Educational software that doesn’t work

OK, so here’s the list of software evaluated in the USDOE study of educational software. No surprises here, it’s pretty much what I predicted after the initial headlines – big publishers, big test prep.

The good news is that these products are great examples of outmoded uses of computers in schools. They are what people are running from in the search for the latest Web 2.0 tools. learning games, and open-ended creativity tools.

Here’s the list:

First grade reading software (11 districts and 43 schools. 158 teachers and 2,619 students.)

  • Destination Reading (published by Riverdeep)
  • Waterford Early Reading Program (published by Pearson Digital Learning)
  • Headsprout (published by Headsprout)
  • Plato Focus (published by Plato)
  • Academy of Reading (published by Autoskill)

Fourth grade four reading products (nine districts and 43 schools. 118 teachers and 2,265 students.)

  • Leapfrog (published by Leaptrack)
  • Read 180 (published by Scholastic)
  • Academy of Reading (published by Autoskill)
  • KnowledgeBox (published by Pearson Digital Learning)

Sixth grade math products (10 districts and 28 schools. 81 teachers and 3,136 students.)

  • Larson Pre-Algebra (published by Houghton-Mifflin)
  • Achieve Now (published by Plato),
  • iLearn Math (published by iLearn)

Algebra products (10 districts and 23 schools. 69 classrooms and 1,404 students.)

  • Cognitive Tutor Algebra (published by Carnegie Learning)
  • Plato Algebra (published by Plato)
  • Larson Algebra (published by Houghton-Mifflin)

It’s a good thing – knowing what was evaluated means we can move on to better uses of computers in education. There has been some discussion around the web that the methodology used for this study is faulty, and that may be true. Wes Freyer also posted some links to research done about educational technology that is much more credible.

But I’m happy if this study helps people conclude that money used for technology test prep is being wasted, and opens up opportunities for authentic, student-centered technology use.

Keep hope alive!

Headlines that won’t help

This morning’s news brings the exciting headlines Education Technology Isn’t Helping, and Study: No benefit going high-tech for math and science, because of a new study released today by the US Department of Education.

Sigh – this is SUCH old news, there has been decades of research showing that drilling kids does nothing, even if you pretty up it up with fancy names and graphics.

But our language for this stuff is so limited. The headlines SHOULD read, “Bad Educational Practice Proved Ineffective, Again!” But no, it gets called “educational software” or “educational technology”, tars every use of computers in the classroom, and immediately gets tied to EETT funding. It’s an obvious conclusion, although the Washington Post gets it sort of right, Software’s Benefits on Tests In Doubt: Study Says Tools Don’t Raise Scores.

OK, if I thought test scores actually proved anything, I might care about that.

But here’s what I care about.

Now, every time we talk about kids doing interesting stuff that involves a computer, we’ll get hit with this. Making movies, programming, blogging, collaboration, projects, kids making games, exploring virtual worlds, GIS, Google Earth? What are you thinking, haven’t you heard? Educational Technology Doesn’t Work.

Here’s what’s worse:
1. These publishers are getting off scot-free. Why is the USDOE not publishing the actual evaluation of the individual software products. Isn’t this public information? This allows individual publishers to hide behind the report. Didn’t we as taxpayers pay $10 million for this information?

2. The apologists will shortly come out. “It’s just bad implementation.” “Teachers need more support.” C’mon people, let’s speak the truth and make meaningful distinctions between educational software that pretends to replace teachers and technology that gives students agency and supports a learning community.

I hope everyone out there who is doing great stuff with kids and computers speaks up in the face of these headlines and shows what “educational technology” really means.

Sylvia

Update – here’s the study. It’s called: Effectiveness of Reading and Mathematics Software Products: Findings from the First Student Cohort. And guess what, the first sentence of the summary already says it’s about “education technology.” That’s just plain sloppy.

Did You Know…

This video was created by Karl Fisch, technology coordinator at Arapahoe HS in Colorado for a back-to-school presentation for his staff. Karl runs a staff development blog where he and his staff (and many times, students) discuss constructivism and 21st century learning.

The video is a mashup of different facts about globalization and predications for the future. I’d love to hear about student reaction to this video and any classroom discussion. I don’t think students will see it as being “scary” as adults might. Students might want to make their own videos about their vision of the future.

The version embedded here has been slightly modified by Scott McLeod to remove the school specific references that Karl originally had in the video. Scott’s blog posting also has it in various downloadable formats.

