Category Archives: technology use

ClassDojo App Takes Mindfulness To Scale in Public Education (Ben Williamson)

Ben Williamson: “I am a Chancellor’s Fellow at the Centre for Research in Digital Education and the Edinburgh Futures Institute [at the University of Edinburgh], examining the intersections of digital technologies, science, and data with education policy and governance. My current research focuses on two key themes. One is the expansion of educational data infrastructures to enable information to be collected from schools and universities, then analysed and circulated to various audiences. The second is the emergence of ‘intimate data’ relating to students’ psychological states, neural activity, and genetic profiles, and the implications for increasingly scientific ways of approaching educational policy and practice.” 

This appeared on the blog: Code Acts in Education May 10, 2017

A globally popular educational app used by millions of teachers and schoolchildren worldwide has begun to deliver mindfulness meditation training into classrooms. Based on a mobile app that teachers can carry in their pockets, ClassDojo is embedding positive psychology concepts in schools worldwide. In the process, it may be prototypical of new ways of enacting education policy through pocketable devices and social media platforms, while activating in children the psychological qualities that policymakers are seeking to measure.

The Beast

ClassDojo, launched just 6 years ago, is already used by over 3 million teachers and 35 million children in 180 countries—with penetration into the US K-8 sector at a staggering 90%. Originally designed as a behaviour monitoring app to allow teachers to reward ‘positive behaviour’ using a points system, more recently ClassDojo has extended into an educational content delivery platform to promote the latest ‘big ideas’ from positive psychology in the classroom.

Starting in early 2016 with a series of video animations on ‘growth mindsets,’ the ClassDojo company has since developed classroom content about ‘perseverance,’ ‘empathy’ and, in May 2017, ‘mindfulness.’ All its big ideas videos feature the cute Mojo character, a little green alien schoolchild, learning about these psychological ideas from his friend Katie while experiencing challenges, personal worries, setbacks and doubts about his learning abilities. In the mindfulness series, Mojo has to confront what Katie calls ‘The Beast’—‘your most powerful emotions, anger, fear and anxiety’—which, she tells Mojo, ‘can get out of control.’

The big ideas videos have been wildly popular with schools. ClassDojo has claimed that the growth mindset series alone has been viewed over 15 million times. The announcement of new big ideas series is accompanied by online content which is shared to its vast worldwide community of teachers via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To promote its new mindfulness series, ClassDojo has announced a ‘month of mindfulness’ across its social media accounts and communities.

ClassDojo’s expansion hasn’t just included video content delivery. It is also now used as a communication platform between schools and parents, to compile student portfolios, and to allow students to share their ‘stories.’ Its stated aim is to ‘connect teachers with students and parents to build amazing classroom communities’ and ‘happier classrooms.’ As a result ClassDojo is now one of the hottest educational technology companies in the world. It has raked in huge venture capital investment from Silicon Valley VC firms (about $31million in total, including $21m in 2016 alone), and is the regular subject of coverage in the educational, technology and business media.

It would not be overstating things much to suggest that ClassDojo has in fact become the default educational social media platform for a very large number of schools, functioning ‘like a social-media community where … the app creates a shared classroom experience between parents, teachers, and students. Teachers upload photos, videos, and classwork to their private classroom groups, which parents can view and “like.” They can also privately message teachers and monitor how their children are doing in their classrooms through the behavior-tracking aspect of the app.’

Many of ClassDojo’s features would be familiar to users of commercial social media such as Facebook, Snapchat and Slack. ‘If you’re an adult in the United States, you’ve got LinkedIn for work, Facebook for friends and family. This ends up being the third set of relationships, around your kids,’ one of ClassDojo’s major investors has claimed. As well as being geographically based in Silicon Valley, ClassDojo is strongly influenced by a Silicon Valley mindset of technical optimism in social media for relationships, sharing, and community-building. Like many recent education startups in Silicon Valley, ClassDojo’s founders are seeking to do good while turning a profit—specifically in their case by building a globally successful and scalable business brand on the back of building happier classroom communities through social media apps and platforms.

While social media organizations like Facebook and Twitter are now dealing with adverse issues such as fake news, political disinformation and computational propaganda on their platforms, however, ClassDojo has defined itself as a platform for diffusing positive psychology into schools. It’s aiming to achieve its ambitions directly through the mobile apps carried by millions of teachers in their pockets.

Emotions that count

The success of ClassDojo is due at least in part to the recent growth of interest in ‘social-emotional learning.’ A term that encompasses a range of concepts and ideas about the ‘non-cognitive’ aspects of learning—such as personal qualities of character, resilience, ‘grit,’ perseverance, mindfulness, and growth mindset—social-emotional learning has lately become the focus of attention among educational policymakers, international influencers and technology companies.

The OECD and the World Economic Forum have both begun promoting social-emotional learning and are seeking ways to foster it through technology and quantify it through measurement instruments. A US Department of Education report published in 2013 promoted a strong shift in policy priorities towards such qualities, and listed a then-young ClassDojo as a key resource. New accountability mechanisms have even been devised to judge schools’ performance in developing students’ non-academic personal qualities. The US Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has now made it mandatory for states to assess at least one non-cognitive aspect of learning as part of updated performance measurement and accountability programs.

Notably, too, ClassDojo’s big ideas resources have been produced through partnerships with powerful US university departments. The original growth mindset series was devised with the Project for Education Research That Scales (PERTS) at Stanford University, as was its follow-up perseverance series. The empathy series late in 2016 was co-produced with the Making Caring Common Project at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, while the mindfulness series released in May 2017 is the result of collaboration with the Center for Emotional Intelligence at Yale University.

