cross posted at The Next Step

helpingkids.jpg
Flickr user: eliazar

Something has been really bothering me lately. I'm taking a college course called Introduction to the Internet for Educators. When I first saw the title I was really excited because I figured the teacher would be teaching me all about how to use the Internet to help kids learn. However, thats not quite how it played out.

I am in a Master's in Educational Technology program and the professors are all Ed Tech specialists. From my homely status as a teacher, I thought their goal as instructors would be to teach us how to all be better educators, not better technologists. At least not technologists in the old sense. The C++ sense. Maybe I'm totally off base here, but shouldn't education classes teach you how to help kids?

With all the amazing tools available online, is our time learning about the Internet best spent learning how to code html and css? I don't think so. While I agree that a basic level of understanding about those languages is important, to spend 15 weeks learning how to handcode and program seems a waste of a semester.

How often do Educational Technologists train their teachers to code pages? Seriously. My degree is supposed to teach me how to run an Edtech program at the school or district level. I cant imagine going into a school and doing a professional development session on CSS. I CAN however, imagine going into a school and teaching a group of teachers how to use wiki's, or Google Docs, or even make videos that you can upload to Youtube. The only html you need to know to do that is how to copy, paste, and embed a given code.

Please tell me if I'm totally mistaken. In fact, tell me if I'm right too, an affirmation a day keeps the doctor away.

Views: 52

Tags: edtech, education, professionaldevelopment, teacherprep, technology, web2.0

Comment by Sylvia Martinez on April 29, 2008 at 12:46am
There could be a lot of reasons to teach a little bit of coding. It shows you how things work and that there is an logic underlying all of this "magic". On the other hand, it could just be laziness because it's certainly easier to teach web page design than to tackle the tough problems of technology integration. Seems like you need both...
Comment by nlowell on April 29, 2008 at 7:02am
Not enough information. The course *seems* to be misnamed if it's talking about the web as if it were synonymous with the internet. That's a common misconception. The problem undoubtedly goes back to "program review" where the curriculum for a particular program is set.

And I agree with Indie, you can't very well call yourself an educational technologist if you don't have a firm grounding in the basics. HTML is the lingua franca of the web. Frankly, the course sounds like a major disservice to you because it's NOT actually teaching more than *just* HTML and CSS. Where's the XML? Where's the RSS? Are you learning the how and why of email? File transfer? WebDAV? Compression? Message design? Text and font limitations? I'd venture to say that MOST educators have no idea about this stuff and see no reason to learn it. Ignorance does not lead to informed decision making. That's a bit of a problem.

I think part of your cog-diss on this is that Educational Technologists are often called upon to do things other than "teach teachers." They frequently get called on to maintain school web sites, create and maintain course pages, and debug the code that causes the teachers' pages to fail to load.

I've got a lot of snarky commentary on the relationship of Educational Technology and the role it's allowed to play in schools. I'll withhold them and point out some truths instead.

- Spoken language was the first educational technology that permitted the separation of teacher and learner in physical space because it permitted a teacher to teach abstract knowledge. We still don't use it very well in educational settings. It's a difficult task and most people fail to master the basics of spoken language.

- Written language was the first technology that permitted the separation of teacher and learner in time. Later, print technology made written language available to the masses. Likewise, we fail to use this very well in educational settings because -- while most master the techniques of writing -- too many teachers fail to master the skill of writing.

- Everything else is distribution technology. It's interesting but still prone to the basic rule of "Garbage in, garbage out."

JMO. YMMV.
Comment by Cory Plough on April 29, 2008 at 8:51pm
@indigo - See, I definitely agree with getting my hands dirty, but an entire semester on a course titled Internet for Educators? That's where my frustration lies. If I was taking a webdesign course then maybe. I compared html to C++ as a way to emphasize the irrelevance in getting in the most out of the web for teachers and students. It just doesn't seem like teachers need to learn much programming or html to get more out of the web tools for their courses. I have been working with Web 2.0 tools for a couple years with my students and haven't ever used any programming or html skills except very basic stuff. Ive been in this course for 4 months and haven't done one assignment that has made me better understand the web and its power. To personally know what goes on behind the scenes is important, I'm just upset its taken up 15 weeks and we haven't learned anything else. I appreciate you questioning a lot of my reasoning, I think it makes for a great conversation and helps me clarify my thinking.
Comment by Cory Plough on April 29, 2008 at 8:59pm
@nlowell-
"Where's the XML? Where's the RSS? Are you learning the how and why of email? File transfer? WebDAV? Compression? Message design? Text and font limitations? I'd venture to say that MOST educators have no idea about this stuff and see no reason to learn it. Ignorance does not lead to informed decision making. That's a bit of a problem."


