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CQR Pro or Con?: Should schools use as much digital technology as they can afford?
Friday, December 02, 2011
Sorry no blog postings for a while. Been a rough semester, first of travel, and now of trying to complete an NSF grant.

One shiny moment occurred today. A special issue of the Congressional Record Quarterly (CRQ) came out today (Note: You may need a subscription to view it...sorry about that). The issue is devoted to technology in the K-12 schools and higher education. It is titled "Digital Education." The issue looks great; in fact, many people and projects from the "Extreme Learning" arena that I am researching are mentioned in it. For example, Aaron Doering from the University of Minnesota who has helped found Earthducation and Polar Husky. There is Paul Kim from Stanford who founded Seeds for Empowerment (he is quoted on page 1008). My son, Alex Bonk, is currently working with Paul on his Seeds for Empowerment project.

Congressional Quarterly Researcher (CQR) homepage; Entire issue: CRQ,
Digital Education (Note: It will be listed at the homepage only until the night of December 8, 2011), December 2, 2011 • Volume 21, Issue 42, Can technology replace classroom teachers?, By Marcia Clemmitt

There are many other superstars in this issue. James Gee from Arizona State University of Arizona is asked about the skills learned from game-based learning on pages 1004 and 1005. Paul Resta from UT Austin is also interviewed on page 1005. He mentions the inadequate teacher training that often surrounds technology purchases in schools. Gee, Resta, Kim, Doering. Wow.

But wait, there is more! After Paul Kim (p. 1008) mentions how live teachers might support student technology needs when and where needed online, Chris Dede from Harvard is asked about the benefits of interactive games like "River City" which he helped develop. After that, my friend Barry Fishman from the U of Michigan comments on his goals in studying the motivational principles of games. A few pages later (p. 1014), Fishman is back to discuss the educational benefits of mobile apps. The following paragraph signals the return of Aaron Doering and his ideas about adventure learning and student-generated knowledge from these adventures. Also on page 1014, my friend Christine Greenhow from the University of Maryland discusses the benefits of social networking. And there are many more learning technology experts quoted in this issue.

It is great to see so many of my friends and colleagues whom I highly respect quoted in this issue. Their work is an inspiration to me. Therefore, it was an honor to be asked to author the Pro side of the op ed piece that CRQ people gave me on the technology spending debate in schools. The exact debate is: "Should schools incorporate as much digital technology as they can afford." My response and the entire issue is freely available for a week or until the night of December 8th, 2011.

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Pro and Con. Note: I wrote 538 words. My article, however, had to be reduced to 400 words. My original longer version is below. See what you think.

Congressional Quarterly Researcher (CQ) Researcher, op-ed on Computers in K-12 education.

Position of Advocate: Should schools incorporate as much digital technology as finances allow?, p. 1117

Curt Bonk, Indiana University (2011, December 2, p. 1017). Op Ed (Pro side--expanded version--a shorter 400 word version appeared in CQR) (Note: Paul Thomas from Furman University has the con side.)

We have entered a unique moment in history. Learning technologies have far outstripped learning theory. There is a ceaseless churning out of digital technologies for schools and teachers to consider. At the same time, budgets are being slashed. What to do? This is no time to ban, control, restrict, limit, or passively ignore possible uses of technology in teaching and learning. Instead, it should be an age filled with heavy doses of learning technology experimentation and creative initiatives.

School administrators, educational experts, teachers, and other stakeholders should map out reasonable scenarios on technology use and learning outcomes. With proper planning, foresight, discussion, and evaluation, there is much that technology dollars can afford, even for the smallest or most impoverished school or district.

A couple of years ago, I authored the book, “The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education.” In it, I detailed many free and openly available resources for learning. With careful planning of one’s technology dollar, technologies such as laptops, tablet computers such as the iPad, or other hardware can be acquired with a wide range of free tools and applications for learning basic mathematics, spelling, grammar, or scientific concepts. Not content? Why, then, perhaps you might have students explore learning portals containing the great works of Shakespeare, Darwin, Einstein, Jane Austin, Jane Goodall, the Dalai Lama, and most major historical figures and leaders one can name from the past few millennia. And such contents are often created by NASA, the U.S. Federal Government, the Smithsonian, National Geographic, the United Nations, MIT, Berkeley, the British Library, UNESCO, and many other reputable and expert-reviewed sources.

Learners can collect data with online survey tools, manipulate and analyze it with spreadsheet and statistical applications, and report it with various presentation and communication tools. Critical thinking, problem solving, and synthesis are all skills that can be enhanced using digital technologies. Why not extend your budgets toward such ends? Thoughtful integration of technology necessitates that we push to the edges of all perceived limitations; this includes pedagogical limitations, access limitations, time limitations, complexity limitations, and cost limitations. Learners today can spend their entire middle and high school years learning with free resources. Now top it off with hardware, software, and administrative costs that situate students in authentic contexts analyzing real world data and interacting with their global peers about the results of their investigations. If this requires a cheap $20 membership in some service that fosters such expert advice or interaction, that is $20 well spent.

Digital technologies offer so much hope today. Students can be inspired by mentors and role models from all corners of the Earth. Feedback on one’s ideas can be received in the early morning hours or late at night. E-books can be loaded into mobile devices that can represent events through simulations, animations, videos, and hyperlinked text.

Effective learning requires an environment be designed for multiple paths to success. In the twenty-first century digital technologies—social networking, e-books, shared online video, mobile applications, virtual worlds, collaborative tools, etc.—enhance the learning opportunities for untold millions of learners. The maximization of technologies in the learning space, in effect, provides a distinct advantage for learning. Now is the time to move ahead, not retrench or retrace.

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Hope you enjoyed it. What is you opinion? Should schools use as much digital technology as they can afford? I think the operational word here is "use" not "afford." But that would need to be a longer argument.

Of course, I wish I had the space to write twice as much. With that, I could have embedded a few more specific examples. Reminder: the entire CQR special issue will only be listed on the homepage until December 8th, 2011 and may require a subscription by your university or organization to be able to view it. The Pro-Con debate I was in may end up available later on as there is a portal to all previous Pro-Con debates in CQR.

Enjoy the weekend and the football games; especially my alma mater Wisconsin Badgers vs. Mich State.

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About Me

Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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Click here for information about my recent book, The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education.

Visit the Indiana University Home Page of E-Learning Expert Curtis J. Bonk.

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