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has more than 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 2
David
Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon
“In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else.” (Lee Iacocca; American automobile executive; 1924-.)
Being a good teacher has always been a very difficult and challenging
task. Now we have computers. This raises the question, to what extent
is Information and Communication Technology (ICT) empowering students
and their teachers? This current IAE Newsletter is the second of a two-part series exploring this question.
The focus of the first newsletter (October 31, 2017) was the Crosswords editorial that I wrote for the November 1992 issue of The Computing Teacher (Moursund, 2016). That editorial began with a quote from Seymour Sarason:
“... any educational reform movement
will fail that is not firmly rooted in giving substantially increased
power to students and teachers.” (Seymour Sarason; American psychology
professor and author; 1919-2010.)
The newsletter emphasized that ICT had greatly changed our world and
empowered many who routinely use this technology. However, ICT has not
been particularly successful in empowering students in our schools.
When compared with the changes that ICT has brought to business and
industry, or to students outside of school, ICT has made quite limited
progress in empowering students and teachers, and improving our schools.
This second newsletter focusses on empowering teachers. More than two
decades of research findings are unequivocal about the connection
between teacher quality and student learning. Quoting from a report of
the Center for Public Education (CPE, 11/1/2005):
[Many years of educational research have provided us with a three-part] blueprint for reforming the nation’s schools. They are:
What teachers know and can do is the most important influence on what students learn.
Recruiting, preparing, and retaining good teachers is the central strategy for improving our schools.
School reform cannot succeed unless it focuses on creating the conditions under which teachers can teach and teach well.
The following section is quoted from Empowering Teachers, an editorial I wrote for The Computing Teacher
about 25 years ago (Moursund, December/January, 1992/93). It represents
my then-current insights into the way ICT had failed to empower
teachers up to that time.
Empowering Teachers
[December/January, 1992/93]
Our educational system has done a miserable job of empowering teachers
to make appropriate and effective use of computer-related technology.
It isn't just the training—although in most cases it has been woefully
inadequate. It isn't just the lack of computer-oriented
curriculum—although, in most cases good curriculum materials are not
available. It isn't just the assessment system—although, in most cases
teachers are still expected to have their students perform well on
assessment instruments that are totally unrelated to use of computers.
It isn't just the amount of hardware and software available in the
classroom—although, in most cases the facilities are quite inadequate.
It isn't just the support system-—although, in most cases the teachers
are "on their own" if something goes wrong with the hardware or
software during a class.
It is all of these things and more, computers have not empowered most
teachers. Rather, by and large, computers have decreased the actual and
perceived power of teachers. Most teachers perceive their power to be
diminished when they are expected to teach topics and deal with
questions where their knowledge and skills may be far less than some of
their students. Most teachers perceive that their power is diminished
when the knowledge and skills they are gaining are obsoleted by rapid
advances in hardware and software. Most teachers perceive that their
power is diminished when they are told that they should be teaching
students to communicate in a multimedia, hypermedia environment, and
they have difficulty coping with a motion picture projector and a VCR.
If the above analysis is correct, it will take a long time for computer
technology to make a significant contribution to improving education.
This long time is will be required to provide teachers with the
education, encouragement, incentives, curriculum materials, and
continuing on- the-job support needed to make effective use of the
technology. If the resources needed to accomplish these tasks are not
made available in adequate amounts, computers will not contribute to
improving our educational system.
Empowering Teachers (Continuing the Quoted Editorial)
Many schools now have a ratio of one computer per 12
students, or even better. While these machines may vary widely in
capability, the total computing power in schools is both quite large
and is growing quite rapidly.
So, why isn't education getting a whole lot better? Indeed, why do so
many people argue that the quality of our educational system has been
declining during the past decade while so many resources have gone into
schools acquiring computer hardware and software?
This is a complex question, and I am going to provide a simple answer.
The answer comes from the business world. In recent years, business has
undertaken 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.
Business has also faced the problem of dealing with an immense amount
of technological innovation. Studies indicate that providing workers
with high technology fails—be it in a factory or in an office—if the
workers do not receive adequate training, encouragement, incentives,
and continuing on-the-job support. If the workers are not empowered by appropriate training and support, the technological innovations prove ineffective.
