Should schools go completely digital?

Odd question. Perhaps a few years too late, but…

Would you want your children to be in a school that’s all digital? Let me paint a few scenarios.

  • Should teachers stop using handouts and publish lessons to be read, watched or listed to on digital devices?
  • Should schools have a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy?

There is no shortage of  wonderful, free technologies that stimulate collaboration, and empathy. I have even used some of them in my classes! However, I also know that young people are perfectly capable of learning, creativity, discourse and group work without the help of a shiny object. We hear that ‘Digital Natives’ are wired for learning differently. But are they?

And then there’s the brain development side.

  • There are also the unintended consequences of too much screen time, warns Dr. Aric Sigman. He warns of “permanent damage to (children’s) still-developing brains”. Dr. Sigman is an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Read this piece published in April this year by Psychology TodayThis Is What Screen Time Really Does to Kids’ Brains.

A new book about digital natives, Screenwise, calls for more mentoring not monitoring. But we tend to assume too much about digital natives. I like the point made by Jessica Laura (in a blog post at CommonSense.Org) that calls for ongoing, explicit training of digital literacy – and not just ‘screens.’ She says:

People say, “The child’s a digital native,” but that has nothing to do with whether or not they know how to use technology well; that just means they’ve grown up with it. Just because I grew up speaking English doesn’t know I mean everything about English; we still go to English class for 13 years of our lives. 

Digital Citizenship and digital literacy is a fast-updating field. What people in their forties and fifties ‘know’ about digital is probably ancient wisdom. It may not happen in the next school year, but here’s a question for parents and teachers: What would you do if your school goes digital?

My wife runs a school that will probably never go digital. For good reason – it is a Montessori school, a place where, happily, you can’t replace such tools as sandpaper letters, sound boxes and pink towers. But before we know it, toddlers may be needing to know a thing or too about what it means to be a digital citizen – when they get home to their parents’ smart devices!

Disrupting Education. Sorry, There’s No App For That!

It’s easy to get sucked into the belief (or is it group-think?) that apps are the only way to disrupt an existing business model, or that true engagement is all about stubby fingers on a screen.

I tend to take the contrarian point of view that tablets are not the thing that will change everything. We romanticize these pieces of glass too much. Waaay too much.

I come at this from two angles. First as someone who runs a computer lab, where the touch-screens will soon over-run the grey boxes. Second hearing first-hand what very young kids barely out of diapers, can do. At the Montessori school my wife runs, pre-schoolers show leaps of knowledge, grasping complex ideas in science, geography, and math, with no tablet in sight.

Against this backdrop I took a deep dive into the Khan Academy, and even got some of my 5th grade students to follow its curriculum. Online, mind you. The opinion I came away with is neither black nor white. It’s not about the screens. It’s not about the technology. It’s a lot more simple –and subtle–than that.

If you have fallen in love with tablets, you may skip this link below:-)

 

If you want to read about it, it’s in this month’s LMD Magazine, for which I write a monthly technology/business column.

“Disrupting Education. Why Schools Love It.”

Drone, Baby Drone and other Creative Apps at ISTE 2014

“Creative teachers,” said one presenter –whose name I couldn’t jot down because I didn’t have the appropriate app ready to scan his QR code at a 30-foot distance–“know how to sneak the really good stuff into their classroom.”

elementsAs this marathon ISTE conference draws to a close, there were so many sidebars, and concurrent darn-I gotta-skip events, it’s hard to pin-point one big thing. I ran into more creatives (the tablet-wielding types) per square foot than at any event I’ve attended. Students, too. More about that in a moment. And I don’t mean creative types in terms of the iPad-toting app-happy folk. There are teachers who have spent insane number of hours disrupting their lesson plans with science-ish, media-ish, technology-ish, math-ish hands-on work that you’d think they were running non-profit enterprises. (sidenote: I just recalled the afore-mentioned speaker – author of the children’s book, “ish” – Peter Reynolds.) Getting students to produce hand-drawn periodic tables because they work better with Augmented Reality. You get the idea.

This enormous body of work ought to be documented (Ok, Evernoted, Dropboxed, Google docked or Wikiid) for the 18,000 weary souls who will drag themselves to the train station and airport today. So that when we return to our students in August, we could pull up some of these big ideas to implement.

Consider some of the discussions and hands-on sessions. Most people outside of education (that’s where I came from) only hear of Arduino, Aurasma, SkitchReflector, and Qrafter at social media shin digs. Drone Baby droneThe rush (crush) to scan QR codes was so great at one point this morning there were lines of people –smart-phones poised– that rivaled Starbucks. I must’ve been the only tech blogger with an analog device –my notebook.

Most people think Maker Spaces are where wanna-be engineers mess around. One teacher at a small booth tucked away in a corner had practically designed a pinball machine kit for students to experiment with simple machines. No fancy app here, but ‘moving parts’ foraged from Home Depot and her garage: door knobs, furniture screws, bolts, rubber bands and ‘springs’ from spines of spiral-bound notebooks. Creative teachers really know how to sneak in the good stuff, on a budget.

In case you read my post yesterday, yes, this kind of creative pedagogical streak is very different from the cameras, cloud-based tools and Google-glas-ish shiny objects I ran into before.

THEN THERE WERE STUDENTS teaching the grown-ups. Lots of them. One group from Mexico brought a mine-rescue bot controlled by Bluetooth, a piezo-electric floor, a cardboard-model levitation train, and a swimming robot embedded in a large plastic bottle that can take water-samples of a polluted lake. Students! Others were showing off how to turn 2D images into 3D movies –ideal for digital time capsules. That palm-sized quadro-copter (above) is not however a student project, but a company who has STEM-ready drones that I just might use, soon.

One more day to go. I plan to skip the last keynote and go talk to more smart people…

And apps to download before I sleep. And apps to download before I sleep.