Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pondering Presentions: Part 1

It has been an interesting week in the world of technology and #edtech and, as is often the case, a number of seemingly isolated incidents have begun to swirl around in my head enough for me to draft a blog-entry. Luckily, I have @40ishoracle to look over the writing to make sure that it makes sense when all is said and done (if you haven’t had the opportunity, you should take time to read her profile in “School CIO”).

Incident #1: My nine-year-old (for those of you who follow me on twitter, Daughter Prime) came into the living room where I was diligently working on the RIO version of Angry Birds and her mom was typing on a laptop. She asked “can I use the (Google)TV? I need to type a reading log.” Now this question could be worth a blog entry in and of itself, but I watched in fascination as she accessed her school’s learning management system, brought up a blank report template, thumb-typed three solidly written paragraphs about The Mysterious Benedict Society, and posted it for teacher review to a virtual homework dropbox.

Incident #2: I had the opportunity to play with the ASUS Transformer brought in by @brebeufjesuit alum @kcklippel. As I played with the device (an Android Honeycomb tablet with widescreen that docks with a larger-than-netbook keyboard for fast typing and 7hrs additional battery life), I began to see how useful it could be in the post-pc world that Steve Jobs declared with the release of the iPad 2.

Incident #3: (stolen from fellow parent, @40ishoracle): Her daughter has had an increasing number of assignments taking the form of “presentations” created in Keynote for assessment and evaluation in place of traditional papers at the middle-school level.

The discussion that swirled around these incidents began with typing.

For a number of years, I have been saying as part of the precursor to Bring-Your-Own-Tech language @40ishoracle introduced me to, that the role of tablets/phones will be as personal productivity enhancers…That a computer will be necessary for “full production” – papers over a certain length, multi-tasking or multi-window or multi-screen research, etc. After watching my nine-year-old comfortably manipulate a thumb keyboard at a decent rate and speed indistinguishable from a nine-year-old at a standard size qwerty keyboard, I opened myself up to the idea that home-row typing vs. thumb-typing alone is not a distinguishing element from critical thinking and productivity.

So if students can be as productive typing (or swyping), what does this say about the types of assignments that we offer?

Rant Begins Here:

When @40ishoracle and I offer a presentation, it is backed up by hours of work. This work ranges from formal and informal discussions, conversations with other educators, background research on the topic, examples in the lab environment that is our Jesuit High School, etc. The presentation is a distillation or interpretation of the thinking that went before it. This combination of context (the work that has been done by others), experience (trying and interpreting lessons in the classroom), reflection (the conversations), is the heart of the Jesuit educational system and parallels with critical thinking that is so beloved of everyone from the ASCD to legislators to *gasp* teachers.

But (and it is a big one): It is absolutely possible to create a presentation that does not benefit from this level of prep work.

Last year, as part of our preparation for addressing issues of information literacy and research rigor that the school wanted to address, we had the opportunity to review a number of student presentations created by our junior class. A common trend that became apparent in our evaluation was that the presentations, while for the most part factually accurate and in most cases properly, if loosely, sourced, lacked the depth of thought that we would have hoped to see (that critical thinking piece again).

In our year on the social-media and research presentation circuit, we found that we are not alone with our assessments. Teachers have noted and agreed that:

• The number of presentation based assessments are growing and in some cases replacing traditional writing.

• There is a general feeling that students are not thinking as hard about the subjects on which they are being assessed.

• There is a malaise of inevitability about this that is wrapped up with “info-whelm” and technology anxiety.

Ultimately, the call for educators, and the educational technologists that support them, is to help craft lessons, including assessments, that will challenge students to think and then demonstrate in some way the level, accuracy, and intensity of that thought process either publicly (presentations) or interpersonally (papers, tests).
If our anxiety level is increasing and we lack confidence in the student-created presentation as an assessment tool, then we owe it to ourselves and our students to analyze the assessment and figure out how to make it fit our critical thinking needs.

Will students notice if we replace traditional keyboard with thumb boards?
Is there an inherent flaw in electronically assisted presentations?
Do these rhetorical questions raise feelings of nostalgia for 60s syndicated super hero TV shows? Stay tuned to the blog for your answer…Same #edtech time, Same #edtech URL!

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