Information Age Education
   Issue Number 220
October 31, 2017   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, six free books based on the newsletters are available: Joy of Learning; Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

My most recent free book, The Fourth R, has had about 9,000 hits/downloads this year (Moursund, 12/23/2016). The 4th R (reasoning, computational thinking) is fundamental to empowering today’s students and their teachers throughout the K-12 curriculum.

Empowering Students and Teachers
Part 1

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon

"The future is here. It's just not widely distributed yet.” (William Gibson; American-Canadian writer who coined the term “cyberspace” in his short story Burning Chrome and later popularized the concept in his debut novel, Neuromancer; 1948-.)

Please reread and think about the quotation given above. We are surrounded by huge ongoing changes in many different aspects of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). Likely you own a Smartphone that has become an important part of your everyday life. Artificial Intelligence is making huge progress. When you were a child, would you possibly have believed that during your lifetime computers would reach the stage where they are better that humans at driving cars and trucks? Or, would you have believed that we would master gene splicing and be doing genetic engineering on crops and animals (including people)?

This is the first of two IAE newsletters on roles of ICT to empower students and their teachers. They take both an historical and a futures-oriented approach. The first newsletter emphasizes empowering teachers in their teaching duties. The second places greater emphasis on empowering students.

Empowerment

Quoting from the Wikipedia (2017):

The term empowerment refers to measures designed to increase the degree of autonomy and self-determination in people and in communities in order to enable them to represent their interests in a responsible and self-determined way, acting on their own authority. Empowerment as action refers both to the process of self-empowerment and to professional support of people, which enables them to overcome their sense of powerlessness and lack of influence, and to recognize and use their resources.

The term empowerment originates from American community psychology and is associated with the social scientist Julian Rappaport (1981).

Here are two short definitions of empowerment that came from my Google search:
  • Authority or power given to someone to do something.
  • The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one's life and claiming one's rights.
From these types of definitions, you can decide for yourself the extent to which students in our PreK-12 school systems are empowered, and the extent to which their teachers are empowered. Together we can think about the extent to which the empowerment of students and their teachers has been increasing or decreasing over the past 25 years or so, and the impact that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has had on these levels of empowerment.

I taught my first course about computers in education for precollege teachers in the summer of 1965. In November, 1992, I wrote an editorial titled Crosswords for ISTE’s flagship periodical, The Computing Teacher, on the empowerment of students and teachers (Moursund, November, 1992). This newsletter begins with a reprint of the Crosswords editorial, followed by two updates written in 2007 and 2009 (Moursund, 2016), and a third update written for this newsletter.
 
Crossroads
[November, 1992]

“...any educational reform movement will fail that is not firmly rooted in giving substantially increased power to students and teachers.” (Seymour Sarason; American author and psychology professor; 1919-2010.)

The National Educational Computing Conference held this past summer was overwhelming. More people, more exhibits, and more announcements of new products. The conference has been followed by a rash of price cuts and additional new product announcements this fall. The pace of change seems to be quickening.

I am particularly struck by three major, apparently conflicting, roads that are being built. One road is computer-assisted instruction. Here, the computer is viewed as an instructional delivery system. The underlying aim appears to be to develop computer-assisted instruction delivery systems and instructional materials that are educationally sound and more captivating than MTV [originally an initialism of Music Television] or Nintendo [a computer game].

The second road is computer-as-tool. Here, the underlying goal is that of providing students with powerful tools that are related to the curriculum they are studying—aids to problem solving and communication. Some of the newer tools increase the ability of students to easily work with a combination of text, sound, graphics, and video. Others provide increasingly powerful aids to solving the range of problems that students study in a broad-based academic program. Still another category, known as "groupware," facilitates groups of people simultaneously working on a project from different physical locations.

The third road is consumer market products such as "personal digital assistants." Some are designed to solve a particular problem that consumers might have (for example, need to carry around a large file of names and addresses; need to have easy access to a number of words and phrases in five different languages), while others are designed to create new markets (home hypermedia; Apple's forthcoming "Newton"). Such consumer products have substantial applicability to education. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Which road should education take, and which road will education take?

