Skills for the 21st Century

Cognitive and Literacy Skills for Success in a Fast-Paced Technological Age

Archive for June, 2010

Again – Increased Access Does NOT Equal Increased Skills

Posted by durencls on June 25, 2010

Back from vacation and catching up on e-mails, tweets, and blog posts – Whew! This Web 2.0 stuff is tiring!¬† ūüôā

From my backlog of e-mail, here is more evidence that simply increasing access to equipment/software/internet does not necessarily lead to an increase in necessary technology skills (or even thinking skills).

Children With Home Computers Likely to Have Lower Test Scores, Study Finds

ScienceDaily (June 19, 2010) ‚ÄĒ Around the country and throughout the world, politicians and education activists have sought to eliminate the “digital divide” by guaranteeing universal access to home computers, and in some cases to high-speed Internet service.

However, according to a new study by scholars at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, these efforts would actually widen the achievement gap in math and reading scores. Students in grades five through eight, particularly those from disadvantaged families, tend to post lower scores once these technologies arrive in their home.

Vigdor and Ladd concluded that home computers are put to more productive use in households where parental monitoring is more effective. In disadvantaged households, parents are less likely to monitor children’s computer use and guide children in using computers for educational purposes. [emphasis added]

I found this highly intriguing, but knowing that articles don’t always tell the whole or unbiased picture, I¬†found and skimmed the original report:

Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievement by Charles T. Clotfelter, Helen F. Ladd and Jacob L. Vigdor, Duke University, July 29, 2008. 

Here we find that the researchers had access to administrative data for ALL NC 5th-8th grade students from 2000-2005 Рover 500,000 student surveys/observations per year РWOW! This allowed both cross-student and within-student analysis over a three year period.  The authors specifically note that the period studied is BEFORE the Facebook/Twitter phenomenon, but during a period of significant growth in computer and internet access. Within this document we find these statements [emphasis added]:

  • Relative to students with no computer at home, those who use a home computer for schoolwork once or twice per month score between 4 and 5 percent of a standard deviation higher on both reading and math tests.
  • Students who own a computer but never use it for schoolwork [regardless of ov erall computer usage pattern] have math test scores nearly indistinguishable from those without a home computer.
  • Students reporting almost daily use of their home computer for schoolwork score significantly worse than students with no computer at home.
  • transitioning from no home computer access to any of these use categories [rarely, monthly, weekly or daily use] is associated with a statistically significant decline in both reading and math test scores.
  • students who transition from having no home computer to having one and using it for schoolwork almost every day post relative test score declines on the order of 4% of a standard deviation in both reading and math.¬†…the most plausible explanation is that students who transition into the highest computer use category are using their computers for much more than just schoolwork, and these non-productive uses are actually crowding out productive study time.
  • Results for both reading and math indicate that the negative effect of computer ownership on both math and reading holds fairly steady over the first three years.

The researchers conclude:

Our preferred specifications indicate that 5th through 8th grade students [from 2000-2005] generally perform best on math and reading tests when they do not have access to a computer at home. Conditional on owning a computer, the ‚Äúoptimal‚ÄĚ rate of use is infrequent, twice a month or less. For the average student, introducing home internet service does not produce additional benefits. For school administrators interested in maximizing achievement test scores, or reducing racial and socioeconomic disparities in test scores, all evidence suggests that a program of broadening home computer access would be counterproductive.¬† [emphasis added]

So Рprograms to simply ADD hardware, software, and internet access to homes (or schools) are likely to have a NEGATIVE effect on traditional academic performance, unless partnered with efforts to ensure productive use of those tools as relates to those academic areas.  Just putting them AT a computer does not mean they will learn more. They still need those crucial Thinking Skills in order to use the computer for learning effectively. According to this study, this means not ONLY training teachers in effective uses of computers in the classroom, but ALSO training parents on productive uses of computers IN THE HOME.

Hmmmm… so what does this mean for children with parents who have low-literacy skills?¬† While the researchers did not focus their¬†analysis on this factor, it was included in the research data they presented. Examining the tables and graphs presented we find that:

  • Parents with less than a HS diploma were FAR less likely to HAVE a computer in their homes (or internet access) during this time period – 60% had computers as compared to 85% on average and as much as 90% overall by 2005.
  • Of homes with a computer where parents had less than a HS diploma, student computer usage rates of ‘never’ or ‘rarely’ were 8% higher than homes where parents had¬†at least¬†a HS diploma or associate’s degree.
  • The decline in math and reading scores associated with the introduction of a computer into the home were highest for homes where parents had less than a high school degree – higher by far than declines noted for race or economic factors (free lunch participation).

In fact, the researchers do make the following statements about parent influence on computer usage:

The evidence is consistent with the view that internet service, and technology more broadly, is put to more productive use in households with more effective parental monitoring of child behavior. Survey behavior indicates that students very commonly use the internet, and computers more generally, both to work on school-related projects and for personal entertainment. In households with insufficient [parental] monitoring, unproductive uses may not only crowd out productive computer time, but may also crowd out offline studying.

