Technology vs. Intelligence?

“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”                     – Albert Einstein

Jason Lodge takes a critical stand against technology in education in his recent article “Education in the information age: is technology making us stupid?” on The ConversationHe underlines his thesis with the argument that modern education cannot keep up with the information overflow induced by the internet. Furthermore, he uses the theory of Daniel Kahneman about two process thinking to explain that education has to change in order to meet the new demands of the 21st century.

The two process thinking model is a complex theory, which can be simplified for educational purposes. There are two different ways thinking or rather to solve a problem. The first thinking process is fast, efficient and instinctive. “System one” as it is called is responsible for detecting patterns and uses automatism to solve problems. On the other hand, “System two” is slow, thoughtful and cognitively resource-intensive, but is responsible for the complex thinking.

 Illustration by David Plunkert. Retrieved from New York Times, 25 Nov. 2011.

In the following video, Daniel Kahneman explains his theory very understandable and only in four minutes:

Lodge explains that technology in providing easy access to information supports “system one” thinking hence the claim that technology is making us stupid. While this statement is very debatable, it is for certain that teachers in the 21st century have to cope with the changes of technology and to this extent the theory of Kahneman is helpful. Educators have to take into consideration how to foster “system two” thinking instead of “system one” in order to teach their students how to solve complex problems.

The New England Complex Systems Institute suggest to shift from “convergent” to “divergent” teaching. These sophisticated terms just denote teacher-centered and student-centered learning: A common and reasonable trend in education. However, student-based teaching environments are still not common sense and many teachers fear the risk to hand over the reigns. Usually teachers are satisfied with implementing group work in their lessons once in a while to check off student-based learning and calm their conscience of following the newest trend in education.

Most of the instructions on the web are informative and display the advantages of student-based learning, however, they remain too generic (like this example). However, there are recent researches examining specific methods on specific content such as the study by Jo Barraket. He impressively displays the adjustments he made to his lessons in order to have a student-based learning experience. For example, in the Ethic lesson, Barraket changed the discussion into a 4-way case study, in which the students are split up to take different opinions and have to defend them in class. This approach is not revolutionary, but it shows how small tweaks in your lesson plan can support student engagement.

Skype in Classrooms

Skype is one of the few technological devices of the 21st century, which adds another dimension to teaching. It offers the possibility to communicate directly with native speakers in the whole world. Suzi Bewell uses Skype in order to connect her grade schoolers with another class in France. They staged a play in French for the native speakers with their support. Bewell establishes a language tandem between classes across the world.

Not only the Skype homepage is a stepping stone into the online learning community since this concept of  virtual language tandems already arrived at the core of education. Fir example,  the University of Minnesota offers different tandems based on virtual Face-to-Face learning. Their registration is limited, which is the downside of this professional approach. However, teachers are not limited to large organizations in order to use skype in  their classrooms.

Most of the teachers, who are trying to incorporate this tool into their lessons, are organizing themselves in blogs. The Edublogger offers a large table with all important information as grade, subjects, contact information and time zone. Trying to set up a Skype session for your class can be really complicated. The logistical problems are overwhelming. For a class presentation in the States I set up a Skype session with my sister from Germany. The time difference complicates to schedule a time between an individual and a class. Imagine to schedule a session with another class from another country with the time difference of six hours or more in the rigid systems of schools.

The gains to go through this trouble are enormous for young language learners. The following are only the most important advantages in my view (Source):

  • It leads students to speak in the target language more than 90%, to vary wider in their word choice and to notice errors quicker.
  • It has a “democratizing effect” in the classroom because it shifts the emphasis on student talking, even shyer ones.
  • High engagement factor because students enjoy to be able to communicate with children of other countries.
  • Authenticity of foreign language communication.

Skype is not the solution to every foreign language lesson as with every technology the context it is embedded in is important. As Mike Levy points out:

“Its [Skype] value in language learning will depend on effective pedagogies to accompany it”

Although it is a powerful tool for teachers in a language learning environment, Skype is not relieving the teacher from the effort of creating a well elaborated lesson plan and preparation. Furthermore, there are also some downsides to Skype such as (Source):

  • Privacy and security issues constitute a completely different problem for specific policies of schools can prevent to use such communication tools in classrooms.
  • It is important to have a specific and elaborate pedagogy
  • Common malfunctions or high requirement of computer literacy of both students and teacher .
  • It is an essential concern for teachers to scrutinize with whom students are talking.

In general, it is worth a try for every foreign language teacher. If the effort is not in proportion to the gains, the worst thing, which can happen, is to waste a lesson.

Breaking the High Score

“ Computer and video games have reached a critical mass. today, nearly every device with a screen plays games, providing interactive entertainment experiences for a wide and diverse population. The creativity of our developers and publishers produces an ever-expanding variety of games to choose from in different formats and across all platforms. Their innovations drive consumer demand for our products, solidifying our industry’s position as one of the strongest and most cutting-edge sectors in the U.S. economy.”

