Tag Archives: brain

Technology is not Additive; it’s Ecological

I have recently been hired as the K-12 Technology Coordinator at Ruamrudee International School in Thailand. I prepared a vision for technology in education that has seen it’s fair share of revisions and reflections. I share it now, for the first time. I use technology because history has showed me that the brightest minds in the world have embraced technology for it’s practical application. I’m sure the late Neil Postman would agree that people should know a few things about technology.

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Education in the 21st century

Education in the 21st century is transforming at an unprecedented rate of change because the needs of learners have shifted toward skills that embody innovation and human experience. I see technology as a historical common phenomena that has peripherally (and continually) shaped the way people view themselves and the world around them. Science, travel, and commerce have evolved (while pushing boundaries) due to the simple implementation of a better, more sophisticated tool which has in turn accommodated progress and collective understanding. We are in a unique time in education and 2012 will most likely be a tipping year as tighter budgets and greater accountability force teachers into adopting new and better tools of instruction.

There is no escaping from ourselves. The human dilemma is as it has always been, and it is a delusion to believe that the technological changes of our era have rendered irrelevant the wisdom of the ages and the sages.

As a student of history, I have always shaped my understanding of human experience around three essential relationships: people’s relationship to their environment, to other humans, and to powerful ideas that have resonance and meaning. Human experience underlies all that we do as educators in preparing students for active participation in a global society. My vision for technology stems from my thinking about what I do as an educator in meeting the needs of my students. But I am not really supporting any real change if I am attempting to change the broken system called formal learning.

I believe:

1. The most up to date information is only accessible in real time. People are at a disadvantage when their information in outdated. This disadvantage can have a range of repercussions; more importantly, the formal learner must be equipped with the understanding of how to navigate the information available, appropriately use the information, and share their use with others.

2. The role of the teacher has shifted  to that of the learner, facilitator, and approximately nineteen other roles. Embracing the 21 roles of the teacher is an initial step toward identifying the value of new tools and ways of thinking in traditional classrooms.

3. Changing roles means changing personal/group habits, temporal/spatial structures, and (wait for it…..) philosophies.  If a teacher has not changed/modified their own philosophy, then everything else would be meaning less and lack motivation. Decision making demands input from all stakeholders regarding schedules, space, collaborative planning time, and data-driven instruction.

4. Former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch wrote, “If the rate of change outside an institution is faster than inside an institution, that institution is in peril.”  Here is the call for adoption of more progressive blueprints of instruction. Curricula are the most important factor in the success of learner. Good curricula makes a bad teacher effective, bad curriculum makes a good teacher ineffective. The call is for internal and external collaboration to streamline, implement, and celebrate mastery learning which is supported by innovative vehicles of social media and rapid communication

5. The commitment must be made institutionally and then recruit personnel that share the same values and vision. School leaders need to ask the right questions of their prospective hires and support a program of mutual sharing, collegiality, and celebration. I believe that traditional mindsets and external pressures weaken commitment to meeting students needs of the 21st century. I asked a Superintendent of a top school in NY if there were plans in his school to initiate a laptop/1:1 program and he cringed communicating the a general fear that students would misuse the computers. I believe that on many occasions we are only limited by our own thinking in what can be accomplished. It is criminal to pass this mindset onto the next generation.

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Technology in Education

Technology in Education should be explored and implemented to its innovative ends! Implementation of a one to one program requires appropriately support for effective use of the tool. While technology opens so many opportunities, I also believe that it is too often viewed as an end in itself rather than a means to an end—or both! Should technology simply replace all aspects of education for the sake of innovation? Who could propose such a preposterous measure? While teaching requires current instruments and connectivity to students, not all current instruments and student connectivity is enhanced by technology.  Like all good things in life, technology is yet another element to examine with an eye for balance. There is great educational and developmental value in students flexing such a critical eye on technology resources, determining effective and ineffective uses of technology in education and in life. There are a number of ethical issues just surfacing regarding technological innovations—issues of ethics that are far less supported by decades of moral and human values. These issues offer an opportunity for students to truly construct parameters for real-life ethical issues regarding how people use technology in the world, ultimately enhancing social awareness through the critical eyes of multiple students. My vision is that technology supports all three aspects of the human experience believing that teachers must evaluate the quality of their instruction through reflection and augmentation of the following:

  • Environment
  • Human interaction
  • Ideas

1. The focus is not technology integration, but transformation of the system based upon  connectivity, collaboration, communication, collegiality, community, and celebration. All words that start with the letter “C.”  The thinking that I support is one of personalized learning that  enables each student to take a customized path toward meeting high level standards. Flexible uses of time and space allow differentiated approaches to content, assessment, pacing, and learning style. This level of personalization, when combined with world-class standards, performance-based assessment, anytime/anywhere learning, deep student engagement and agency, and a comprehensive system of supports, is referred to as next generation learning (NGL); I whole-heartedly endorse choice in learning. This is how people refine their ability to dialogue, crowd source authentic problems, and innovate.