Disadvantaged students may also receive less instruction in how to use a computer, either because their schools have poorer resources, because their parents have less technical expertise, or because their parents are simply less available.   [emphasis added]

¬†So low-literate parents seem to need skills in effective and productive use of computers for learning in order to isupport and increase¬†their child’s¬†performance in traditional academic areas. Which means that they TOO need those critical ‘meta-skills’ we’ve been touting on this blog! [I love it when empirical research backs up our theories/arguments! ]

In the conclusion of their paper, researchers Vigdor and Ladd do acknowledge that additional computer access/training may have other, more positive purposes/value:

Of course, administrators may have other goals aside from improving math and reading test scores. Computer literate students may enjoy improved job opportunities later in life, or may be poised to take better advantage of online resources once their internal mechanisms for behavioral regulation have fully developed. Evaluations of the Texas Technology Immersion Project have shown improvements in student proficiency with technology and student discipline (Shapley et al., 2007). It is not clear, however, whether computer literacy actually leads to better employment outcomes (Krueger, 1993; DiNardo and Pischke 1997), ** and also not clear whether access to home computers in the early secondary school years is critical to later computer literacy.

Not really a rousing endorsement, huh?¬† Essentially, the researchers are clearly biased against education systems spending money on “increasing computer access in the home” and feel those funds could be better spent elsewhere.¬† I’d point out, however, that just dumping hardware/internet in the home, without comprehensive training and support to parents (including basic literacy training)¬†was, like so many “access” efforts,¬†likely doomed to fail from the start.

I do find, however, that this paper adds to the research showing the importance of parental literacy skills in K-12 student performance and success.  Teach the parent, reach the child!

**OK, I find this statement laughable – especially since they are citing research that is OVER 10 years old at the time their paper was published.

Posted in Job Skills, Meta-Skills, Teaching Tech Skills, Technology In the Classroom | 1 Comment »

New Common Core Standards – Where’s the Tech?

Posted by durencls on June 4, 2010

On June 2nd, 2010, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) released  the Common Core State Standards  for grades K-12.

Developed in collaboration with a variety of stakeholders including content experts, states, teachers, school administrators and parents… [we think¬†that the] standards establish clear and consistent goals for learning that will prepare America‚Äôs children for success in college and work. ” [Read press release]

Many in the K-12 field and the field of Adult Literacy Education have been closely following the development of the Common Core Standards (see our 4/21/2010 post). It is expected that these standards will have a dramatic effect on WHAT is taught, WHEN, and HOW in all education fields. Upon (an admittedly quick) review of these standards, I noted these things overall:

  • The English Language Arts and Mathematics Standards documents have signficantly different formats/approaches (clearly written by different folks). Thus how these two documents address technology skills is very differently.
  • The Language Arts document is organized around a set of “College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards”¬†in 4 areas: Reading – literature, informational text and foundation skills, Writing, Speaking & Listening, and Language)¬†– skills they feel students should have upon exiting K-12 education. They also provide a ‘vision’ of students who are “College and Career Ready in English Language Skills.”¬† ¬†
  • The Math document contains a general list of “Standards for mathematical Practice” – processes and proficiencies important to all mathematical processes (technology is only mentioned in one place here in the entire document). The remainder of the document focuses on grade-specific “Standards for Mathematical Content” listing the procedures and understandings students should have at that level. They note however, that order may vary and hope that implementation of the standard may “…allow research on learning progressions to inform and improve the design of standards...”
  • The Language Arts document includes skills as applied in Social Studies and Science, and strongly emphasize the integrated nature of language skills with all other disciplines. The Mathematics Standards do not seem to do so.
  • Overall the Language Arts document seems richer and more well developed.¬† There is much more mention of technology integrated throughout. [But, then, it was written by *writers* not mathematicians, who tend to think about writing in a different way ūüôā ]
  • Technology: While I¬†have not yet had the chance to read every paragraph under every grade level, I believe the writers of both documents have approached technology as a tool, not a set of skills in itself, and mention of technology is found mostly in the more “overarching” sections of the documents.
  • Lastly, it feels (to me) like¬†there is something of a bias in these standards towards skills needed for success in higher education settings, although Career Readiness is mentioned throughout, there seems (to me) an emphasis of prepration for more academic environments.

So – what do these standards say about Technology skills for success?

The Mathematics Standards document says simply this, under Standards for Mathematical Practice:

5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
Mathematically proficient students consider the available tools when solving a mathematical problem. These tools might include pencil and paper, concrete models, a ruler, a protractor, a calculator, a spreadsheet, a computer algebra system, a statistical package, or dynamic geometry software. When making mathematical models, they know that technology can enable them to visualize the results of varying assumptions, explore consequences, and compare predictions with data. Mathematically proficient students at various grade levels are able to identify relevant external mathematical resources, such as digital content located on a website, and use them to pose or solve problems. They are able to use technological tools to explore and deepen their understanding of concepts.