 — Michael D. Gallagher, president and CEO,
Entertainment Software Association (Source)

It is no surprise that many modern educators try to incorporate video games into their lessons. Though, most of the times video games remain also in the classroom environment what they are: Entertainment. There are games, which are designed to educate such as Immune Attack, Quest Atlantis or BrainAge². While most of the children in the 21st century do not know this games, they will figure out the simple and outdated game designs of most of these games in seconds. The engaging factor of such games tend to zero because of their low to none entertaining value. The difference between the success of educational games and entertainment games is the financial aspect: “Consumer demand for our products, solidifying our industry’s position as one of the strongest and most cutting-edge sectors in the U.S. economy.” There is no demand for educational games by the public hence the best and most paid designers are not producing such games.

However, there are to many false facts and ignorance blurring the risks and gains of this issue. Game designers are not interested in teaching, but making a entertaining or even addictive game, which on the other hand makes money.Whereas, Educators have usually no clue about the mechanics of games, about the games which are most popular among teenagers or try to force educational value out of anything. In the following, I want to discuss a few of these myths and misconceptions of educational video games.

Most teachers and education professionals do not know the games they are talking about. The web exposes many misconceptions such as categorizing “Half-Life”, one of the most famous Ego-Shooter in the gaming history, as role-playing game: “There may be elements of fighting, but in many instances the player must decide whether fighting, or avoiding the fight, is the best choice” (Jayel Gibson). This simple mistake in categorizing leads to major and important issues such as using games in an unfitting occasion. Especially, World of Warcraft seems to be a favorite pick of educators in order to show how real-life skills can be developed such as leadership, bargaining and communication skills by playing a video game.

 World of Warcraft: Interface of an advanced player in Player vs. Player mode.

World of Warcraft and other well designed games might have a complex and in-depth game design, which require a lot of time and effort to understand. Nevertheless, they do not teach communication or leadership skills for real life occasions. Teenagers are so engaged by the game because it is instantly rewarding them in a large community. Playing the Player vs. Player mode (PvP) for several hours a day to reach the top ten is the motivating factor for many players since every other player on the server would recognize their nick name: An enormous boost in acknowledgement and ego. Players are spending hours to become better, though they are not developing any skills valuable to them in real life.

There is still a huge difference to communicate anonymously over the internet and talking to a person face to face. Eastin and Griffiths talk about the aggressive nature of online communication in a video game environment, which is colloquially called “flaming“. This is only one example to display the difference of social structure between video games and real life. There are many more, which has to be taken into consideration before video games can be used in the classroom. Even though, video games exist for more than 30 years now a proper use in education has still to be found. This blog entry had the purpose to let teachers reconsider the common hype of video games in education.

PS: Here a famous example of ingame communication of World of Warcraft:

“They can shoot pictures, can’t they?”

The progress in technology provides access to technological devices to a wide degree of people. Thus, students and teachers have the opportunity to use devices such as digital cameras, iPads or laptops in class. The possibility for teachers to offer students shooting a movie in class is nothing revolutionary. Students reenacted scenes of read literature or historical events before. However, to shoot a whole short film on their own challenges student’s skill and knowledge on many different levels (The blog “The Teachers Lounge” is elaborating on this issue and provides several examples). In the following I will provide my ideas how such a movie project in school should be planned.

I strongly disagree with the newest hype to use iPhones or iPads for such a project, despite its “simplicity and accessibility” as Jess Nepom, a Knewton blogger, suggests. The money spent to acquire such expensive and limited devices can be spent much better on laptops, digital cameras and in addition even for the license for a proper editing program. I have experienced a lot of movie projects  during my school career, which were poorly supported, planned or explained. First, it underestimates the skills and capabilities of students to use “easy” programs as iMovie or Windows MovieMaker, who are usually more versed in technology than the teacher.  I am convinced that even younger students are capable of using professional editing software, if they have a proper introduction and support by their teacher. See Emma Kenney, for instance, who entered the New Jersey Film Festival with 8 years. Second, schools have the obligation to prepare students for college or the job market, which they utterly fail by using shortcut solutions such as MovieMaker or iMovie for editing or iPads instead of a real cameras.

Such a movie project should be realized in groups, in which every student is assigned a fixed role as director, screenwriter or editor rather than making every student work in every field. This approach certainly has its disadvantages, however, it provides the students with a real life working situation and allows them to focus on their assigned roles. Furthermore,  it helps to overcome communication problems and encourages positive interaction in the group (Student Roles).

Before the groups start shooting their movies, they need an appropriate introduction to their field of work. Therefore, I suggest to split the students in groups according to their roles in their movie team and give role-specific introductions. Teachers should use the Inverted Classroom Model to present each “role group” with their specific content.  Certainly, this takes a lot of preparation time, but so does every well elaborated lesson. Thus, the main burden of the teacher’s work lies in the preparation phase.

There are several occasions offering the opportunity to include a movie project in the lesson unit. The most common is to film a novel which was read in class. Although  I do not think there should be any restrictions for a teacher as long as the method supports the content of the lesson.

On are many examples what (high school) students can achieve.

