Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Digital Writing Gap or Let's all switch to Pencil

Photo by mpclemens CC
The 2012 NAEP look at student achievement composing on computers were published recently (December, 2015). The results are not surprising but crucial for our next step.

The key finding is straightforward:
" While fourth-graders had similar overall average scores on the 2012 NAEP computer-based writing assessment and on a paper-based pilot writing assessment administered in 2010, an analysis of 15 writing tasks common to both assessments revealed a different story.  The average score of high-performing fourth-graders was higher on the computer than on paper, whereas low- performing students did not appear to benefit from using the computer.  This finding suggests that low-performing fourth-graders did not fully demonstrate their writing ability on the computer in the 2012 NAEP computer-based pilot writing assessment, and that the use of the computer may have widened the writing achievement gap."
The growing gap is scary stuff. The results mirror the work by Don Leu that found similar effects with reading digitally. One response can be, so let's just assess kids without technology. The logic is that is technology in assessment widens the achievement gap then we should just go back to pencil and reduce the gap. Switching to pencil, however, is a short-sighted response. Assessment strived to approximate real world knowledge and skill. Writing in our world is done on devices more than any other way. One might argue about the value of note taking by hand, but the composition of personal, public, and professional communication is done electronically. Keeping the assessment to pen and paper would hide the much bigger gap that exists and divert us away from the main challenge- early access to digital technology for all children.
My claim here is that the language of the report makes it seem like the method is the culprit- "the use of the computer may have widened the achievement gap" I would argue it just exposed it.

I hear teachers and administrators worry that the tools embedded in the software/ internet provide "cheats". Children will use editing, dictionary, and spelling tools in a way that would reduce their learning.
This, however, is what the study found:
"In the computer-based pilot assessment, students’ actions on the computer were captured and analyzed for the lowest performing 20 percent of students, the highest performing 20 percent of students, and the middle-performing 60 percent of students. Compared to the middle- and high-performing students, a higher percentage of low-performing students:

  • used key presses less frequently;
  • did not use the spellcheck function;
  • did not accept any automated spelling corrections; and
  • used the backspace key less frequently to edit their work.
Overall, students who accepted spelling corrections and used the backspace key more often were also likely to write longer responses. "
Less capable students seem to be using tools less, partially explaining their lower achievement. Our problem is not that the tools are a crutch for low achievers, it is that they do not use them enough.

It is about access:
"The 2012 fourth-grade writing data indicate that students with access to the Internet at home were more likely than those without access to:

  • write longer responses;
  • use the spellcheck tool more often;
  • use the thesaurus tool more often; and
  • use bold and italics for emphasis more often. "
And who doesn't have access?
"The percentage of fourth-graders without access to the Internet at home was higher for Black students, Hispanic students, students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, English language learners, and students with a disability."

To solve this problem of wider gaps in the information age, we must first provide constant access to tools- not an occasional one but habit forming access. Then we must teach digital strategies for using these tools for all students NOT just those who we deem ready.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Brag away Teachers Brag away- Teachers on Social Media.

Last week I read a #Rant through Ian O'Byrne's excellent feed on Google Plus. In the rant the author complained about teachers on social media and their oversharing of proud moments, highlighting their books and other common social media brags.
 The author starts with "...NI am talking about teachers on Facebook and Twitter and how much they piss me off." The author talks about negativity and frustration teachers express on social media as well as the over positive. Personally, I rarely see the negativity the author mentions, for me that means that I found my tribe, positive people who are looking to grow. The author also rejects positive hoorah moments- telling teachers to keep it to themselves.

I completely disagree.  First, participating in social media is a choice, if you don't want to, then just don't. I know plenty of teachers who do not participate. My point is always the same, try it, find your tribe, if you still do not like it stop. You do not have to read what others say- unfriend or hide on facebook or just plain ignore it on twitter.

The benefits of social media done right, outweigh the negative in my mind:

1. I believe that teachers can use social media well to get professional development or more likely the beginning of professional development. Twitter is a great place to get leads and re-orient yourself. I love twitter chats they are supportive and positive but in 140 characters you can just get a taste for ideas that you can then find more about.

2. Teachers need to connect, some have great people around them, others not. Social media creates vast teacher groups that can support teachers who are isolated because they are in a negative building or simply because they are the only German/art/take your pick teacher in the building.

3. We are often derided and attacked so sharing great student work, results or moments is a great way to make our work a bit more visible. Sharing our accomplishments is a powerful motivator. I do not read it as "look how much better than you I am" I read this as "I am teacher hear me roar..."

In short, I believe that social media can be a great tool for teachers to break isolation, keep learning, and stay motivated.

I think every teacher should try it. If it doesn't work for you, drop it. But please, do not rant, making those who do choose to engage feel small.

So brag away Teachers brag away!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

EdFuture is Now- Predictions

By Parry
My colleague Al asked me to think about trends in educational technology in the next 5-7 years. It is both a lovely and futile to try and predict where things are going. As I thought about it I found myself thinking of changes that are already in mid stride. To make it clear I am interested in technology and technology induced trends only as they impact education. Other trends (e.g. self driving cars) are exciting but have little relevance to the thing I know much about.

In the next few weeks I will blog about each group of predictions independently but here are the main topics I will try and tackle.

Already here:
1. Mobile
2. Flipped
3. Social

In the works:
5. Augmented reality
6. Individualization
7. Gaming

Social Engineering:
8. Citizenship
9. Leisure

Fashionable but educationally negligible:
10. Wearables
11. VR
12. User Interface beyond touch and voice.