Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Laptops in Lectures - the ultimate distraction?

One of the often trivial but none-the-less interesting things I subscribe to is “The Daily Stat” from Harvard Business Review. It is often light hearted, always entertaining – and occasionally serious. A few days ago something of particular note worthiness was waiting in my in box.

The piece that took my fancy was a study by Krasushaar and Novak who examined what college students use their lap tops for during lessons. They found that on AVERAGE each user generates 65 new screen windows per lecture – and a whopping 62% of items viewed are NOT related to the lecture. The piece also discussed the nature of short term memory and transfer to long term memory (or “learning”) as the lay person would call it. Not surprisingly, distractions interfere with this process. The study found that there was a relationship between the rate of access of non-related material with lower test achievement in that subject. In simple terms – surfing the web during lectures for anything other than related material negatively impacts on student achievement.

Read the full text of the study here;

It has become popular to talk of multitasking in today’s world. Indeed, many students believe that they can do so during lectures without impact. Whilst this might be a popular belief it is, perhaps unfortunately, untrue. A study by Ellis, Daniels and Jauregui of college level business students found that those who text in class have, on average, significantly lower exams scores than those who don’t. Read the details here;

A rather academic piece by Foerd, Knowlton and Poldrack discussing the impact of distractions in the laboratory can be found here.

The list of studies that are questioning the notion of “multitasking” is already a significant one. It is important to draw a distinction here between technology use that aligns to lecture material and that which does not. Research and common sense are in agreement – learning requires concentration and attention to the task. Technology can obviously assist in this. But it can also distract. If this is true at college level then we can speculate, albeit with some confidence, that younger users of technology would be at least equally distracted. By extension, teachers using laptops and smart phones in class need to have procedures in place to ensure that their students are on task.

The solution might seem naive – but engaging lessons and group work that requires active participation from students in the room would go a long way to address the issue.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Prof David Crystal - Text & tweets - myths and realities

Prof David Crystal’s work is well known to most people with an interest in the English language.   As either author or editor of over one hundred books relating to the language he is perhaps the ultimate authority in the field. In the interview featured below Crystal’s relaxed style and unassuming manner are at the forefront as he discusses the impact of texts and tweets on written language use.
Crystal is actually quite positive about their impact and discusses findings relating the number of texts a student sends and their attainment in formal testing – contrary to conventional wisdom texting is actually positively related to school achievement.   He also discusses the use of abbreviation in electronic texts with a benign smile – and why not, if, as he says, Queen Victoria used to write “c u later”,  what’s all the fuss about?
At 30 minutes in duration this is not a short session – but it is well worth grabbing a coffee and listening to an expert with research to support his statements.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Would the dogs eat it? Hmmm – they’ve been starving for years...

A post from prolific tweeter George Couros got me thinking.  George is a Canadian Principal who consistently seems to be at the cutting edge of educational use of technology.
His post was rather arrestingly titled “Would the dogs eat it?  In his post George cites Nick Bolton’s book “I live in the future and here’s how it works”.  Taking a leaf from George I’ll post some text from that work.

“Imagine that you owned a restaurant and offered your employees free food, but they instead brought their own lunch and dinner from home. Would you look the other way if plates of freshly cooked pasta and garlic bread sat untouched on the table? Hopefully not. If it were my restaurant, I’d want to know why they weren’t enjoying my product, and I would do everything I could to try to change that. At Google they call this “dogfooding.” That is, if you make dog food and the dogs won’t eat it, you might have a bit of a problem. The people who built Gmail have to use it for their e-mail service, and if something doesn’t work, they have to fix it. ” Nick Bolton
This reminded me of some research done years ago – in 1988 in fact.  Any academic will tell you that research that is so dated is of limited value – and they may be right. However, in this case it serves to set the historical benchmark. In the 1998 survey 25 000  grade 8 students in the USA were surveyed.  The findings included;
·         Teachers indicated  20% of students were inattentive.
·         More than 20% came to class late or without necessary equipment
·         47% of students said they were bored more than half the time.
·         More than 10% were frequently absent.
(cited in Brady & Kennedy, 2010.  “Curriculum Construction”, Pearson, Frenchs Forest, NSW)