Add schools on Facebook

One of the most demanding challenges for teachers in the 21st century is to implement new technology in their established teaching strategy. Social media  has become the center of attention for younger generations and an essential part of their life. Thus, the technological innovations became a hot topic in education whether to include or exclude them. Matt Brittland, guardian professional, points out many different uses for social media, however,I will focus how to use Facebook  as a learning platform.

There are many arguments for and against to use Facebook in school. For most teachers Facebook is the social ill of  the technology age distracting students from studying and absorb their attention for hours. If you google “How to use facebook in school” the first result will be explaining how to circumvent security measures of schools to prevent students to check Facebook with school computers. However, in this attention absorbing feature lies the enormous potential for teachers to have the most effective communication with their students. There is no better attention catcher in the 21st century than a little red square on the upper left corner of your Facebook. This is also the difference between other social network sites with the solely purpose of education as Edmodo and Facebook. For students Edmodo will bear the negative connotation of work and due dates, while Facebook will remain its popular status. Therefore, the potential of Facebook is much higher.

“You can join a group for your major to discuss classes, for your sorority to plan upcoming events, or for your dorm to share photos.”  – Facebook engineer Michael Novati

The decision-makers of Facebook realized its educational potential and introduced in April of this year the “Groups for school” feature allowing colleges and high schools to have their own Facebook site with all security standards demanded by institutions of education allowing only students with an respective .edu address to join the groups. Ironically, there is also a Facebook site for education “to serve as an ongoing resource for information about how educators can best use Facebook.”

In the following you can see an example (link to original article) how to use Facebook successfully in class. This example is taken from a comment of the article “ 5 Reasons Why Educators Need to Embrace Internet Technology”:

“In my British Literary History course last winter semester, my professor created a class facebook group which we all joined.  We’d finish our reading for class and then get online and write a paragraph about what we’d read, focusing our comments on the specific course aims that my professor had created for the class.  We would then go to class where my professor would note the ways in which we’d covered the material well and he’d teach anything we missed as well as anything else he wanted us to know.

This way of conducting class was effective because:

1. We were socially motivated to complete the reading and  contribute to the online discussion.

2. We didn’t spend class time going over that which we already understood.

3. We were able to benefit from insights from peers who generally don’t participate in class discussion.

4. We all learned to focus the vast amount of reading required for such a course to the specific course aims of our professor.

5. Through contributions from our classmates, we understood how each distinct text related to the others and to the class focus, and so on.

We shouldn’t discount facebook when it has proven to be a worthwhile classroom tool.  I should also note that a class facebook group doesn’t require the professor or students to “friend” each other to participate.”

PS: During the course of writing this blog entry I have checked my facebook nine times prolonging the process of creating this entry by a serious amount of time.

Flipped Lessons or the Inverted Classroom Model

My first assignment for my Educational Technology class is to create a Flipped Lesson on the basis of Bergman and Sams.Though, it is not for the first time that I encounter the idea of flipped lessons. In my home university most of the linguistic classes use the “inverted classroom model.” They are provided on a platform called “Virtual Linguistic Campus” (VLC).It does not only offer the virtual sessions for class, but a variety of tools like a dictionary, a linguistic wiki for technical terms and many more.

If you want to see how a session on the VLC works, Prof. Dr. Handke, a linguistic professor of the Philipss-University Marburg, offers a free lesson about the “Inverted Classroom Model” on the Virtual Linguistic Campus. In the video below you can see him explain the system of the “Inverted Classroom Model.” (Go to this point, 3:30, in the video to skip the part about the Phonology, Phonetics & Transcription class)

For further information about his project, but only in German: The link to the blog of Prof. Dr. Handke.

The main idea is that students are learning the content before they come into class by videos or learning websites. In class they can apply their knowledge on different tasks with the assistance of their teacher. The possible advantages of this model are that students can learn in their own pace. Scaffolding helps slower learning students, while students who are more comfortable with the content can skim over the parts they already understand. In contrast to the traditional model students apply their knowledge in class with the assistance of their teacher instead of learning content in class and applying knowledge in homeworks. Thus, frustration with homework should be avoided.

But the ideas behind flipping are not brand new. For over a decade, led by the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT), dozens of colleges have successfully experimented with similar ideas across math, science, English, and many other disciplines.

(- Bill Tucker, Education Next, The Flipped Classroom)

Even though the NCAT is developing the “Inverted Classroom Model” for over a decade, this model is not the ultimate solution for a teacher’s problems to reengage students in their teaching or to provide individual learning pace for every student – a well shot video for a flipped classroom is simply not enough. The teacher still has to worry whether his/her students watch the videos since the chances that students skip to watch the videos who did not do their homework in a traditional model are rather high. Also learning new content all on your own can be a really tough challenge for students and the “Inverted Classroom” has to be really well elaborate to achieve its high set standards. In conclusion, the “Inverted Classroom Model” literally flips the framework of teaching, but it still needs well trained teachers who spend time and effort to establish  lessons, in which you can embed this model for a successful learning experience.