Archives For ISTE

To all those who claim that all students today are digital “natives,” I beg to disagree.

Digital natives are defined as those people who have grown-up using technology daily beginning in the 1960s, but the term is more commonly used to describe those born in the 21st Century. According to the PBS Frontline Website, 

  • Digital Natives aged 12 to 24 spend 4.5 hours a day viewing screen media (TV, Internet, Internet video, mobile video), excluding games;
  • 82 percent of seventh- to twelfth-graders “media multitask” while doing homework, e.g. IM, TV, Web surfing, etc.

The NYTimes 2010 article, “If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online” discusses the use of digital devices stating, “Those ages 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours a day with such devices.” Certainly, use by our students has increased since then.

Despite  these statistics, I am convinced that many students are not digital “natives, ” they are digital “tourists.” Really bad tourists. I’m talking the “standing in line to see the Mona Lisa on the busiest day of the year and then leaving the Louvre once they saw it” kind of tourist. The “only want to eat at McDonalds in a foreign country because I don’t like food I don’t recognize” kind of tourist. The “I have no idea what kind of money this is” kind of tourist. In other words, bad tourists.

This past year was a eye-opening experience with my bad tourists. There was a  1:1 integration of student to netbooks in the English and select social studies classrooms. Initially,  members of my department and I were nervous about how we would need to keep up with what we imagined would be an onslaught of tech-savvy teens. We  prepared ourselves by practicing various software platforms that we thought would be used successfully. We played with Google Docs, Edmodo, Edublog, WordPress, Blogger, PBWorks, Twitter, and Quizlet.  We reviewed presentation software: Prezi, Animoto, Glogster, Voice Thread. We made decisions as to how to integrate these platforms gradually and at various grade levels to help us transition students to a paperless classroom. We imagined our classrooms would be full of students investigating and testing which software would best suit their needs. We were ready for the digital natives to collaborate and teach us about this “undiscovered country” of educational opportunites.

Instead what we discovered was that many of our students were reluctant to try new platforms that differed even slightly  in organization or layout. A login in a different location was perplexing; an embed code or link could not be located.  We found our students were not naturally tech-savvy, save the requisite number of computer geeks per class. They did not want to move out of their comfort zone in technology, partly because they knew that work was involved, but, in fairness, partly because they were intimidated.
For example, in every class, a few students would have problems logging on.

“It’s still loading, Mrs. B.” says Student A
“Did you try shutting down and starting up again like I showed you last week?” I respond.
“No,” a flat statement.
I sigh.
Of course not. Student A who knows how to quickly log on to her computer at home to check Tumblr and Facebook, considers this contraption on her desk as a foreign object. She is a digital tourist waiting hours on line for the same roller coaster ride she rode on yesterday.

There were always problems with software.

“Google Docs isn’t showing my changes,” says Student B
“Are you using Firefox or Google Chrome as a browser?” I respond.
I see a glazed look. He is a digital tourist who is having a hard time with trying alternate routes in a foreign city without asking directions.
“No,” a flat statement.
I sigh, again.

They failed to save word documents, adjust file extensions, and rarely took advantage of the spell-check or grammar check functions. And they were always losing their passwords….their “passports” onto websites. They acted as though we had co-opted their toys for unnecessary purposes.

In retrospect, I don’t blame them entirely for their hesitations in traveling through unfamiliar digital territory. Because of their proficiency with social media, there is an expectation that all students attending school today, at any grade level, are endowed by their creator with a new strain of technology enhanced DNA. Because they can operate a joy stick or the Wii remote with grace and ease, they are expected to come pre-familiarized with keyboard commands that would make them more productive (“What do you mean ‘Paste Special’? What’s unformatted text, anyway?”) Our anticipation that our students  are capable with all things digital has led a combined sense of frustration.

That is not to say, however, that student can return home to the land of the pen, pencil, and worksheet. They need to be travelling on this Internet highway, but our digital “natives” need to stop acting like reluctant tourists safely traveling on a prescribed tour bus that never ventures into TCP/IP’s  backcountry. Educators have plenty of support in meeting newly adopted standards. There are a number of organizations who support the development of 21st Century skills-ISTE, 21st Century Partnership to name a few. Plus, this experience has prepared us for next year when our 1:1 initiative will be expanded.

I believe that our students need to break out of the Magic School Bus model of Internet exploration staffed by Ms. Frizzel, the contemporary Pied Piper, who could transport them effortlessly into new  experiences . While Ms. Frizzel served as the elementary school expert in Outer Space exploration, the study of anatomy and physiology, and all things in  underwater research, the magnitude of information and means to access that information on the Internet today far exceeds the abilities of one teacher, even a teacher with Ms. Frizzel’s infinite patience and wisdom.