A concern for social-emotional learning is not just confined to dedicated educational organizations. The ed-tech researcher Audrey Watters has described social-emotional learning as a ‘trend to watch’ in 2017, and detailed some of the technology companies and investors involved in promoting it. ‘Ed-tech entrepreneurs and investors are getting in on the action, as have researchers like Angela Duckworth who’s created software to measure and track how well students perform on these “social emotional” measurements,’ she has argued. Meanwhile, ‘startups like ClassDojo,’ Watters adds, ‘promise to help teachers monitor these sorts of behaviors.’ She concludes by asking, ‘Can social emotional learning be taught? Can it be tested? Can it be profited from?’

Pocket policy platforms

ClassDojo needs to be understood as the product of a complex network of actors and activities including business interests, policy priorities, and expert psychological knowledges concerned with social-emotional learning (as I argued in earlier research published recently). With education policy increasingly influenced by the social-emotional learning agenda, ClassDojo and its academic partners and venture capital investors are increasingly part of distributed ‘policy networks.’ Although much education policy is still performed by government authorities, it is increasingly influenced by diverse sources, channels and sites of policy advice and ‘best practice’ models–of which ClassDojo is a good example

In this sense, ClassDojo is acting as an indirect best practice policy model and a diffuser of the social-emotional learning agenda into the practices of schools. In reality, it may even be prefiguring official policy. With venture capital funding from its investors driving its development and growth, ClassDojo has already distributed the vocabulary of social-emotional learning worldwide, and influenced the uptake of practices related to growth mindsets, perseverance and mindfulness among millions of teachers. It has done so through producing highly attractive content and then distributing it through its vast social media networks and communities on the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram platforms too.

‘If we can shift what happens inside and around classrooms then you can change education at a huge scale,’ ClassDojo’s CEO Sam Chaudhury has publicly stated. ‘We are looking for broad concepts really applicable to every classroom,’ its product designer has added. ‘We look for an idea that can be powerful and high-impact and is working in pockets, and work to bring it to scale more quickly … incorporated into the habits of classrooms.’

Although ‘working in pockets’ here clearly refers to potentially high-impact but small-scale startup activities, it is notable too that as a mobile app ClassDojo is already working in the pockets and palms of teachers. ClassDojo, in other words, represents a new way of doing large-scale policy through classroom apps that are already working in teachers’ pockets and hands rather than through political deliberation and direct interference. This would be an impossible task to coordinate at global scale through traditional government organs of education—although the interests of the global policy influencers OECD and WEF suggest ClassDojo could be prototypical of attempts to roll-out social-emotional learning into the habits of teachers through pocket-based policy platforms. Its method of enacting policy-by-app is being achieved by mobilizing practical classroom applications that can be carried in teachers’ pockets and enacted through their fingertips, generously funded by Silicon Valley venture capital, without the encumbrances of bureaucratic policymaking processes.

Psycho-policy

Beyond being a pocket-policy technology that prefigures official policy priorities, ClassDojo also represents another policy innovation—that of using an app to translate psychological expertise into practical techniques for teachers, and of acting as a technical relay between disciplinary knowledge and practitioner uptake.

The kind of policy that ClassDojo anticipates is already developing in other sectors. Lynne Friedli and Robert Stearn have identified the emergence of ‘psycho-policy’ as a new approach to policymaking in the area of ‘well-being.’ Techniques of psycho-policy, they argue, are characterized by being heavily influenced by psychological concepts and methods, and by the ‘coercive use of psychology’ to achieve desired governmental objectives. As such, psycho-policy initiatives emphasize the ‘surveillance of psychological characteristics’ and techniques of ‘psycho-compulsion,’ which Friedli and Stearn define as ‘interventions intended to modify attitudes, beliefs and personality, notably through the imposition of positive affect.’

Psycho-policy, then, is the use of psychology to impose well-being and activate positive feeling in individuals, and thereby to enrich social well-being at large. In this context, as the sociologist William Davies has argued, the use of mobile ‘real-time mood-monitoring’ apps is increasingly of interest to companies and governments as technologies for measuring human emotions, and then of intervening to make ‘that emotion preferable in some way.’ As a pocket policy diffuser of such positive psychological concepts as mindfulness and growth mindset into schools, the ClassDojo app and platform can therefore be seen as part of a loosely-coordinated, multi-sector psycho-policy network that is driven by aspirations to modify children’s emotions to become more preferable through imposing positive feelings in the classroom.

Viewing ClassDojo as a pocket precursor of potential educational psycho-policies and practices of social-emotional learning in schools raises some significant issues. Mindfulness itself, the subject of ClassDojo’s latest campaign, certainly has growing popular support in education. Its emphasis on focusing meditatively on the immediate present rather than the powerful emotional ‘Beast’ of ‘anger, fear and anxiety,’ however, does need to be approached with critical social scientific caution.

‘Much of the interest in “character,” “resilience” and mindfulness at school stems from the troubling evidence that depression and anxiety have risen rapidly amongst young people over the past decade,’ William Davies argues. ‘It seems obvious that teachers and health policy-makers would look around for therapies and training that might offset some of this damage,’ he continues. ‘In the age of social media, ubiquitous advertising and a turbulent global economy, children cannot be protected from the sources of depression and anxiety. The only solution is to help them build more durable psychological defences.’

According to this analysis, school-based mindfulness initiatives are based on the assumption that young people are stressed, fragile and vulnerable, and can benefit from meditative practices that focus their energies on present tasks rather than longer-term anxieties caused by uncontrollable external social processes. James Reveley has further argued that school-based mindfulness represents a ‘human enhancement strategy’ to insulate children from pathologies that stem from ‘digital capitalism.’ Mindfulness in schools, he adds, is ‘an exercise in pathology-proofing them in their capacity as the next generation of unpaid digital labourers.’ It trains young people to become responsible for augmenting their own emotional wellbeing and in doing so to secure the well-being of digital capitalism itself.

