Hello, reader! If you intend to post a link to this blog on Twitter, be aware that for utterly mysterious reasons, Twitter thinks this blog is spam, and will prevent you from linking to it. Here's a workaround: change the .com in the address to .ca. I call it the "Maple Leaf Loophole." And thanks for sharing!

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.