There is a danger in using such old data and extrapolating across different school systems.  But there is also a sense of familiarity about the picture painted by these figures.  Student disengagement is rife – and it has been for decades and across many, if not most, western school systems.  To return to the “dogfooding” metaphor – our puppies are hungry and we are not feeding them.
As a society we cannot afford continue to waste our greatest resource – our students.  We need to  find better ways to teach and engage our students.  School reform is a huge task  - but several organisations are working in the field.  An excellent resource giving suggestions, examples and background reading is the NAIS pdf “A guide to becoming a School of the Future”.  
 I’d recommend it to any educator, parent, and employer  – everybody in fact.

Where good ideas come from - Steven Johnson RSA animation

ICTWatching this RSA Animation of a presentation by Steven Johnson put me in a reflective mood.
For most people in the Western world life is busy. Very busy. And we EXPECT to be busy – afterall being busy is a by-product of an active life, of balancing leisure and work. We “seize the day”, we make every minute count and never put off until tomorrow what we can do today - the platitudes could roll on for several more sentences but we are all too busy to read them. Technology, of course, is our friend in all of this – we can be online 24/7, in touch with “everything all the time” thanks to the shiny devices we have on our desks ... and increasingly in our pockets.
This holds true not only for adults – children are increasingly busy too. Which leads me to ponder – are our schools too busy? Do we try to cram so much important “stuff” into each day that our students don’t have time to reflect? Do we give them time to make connections between our very important “you will need this in later life” spiel that they don’t have time to work out what is important for themselves? Do we spend so much time developing skills that we don’t let them actually use those skills in anything resembling a meaningful manner?
A metaphor that presents itself is that of cooking. Microwave frozen dinners aside, it is not enough to simply mix the ingredients for a cake and put them in an oven – the mixture must be given time to transform and become more than the sum of its parts. Johnson mentions that “chance favours the connected mind”. Hard to argue with that. To hearken back to the cooking metaphor – the ingredients need to be blended together rather than kept separate. We don’t put the flour in one container and the eggs in another and expect the cake to form.
So – the message for me is that we need to give students time to contemplate and reflect on their learning, but also to structure our classes so that the students and the concepts we teach them mix together.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The networked student

I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of education and the process of schooling of late. The connectivism theory resonates for me, the impact of the internet, cloud computing, on-line material, instant access to everything all the time... what are the implications for schools? Can we incorporate these ideas or do we need a radical overhaul of the whole process? (Short answer here – yes!)
This brilliant video gives an insight into what is already possible today – are schools brave enough to embrace the technology?
Enjoy this brilliant video – very “simple” format that is extremely effective.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Changing Educational Paradigms - Ken Robinson

Let’s face it – schools tend to be restricted by tradition.  The ghosts of previous teachers and administrators walk the halls with us in the form of the culture of the school. We serve a society that expects us prepare children for the future but wants us to teach the skills of the past.  It can be a challenging task trying to balance the conflicting expectations.  As educators we need to have clear understanding of what we are doing and why.  Maybe we need to stop and think in broad terms about the purpose of education  before we struggle with the specifics of the process.  

Click on the youtube link below to see it.

First post

This is my first blog.  Why am I writing it? It is not as if I feel the world needs another blog – given that there are already millions in existence.  It is not even as if I feel I have any particular wisdom to impart to the world.  It  is simply to provide a place for sharing some of the tremendous things that I stumble upon on the net. 
It is also so that I can “walk the talk”.  I believe that WWW2 is the future of education – regrettably it is not the current state. If I feel students must learn 21st Century skills – then so do I. 
This is one step in that process.