According to Davies, however, much of the stress experienced by children is actually caused more mundanely by the kinds of testing and performance measurement pressures forced on schools by current policy priorities. ‘The irony of turning schools into therapeutic institutions when they generate so much stress and anxiety seems lost on policy-makers who express concern about children’s mental health,’ he argues.

It is probably a step too far to suggest that ClassDojo may be the ideal educational technology for digital capitalism. However, it is clear that ClassDojo is acting as a psycho-policy platform and a channel for mindfulness and growth mindsets practices that is aimed at pathology-proofing children against anxious times through the imposition of positive feelings in the classroom. While taming ‘the Beast’ of his uncontrollable emotions of ‘anger, fear and anxiety’ through mindfulness meditation, ClassDojo’s Mojo mascot is both learning the lessons of positive psychology and acting as a relay of those lessons into the lives of millions of schoolchildren. Its model of pocket-based psycho-policy bypasses the kind of slow-paced bureaucracy so loathed in the fast-paced accelerationist culture of Silicon Valley, and imposes its preferred psychological techniques directly on the classroom at global scale.

Detoxing education policy

To its credit, the ClassDojo organization is seeking to expand the focus of schools to the non-cognitive aspects of learning rather than concentrate narrowly on teaching to the tests demanded by existing policy. Paradoxically, however, it is advancing the kinds of social and emotional qualities in children for which schools may in the near future be held accountable, and that may be measured, tested and quantified. Its accelerated Silicon Valley business model depends on increasing the scale and penetration of the app into schools, and by doing so is actively enabling schools to future-proof themselves in the event they are held responsible for children’s measurable social-emotional learning and development.

ClassDojo has also hit on the contemporary perception of child fragility and vulnerability among educational practitioners and policymakers as a market opportunity, one its investors have generously funded with millions of dollars in the hope of profitable future returns. It is designed to activate, reward and condition particular preferred emotions that have been defined by the experts of mindfulness, character and growth mindset, and that are increasingly coming to define educational policy discourse. The psycho-policy ideas ClassDojo has embedded in teachers’ pockets and habits across public education, through Silicon Valley venture capital support, are already prefiguring the imperatives of policymakers who are anxious about resolving the toxic effect of children’s negative emotions on school performance.

ClassDojo is simultaneously intoxicating teachers worldwide while seeking to detoxify the worst effects of education policy on children. In the process it—and the accelerated Silicon Valley mindset it represents—may be redefining what counts as a valuable measure of a good student or teacher in a ‘happier classroom community,’ and building a business plan to profit from their feelings.

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Making Schools Business-Like: Google in Classrooms (Part 2)

Listen to Joanna Petrone, Longfellow Middle School English teacher in Berkeley (CA), describe her use of Google.

On a typical day, students start class with a warm-up activity posted on Google Classroom. After we go over their answers and I teach a lesson, I might direct my students to open Google Docs and start writing. “Remember to check Google Calendar and start studying for your next quiz! Oh, and don’t forget to turn in your writing on Google Classroom before Thursday!” I holler into the void as they pack up their bags. I’ve learned from experience that I need to specify “Google Classroom” every time I give this direction; if I don’t, if I just say “Classroom,” some students will submit their work on Classroom, some will stick it in their lowercase-c classroom notebooks, and at least one person will wander around the actual classroom while I am in the middle of an explanation, assignment in hand, wondering aloud where he was supposed to turn it in…

Petrone then goes on to say:

From one vantage point, classrooms like mine look like education technology success stories, with students’ academic learning seamlessly interwoven with the workflow habits and productivity apps of all tomorrow’s office workers. Using Google products, students can work collaboratively on files, use the internet for research, and acquire competency with the basics of personal computing. Districts often save substantial amounts of money by using Google’s services in place of their own email servers and can provide more classroom access to computers using Chromebooks than they could using pricier alternatives. In a country where public education is cruelly underfunded, there’s no mystery as to why teachers and districts are drawn to Google’s cheap, often free, education technology and curriculum, but there needs to be an honest reckoning of its real price tag and robust public discussion about whether that is a cost worth paying.

Yes, Microsoft and Apple have classroom apps that teachers use but since Google Classroom became available free of charge in 2014, it has eaten competitors in huge gulps. One journalist wrote: “The top five digital tools accessed most often in school districts in 2017-18 were all Google products—including YouTube, according to research by Lea(r)n Inc. on more than 2,000 ed-tech tools used in K-12 schools.”

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So Google’s Suite of free tools (Classroom, Gmail, Drive, Google Calendar, Vault, Google Docs, Sheets, Forms, Slides, Sites, Hangouts) are in selective use across U.S. classrooms. Teachers pick and choose among the tools but their use is pervasive.*

Journalists, practitioners, researchers, and entrepreneurs claim that Google is transforming teaching and learning (see here, here, and here). But is accurate?

No, it is not.

Observers confuse increases in teacher efficiency–saving precious classroom time is what Google tools do–for substantially altering teacher planning, organizing, implementing, and assessing daily lessons, that is, the daily professional work they do. Yes, Google tools have increased teacher efficiency in managing classrooms, but much less so in the actual format and content of lessons or connections between teachers and students. Let me explain.

In studying 41 Silicon Valley teachers in 2016 who had thoroughly integrated devices and software into their lessons, these teachers did see changes in their teaching. For the most part they identified important incremental (not fundamental) changes due to technology use in lessons. These changes occurred over time, adding to their productivity as teachers in completing classroom administrative tasks, providing a broad array of sources previously unavailable to their students, and being able to respond and help students in real time.

Technology-induced changes were incremental and useful to teachers but seldom altered the goals, fundamental classroom structures embedded in the age-graded school, teacher-student relationships, basic format of lessons, or the craft of teaching that has evolved in public schools for well over a century. All of these underlying features of teaching persisted amid the classroom changes these Silicon Valley teachers recognized in their lessons.

