Through the Education Lens

If you have to spy on students, your new digital school program isn't working

CJ Westerberg, April 15, 2011 12:55 PM


More is not better.
PBS Video Below
by C.J. Westerberg

From PBS NewsHour's "Learning Matters," below is a segment about one NC school district
that has "gone digital", with much fanfare.  We hear a teacher being excited about not having to test papers at night because it is done automatically digitally and instantaneously.  We hear students thrilled (which we love to hear), and their parents "amazed" by how much technology is at the former's disposal.  

Yet, I can't imagine any parent or teacher watching this segment not having a gnawing sensation in their gut about so many questionable moments.  Was it just the editing of the story, or did it seem that "more technology time," as opposed to the most effective tech use for learning, seemed to be the driving mandate at this Moorestown, NC school?

One scene shows students watching videos as part of class, and another where students are
in a large darkened classroom staring into their laptop monitors, and we should be getting
inspired by this?   Not exactly a unique nor compelling use of technology (unlike flip learning, which is more about on-line viewing at-home and where in-class time is more teacher-student time).    Does going digital mean every minute is dedicated to screen time?  Are there no class discussions where laptops are closed and students are out of their seats (one would hope)?
More concerning was when the reporter asked how the school ensured that students are
not just playing video games during class time, we are told how the teacher walks around the class observing what the students are doing.  Then, to be doubly sure that students are doing what they are supposed to be doing, comes a moment for pause:

The principal illustrated how she could monitor every student's screen
during class.  In fact, she "caught"
one student playing a video game, and sent a note directly to him digitally.

Here we go again.  While we're using technology, let's not really trust the learners? 
Couldn't this be a pre-cursor to at-home surveillance?  After all, it is the school's lap-top . . .  
Haven't we been down this road already

Should students understand that self-monitoring is equally important to becoming a responsible and well-adjusted person (and not relegated as the responsibility of  some "big brother" lurking somewhere)?

Shouldn't responsible tech use include role-modeling by schools to illustrate that life and learning doesn't always mean "being wired?"

Another press article (and video) on this same NC school initiative mentions the use of Skype
to connect to other students across the world (which is a specific smart use of tech), but again, the main scope of the video and article seemed to zero in on some of the more odd benefits, such as no longer needing lockers and not lifting books.  Sigh.

The article touts that "curriculum tests" have increased dramatically.  What exactly are curriculum tests ?

In the last two weeks, nearly 150 educators from across North Carolina and the country have visited Mooresville to see the digital conversion in person. The district is also planning an event this summer to showcase the program to more schools.

During his visit Monday, Tate said he was impressed by the "laser-tight focus on data, close relationship with students and teachers." It was the first of several upcoming trips by various board members to see how similar programs could be implemented across the state.

Laser-tight focus on data, anyone?   Is data the focus, or is learning supposed to be the focus? 
Being a vocal advocate for tech in education, I may be tougher on media examples like this that may mislead the public (and educators) into believing more technology in education is better, or
more technology equals better learning.    

Compare this to today's post about Whitfield schools in Dalton, Ga, who trained with High Tech High.   Core beliefs are all tied to learning, the students' reality, and learning experience, and are adjusted and tweaked for that goal.

Is this an example of poor reporting or editing?   Or, is it a picture of two schools -  
Moorestown and High Tech High - with two divergent priorities for change?

What do you think? 


What Students Think of iPads

Related posts from The Daily Riff:

Is your child learning how to learn?  by Shelley Wright Some obstacles with tech in education

School spying at home via computer?

The Battle For the Mind of the High School Student

Technology:  White Hat or Black Hat

Transforming Schools for Real Learning - TED - SLA's Chris Lehmann

Is this the Best High School in America? - High Tech High


Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

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