17 Intentions of an Effective Teacher

(posted with permission of Don Mesibov, The Institute for Learner Centered Education)

The Foundation
Underlying classroom practices

  1. Safe and nurturing environment – do you create a classroom environment where students feel free to think critically and express their views without fear?
  2. Public speaking – do you structure lessons that require and nurture public speaking, in pairs and small groups as well as in front of the entire class?
  3. Opportunities for success – do you provide every student with frequent opportunities to experience “success”?
  4. Validation of student work and responses – do you let each student know when his or her efforts are praiseworthy?

The Exploratory Phase
The beginning of the lesson or unit

  1. Grab attention – do you begin class in a manner likely to encourage students to look forward to what comes next?
  2. Prepare students to engage – do you create activities that focus student thinking, excite their imaginations, and prepare them to meet and exceed the learning standards.
  3. Assess and access prior knowledge – do you design activities that will help students (and you) to access and assess their prior knowledge, interests, and needs?

The Discovery Phase
The part of the lesson in which students learn and demonstrate they are meeting the learning objectives of the lesson

  1. The learning objectives – do you clearly state the one, two, or three specific things you want your students to learn? Have you cast these specific objectives in terms of what your students will understand, relate to, perform or create? Are the objectives aligned with appropriate learning standards?
  2. Authentic task – do you frame learning tasks that are as authentic as possible and that will allow students to demonstrate their skill with or understanding of the learning objective(s)?
  3. Ownership – do you create learning tasks that enable students to feel pride and assume responsibility for their own learning?
  4. Options – do you offer students optional ways to accomplish the learning task, and therefore reach the learning objectives(s)?
  5. Multiple intelligences – do you offer students frequent opportunities to utilize their stronger intelligences (recognizing that there are going to be times when they will also have to rely on their weaker ones)?
  6. Appropriate resources – do you make sure that the resources necessary to accomplish the assigned student-centered activities are available, or can be made available, to students?
  7. Interventions – do you look for opportunities (teachable moments) to intervene either in response to student questions or in reaction to student work, by “working the room” while students are engaged in an activity?
  8. Cognitively rich questions – do you seize every opportunity: to intervene in student work with questions that require students to think critically; to phrase task questions to require critical thinking; and to require students to create their own cognitively rich questions that create disequilibrium?
  9. Reflection – do you, during a learning experience, create opportunities for students to think about their thinking, to assess their progress and their decisions thus far? Do you, at the end of each day’s lesson, provide students with a brief closure activity that elicits evidence of something students have learned as a result of the lesson?
  10. Assessment measures – do you utilize multiple forms of assessment to judge student performance, including effective use of rubrics? Is instructional improvement the primary reason you assess students? Is teacher observation structured to be the most meaningful form of assessment?

Copyright (c) 2005, Institute for Learner Centered Education.


The Institute of Learner Centered Education website offers a number of valuable resources for the constructivist educator, including definitions, resources for applying standards-based constructivism to lessons, a journal, and an email newsletter that always includes thoughtful information like these 17 Intentions. A nice opportunity for constructivist educators is the Institute’s annual summer conference (July 23 – 27) at Grand Island, New York, within sight of Niagara Falls. This unique conference models constructivist teaching and learning — no talking heads here! Visit The Institute for Learner Centered Education for information.

Web 2.0 – share the adventure with students

Web 2.0 is all the rage. You can tell it’s hot because half the sessions at educational technology conferences have 2.0 in the title. Soon they will be labeled 3.0 to show that they are really, really, really cutting edge.

Web 2.0 is a collective term for the “read/write” web, meaning that people who use the Internet are no longer passive content consumers, but are actively creating material for themselves and others. Grandmas, nuclear physicists, army privates and cab drivers are blogging, podcasting, uploading videos, sharing photos, finding friends, socializing, and much more. For many teachers, these tools offer exciting opportunities for students to express themselves and take command of technology that stretches the mind and reaches outside school walls.

There are obstacles to the use of Web 2.0 tools in schools, such as time, security concerns, lack of vision, and resistance to anything new. Media hype has scared parents and school boards into equating technology with sexual predators. Luckily, there many cutting-edge educators working on these issues and sharing solutions. The bottom line is that these tools are here to stay and are a significant presence in the lives of many students. Ignoring/banning them reinforces student perceptions that school is not relevant to their lives.

That light at the end of the tunnel is Train 2.0.

It’s a daunting task to figure out all the options with Web 2.0 tools and choose the “best” one to introduce to students. But this pain can be turned into a gain – by including students in the adventure.