A better model to adopt for for our students as digital tourists is the Rick Steve’s model, where “travel is a political act.” In this model, students travel the alternate routes for productivity and interact and collaborate with others using many different software “languages”. They may stumble in these challenging and unfamiliar digital locations, but they will benefit from this exposure to the strange and unknown. They just need to get over their xenophobia of new software platforms. They need to develop a sense of curiosity and adventure in order to make their visits in the Internet productive. To facilitate their exploration, educators need to stop assuming that students are comfortable in the digital world and deliberately force students into becoming explorers out of their comfort zones. We need to convince our students that the double-deckered tour bus playing the pre-recorded soundtrack will not make them independent learners whose future success depends on the ability to mingle and cooperate. We need to encourage each of them to become a digital “native”  rather the digital “tourist” who cautiously picks his or her way through the Internet rather than be  immersed in the 21st Century cultural experience.

Damage to neighborhood trees and power lines

By now, most of the US knows about the damage caused in the Northeast by Winter Storm Albert. On October 29th, the entire state of Connecticut was WWF’d by a heavy wet snow. That night tree limbs snapped with M80 sound effects. By morning, residents were powerless-literally and figuratively.

Teachers, like their students, generally love a snow day. A sudden snowstorm can provide an opportunity to grade a stack of papers, plan lessons, or catch up on reading. A snow day grants a leisurely reading of the morning paper and an extra cup of coffee. A snow day permits the wearing pajamas and and the testing of a new soup recipe. A snow day is a collective opportunity to “catch one’s breath.”

Unless the power goes out. Winter Storm Albert knocked out the power in our area for five…six…seven…eight days, depending on the local street address.

Of course, when the power goes out, the sudden separation from all modern conveniences seems to put the 21st Century brain on hold. Habits of convenience, the flicking of on/off switches or pushing reheat on microwaves, are hard to break. But I have discovered that the disconnect from the Internet, however, is almost intolerable…particularly if one lives in an area without cell towers for 3G, and the power, phone and cable lines are down.

Our school has a 1:1 initiative for English classrooms. We have netbooks in our classes. Students are also encouraged to bring their digital devices to class in order to participate. Responses to prompts are uploaded to one open source software program (we use Edmodo.com), essays and vocabulary sentences are uploaded to a subscription software program (we use turnitin.com), and information is delivered to students by way of a wiki, another software program (we use PBWorks.com). When the power went out, I was unable to access student work or lessons….for five whole days!

Map of Connecticut's Winter Storm Albert power outages

The storm came at the end of a marking period, a time when there is always too much to do, and I had no access to any student work. I found myself driving many, many miles out of town to set up in areas of the state, and out of state, that had power and free wi-fi. I scouted and found seats in malls, Panera’s restaurants, Starbucks, and 24-hour diners. Once I found the free wi-fi, I would set up my computer and read student work. I was not alone. I met many teachers who have also moved student work into a digital format who were in search of a signal in order to stay on track with student work. Several woefully admitted that they actually longed for a pile of actual papers to correct. The expression “digital divide” took on new meaning; we were divided from our students’ work in cyberspace.

When school reopened this past week (11/7), I was already behind. I had lost precious classroom time, but that time will be recovered by adding more five school days to the calendar, the harsh retribution for the aforementioned pleasures of a snow day. I mourn instead grading and planning time that was lost due to a growing dependance on the Internet.

The use of technology in the classroom is required in education; all students should be engaged in 21st Century skills. There are standards developed by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) that must be met in districts throughout the state. My lessons almost always require some form of technology, from word-processing to Internet research. The assignments that can be create with technology are engaging, and the use of technology to post assignments can promote student independence and responsibility. Technology in the classroom is necessary if teachers are to prepare students for the future…unless the power goes out, and the Internet is not accessible.

The use of technology in the classroom will certainly increase as the amount of technology adults and students use in the real world is on the rise. These trends will not change, but some consideration should be given to the perplexing problem of what happens when the power goes down for an extended time. How can the business of educating students continue without the hiccups caused by Mother Nature?

Winter Storm Albert may be the harbinger of winter in the 2011-2012 school year and for those school years yet to come. There will be snowstorms, hurricanes, and other natural disasters in our state’s future that will separate students and teachers from the technology that joins them in 21st Century education.

And when that happens, when the power goes out for an extended time, I find myself parodying Shakespeare’s interpretation of the 15th Century Richard III. There I am, struggling along on my snow-covered Bosworth Field crying out, “A signal! A signal! My kingdom for a wi-fi signal!”