Hillsdale High School English teacher Sarah Press expressed it clearly:

In some ways, my teaching hasn’t changed much at all. My goals are the same—to give my students opportunities to do something with the ideas I suggest to them in class, to engage with each other around those ideas and to offer lots of ways to be smart. I still have a heavy focus on literacy—sustained engagement with text and inquiry around meaning making. I continue to try to find authentic ways for students to show what they’ve learned and what they think, not just regurgitate what they’ve heard.

I also struggle with many of the same issues I always have: what to do with the huge range of skill sets in my room, how to differentiate activities and assessments to meet the needs of all learners, how to give feedback in meaningful and timely ways, how to engage all learners despite varying interests and abilities, how to create a positive socioemotional atmosphere in my classroom so students feel comfortable taking and learning from risks.

So I think it’s important to remember that technology is just one of many tools I have available to me to try to meet those goals. That said, it’s an incredibly powerful tool, and I do see some potent ways in which technology helps me get closer to being the teacher I hope to, someday, become.

A huge one is the amount of choice I am able to offer students, about what they learn and how they learn it . . . Another is the increased sense of collaboration in my room. While I have always striven to have students use each other as resources, to value each other’s expertise . . . I have not always been successful. Because technology allows students to simultaneously have access to a group project in a shared digital space that is co-editable . . . everyone can see a developing project and no can “mess it up.” It’s also easier to track exactly what each student has contributed . . .

It’s a not insignificant note here that risk-taking becomes easier to encourage when erasing or changing work is as easy as “Control + Z” or “Delete . . . ”

Finally, technology is powerful because it makes it so much easier and faster to collect, distribute, and respond to data. I find myself experimenting more and more with forms of assessment when I can instantaneously collect responses from every student in my class . . . All this helps me adjust, clarify, and re-teach in much tighter, shorter cycles than before

Press did not mention Google products by name, so I wrote her a few days ago and here is her response (she gave me permission to use her words):

I did – and do – use Google tools regularly in my class. Our district is a GAFE (Google Apps for Education) district, so most of our systems integrate with Google. All students are given Google accounts as they enter HHS, and we regularly use all of the tools that go with those accounts. I use Google Classroom as an excellent way to distribute documents, although the bulk of our digital work submission and grading is now handled through Canvas, a new system for our district this year.

So, do Google tools “transform” teaching? Time saved by using Google tools is one thing and it is important to teachers. But lesson goals, activities, content, and format continue and that is wholly another thing. Such distinctions I make are important nuances that often go unnoticed by non-teachers who from their prior experience in schools do not see the complexity of the teaching act.

How technological changes can increase teacher efficiency yet not alter substantially the familiar and continuous flow in daily lessons of goal-setting, organizing activities, elaborating concepts and content, and assessing students’ understanding is another way of simply saying that both change and stability are hallmarks of classroom lessons.

True then and true now even with the ubiquity of Google tools in the nation’s classrooms.

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*Why does Google give away these apps free? Ads are forbidden on these tools so no revenue accrues from this source.  Yes, information on students is collected and the company states that this information is owned by the school and is not sold to third parties. It took awhile for Google to comply with the federal Family Educational Value and Privacy Act, but they have (See here and here).

So what’s the advantage for Google. Short answer is that students and teachers are future customers for Google products that do charge fees and can be purchased (e.g., Chromebooks, android phones, etc.), and life-long viewers of company products where ads do show up. It is a marketing strategy that Apple used in 1984 when they gave away one Apple IIe computer (then costing nearly $2500) to every school in California (yes, also the California legislature gave a tax deduction for such a gift). Build trust in a product and you have a customer for life. As one analyst said about Google:

It’s pretty clear what motive Google has,” Williams at Gartner Research said. “This is not a product they’re selling; this is not a commercial product. It’s getting lots of people very used to working in a Google environment.

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Whatever Happened to Media Literacy in Schools?

Far more policy talk than classroom action is the short answer. The long answer is below in the questions I ask.

Where and When Did the Idea Originate?

Having students become media literate across school subjects has been talked about since the early 1960s in Europe and the U.S. but has hardly made a dent in lessons that most teachers teach. In Britain, Canada, and other nations there has been far more policy talk and even some action (media literacy Europe/Canada ). For example, in the United Kingdom, the 2003 Communications Act required the government to promote media literacy in British schools. David Buckingham and colleagues tells the story of what happened since then (see here and here).

Much less has happened in the U.S. with its decentralized system of public schools in 50 states, over 13,000 districts, and nearly 100,000 schools. A timeline for media literacy, broadly defined, begins in the 1960s.

The earliest U.S. classroom materials that I have found were created in 1972 as a Media Now kit of lessons and activities that teachers could use in their classrooms. Based on the work of media analyst Marshall McLuhan and psychologists Jerome Bruner’s Process of Education and Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives , Ron Curtis and others developed a self-directed learning kit containing 50 individual packages divided into seven modules for teachers to use. The source I used claimed that it was used in over 600 schools.

There has been much state activity in promoting media literacy in schools  since (see above timeline) but no mandated courses as far as I can determine. For example, although California curriculum standards call for media literacy skills in English/ language arts and history/social science in K-12 grades, current high-stakes state tests contain no items that examine media literacy.

Media Literacy Now, an advocacy organization, keeps tabs on state legislation that include funding, promotion, and action involving media literacy. The National Association for Media Literacy Education has made connections to Common Core standards adopted by most states.

With state and federal officials enacting laws promoting media literacy and  organizations lobbying for more of it in schools and classrooms, individual teachers in scattered schools across the country have heeded the message and introduced lessons into their classrooms. But not much more than that. Pressing teachers and students to score well on tests, graduate high school, and go to college, media literacy lessons are close to the bottom of most teachers’ “to do” lists.