Students can:

  • Research solutions and present options with pros and cons
  • Test hardware – even young students can scrounge up old microphones, tape recorders and cables and test them
  • Try out applications and report on results
  • Maintain lists of add-ons, plug-ins and new options for old tools
  • Debate how these tools can be used within the boundaries of school or district policy and technology use plans
  • Figure out how to use available technology in new ways

For example…

Instead of demonizing and banning cell phones, why not use them to record interviews, or use the cameras to document science projects or field trips? Let students help figure out the nuts and bolts. How do you transfer the files? Where? Do you need a Flickr account? Is that blocked? What other options are there? Have you heard about Gcast?

Want to make audio tours of your school in different languages? Can visitors listen to them while they walk around? Should you put them on loaner ipods? Too expensive? Can you rig up an old tape recorder or portable CD player? Can  you find some? Do they work? What audio software do you need? Does it cost money or can you find a free version? Do the school’s computers meet the system requirements? Do you have microphones that work? Where can you upload the files? Hey, why don’t we make a 3D virtual tour too!

Why is this important?

Authentic problems inspire creative thinking and empower students to exceed expectations and think outside the box. These are true 21st century skills.

  • Figuring out how to use these tools has no right or wrong answer–just like real life.
  • The best solution today won’t be the best tomorrow. By opening this problem up to students, you will get better tools and more up-to-date solutions than if you stick with the same tools year after year.
  • Your students will be more forgiving of the inevitable technical glitches if they understand the tradeoffs that were made in choosing the tools.
  • Your students will be able to share their new understanding of educational uses of Web 2.0 tools with their peers (and maybe even other teachers)
  • In choosing and setting up these tools, you and your students will have to wrestle with the real issues of security, privacy, and policy. Instead of resenting and ignoring rules handed down from on high, students can see the basis for these rules. They may be a lot more restrictive than you expect, or they may decide to protest and lobby for change in district policies they don’t agree with. Since you are on their team, you can direct their energies in positive ways. Either way, by giving agency to the students, you are encouraging them to think for themselves and take responsibility for their own actions.
  • Who has time for all this (besides students)?

Besides, why should you have all the fun!? Share your Learning Adventure 2.0 with your students and you will all benefit from the experience.

Sylvia 2.0

Finding your ed tech sherpa

How do educators find out about new tools and technology, understand the educational implications, learn how others use them, weed out the many options, and (whew!) use them with students?

We recommend finding educational technology sherpas who will assist you as you make your own ascent up the mountain of technology integration. You still have to make the climb yourself, but like a climber at the base of Mt. Everest, a sherpa at your side gives you the benefit of experience, expertise and collective wisdom.

Once you have a blog reader, subscribe to a few blogs and simply start reading. Pick a few, like 3-5; you don’t need a cast of thousands. Spend a week or two reading, and see who you like, who resonates with you, who lights your fire and makes you want more. You will find that some overlap and cover similar subjects from a slightly different point of view. You will find links to other people and ideas. You will find people walking the talk in real schools around the world. You will find answers, questions, and new virtual friends who care deeply about changing education for the better.

It’s a risk-free relationship. If it’s not your cup of tea, just unsubscribe — no sneaking out of a workshop with eyes boring into the back of your head.

Most likely you will find that you are not alone, but on a path with many others just like you. It’s a comforting feeling.

Here’s a short list of ed tech sherpas to get you started:

This list could be much longer, but part of the fun is finding your own sherpas. Enjoy the journey!

Sylvia

MEC – Phoenix, Arizona

Hello everyone!

I’m sitting in the student union at Arizona State University, using the free wireless to check my mail and post this. The annual Microcomputers in Education Conference (MEC) is Arizona’s state educational technology conference held on the ASU campus. It’s 90 degrees outside, but the technology in here is even hotter! Sessions on podcasting, GIS, blogging across the curriculum and Web 2.0 are packed. In fact, there are quite a few conversations here speculating about what 3.0 will bring.

Generation YES was well-represented here. Yesterday we did a session on technology literacy, this morning was a great session done by the students of Paradise Valley HS about their GenYES program, and this afternoon I’ll be doing a session on free and inexpensive software and websites that encourage student-centered technology – focusing on podcasting, blogging, open source options, and Web 2.0 tools. This session I’ll be ably assisted by two students from North Ranch Elementary school, also from Paradise Valley Unified School District.

The connection is a little too slow to post my handouts or slides yet, but I’ll upload those soon.

Sylvia