Old Trends, New Twist


Recent focus on student technology use outside schoolshows how technology tools can impact the classroom.

Kids are different today,
I hear ev’ry mother say

—Rolling Stones, “Mother’s Little Helper,” Aftermath, 1966

I have called myself an obnoxious optimist at different times. What I mean is that I can seeDr. Geoffrey H. Fletcher, Editor-at-Largethe good in some events or trends, or see positive possibilities occurring more rapidlythan less obnoxious optimists do. Part of this comes from teaching, coaching, and seeingthe power of the self-fulfilling prophesy—if you think you can sink a putt in golf, you will have a much better chance of doing so than if you don’t think you can. That is why serious athletes spend a lot of time “visualizing” the perfect execution of their sport. It is also why we as educators spend so much time trying to ensure success in student learning. As we know, successful experiences engender additional successful experiences.

All this is not to say that we futurists are Pollyannas, believing that nothing but goodcan happen because that is what we want. It d'es, however, point to the importance ofthe future’s positive images, and explains why I tend to be an obnoxious optimist attimes. And it is with my obnoxious optimist lens that I write of two positive “trend-lets” Iam seeing in technology and education: 1) a focus on students, and 2) a focus on integratingtechnology. “Nothing new,” say you, but each of these has a twist.

Focusing on Students

The focus on students is not new in that all teachers focus on students—that is their job.In addition, the standards movement as well as No Child Left Behind and its testing haverequired teachers to look at each student against every standard. The focus on studentsthat I am referring to is unique to technology and education, because we are beginningto examine how students function with technology outside of school. As we see by theRolling Stones reference above, it is not new to observe that kids are different today, buttoday’s kids are different partially due to technology and how they interact with it.

Bringing gaming into the classroom. Two outstanding examples of explaining thedifference came this summer at conferences. In the first, Marc Prensky, founder and CEOof Games2train, spoke to attendees at the National Educational Computing Conference(www.iste.org/necc) in Philadelphia. He took his distinction between “digital immigrants”and “digital natives” into significant detail. The comparison between how kidsfunction, especially after school, and how educators function was both entertaining andenlightening. More impressive, however, was Prensky’s demonstration of a number ofonline games that students use outside of school. Some of these games engage hundreds ofplayers at a time, involve significant collaboration, and require the highest level of thinkingskills imaginable. I left the session wondering how we could make it acceptable for all toinclude games like these as a regular part of the teaching and learning process. There is nodoubt that they can help kids learn content, processes, skills, and attitudes; the real questionto me was making them acceptable, and training teachers to use them effectively.

Looking out for all students. The other instance of paying attention to students andhow they are different was an outstanding keynote presentation by Diana Oblinger atthe Syllabus2005 conference in LA (www.campus-technology.com/conferences/summer2005). Oblinger, VP of Educause (www.educause.edu), looked at informationtechnology from the perspective of different types of students and university faculty.Obviously, university students are different ages, but the stereotypical 18-year-oldentering freshman is no longer the only, or even the dominant, student. Many studentsare now working and/or parents, and their needs for classes and services, including ITservices, may differ. This is an additional challenge for campus IT professionals. But, tome, the good news was that attendees at Syllabus2005 were paying attention to thedifferent needs and looking for ways to serve all students.

Focusing on Technology Integration

The second positive trend-let focuses on integrating technology. Despite years of saying thattechnology is only a tool in teaching and learning, I have observed that a large number of us,including myself, have looked at the technology and how cool it was, without a close examinationof how it really could impact the classroom. As technology has become morecomplex and pervasive in education, there is a natural tendency for tech coordinators to bemore concerned with technical support, as well as bits and bytes. Yet even with this change,the interest in integrating technology has remained. Policymakers have heard the drumbeatfor integrating technology from professional organizations like ISTE, as well as from in-the trenchesprofessionals, and the result is the NCLB Act’s requirement for technology to beintegrated throughout curriculum and instruction by Dec. 31, 2006. Fortunately, NECCwas filled with presentations about using technology in all subject areas.

Bridging the gap between education reform and technology. Further evidence of thesetrend-lets is two small conferences coming up in October. First, the Council of Chief State School Officers (www.ccso.org), the Education Commission of the States (www.ecs.org),and CELT Corp. will hold a National Education Summit 2005 on “Leadership, Learning,and Technology for the 21st Century,” Oct. 6-8 in Brewster, MA (www.celt.org). The invitationalsummit will examine education reform and technology, NCLB requirements,and reporting/accountability systems. The summit differs from a traditional conferencein that teams from states have been invited. A typical team will include representativesfrom the governor and/or legislature, state department of education, and one or morelocal school districts, including the superintendent, an assistant superintendent, a principal,local community member, school board member, and education technology leader.

Spotlight on assessment. The other conference is the Midwest Assessment Forum(harcourtassessment.com/haiweb/Cultures/en-US/Events/Midwest+Assessment+Forum.htm) held Oct. 20-21 in Evanston, IL. At this conference, educators, testing coordinators,and researchers will provide case studies of using assessment to inform instruction.Formative assessment and data-driven decision-making really are coming togetherin schools to look at how each child is doing against every standard. This is a task thatwould not be possible without the effective use of technology.

These two trend-lets (focusing on students and integrating technology) are inextricablylinked, given that technology coordinators, CTOs, and many faculty recognize that kids aredifferent today. It’s enough to make this obnoxious optimist hopeful about the progress weare making in technology and education.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.