What Problems Did Media Literacy Intend To Solve?

The major problem is the current inability of children and youth to parse Internet and media ads, to evaluate sources of information harvested from the Internet, and reason critically about what they see, hear, and digest from mainstream and social media.

Sam Wineburg and colleagues surveyed in 2016 nearly 8,000 students from middle school through college on their skills in judging Internet information. The survey made a splash in media outlets. He says:

Our most reported finding was that 82 percent of middle school students couldn’t tell the difference between an ad and a news story. But putting it that way isn’t really fair to kids: While dozens of outlets reported this nugget, none mentioned an industry study that showed 59 percent of adults couldn’t tell the difference, either.

Wineburg’s solution?

The answer is not to affix another barnacle to the curriculum’s hull. We need to rebuild the entire ship. What should history teaching look like when kids can go online and find “evidence” for the canard that “thousands” of black men put on grey uniforms to take up arms for the Confederacy? What should science teaching look like when anti-vaxxer sites maintain a “proven” link between autism and measles shots (despite a retraction by the journal publishing the claim and the fact that “no respectable body of opinion” supports the linkage)? What should language arts class look like when ad hominem arguments, name calling and “alternative facts” overwhelm civil discourse?

What Does Media Literacy Look Like in a Classroom?

I offer two examples of lessons using new technologies, one in a Canadian elementary school on analyzing candy ads after students had read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and a Providence (RI) high school social studies lesson on World War II.

Watch on YouTube the Canadian elementary school teacher, using an interactive white board, teach a lesson on candy ads.

For the high school lesson, journalist Dana Goldstein describes a lesson where the teacher had students use laptops to analyze sources–her example of students working on media literacy skills.

I sat in on Jennifer Geller’s 10th grade Contemporary World History class at the Providence Career and Technical Academy. That day’s state-mandated lesson objective was to “trace patterns chronologically for events leading to World War II in Europe.” But Geller, a 12-year veteran in the district, used technology to layer a more ambitious and contemporary media literacy skills-building session on top of the dry history.

First the sophomores read the following paragraph in their Prentice Hall World History textbook:

With the [German] government paralyzed by divisions, both Nazis and Communists won more seats in the Reichstag, or lower house of the legislature. Fearing the growth of Communist political power, conservative politicians turned to Hitler. Although they despised him, they believed they could control him. Then, with conservative support, Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933 through legal means under the Weimar constitution.

Geller asked the kids to go to the back of room and pick up individual laptops, which had been borrowed for the day from the school’s library. Their task for the rest of the period was to search online for additional accurate information about Hilter’s rise to power that had not been included in their textbook, and then present it to the class.

Geller engaged the kids in a conversation about how search engines work. “Does anyone know how the first link on Google becomes the first one?” she asked. “It’s not the best — it’s that the most people linked to or clicked on that site. You should not always trust the first thing you see!”

Geller encouraged the students to look at Wikipedia, but skeptically. “Anyone can write these articles,” she explained. “The fact that anyone can change them or fix them means if something is wrong, it can be fixed. You have to be careful with it, just like you have to be careful with your textbook.”

Geller continued, “Who do you think gets to write a textbook? And how often is it updated? Maybe a downside is the textbook doesn’t change much from year to year.”

After searching online, the students learned that it wasn’t just “conservative politicians” who supported Hitler. In fact, a full third of the German public had voted for the Nazi party. “That’s why you use two sources!” Geller proclaimed.

The lesson was relevant to both historical research and day-to-day fact finding online. It also gave the students something pretty disturbing to think about regarding the relatively broad support enjoyed by Hitler and the Nazi Party in 1933.

In both lessons, digital technologies were used to get students engaged in tasks that built and used critical thinking skills to parse a textbook paragraph and candy ads. But the technology didn’t spur students, it was the teacher’s questions about candy ads and a textbook passage about Hitler becoming Chancellor that mattered.

Does Media Literacy Work?

Hard question to answer. Because media literacy is multidimensional (print and non-print–TV, digital, mobile phone) and because it covers efforts to increase knowledge and influence behavior among both adults and children, and, finally, because so few classroom and school studies have been done beyond teacher and student surveys, results are all over the map.

There is, for example Renee Hobbs seven year study (2007) of the English department reorganization of the 11th grade at Concord High School (New Hampshire) into “Media/Communication.” Academic outcomes from the experimental Media/Communication group exceeded those of a control group, according to Hobbs.

A meta-analysis of media literacy interventions (51 studies) to increase knowledge,change beliefs, and alter behavior did show some positive evidence of changes but marginally so.

Advocacy to spread media literacy (however defined) is prevalent and shapes responses to the above question far more than research and evaluation studies.

What Has Happened to Media Literacy?

While there is much tumult in states over the need for media literacy in schools, there is far more policy talk than policy action, and even less media literacy, however defined, put into classroom lessons than advocates desire. Since Ron Curtis’s Media Now kits developed in the early 1970s, media literacy remains far more talk about its importance in classroom lessons than what occurs when teachers close their doors. According to Wineburg, the situation–students unable to sort out fake from factual news, judging the veracity of sources on the Internet–calls for more than new courses, occasional lectures, or professional development days for teachers on the subject. As long as the curriculum standards, testing, and accountability regime remains intact as it has for decades, more policy talk about doing something to educate children and youth in parsing media and the Internet will occur than policy action.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Internet Is Sowing Mass Confusion. We Must Rethink How We Teach Kids Every Subject (Sam Wineburg)

Sam Wineburg, a professor of education at Stanford University, is the author of “Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone).”  This op-ed appeared in USA Today, February 12, 2019

In 2016, months before the presidential election, my research team surveyed nearly 8,000 students from middle school through college on their ability to judge material from the internet. We concluded that students’ ability to navigate online information could be captured in one word: bleak. We released our findings two weeks after Donald Trump’s election and were immediately swept up in the media maelstrom.