Empowerment

Obviously, education should take the road that leads to students obtaining the best possible education commensurate with the available resources. Still, that does not help us much in making a decision.

One aid to analyzing the problem comes from the business world. In recent years, business has undergone a strong movement toward empowering workers. Workers are empowered by being given the authority, responsibility, and education to do their jobs well. This formula has worked well in many countries and in many different types of business.

A similar aid comes from the literature on school improvement and change. In recent years, some leaders in the movement to improve schools have asked why all of the previous efforts have not led to greatly improved schools. While the issues are very complex, quite a bit of the answer seems to lie in the "power" structures of education. Who has the power? Does it reside mainly with students, teachers, parents, school administrators, school boards, or legislatures? Seymour Sarason in The Predictable Failure of Educational Reform (Jossey-Bass, 1990) argues that any educational reform movement will fail that is not firmly rooted in giving substantially increased power to students and teachers.

I will write about empowering teachers in my next editorial [Moursund, December/January 1992-93; also see the upcoming 11/15/2017 IAE Newsletter.] What does it mean to empower students? Sarason and others argue that for most students, school is dull and is relatively unrelated to their world outside of school. Students are put into an environment with a restrictive set of rules and with few options. Much of the curriculum content is of the nature, "Memorize this for the test." It is a "throwaway" curriculum.

What would school be like if students were more empowered? You might play a mind game of imagining that a great deal more power resided with students. Would the typical student focus on "learning" the content of a specific textbook, and demonstrating knowledge by passing an objective and short answer test? Would science classes spend more or less time on hands-on, inquiry-based activities? Would students choose to spend more or less time on drill and practice types of activities—whether based on paper and pencil worksheets or computer based systems? Would school be competitive or cooperative?

As you come to understand the notion of empowering students, you can begin to answer the crossroads question for your particular school environment.

The Answer

The answer to the crossroads question is that the answer cannot exist. Each road can empower students if the students are assisted by knowledgeable, supportive teachers and a wide range of other humans. No road empowers students who do not have such support. And, of course, there are many other elements of the educational system that must be considered as one answers the crossroads question. Thus, the crossroads question must be answered in light of considering education as a system, not as individual elements.

Author's Retrospective Comments 8/17/07


There have been huge changes in the power and availability of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) [during the 15 years] since 1992. Schools and homes have more computers and connectivity. The Web has become the world's largest library. Social networking, email, text messaging, cell phones with built-in cameras, and all kinds of other tools for productivity and entertainment have blossomed. [Note added10/25/2017. Apple announced its first Smartphone ten years ago, in 2007.]

The improvements and improved accessibility of ICT has significantly changed the world of business. World trade has increased substantially. This world trade also includes telecommuting, and that is beginning to significantly affect workers and competition for jobs.

However, there is little evidence that ICT has significantly improved education. At times, I find this very discouraging. At other times, I step back a little and realize that education is a slowly changing institution. It is designed to follow, rather than to lead. It does not deal effectively with a rapid pace of change. From that point of view, I can look toward the future and feel that the best is yet to come.

Author's Retrospective Comments 4/24/09

I have just returned from the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics annual conference. There, I gave a "featured" presentation on the general topic of "Two brains are better than one." This talk drew heavily from [an earlier IAE-pedia article, Two Brains Are Better than One] but focused specifically on math education [See an updated version of the Two Brains article in Moursund, 2017].

I felt that this was a very good conference with a great line up of well qualified presenters. Both Texas Instruments and Casio (their calculator divisions) were major contributors to the conference and had large exhibits. So, the idea of calculators (especially graphing, equation solving calculators) was well represented.

Interestingly, in the large number of presentations I attended, I heard almost no emphasis on empowering students and I heard very little emphasis on computers as an aid to instruction (for example: learn on your own, just in time learning, taking increased responsibility for your own learning) or as an aid to working individually or in groups to solve challenging problems. On the "plus" side, I did hear a couple of speakers suggest that students in math classes should be learning how to use the Web to retrieve information relevant to the problems they are trying to solve.