Teachers (Continuing the Quoted Editorial)
Why should it be any different for teachers? Many schools have
acquired a great deal of computer hardware and software. However, few
schools have analyzed the amount of education, encouragement,
incentives, and continuing on-the-job support needed by teachers. Few
educational leaders appreciate the difficulties involved in a teacher
learning to make comfortable use of even a single piece of software in
a complex educational environment—that is, in the typical classroom.
To take a single example, compare a skilled secretary learning to use a
word processor to handle correspondence versus a teacher learning to
use a word processor as both an aid to instruction and as an object of
instruction.
It is obvious that the task faced by the teacher is many times more
difficult than the task faced by the secretary. This comes both from
the fact that the teacher is not likely to be a skilled typist, but
also because the classroom environment is very complex. Teachers not
only have to deal with whatever questions arise as they make personal
use of word processors, they also have to deal with the full range of
questions that occur as their students use word processors. While the
secretary most likely uses a single computer that nobody else uses, the
teacher may have to deal with several different makes and models of
hardware and software that are being used by different students every
hour. (Students are very good at messing up computer systems.)
Author’s Retrospective Comments 8/28/08
Occasionally, when I read one of my old editorials, I am amazed
about how I was so insightful so long ago. This editorial falls into
that category. I believe it still provides an accurate picture of ICT
in our schools. Over the past 16 years we have made little progress in
empowering teachers in effective use of ICT in their everyday
classrooms. Indeed, rapid changes in ICT have made most teachers feel
that they are falling further behind rather than moving toward feeling
competent and confident in the routine integration of ICT into their
everyday work.
Returning Now, to the Present
It has now been 52 years since I taught my first computers in education
course for precollege math teachers. When I began this long sojourn, I
was absolutely convinced that computers would relatively quickly make a
major difference in K-12 math education, and more slowly would change a
number of other disciplines.
Here, I draw on my experiences as a teacher of math teachers. It is in
math education that I expected we would eventually find the greatest
changes in our K-12 curriculum, instruction, and assessment. That is
because computers can solve the types of problems and accomplish the
types of tasks that historically we have taught students to solve using
pencil and paper (or a slate tablet and chalk).
It was not that I expected lots and lots of computers to immediately
become available to students in math classes. Rather, I thought that
our math education system would recognize the current and emerging
capabilities of calculators and computers to carry out the
computational aspects of mathematics. I assumed we would gradually
decrease the emphasis on developing speed and accuracy in doing
computational tasks by hand. This would free up time to learn more
about the thinking and problem-solving aspects of math.
Take a look at Figure 1. For many years, when I was teaching precollege
teachers about computer use in solving math problems, the students and
I would discuss this diagram. I would have the students estimate for
the math teaching they were doing, what percentage of the math
education effort focused on Step 3. Typically, my students estimated
that 75% of the time in the math courses they taught focused on Step 3.
Figure 1. Math problem solving.
You realize, of course, that six-function and more sophisticated
hand-held calculators are powerful aids to carrying out Step 3. The
push for use of calculators in schools was backed by a 1979 position
paper from the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics and a
1980 position paper from the National Council of Teachers of
Mathematics (Harvey & Bright, 1991; NCSM, 2003). The use of very
inexpensive 6-function solar-powered calculators is still being debated
at the elementary school level.
Calculators have received a somewhat better reception at the secondary
school level. Even the least expensive of the 6-function calculators
has a square root key. Perhaps as a consequence of this calculator’s
capability, the teaching of “by hand” methods for calculating square
root has largely disappeared from the secondary school math curriculum.
Slightly more expensive scientific calculators have replaced slide
rules.
More sophisticated graphing and equation-solving calculators include
computer algebra systems. Quoting from the Wikipedia (2017a):
A computer algebra system (CAS) is any
mathematical software with the ability to manipulate mathematical
expressions in a way similar to the traditional manual computations of
mathematicians and scientists. The development of the computer algebra
systems in the second half of the 20th century is part of the
discipline of "computer algebra" or "symbolic computation", which has
spurred work in algorithms over mathematical objects such as
polynomials.
The first computer algebra system (CAS) became available in 1963
(Wikipedia, 2017a). Over the years, these systems have become more and
more powerful. In essence, such a system can do step 3 in Figure 1 for
all of the types of math problems that students currently encounter in
K-14 education. A limited CAS is built into a variety of currently
available hand-held calculators, and a number of more powerful CAS
systems are available free on the Web (Wikipedia, 2017b).
