professornana (professornana) wrote,

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Mindtools or Mindless Tools?

One of the benefits of working in the Department of Library Science over the last couple of decades has been the learning curve I have travelled as it relates to technology and its uses in the school. Colleagues like Mary Ann Bell and Karin Perry share new finds with the faculty. We are encouraged to experiment with the tools of the trade when it comes to tech. Add in the fact that I love "gadgets" and am willing to try something new. So, technology is infused as it fits into the world of literature for children and young adults. Social networking, apps, and programs can and do work well in this area. However, I also know from my colleagues that such things should be "mind tools." A good definition: "Mindtools are computer-based tools and learning environments that have been adapted or developed to function as intellectual partners with the learner in order to engage and facilitate critical thinking and higher order learning (Jonassen, 1998)."

Unfortunately, sometimes the bells and whistles of technology cause mindtools to become tools for the mindless. Lately, all manner of companies have been rushing to produce technology for what they see as a lucrative market: schools who are being frog-marched into CCSS. Enter, Joel Klein, former chancellor of NY schools with his company, Amplify. The NYT ran a LONG piece on him and the company and their quest to place tablets into the hands of kids and teachers yesterday here: (and a side note here: I no longer trust anything in the NYT as most of their pieces about CCSS and related issues have tended to be free advertising, but I do want us to be aware of the selling of education). Klein says this when asked about the research behind what he is doing (and remember I have written about research recently, so caveat should be in place): "When I asked Klein, who routinely characterizes current debates about education as “ideological, not evidence-based,” what evidence supports spending tax dollars on educational technology, he boiled it down to three things. First and most important was the power of “customizing.” Plenty of research does indeed show that an individual student will learn more if you can tailor the curriculum to match her learning style, pace and interests; the tablet, he said, will help teachers do that. Second, educators have not taken full advantage of students’ enthusiasm for the gadgetry that constitutes “an important part of their experience.” Lastly, teachers feel overwhelmed; they “need tools,” Klein said, to meet ever-increasing demands to show that their students are making progress."

I will concede (barely) that Klein's first point is a good one: individualized instruction is good. But where is the research to demonstrate that the tablet is the thing that must drive this individualization? Is it the best way to do so? As for the second and third points: is this evidence-based at all? Just because kids like gadgets, we should invest millions of $$$ to give them gadgets? Because teachers need "tools", the answer is tablets?

I love how technology can co-exist with literature. I use Twitter, Facebook, Haiku Deck, Edmodo, Subtext, Yapp, and Blackboard just to name a few mindtools. None of these, however, replaces me or my knowledge of my students. They are tools I use to enhance my teaching and my interactions with students. Before we begin replacing textbooks with tablets, before we begin using tablets outside of the classroom, before we begin loading all of the PROGRAMS suggested by Amplify and others, we need to pause and ask ourselves if we are taking time to evaluate the programs, the data, the PD, and the rest? Are we basing our purchases of these products on solid educational research? Are we following up implementation with more research to document their effectiveness (and their effect size)? Are we simply just the latest lucrative market for the entrepreneurs who look at schools and see dollar signs?

Lots of questions, I know. But if we believe education is important, that kids are important, then we need to ask questions NOW and not later.
Tags: mindtools
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