Thursday, August 04, 2005

Some issues in educational technology

I read an interesting couple of items today. One was from Kim Flintoff reflecting on the survey much commented on about ubiquity of teen internet use. He quotes from eSchool News staff and wire service reports July 28, 2005, “Educators who have yet to do so might have to re-evaluate their current instructional strategies in light of a new survey compiled for the Pew Internet & American Life Project; it indicates internet use is nearly ubiquitous for today's teens. Of those youngsters surveyed, 87 percent said they use the internet.” He goes on: “The need to look at the existing skill set of learners (when it comes to technology) is now paramount. As educators we really have to consider the implications of the emerging usage trends. A colleague has been running an online cybersoap called Cleo missing. This colleague is also finding useful information, probably only corroborating what many experience daily, that the pragmatics of internet usage seem to remain constant regardless of context. Many students have a well-established behaviour set when it comes to using various internet technologies and apply the same habits when it comes to learning contexts. He asks: So what do you think are the habits brought into class... AND how can this skill set be recognised and inform the educational journey?

Similarly, Leon Brooks quotes an item why use open source software when Microsoft products are so cheap? “Studies we carried out at Grant High School, Mt. Gambier, South Australia, showed that users' preference for applications to do specific tasks, is closely related to when in their education they were introduced to the applications. A concrete example: Half a photography class was subjected to Adobe Photoshop for image manipulation, the other half was using The Gimp. Halfway through the term, the students swapped 'weapons'. The study showed, that the ones who were initially using Photoshop didn't like Gimp, and the 'Gimp-borne' students thought that Photoshop was crap.”


“With this in mind, I move that we need to consider carefully whenever we introduce new tools to students. If we critiquelessly roll out Microsoft Office on all school networks, with no consideration of alternatives (or no support for the alternatives) then we are effectively CREATING Microsoft Office users. I wonder what this process is worth to Microsoft? New users, created by the tens-of-thousands, every year. Still, WE pay THEM. This 'addiction' to certain brands of software is not a problem as long as the students and their work is confined to the school networks. It becomes a problem in many ways when students want to do their homework, using the same tools as in school. Firstly, they need a copy of the software they use at school, obtainable in only two ways: Legally or illegally. Microsoft has cleverly made available an 'Educational Version' of their Office pack, obtainable for about 1/4 of the cost of the commercial package, for the students to do their homework. The price of this 1/4 pack is still prohibitive for many users, who then choose to get a pirated copy or miss out on the computer based homework option. This 1/4 priced solution is also 'off-limits' for mum to do her business correspondence, even though she owns the computer it is installed on. She'll have to fork out the money for the full version (which,luckily enough, her kids can use for homework as well ;-)


Microsoft is securing their foothold in South Australian schools by making their software portfolio available, for free, for all teachers to install and use at home. This is removing all incentive for – and all initiative from - teachers to change to other products/standards. Nice move.

The obvious connection here is that we as educators need to think broadly about how we use technology in schools. As a lurker on the echalk email list I am very grateful to these two educators who always make me think with their thoughtful reflections and critical thinking on these issues.

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