Our most reported finding was that 82 percent of middle school students couldn’t tell the difference between an ad and a news story. But putting it that way isn’t really fair to kids: While dozens of outlets reported this nugget, none mentioned an industry study that showed 59 percent of adults couldn’t tell the difference, either.

We are all in the same boat. That boat is taking on water.

In the wake of mass confusion caused by the internet and social media, there have been calls for a renewed commitment to teaching civics and instructing students in the foundations of democracy. But if we think this challenge is only about civics, we’re deluding ourselves. Bringing education into the 21st century demands that we rethink how we teach every subject in the curriculum.

We’re still teaching history using only print texts even as kids are being historicized online by Holocaust deniers and Lost-Causers. We’re teaching science in an era when online anti-vaxxers gain traction by using scientific language to deceive and intimidate. We’re teaching students to solve math equations while remaining oblivious to the fact that they’re being bamboozled by cunning infographics that mask rising temperatures by playing fast and loose with the X and Y axes.

Massive education response needed

We will fail the challenge posed by the digital revolution if we think there’s a cheap way out of this mess. A new course in media literacy or a half-day presentation by the librarian is a Band-Aid. Ushering education into the digital age will demand the educational equivalent of thehuman genome project: a decade-long effort that cost billions of dollars, engaged thousands of scientists, and relied on international cooperation with teams from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and other nations.

The first step is to get an accurate fix on where students are at. We can’t confuse kids’ ease in operating digital devices with the sophistication needed to evaluate the information those devices yield. We’ll need a host of innovative assessments that can be administered online and that take advantage of artificial intelligence and natural language processing for scoring.

Next, we’ll need massive curriculum development and experimentation to help kids succeed on these assessments. We will need to develop new approaches to professional development for teachers, who sometimes are as confused as their students. And we’ll have to overhaul teacher education, so that new teachers feel prepared when they tell kids to open their Chromebooks.

Digital threat is a national defense issue

Most of all, we’ll need public education in the deepest sense — the education of the public — in our libraries, our community centers and our places of worship — to reach parents and grandparents so we can help them help their children become informed citizens.

In October 1957, a whirling orbital ball known as Sputnik roused Americans from their slumber and set into motion a rethinking of our educational system. I don’t see the equivalent of the National Defense Education Act coming out of Washington anytime soon. But the threat to democracy by a digitally credulous citizenry is nothing less than an issue of national defense.

Treating it as anything but guarantees a further erosion of democratic society.

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Failed Predictions on Technology in Schools

Over five years ago, Petar Jandric a professor at the Polytechnic of Zagreb, interviewed me about my decades of writings on technology in schools. The entire interview appeared in the journal E-Learning and Digital Media (2015) Here is a portion of that interview about my poor record in predicting the future.

 

PJ: Three decades ago, you published Teachers and Machines: Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920. Only four years after the famous appearance of the computer on the cover of Time magazine in 1982, you dedicated a whole quarter of the book to ‘the promise of the computer’. Some of the presented conclusions are just as relevant today. For instance, it cannot be disputed that ‘to question computer use in schools is to ask what schools are for, why teachers teach certain content, how they should teach, and how children learn’. At the time, however, it was impossible to predict the depth and extent of social change brought by information and communication technologies.

Standing on the shoulders of previous research efforts, we can learn from fulfilled predictions just as much as we can learn from failed promises. Based on the most successful predictions and the deepest historic failures, therefore, what can be learned from the first one hundred years of marriage between education and technologies? If you set out to rewrite Teachers and Machines, what would you do differently?

 

LC: Thanks, Petar, for recalling that quote from Teachers and Machines. It is the one I have used often. Please allow me to reproduce the blog post I wrote about this topic five years ago:

A quarter-century ago, I described and analysed the history of machines deployed in classrooms (film, radio, instructional television and the newly arrived desktop computer) to help teachers teach more, faster and better. Then I did something foolish in the final chapter. I predicted future uses of computers in classrooms from my vantage point in 1986.

Of course, I was not alone in making predictions. Seymour Papert dove into the same empty pool that I did a couple of years before my venture into crystal ball gazing: ‘There won’t be schools in the future… I think the computer will blow up the school. That is, the school defined as something where there are classes, teachers running exams, people structured in groups by age, following a curriculum –all of that’ (Papert, 1984).

Based upon my research in schools and experience as a teacher and superintendent, however, I was far more skeptical about the penetration and use of computers than Papert.

Here is what I predicted in Teachers and Machines for computers in schools:

I predict that…in elementary schools where favourable conditions exist, teacher use will increase but seldom exceed more than 10 percent of weekly instructional time [roughly 3 hours a week]. Pulling out students for a 30-to-45-minute period in a computer lab will, I suspect, gain increasing popularity in these schools…In secondary schools, the dominant pattern of use will be to schedule students into [labs] and one or more elective classes where a score of desk-top computers sit…

In no event would I expect general student use of computers in secondary schools to exceed 5 percent of the weekly time set aside for instruction. I predict no great breakthrough in teacher use patterns at either level of schooling. (Cuban, 1986: 99)

As events unfolded in the next quarter-century, my prediction flat-lined. Access to computers –desktops, laptops, hand-held devices and interactive white boards – soared. In writing Oversold and Underused: Computers in Classrooms (Cuban, 2001), I did find higher percentages of students and teachers using computers in preschools, secondary schools and universities that ruined my 1986 prediction.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of students and tens of thousands of teachers across the country have received 1:1 laptops, tablets and white boards.

