Technology in schools. Love it or hate it?


Touch screens and Robotics. My classroom this yea

In my upcoming July technology column I analyze the pros and the cons of Technology in Education. A few in my network have asked me about my thoughts on this ever-changing topic. (In Oct 2014 I did cover it – “Disrupting Education)

Here’s a summary of what’s to come. As you and I witness the discomforting transition from text books to tablets, from hand-outs to videos-as-homework, from sequential ‘lectures’ to disruptive (noisy) small group activity, it’s easy to fold our hands across our chests and fight it. But there are some compelling arguments on both sides. The Wall Street Journal, and the International Association of Technology in Education almost in the same week ran Pro and Con arguments about Ed-Tech. I get both sides! In my classes I argue against the inane use of social media for the sake of ‘publicity’, but I encourage thought use of digital media with real, and real-time audience participation.

‘Hall and Stevens’ Vs Khan Academy. In my younger days, I had to thumb through Hall and Stevens, the geometry ‘bible.’ Today’s kids are learning geometry from a guy called Salman Khan, founder the free online learning portal for mathematics and science. (Fun sidebar: ‘Hall and Stevens’ is available as an eBook; flip the pages as if it was a real book, here:

Screen Time vs Think Time. I am a big proponent of virtual and augmented reality, especially if it could bring in ‘distant’ experiences (Civil War, 3D models of engineering, space science etc), but I also aggressively advocate limited screen time. Odd isn’t it? That’s the dilemma we educators and parents face. Augmented Reality

Your son or daughter probably goes to school with a device in her backpack with more processing power than the rocket that took men to the moon, and this child wants to be… an astronaut? You’ve forgotten how to log into your son’s school website to download his missed homework, but… he’s found a way to ‘jailbreak’ your cell phone? There are ‘teaching moments’ in all of these.

Sal Khan speaks of the “fundamentally dehumanizing experience” in education. And he was not talking about teenagers and even pre-teens staring at their phones and not talking to one another. A real, ‘digital citizenship’ crisis, right now! He was referring to children packed in a classroom! Hmm!

Love it or hate it, technology is gate crashing our class rooms, just like ball-point pens or calculators once did. Are you ready for 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.

Ed Tech surge as educators prep for Common Core and more Science

ISTE_crowd1It’s hard to miss the optimism at the premier Education Technology conference here in Atlanta. Think of ISTE as the SXSW for teachers.

Supposedly attended by 18,000 people, it’s a bit like Disney Land, in some respects, with lines stretching hundreds deep. But the technology on show is extremely good, give and take a few shiny new objects.

For instance:

  • I ran into someone from the University of Penn, who’s got a content curation service that uses natural language processing (or nlp) which uses some kind of artificial intelligence and smart filters that a teacher can adjust to grade level. It made complete sense to someone who gets annoyed to hear ‘search’ referred to as ‘Research’. Google isn’t optimized for education, she said. Google is optimized for advertising and monetization. Duh!


  • There’s a tech coordinator and science instructor out of Colorado, Kristin Donely, who’s found a neat way to let students produce animated videos using a super-cheap green-screen technique.
  • I met someone using, and sat in a class on Augmented Reality (this app Aurasma is amazing) about bringing science to life.
  • I bumped into a team from New Zealand who has a way to let students improve their reading by a teacher adding drag-and-drop sound tracks of music, ambient sound and sound effects. They will let me try Booktrack for free; I could see a different use of it – to amp up my digital storytelling module.
  • Glass3Then there is the iPad economy – with companies developing apps, attachments, learning/tracking systems, engagement tools. The push to create 1:1 classrooms is huge. Steve Jobs must be smiling up there
  • I did see a few people trying to convince us that Google Glass is God’s greatest gift to pedagogy. This lady, Kathy Schrock told me that she believes Glass would be useful in projects that lets a teacher give new perspective to a lab in progress, and also have her hands free.
  • Speaking of Glass, this very cool camera from EXO Labs is more than a shiny new object –it could double up as a microscope for science projects and also stream images wirelessly. And of course, it works with (only) an iPad.

Augmented Reality could ‘erase’ instead of overlay

As I frequently cover Augmented Reality, I am especially enthused how it could be used not just in marketing, but in education and, outside of schools, in knowledge sharing.

The Korean Reunification Project is an inspiring example of how we could stretch the boundaries, literally, of AR. While the technology of adding new layers of content to ‘augment’ the real life experience is marvelous, this one is all about erasing, not adding.

Erasing, as in erasing (‘and heal’) the scars left on a country that was divided.

The project removes the elements that were part of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) “returning it to its natural state before Korea was divided.”

It was developed by new media artist Mark Skwarek, who says his erasAR project is capable of erasing physical objects from the face of the earth!

Will teachers grab onto Augmented Reality?

What kind of crazy person will incorporate Augmented Reality in a classroom?

Don’t student’s already have too much of gaming and visual distraction in their lives? I hear you. But AR is a whole new system. I don’t think a teacher’s age will be a factor of adoption. I’ve met some who are willing to do anything to make text-books and charts come alive. They will be those who say ‘this is way too technical for us’ –the same ones who fear digital readers will kill libraries, or think blogs are too scary–and stick to photocopies and glue.

Unfortunately students may not agree! Many of them come to school with some digital device in their backpack. They cannot turn them on, but they sure know how to use them. Then, when they leave their analog classroom, and get back home, they become fully-engaged digital citizens. Something’s wrong with this picture!

OK, I over-simplified the problem. Classrooms are not exactly analog. We do have computers for students to use. We do have smart boards such as Blackboard and Promethean. But often, these are used to broaden and amplify what the teacher has to say, not what the student might be ready to experience.

I have covered Augmented Reality many times before, especially how it is being used in business environments. Now, as it begins making tentative steps into the classroom, we need to make sure educators understand where this is coming from, where it is headed. Many will want to understand how it might integrate with that marvelous piece of technology a.k.a the text book!

Yesterday, I interviewed Scot Jochim, from Digital Tech Frontier, a Tempe, Arizona-based company. He has some radical ideas about how AR could be embedded in educational environments to enhance ‘non-linear skill sets.’  (Stay tuned for a longer post on that interview.)

As I have moved from the digital world of business into teaching, I am exploring how schools of the future might be run.

  • Will they be something like the twilight zone scenario portrayed by Ira Glass in a recent episode of This American Life, which featured Brooklyn Free School?
  • Or will it be there be social media-enhanced curricula, such as the school profiled in The New York Times, where a teacher in Sioux Rapids, Iowa uses a Twitter-like feature in a literature class?
In an upcoming story, ‘Messing Around In Class,’ I featured how Higher Ed is moving in this direction, away from the ‘Sage on the Stage’ model to more interactive, collaborative classrooms. Truly inspiring work at Purdue, Scottsdale Community College, and Singapore Management University.

Prep your story for the timeless web!

In the future, every story will need to have a beginning, a middle and a hyperlink!

This is an article published in May 2010, in CW, the magazine of IABC

I often return to the theme of storytelling. Despite the new tools we tend to squeeze into our working life as business communicators, much of what we do is probably entered around telling stories.

But we have been trained to think that the stories we create need to adapt to the attention economy. People are too distracted by all the multi-tasking and the competitive information coming at them. Our content needs to be designed to cut through the clutter, so we better beef up our narrative, sex-up our storylines.

Sounds familiar?

Download article here (PDF)