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Saturday, August 08, 2009

On-Line Texts

Interesting story in the NY Times about the growing use of on-line lessons and texts and issues surrounding the usage.

4 comments:

seattle citizen said...

Melissa,
An interesting subject. I've thought long and hard about digital learning in its various forms...
My first thought was regarding digital texts. There's been a recent dust-up over Amazon "recalling" (?) its Kindle version of 1984 (ironic, yes), and a student who had it on their Kindle lost all their notes!
Glitches like this aside, there are pros and cons to the digital revolution regarding education:
Pros:
Access, access, access - students (or anybody) can access all sorts of digital lessons, information, texts etc.
Individuation - one could see where lessons could be easily tailored to individual needs via technology
Remote ("distance" learning) - a student far away from certain resources can join teachers, other students, etc online.

Cons - The possible eliminiation of "guides", teachers and other educators who "steer" curriculum: One could imagine (as happens already in some digital apps) students and parent/guardians hewing their own path, picking and choosing without the bigger picture, and also subject to personal bias and preference when those might preclude coursework, texts etc that would be relevant or necessary.

Positive vision: brick and mortar schools with a mix of clasroom and "virtual" studies - students get the benefits of guides, teachers, classmates, while also being able to venture further afield, academically. And of course, any student who is remote, isolated by geography or whatever could have a larger amount of digital experience to make up for the inability to physically be at school...

Texts? Note that the Times talks about lessons being malleable, the teachers have an ability to add various digital bits....this already happens to some extent with the advent of the internet and projection systems, etc, but I sense conflicts arising with "common curriculum" unless the district itself was controlling the lesson creation.

This brings up the important discussion about educator autonomy, classroom lessons, and how they play out in the digital age:
A common curriculum (in extreme form) suggests the "package" is delivered to the classroom, with accompanying assessments etc (supposedly required so that data can be gathered across the district based on exactly similar lessons: if they're not exactly similar, the data would lose considerable relevance.) So how then does a teacher or other educators in the building use the additional materials available digitally to modify and add on to lessons?

One can see a glorious future for digital applications in education (and the saving of reams of paper!) but one can also see packaged curriculum delivered daily to the classroom (see Bellevue's attempt at this last year).

How do the textbook companies feel about all this? Pearson said they were "neutral" about it, but if technology is utilized to its utmost extent by independent, qualified educators, the need for textbooks seems to dwindle...One can bet that the text companies want to ensure, somehow, that districts are reliant on their packaged curricula, assessments etc, and would be averse to educators freely designing their own lessons...

A concurrent issue is "digital learning" as either a additional resource or a substitute for classrooms. Already in Washington, we have some districts using digital learning to bolster their enrollment: A student signs up for an online course, the district pockets state funding, pays a little bit out to buy the online course and provide a "facilitator in a classroom or whereever, and walks away with a tidy profit while drawing students away from other brick-and-mortar districts....
hmmm

WV suggests that the US is a psyntion; I propose we might move away from our interest (or obsession) with psychology and become a cybernation

seattle citizen said...

There is a corollary story in today's Seattle Times
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/education/2009630659_textbooks10.html
about how California's budget crisis is leading to no new textbooks.

Mightn't digital texts, especially with their ability to be constantly updated, spare states fates such as these (there is mention in the story about how no current events, such as the election of the natiohn's first Black president, will be included in texts for many years due to the state's inability to purchase new texts.

How sad this "old textbook" situation is is illustrated by a story the author Sherman Alexie often tells: He was sitting in class on the very poor Spokane reservation when he noticed that his mother's name was in his textbooki. He knew at that moment that he had to get off the res and into a school that had more resources.

Poverty matters, budget cuts are decimating education in all sorts of ways (even here in the heart of the digital revolution!)

Melissa Westbrook said...

I saw that Seattle Citizen and had the same thought. Teachers have always supplemented but in this digital age you'd think it would be easier for textbooks to update online.

seattle citizen said...

"teachers have always supplemented..."

This is a problem I've thought about relating to digital education and "common curriculum":

Many districts are looking for data, for assessment points etc that they can use...(?) or misuse ("We are great because %___ of students can do %___ of this (never mind the intangibles, the unquantifiables...)"
In this race for data, it seems that systems are leaning towards standardization.

This is good in some ways: "here's what you need, it's standard, here's how you can learn it (with varitions possible, hopefully given individual styles and circumstance)"

But it can also lead to "standard" knowledge, meaning the bigger body of knowledge. Not only does this impact creativity, diversity (both in how one learns and how one teaches, how one interacts with students AND teachers not to one's taste), but it seems to preclude the flexibility to supplement: If data is the all-powerful goal, that seems to necessitate standardization. If you want to measure "prgoress" in a given area across the district, you need to have all the teching be the same or you need to be able to account for variables (such as student demorgraphics, timing, supplements....

I guess what I'm saying is that I fear we are in a paradox: National trends seem to be going towards data, assessment, common curriculum etc, while education would benefit from often spontaneous, often unpredictable, often individualized supplements. We want individuation in reaching various students, but expect teachers to stick to a common lesson. We want students to be inquiry-minded, able to utilize a wide variety of materials to THINK, yet we narrow the package, we standardize what they're presented with.

Here's an extreme scenario:
District needs to be able to tell how well teacher A is doing compared to teachers B, so both must teach the same way (or the variances must be accounted for.)
What if Student A drifts from the assigned text (pre-planned) and accesses, independently, supplemental materials that enlarge their knowledge? How then can the district compare via ANY common data point how well the teacher taught, how well the curriculum worked, how well the student learned...You got an unaccounted for variable (student initiative and inquiry) that skews the data.
So if we are standardizing texts (a seemingly backwards move in the age of hyperlinks and vast amounts of information available at the clik of a mouse, if we are standardizing curriculum, we seem to be flying the face of changes that would be beneficial: digitalally enhanced classrooms that are malleable to student neet, to an ever-changing variety of lessons ("There's a Black president!") to "teachable moments," to student initiative in inquiring about corollaries, comments, critiques, connections....

The world of knowledge, in this day and age, is an infinitely changing, incredibly exciting, vast and various place where all sorts of connections might be made. Must we limit that world to standardized, immutable texts and curricula, locked into yesterday's news?