The English Language Arts Standards document has more to say in several different sections:

Key Design Considerations:  Research and media skills blended into the Standards as a whole
To be ready for college, workforce training, and life in a technological society, students need the ability to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and report on information and ideas, to conduct original research in order to answer questions or solve problems, and to analyze and create a high volume and extensive range of print and nonprint texts in media forms old and new. The need to conduct research and to produce and consume media is embedded into every aspect of today’s curriculum. In like fashion, research and media skills and understandings are embedded throughout the Standards rather than treated in a separate section.
(emphasis added)

In the Language Arts ‘vision’ statement – “Students Who are College and Career Ready in Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, & Language”:

They use technology and digital media strategically and capably.
Students employ technology thoughtfully to enhance their reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language use. They tailor their searches online to acquire useful information efficiently, and they integrate what they learn using technology with what they learn offline. They are familiar with the strengths and limitations of various technological tools and mediums and can select and use those best suited to their communication goals.

In three of the four College and Career Readiness (CCR) anchor standards:

7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.
8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

Speaking & Listening:
2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
5. Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
And also – New technologies have broadened and expanded the role that speaking and listening play in acquiring and sharing knowledge and have tightened their link to other forms of communication. Digital texts confront students with the potential for continually updated content and dynamically changing combinations of words, graphics, images, hyperlinks, and embedded video and audio.

WOW, that’s a lot to think over!¬† And you may have other things you want to investigate in this new document as well.¬†¬†So Bill & I are going to¬†give ourselves a chance to ruminate, and compare this standards document to both our list of meta-skills and the overall¬†philosophy behind this blog and get back to you on this later.¬† (We’re going out of town soon and need to go do other stuff!)

In the meantime, you think on it too – and PLEASE feel free to make comments!

Posted in Changing the AE field, Job Skills, Meta-Skills, Teaching Tech Skills | 6 Comments »

Re-Making Humanity

Posted by durencls on June 2, 2010

In 1997, I was intrigued by the ideas presented in the film Gattaca.*   Set in a non-specific future earth, where genetic enhancement is the norm, the film tries to answer the question Рis genetics everything? In this vision of the future, good, responsible parents consult with a geneticist before conception and work to give their child every genetic advantage possible.  Even simple dating decisions are made based on DNA comparisons Рreadily available from streetside kiosks.  In this future world, if you are not genetically perfect, it is assumed you cannot compete with those who are, and you are automatically relegated to lesser, more menial jobs. This science fiction idea could have significant implications for education Рhow do you teach in a genetically modified world?  Are those without genetic enhancement excluded from some educational opportunities?  What is fair?

Well, that future vision is now one step closer to reality:

ROCKVILLE, MD and San Diego, CA (May 20, 2010)‚ÄĒ Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), a not-for-profit genomic research organization, published results today describing the successful construction of the first self-replicating, synthetic bacterial cell. [Read the entire Press Release]

Yes, there you have it, we can now manipulate genetic code to create artifical life. How soon until we are trying to teach genetically engineered children?

While our ability to manipulate genetic code¬†is growing by leaps and bounds, neuroscience is experimenting with cognitive enhancement through chemical enhancement and neural feedback devices.¬† Off-label use of Adderall¬†and other chemical neuroenhancers used to ‘strengthen’ ordinary cognition is already having an effect on¬†how students ‘gain an edge’¬†at higher institutions.¬†¬†Research and marketing¬†companies are leaping to join the emerging ¬†“Brain fitness” market.

At the same time, research is progressing on technological enhancements to human functioning – with implications not only for education, but also bio-mechanical engineering.¬† In one experiment¬†by the School of Systems Engineering, University of Reading, Dr. Mark Gasson has had a high-end Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip was implanted¬†in his¬†left hand for over a year for the purpose of experimentation. This chip allowed him secure access to his University building and his mobile phone, as well as tracking his movements.¬†¬†When he allowed his chip to be infected with a computer virus last month, he says that he, “…found it a surprisingly violating experience because the implant is so intimately connected to me but the situation is potentially out of my control.”¬† Further, Dr Gasson states:

“I believe it is necessary to acknowledge that our next evolutionary step may well mean that we all become part machine as we look to enhance ourselves. Indeed we may find that there are significant social pressures to have implantable technologies, either because it becomes as much of a social norm as say mobile phones, or because we’ll be disadvantaged if we do not.”¬†

If genetic engineering, neurological enhancement, and/or technological improvements to our cognitive abilities are clearly a furture trend, what are the implications for finding success in the 21st Century Workplace?¬† What skills and/or training will be needed by enhanced individuals for success?¬† And what of the likely “enhancement gap”?¬† What kinds of supports or preparation will this ‘disadvantaged’ group need to find success? To compete in this not-to-distant future?

This is an example of how the technologies themselves may affect not only how we educate, but also who and why.  And as teachers Рwill we ourselves have to be enhanced in order to serve an enhanced population or to qualify for our jobs?  [Oooo, creepy!]

Let us know what you think!  First person to comment on this post wins a free cognitive enhancement of their choice Рperformed in a hidden laboratory, during a thunderstorn, by your hosts! BwAH, ha, ha!**   

*The field of futurism is, of course, rife with references to science fiction films and writings, and as blog hosts we are certainly not immune.

**Just kidding! But Bill was sure ‘bwAH, ha, ha’ had to go in this post SOMEwhere!

Posted in Futurism, Meta-Skills, Pace of Change | Leave a Comment »