Author's Retrospective Comments 10/25/2017

I enjoy reading my “old” writing and to think about my capabilities as a futurist. While I am proud of my insights from 25 years ago, I was way off in terms of how rapidly I thought our educational systems would be changed by ICT.

During the past 25 years, the terminology has changed and the capabilities of ICT have greatly increased. For example, the “personal digital assistant” has mainly been replaced by Smartphones. Worldwide production and sales of Smartphones now exceeds a billion per year. In terms of raw compute power, the high-end Smartphones are roughly equivalent to the multi-million dollar supercomputers of 25 years ago. And, of course, such Smartphones have a number capabilities that supercomputers did not have. Among them are access to hundreds of thousands of “Apps.”

ICT has certainly empowered and changed the daily lives of students outside of school. The various forms of networking, computer games, and other types of entertainment now consume a significant amount of the average student’s time outside of school. But, to a large extent school is still well described by the statement given in my 1992 editorial:

Sarason and others argue that for most students, school is dull and is relatively unrelated to their world outside of school. Students are put into an environment with a restrictive set of rules and with few options. Much of the curriculum content is of the nature, "Memorize this for the test." It is a "throwaway" curriculum.

It is still rare to find schools that have empowering students as a central and unifying purpose.

Final Remarks

Schools face many difficult challenges. Many of these do not directly relate to progress in ICT. For example, should schools provide free breakfast, lunch, after school snacks, and weekend backpacks of food for all students who want to partake? Should schools and the rest of our infrastructure ensure that there are no homeless students? Should schools and the rest of our infrastructure provide free medical care for all students? Should all students have good teachers, good school facilities, good curriculum, and be safe from illicit drugs, bullying, prejudices, and other physical and psychological harm while in school?

In terms of ICT, we now have the capabilities to provide every student and every teacher with good ICT facilities for use on a 14/7 basis. However, we have made only modest progress in dealing with the question:

In cases where ICT can be an effective and cost-effective aid to solving the types of problems and accomplishing the types of learning tasks that we want our educational systems to decide to focus on in schools, how should we change curriculum content, instructional processes, and assessment to appropriately reflect such ICT capabilities?

Business and industry have dealt with somewhat similar challenges for years. They have changed drastically in their efforts to deal with these challenges. Most of our schools are laggards.

References and Resources

Moursund, D. (2017). Two brains are better than one. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 10/25/2017 from http://iae-pedia.org/Two_Brains_Are_Better_Than_One.

Moursund, D. (12/23/2016). The Fourth R. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/289-the-fourth-r/file.html. Download the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/290-the-fourth-r-1/file.html. Access the book online at http://iae-pedia.org/The_Fourth_R.

Moursund, D. (2016). Moursund editorial: Crossroads. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 10/12/2017 from http://iae-pedia.org/Moursund_Editorial/Crossroads.

Moursund, D. (December/January, 1992/93). Empowering teachers. The Computing Teacher. Retrieved 10/7/2017 from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/110-decemberjanuary-1992-93.html.

Moursund, D. (November, 1992). Crossroads. The Computing Teacher. Retrieved 10/7/2017 from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/109-november-1992-93.html.

Wikipedia (2017). Empowerment. Retrieved 10/23/2017 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empowerment.

Free Educational Resources from IAE
Author

David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology. He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See http://iaepedia.org/David_Moursund_Books.

In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See http://iaepedia.org/Main_Page#IAE_in_a_Nutshell. Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executuve Officer of AGATE.

Email: moursund@uoregon.edu.

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About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. Current IAE activities and free materials include the IAE-pedia at http://iae-pedia.org, a Website containing free books and articles at http://i-a-e.org/, a Blog at http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog.html, and the free newsletter you are now reading. See all back issues of the Blog at http://iae-pedia.org/IAE_Blog and all back issues of the Newsletter at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.