So, for a great many years, our K-14 math education system has faced
the issue of determining to what extent calculators and computers
should be fully integrated into math courses and into courses covering
areas that can make substantial use of math. For example, in many
disciplines, gathering and analyzing data—often making use of graphing
and statistical analysis techniques—is important. While some progress
has occurred, especially in the use of upper end hand-held calculators,
overall math education has been only modestly changed by this
technology.
A Parallel Between Math Coursework and All Other Courses
Every discipline of study includes accumulated knowledge that helps to
define the discipline, the types of problems it works to solve, and the
types of tasks it works to accomplish. Each course taught in schools is
designed to help increase student expertise. See Figure 2.
Figure 2. General purpose expertise scale.
Depending on the discipline, a person might demonstrate their level of
expertise in solving problems and accomplishing tasks through
performances, presentations, competitions, products produced, speaking
and writing insightfully about the culture and history of the
discipline, and so on. In essence, we want students to be able to pose,
recognize, and solve a variety of problems and accomplish a variety of
tasks related to each discipline they study.
Notice that I did not include multiple choice tests
in the list of how one can demonstrate expertise. The “real world”
outside of schools seldom presents people with T-F and multiple choice
types of problems and tasks.
As we explore ICT and empowering teachers, we need to decide what
teachers should know about roles of computers in learning the
disciplines they teach and in solving the problems in the disciplines
they teach. This situation reminds me of a time many years ago when I
was talking to a school district superintendent. He proudly told me,
“All of our teachers are computer literate.” When I asked for more
detail, he told me that all had participated in ten hours of inservice about computers. Nowadays, this level of knowledge and skills leaves a teacher at the absolute novice level!
ICT has affected every discipline of study through a combination of a)
its aids to storing and retrieving accumulated knowledge; b) its aids
to teaching and learning; and c) the computerization of some of the
tools that the discipline employs. Reading, and writing, for example,
now include making use of the full range of sound, graphics,
audiovisual materials, and interaction, in addition to conventional
text.
Clearly, some disciplines of study have been more strongly impacted by
ICT than others. I used math education as an example in this newsletter
because I know the most about that discipline and because computers are
such a powerful aid to solving math problems.
You know, of course, that math is far more than just being able to
carry out Step 3 in Figure 1. When I was much younger, a brilliant math
researcher who was one of my professional colleagues told me that he
was atrocious at arithmetic calculations. Math is far more than skill
in paper and pencil arithmetic computations! Math is a language, a
broad and deep accumulation of knowledge, a way of representing and
thinking about problems, and so on. Learning math, as in learning any
discipline, involves gaining cognitive knowledge, skills, and
understanding in one’s head. With any discipline of study, we have the
issue of what to store in one’s brain/body, and what tools to learn to
use. In summary, learning involves gaining cognitive knowledge and
skills, physical skills, and knowledge and skill in the “tools of the
trade.”
As cognitive tools become better and better—that is, as researchers and
developers continue to make progress in artificial intelligence—schools
face the challenge of determining what we want students to learn to do
without using cognitive tools, what do we want them to learn to do
using a combination of human and artificial intelligence, and what we
want to leave strictly to computers. Our math education system, with
its continuing very strong emphasis on “by hand” methods for carrying
out Step 3 in Figure 1, shows us a particular type of resistance to
change. We can create a Figure 1 type of analysis for each discipline
of study. Each discipline has its own current level of Step 3, and we
see varying levels of change. The graphic arts and architectural
drawing provide good examples of changing with the times. Music, with
its computerized instruments (synthetic music) and editing facilities
provides more good examples.
Final Remarks
Today we are at a new crossroad. Our schools are making some progress
in learning to make effective use of the capabilities of Information
and Communication Technology. But, the rate of progress in improving
education-related capabilities of ICT, as well as progress in the use
of ICT in avocations, vocations, and daily life outside of school, is
far outstripping progress in the use of ICT in our schools. I strongly
believe that we must take a much bolder approach to using the full
capabilities of ICT all in grades and in all curriculum areas in our
schools.
Last year I wrote and published a book titled The Fourth R (Moursund, 12/23/2016). The 4th R is Reasoning
(Computational Thinking) using a combination of human brain power and
computer brain power (including artificial intelligence) to solve the
types of problems and accomplish the types of tasks that one encounters
both outside of school and in school. I recommend that this 4th R be integrated into PreK-12 education at all levels, in all content areas, in all pedagogy, and in all assessment.
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.
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