Do you think learning that stuff would help teachers make more engaging lessons for their students? If you had to choose between a teacher learning how to use blogs as effective writing and publication tools or compression what do you think would be more important for a teacher to learn for their kids?
Comment by nlowell on April 29, 2008 at 9:29pm
The answer to your question is, "It depends." Blogs might be a good choice. Google Docs might be better. Podcasting might be good. Dynamic web pages loaded with XSLT might be a very good application of .. say .. presentation of experimental data. It depends on the actual teacher, the goals, the students, the level, the support, the ... you get the idea.

But you're side stepping the issue here, which is what should an educational technologist know?

The teacher relies on the educational technologist to be able to advise the teacher on what technology would best satisfy the educational goal. I *don't* expect teachers to know all that stuff. I *do* expect the specialist to.

If you don't understand the tools, how can you help the teacher make the right choices?

Is RSS important? Vitally. Is XML important? Hugely. But only in context. If you - as the educational technology specialist do not know how to apply these tools in educational settings - who is supposed to do that?
Comment by Cory Plough on April 30, 2008 at 9:19am
@ nlowell @ Indigo - I agree with both of you that the edtech specialist should know more than the teacher and should have knowledge of lots of aspects of technology. More so than the teacher. My contention is if you don't teach education technologists to focus more on how to educate students via their teachers then the teachers will not keep up with the emerging technologies and the classes will continue to be irrelevant in many cases. My post title is Education or Technologist?, and I think the edtech has to be more focused on education.

@nlowell- not sidestepping the issue on purpose. I don't think what an edtechnologist should know is as important as what they should do. Of course they should know more than the teachers about aspects of technology, just like a history teacher should know more than his/her students about the Civil War. But how that history teacher reaches their students is what I'm talking about. Maybe this is a complete shift in the way the system works right now, but it's not a great system anyway.
Comment by Sylvia Martinez on April 30, 2008 at 10:04am
Cory,
it's of course hard to say if this course is off track without knowing a whole bunch more stuff about it and the goals of the program. But of course, you asked, so we all get to chime in ;-)

Just from your description, it sounds too narrowly focused on web page design and coding.

I think many masters in Ed Tech programs are going through big changes right now, and yours may be in need of this change. They used to focus on technology - things like coding web pages, set up networks, and how to evaluate software. This is changing to more of a focus on instructional technology and how to empower other teachers to use technology in their classrooms. It's a bumpy road for many programs, because if Dr. Inobest has taught this class this way for 10 years, who is going to tell him that it's not important anymore.

That said, what can you do about it? Is there someone you can talk to in your program about this course and what you can expect from the rest of your program?
Comment by Cory Plough on April 30, 2008 at 10:23am
"That said, what can you do about it? Is there someone you can talk to in your program about this course and what you can expect from the rest of your program? "

I've been having that conversation with @akamrt (greg thompson) over on my personal blog, The Next Step. and it's tricky.

While I've had discussions on the comment board about small frustrations, and have been a huge advocate for Web 2.0 applications and school reform in my MA, I have a dilemma. The teacher who teaches this particular class is also my advisor. Do I offend my advisor by questioning the foundations of her course?

Part of school reform, part of shifting from trend focused changes to a complete education shift, part of making education more relevant for students has to be addressed at the training levels. It has to. Pre-service teachers and education graduate students have to be taught by people who are interested in shifting their ideas if the secondary schools are going to improve at all.
Comment by Sylvia Martinez on April 30, 2008 at 10:33am
Boy do I understand. Long story... ;-)

Anyway, that's a tough one. Maybe you just want to get through this and then start having the conversation.

University professors can be even more resistant to change related to technology than K-12 teachers, if you can imagine that! We don't talk about that much here, but as you say, it's a self-perpetuating problem if teacher educators don't change, teacher education won't change.

I know this is a vast over-generalization, but the newer teachers I meet seem to have had LESS technology in their teaching classes than ever before. I often hear the myth that technology in schools will happen naturally, as teachers who grew up with technology come into the classroom, but I have to say, I see exactly the opposite.

And I've steered your conversation WAY off track! Forgive me ;-)
Comment by Michael Maddin on April 30, 2008 at 12:51pm
Just a practical note. Most teachers just want the technology they already have to work. If you can't help them solve their current technology-related problems, they will not be very interested in what you have to say about the marvels of new technology.

Solving their current problems can require a moderate amount of familiarity with standard applications, HTML if they have (or are required to have) a web page, networking, computer troubleshooting, hard drive organization, anti-spyware tools, multi-media projectors, sound cards, and so on, practically ad infinitum. You can't know everything about everything, but the teacher's perception of your usefulness diminishes with each problem that you can't help him or her with.

"But that's not my job" is a reasonable and justifiable response but one that does neither the teacher nor you much good.

Best wishes,

Mike

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