March 12, 2009

Fresh research showing the damage of filtering 'real world' technology

Students in schools around the world find that their research, creativity and learning potential is seriously curbed by filtering and lack of use of their own mobile and gaming devices in schools. This comes from research spanning the Americas, brought to my attention by its author, Research Consultant Kim Farris-Berg.

Kim got in touch with me to highlight the research she carried out in the summer of 2008, across the USA and swathes of South America and Australia. Filtering of sites they use at home for learning is the number one obstacle for high school students, arguably those in whom we should be able to place more trust thanks to more time learning about how to exploit the web wisely:

"In 2007, [filtering] was high school students’ number one obstacle to using technology at their schools (53 percent). For middle school students, two obstacles tied for the greatest barrier (39 percent each): “there are rules against using technology at school” and “teachers limit technology use”. It’s likely that when students face obstacles to using technology at school, they also face obstacles to inquiry-based learning opportunities which can include online research, visualizations, and games."


The digital divide between schools and 'real world' is also an increasingly common complaint across communities both well-off and poor:

"Students reported that other major obstacles to using technology at school are not being able to access email accounts and slow internet access. Perhaps these are the reasons why just 34 percent of teachers communicate with students via email. Teachers are certainly online; just not with students. Ninety percent of teachers, parents, and school leaders use email to communicate with one another about school."

This would seem to correlate with the completely unscientific but anecdotally true "Friendwheel research" I've often shown in my talks and keynotes, showing that compared to media workers and young people, who connect furiously with one another all the time, teachers and other public servants tend to connect to "the person next door", with relatively little cross-fertilisation across sectors, age-groups:

Friendwheel Ewan McIntosh  

It's not as if teachers and teaching leaders don't see the potential of bringing in student devices to make up the gap, either:

"Students’ increased access to mobile computing devices might now mean that the instruments in their backpacks and pockets—not to mention their high-speed internet at home (which 90 percent of them have, according to parents)—are far more useful to them for learning and communicating than the tools at school. Sixty-five percent of students in grades 9-12 said their school could make it easier for them to work electronically by allowing them to use their own laptop, cell phone, or other mobile device. Sixty-six percent of school leaders and 51 percent of teachers said the most significant value of incorporating such devices into instruction would be to increase student engagement in school and learning."

Education leaders' role in transforming the obvious into the reality
However, one would have to ask why leaders aren't transforming this 'obvious' feel and understanding into action more often. Number one on that list of engagement and learning tools, too expensive for schools and education authorities to buy en masse, would be the plethora of ever-evolving, ever-entertaining, ever-educational (in the right hands) gaming consoles:

"Games could also increase student engagement, according to 65 percent of teachers. Outside of school, 64 percent of students in grades K-12 regularly play online or electronics-based games. Besides winning, students reported that they like to play because of the competition with their peers (48 percent). Middle and high school students indicated that they like finding ways to be successful at the games (46 percent) and the high level of interactivity (44 percent). About half reported that the value of gaming technologies for learning is that games make it easier to understand difficult concepts and would engage them more in the subject. Fifty-six percent of students in grades K-2 reported that gaming would help them learn more about a subject.
"Just 11 percent of K-12 teachers reported they are incorporating gaming into their instruction, but over half said they would be interested in learning more about integrating gaming technologies into the classroom. Forty-six percent said they would also be interested in professional development to do so. Without differentiation by gender, subject taught, or years of experience, teachers thought games could address different learning styles (65 percent), focus on student-centered learning (47 percent), and develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills (40 percent)."

We know (mostly) that it's true, that it can have valid effects and, for various reasons including incompetence and ignorance, we don't act. The buck stops, I think, with middle management, with the leaders in schools and in the subject departments in those (secondary) schools. It's not that they are necessarily people who should have acted earlier.

No, I wonder if we're not losing faith in an increasingly bureaucratic group of non-educators who currently run our networked affairs, a group that are increasingly finding their own specialism - technology and network management - eaten away by democratising technologies and the cloud, and by a more enthusiastic, creative and demanding set of users (teachers students and parents) than they, as specialists, will ever be able to support effectively.

The support, like the technology, has to become more crowd-sourced, more with the users than the managers. By failing to move quickly and creatively enough with their technology management, they, like the newspaper business, may soon find their position unsustainable in the larger scheme of things.

It's well worth taking some time out of your day to read Kim's full report, available as a PDF from the site.

Pic of the groovy MOMA Gaming Console from ViaGallery, with more here.


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Wow. This quote:

"...I wonder if we're not losing faith in an increasingly bureaucratic group of non-educators who currently run our networked affairs, a group that are increasingly finding their own specialism - technology and network management - eaten away by democratising technologies and the cloud, and by a more enthusiastic, creative and demanding set of users (teachers students and parents) than they, as specialists, will ever be able to support effectively."

I have been repeating that same sentiment to folks near me for some time now. The decentralization of control we are all a part of is probably quite threatening to many. It is likely a natural human response to get your back up when loss of control pulls away some power. However, the smart strategic thing to do is to step back, analyze the situation... and retool for the future.

Sadly, I don't see this happening near me. We are only recently (<1 year) pushing the envelope with web-based technologies (not housed on our servers) and I think this is threatening. We'll soon see for certain I suppose.

A student just asked me yesterday about filtering in school. Now (as well as telling her to look herself) I'll point her to this post. :-)

I like this pre-cognitive answering of my students' questions. Can you make your next post about something my students will ask me on Monday?

Thanks in advance.


This has proved to be a massive topic on the Education 2020 wiki
The frustration and annoyance at the pointless and over bearing controls is clear

I become emotional ... Oh, you have the right words in the right place to say what I'm experiencing (have experienced) as an ex-teacher of young adults (15-18) in Flanders/Belgium. You say what I'm thinking, meaning, protesting against, believing, hoping. It's astonishing: the lack of respect of schools for their learners. For their (learning)capacities, skills, competences, creativity - and (!)their "increasing access to mobile computing devices".

Correction. ... creativity - and (!) the reality of their "increasing access to ...

You say ninety percent of teachers, school leaders and parents use email to communicate with each other about school - goodness - I wish. As a parent, it is the most frustrating thing that most teachers seem to be terribly reluctant to use communication tools to communicate. I believe that alot of teachers are still stuck in the past - thinking that there will be a "mum" who will come up to the school & communicate when they need to. Its so frustrating to me that most teachers that I've encountered absolutely resist new communciation tools. Drives me crazy!!!

My feeling after reading this post is that Students are going to "Get it, where they can find it." Meaning they will look for those unrestricted sources and circumvent the onces monitored/crippled by the authority. The will diminish make collaborative efforts and move us a step backwards. We should be heading for the clouds together, and by clouds I mean Cloud-Computing

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

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School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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