.


  10. I thought I'd try Polleverywhere - did a check with kids in the playground, yes we all have phones with free texts or 1c texts, problem was that as it was not their nominated carrier they would not pay to send a message!( it would have cost them much more). back to the drawing board.

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  12. I read your post and feel like it was written by my future self. Your comments on cell phones and polleverywhere were identical to what I found in my classroom. I was just about to spend my records day working on getting "clickers" ready to go. However, after reading your post, I've kind have put that on the back burner.
    I am new to the blogging world and have found so many great ideas from your posts. Thank you!

  13. Hm. I think I want to try thinking of group work where one has to text the answer, even if just to build some sort of excitement for something new.

    I do a variation of class blogging where I helped all of them set up a blog of their own to post responses on. To not punish those who can't really blog or have access to the net, I think I might give them the option of journaling separately.


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