In researching classrooms since 2001, again, I have found higher use by teachers and students in both elementary and secondary classrooms. More teachers – my guess is over 30% across different districts – use machines for instruction (I include the whole panoply of available high-tech devices) regularly, that is, multiple times a week. Another 30 to 40% use computers occasionally, that is, at least once a month. The remainder of teachers – still a significant minority – hardly ever, if at all, use machines for instruction. This continues to puzzle researchers and policymakers since they know that nearly all teachers have high-tech devices at home. So my 1986 prediction on teacher and student use of computers for classroom instruction was inaccurate and died a quiet death. Compassionate readers seldom remind me that I flopped in peeking into the future. The facts are clear that students and teachers use high-tech devices for instruction more than I had foreseen.

One final confession. I stated clearly in Teachers and Machines and subsequent writings that the uses of new technologies for classroom instruction would seldom satisfy those advocates of more instructional use in schools, because teacher use would tend toward the traditional, blending both teacher- and student-centered approaches, and such approaches were seen as unimaginative. Not all teachers, by any means, but enough for the charge of pedestrian teacher use to be commonly pointed out. Both of these predictions have turned out to be accurate.

I confess to my errors in foreseeing the future for no other reason than to remind readers, both champions and skeptics of computers in schools, that accurate predictions are rare and inaccurate ones are not only common but often memorable. So if I re-wrote Teachers and Machines today, what predictions would I make?

I would predict that well over 90% of US schools a quarter-century from now will be age-graded and brick-and-mortar, not virtual ones. There will be much more blending of online and face-to-face instruction in classrooms as students get older – more of the latter in elementary schools and more of the former in secondary ones. Most teachers – at least 75% – will use some form of device regularly in parts of daily lessons because they have expanded their repertoire of teaching activities to achieve their goals for student learning. Those uses by teachers and students will be far more integrated into daily lessons, yet will still be criticized by that future generation of techno-enthusiasts as obsolete and unimaginative….

 

Given my confession of being a poor predictor, readers may well chuckle at what I said in this interview of five years ago. So be it.

Unmentioned in the above post has been the poverty in student achievement gains that can be attributed to use of devices and software. The existing body of research on the effects of technology on achievement would give willies to the purveyors of hyped claims that new devices and software would raise students’ test scores, increase their critical thinking, and boost school performance. Alas, no such outcomes have materialized after billions have been spent on machines and software. But that will be the subject of another post.

 

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Tuning out: What happens when you drop Facebook? (Krysten Crawford)

Krysten Crawford is a freelance writer.

The early promise and excitement of social media — its ability to connect people around the world and inspire grass-roots activism — has given way to fears that it is making us depressed and more politically polarized than ever.

But is that really happening?

In one of the largest-ever randomized evaluations of Facebook’s broader social impacts, Stanford economists look at common assumptions about the platform and its effects on individuals and society.

Among other things, they uncover evidence that Facebook causes users to feel less happy and more anxious. But they find that the overall emotional impact, while meaningful, is less than other studies suggesting that users feel worse about themselves.

Their analysis also sheds important new light on Facebook’s impact on democracy by suggesting that the platform amplifies political divisions while also educating users about current events.

The research is laid out in a new working paper co-authored by Matthew Gentzkow, an economics professor and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR). Previous studies looking at these outcomes have either been conducted on a smaller scale or focused on correlational analysis rather than randomized evaluation of causal effects.

“What you see from this study is that the rise of social media — and Facebook, in particular — has been a double-edged sword,” Gentzkow says.

It’s a reminder that a technology as revolutionary as social media can’t be either good or bad. It’s often a mix of both.

“There were a number of years where Facebook could do no wrong,” Gentzkow says. “Now we’ve had a couple of years where Facebook could do no right. Facebook is either the greatest thing that’s ever happened or it’s destroying humanity. This is just like the discussion we had when television came along. We need to start understanding the nuances of what this technology is actually doing to the world.”

Small, but significant, impact on well-being

Gentzkow and his co-authors — Stanford doctoral candidates Luca Braghieri and Sarah Eichmeyer, and New York University economist Hunt Allcott — recruited approximately 2,850 Facebook users in the United States. To participate, subjects had to use Facebook for more than 15 minutes per day. Some of the subjects were randomly assigned to a treatment group that was offered payments to deactivate their accounts in the runup to the November 2018 midterm elections.

The scholars then used a variety of measures, including daily text messages, surveys and public information on voting and Twitter use, to track the behaviors of both the treatment and a control group.

The team was able to study a wide range of Facebook’s impacts on users. Their findings show that, on average, users who turned off Facebook:

  • Spent less time online overall and more time engaged in a broad range of offline activities, including being with friends and family. They didn’t replace Facebook with another social media platform like Twitter.
  • Reported small but significant improvements in their levels of happiness, life satisfaction, depression, and anxiety.
  • Were just as likely to experience changes in well-being regardless of whether they were active or passive users. Facebook announced more than a year ago that scrolling through a news feed — as opposed to actively contributing to the site through comments and other activity — makes users feel worse about themselves.
  • Knew less about current events and political news.
  • Became significantly less politically polarized in their views on issues.
  • Used Facebook less after the experiment was over. Four weeks after the end of the experiment, treatment users spent 23 percent less time on their mobile Facebook apps than control users.

The findings, says Gentzkow, raise a number of questions about social media’s impact on democracy. For example, is it better when people know less about current events and are less likely to have extreme political views? Or is it better for people to be more informed yet more partisan and angry in their views?

“It sets up a tough question that doesn’t have an obvious answer,” says Gentzkow, whose research focuses on the interplay between politics and media.

First, averages. Next, nuances

Particularly striking, the researchers say, were signs that users didn’t appear eager to get back onto Facebook once the experiment ended. They were more likely, for example, to uninstall the Facebook app from their phone and to be more judicious about engaging with the service.

This outcome suggests that Facebook may, as many observers have speculated, be habit forming. The fact that users who quit Facebook, even temporarily, indicated they wanted to use it less in the future is consistent with theories of addiction, says Allcott, an associate professor of economics at NYU.

The researchers also evaluated how much money users would accept to deactivate their Facebook accounts before and after they took a break from the service. They found that the median user wanted $100 to stop using Facebook for four weeks. After the month-long hiatus, the average user said he or she would accept slightly less than that to take another break.

“It turns out a four-week break does cause people to re-evaluate how they use Facebook, but they’re still willing to pay a lot of money to stay on the platform,” Allcott says. “Measured in economic terms, Facebook seems to provide a whole lot of value for its users.”

The study highlights the subtleties of social media’s effects, Braghieri says. For instance, the finding that users who deactivated Facebook knew less about current events suggests that the platform is a valuable source of information for people who might not otherwise read the news.

“We often hear that Facebook’s impact on politics is fundamentally bad because of the spread of misinformation and increased polarization,” he says. “But this paper provides a more nuanced understanding of what is really happening and is something to think about.”

To that end, the researchers have been conducting follow-up interviews with study participants to gain a better understanding of this and other nuances. They are also parsing the data for differences among users by age, education level, political ideology and other characteristics.

“Our study talks about average effects, but there might be vast differences across people,” Eichmeyer says. “Now that we have the data, we can start exploring potential distinctions.”

This research was generally funded by the Sloan Foundation. Facebook provided no funding and the authors have no financial ties to Facebook. Gentzkow is on an advisory council for the SocialScienceOne initiative which works with Facebook and other technology companies to facilitate data sharing.

 

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The Virtue of Slow Software: Fewer Fads in Schools?

Online commerce has made it easier than ever to shop, right? Maybe too easy. A recent study by comparison-shopping site Finder revealed that more than 88 percent of Americans admitted to spontaneous impulse buying online, blowing an average of $81.75 each time we lose control. Clothes, videogames, concert tickets. One in five of us succumb weekly. Millennials do it the most.

With the above paragraph, journalist Clive Thompson opens his article on “Slow Software” in Wired magazine. His argument is straight-forward: devices speed up our lives, encourage impulsivity, and buyer’s remorse. For the above example of excessive buying–which, of course, is crucial to the economy which depends upon Americans shopping–Thompson describes a piece of software that slows the shopper down.

[A team of software designers] created Icebox, a Chrome plug-­in that replaces the Buy button on 20 well-known e-commerce sites with a blue button labeled “Put it on ice.” Hit it and your item goes into a queue, and a week or so later Icebox asks if you still want to buy it. In essence, it forces you to stop and ponder, “Do I really need this widget?” Odds are you don’t.

The pace of life has surely accelerated with Facebook Newsfeed, incessant tweets, over the top Instagram pics, and pop-up ads everywhere you click on the web. Misinformation on Facebook spreading swiftly and harassment campaigns on Twitter ever-present, slowing down software seems to be a way of thinking twice before deciding on something important to us. But it is not easy as Thompson concludes:

It’s a Sisyphean battle, I admit. Offered the choice, we nearly always opt for convenience…. Icebox is brilliant but hasn’t yet taken off. Socratic deliberation improves our lives—but, man, what a pain!

Slow software reminded me of what Steve Arnett reported in an earlier post. Ninety-eight percent of the software that school administrators purchased for classroom use was not used intensively (at least 10 hours between assessments)–yes, 98 percent.

The apps with the most licenses purchased are ConnectEd, WeVideo, Blender Learn Discovery and Education Streaming Plus. The apps with the highest intensive users are Google Drive, Canvas, Dreambox Learning, Lexia Reading Core5 and IXL. (Some apps, such as Google Drive, have more users than licenses purchased because they offer their services for free.)

All of this got me thinking anew about who makes district decisions about buying software for classrooms and the muting of teacher voices when it comes to these district office decisions–which, of course, have to ultimately be approved by boards of education.

School leaders need slow software before going on buying sprees of teaching and learning software peddled by companies. Impulsive shopping–see opening paragraph above–hits school leaders as it does the typical consumer surfing Amazon or similar sites. This impulse buying is the way that fads get started (hype transforms fads into “innovations”).

Of course, district officials who spend the money do not need software to slow their decisions down for a week that Icebox proposes. Instead of slow software, they can use some old-fashioned, analog ways of decision-making that bring teachers into the decision cycle at the very beginning with teachers volunteering to try out the new software (and devices) in lessons, administrators collecting data, and analysis of data by mix of a teachers and administrators. And I do not mean token representation on committees already geared to decide on software and devices. With actual groups of teachers using software (and devices) with students, then a more deliberate, considered, and informed decision can be made on which software (or devices) should get licensed for district. Of course, this suggestion means that those who make decisions have to take time to collaborate with those who are the objects of those decisions before any district money can be spent. And time is a scarce resource especially for teachers. Not to be squandered, but there are tech-savvy teachers who would relish such an opportunity.

My hunch is that there are cadres of teachers who do want to be involved in classroom use of software before they are bought and would appreciate the chance to chime in with their experiences using the software in lessons. Teacher validation of an innovation aimed at teaching and learning can not be sold or bought without teachers using the software in lessons.

As Thompson points out it is a struggle to restrain impulsivity when buying stuff because “[o]ffered the choice, we nearly always opt for convenience.” That applies to district leaders buying software for teachers to use in their lessons. And faddishness is the last thing that schools need when budgets are tight and entrenchment is in the air.

A Fad Dissolver period declared at the onset of a classroom trial that runs three-to-six months to determine how valid and useful the software is could halt the impulse buying that so characterizes districts wanting to show how tech savvy they are and avoid the common practice of storing in drawers and closets unused software and devices.

 

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