2. My vision supports an increasing emphasis upon practical and philosophical use of social media through pedagogy and project-based tasks that support a wide-range of 21st century literacies.  Everyone blogs in school and the blogs become a digital portfolio that allow for practicing of curation, construction, and written reflection. All important literacies can be supported and student writing will flourish through appropriate feedback. Institutionally, we shall support the Creative Commons mentality of sharing with proper attribution, while simultaneously contributing to specific learning communities. All teachers will develop a personal learning network for on-going professional development that continuously shares new resources and approaches while challenging existing thinking.

3. An emphasis on fast connectivity along with digital and technical support that minimizes breakdowns in classroom instruction and communication. Let’s double the bandwidth every year! Lets have a tech team within sections that have members representing each department. Super fast connectivity is vital for the uploading of media and information. I would like to see a schools become think tanks and centers of inquiry, where the intellectual challenges are practical and put the learner inside the dilemmas. New types of courses will emerge that will not only pique interest, but will require guest speakers, large amounts of data collection and storage, and creativity. Mental associations are the stuff of creativity and people must be given opportunities to be cognitively challenged.

4. Broadcasting & Vertical Initiatives will be much more pervasive in the future. Skill sets will become much more specialized and so a tiered system of service will most likely emerge. The best skill sets will earn premium wages for services. However, the services will stille be in great demand with the opportunities left available for those below the most sought after quite substantial. In addition, broadcasting will be far more reaching with specialization in a diverse and varied number of subjects. People will come to accept information from specific broadcast sources (youtube channels come to mind here), while the natural synthesis of ideas, interests, and subjects will create enormous opportunities for new areas of thought, exploration, and design. School wide programming where a common theme is shared and used to drive creative productivity and collaboration can happen with much more frequency in a connected learning environment where the school values are emphasized, supported, and aligned.

5. Ambitious Exploration and Experimentation should be encouraged and supported when ever possible. Teachers should feel free to try new methods and approaches to instruction if the methods emphasize challenging but engaging tasks. There are those that feel that some cultures do not embrace risk-taking, however that is a very subjective term. Anything novel requires some risk, other wise it would not be a challenge. There is a implied responsibility to address the needs of the whole student and experimentation and exploration are specific habits of mind that are generally valued by groups. I have blogged on this idea before but I am entirely certain that there must be opportunities throughout formal education for students to not only choose what they want to learn, but also plan how they will learn it. That is a pretty ambitious experiment for any teacher. The next generation of teacher should be able to integrate content, pedagogy, and technology CREATIVELY.

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It doesn’t matter if it is five, ten, or one hundred years, the developing mind will require a structure of learning that has leverage, is relevant, and is enduring. I will wager 50 bajillion Schrute Bucks that will include technology because technology has leverage, is always relevant, and seems to always pop up in the historical record as a major agent of change. Technology is not additive-it is ecological.

In short, we must prepare learners to critically embrace their futures, not our pasts!

From Complexity to Clarity, It’s a Visual World After All

“Visual literacy is the ability to interpret, use, appreciate, and create images and video using both conventional and 21st century media in ways that advance thinking,decision making, communication, and learning.” – Engauge Report on 21st Century skills

In 1826, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, a curious sort interested in the emerging field of lithography, utilized a pewter plate, a few chemicals, and eight hours of daylight to bring the world the first photograph (or heliograph as it was called) dooming the then emerging artistic movement known as Realism. Within a few short decades, capturing life’s moments and likenesses became common place, infiltrating the lives of people everywhere by bringing news, enhancing prose, providing proof, and most importantly, affecting beliefs. We know now that the photograph is just an extension of what people have been drawn to eternally: the power of the visual.


I sincerely doubt there is anything artificial much more complex than cyberspace…


As a history and psychology teacher, I am inclined to provide significant opportunities for students hone their visual literacy skills. Here are a few ways  visual literacy may be embedded into lessons:

  • Using a practice known as SOAPSTone, students apply a number of specific critical thinking questions to charts, graphs, photos, and political cartoons (collectively known as infographics).
  • Photo essays with Voicethread, Weebly, and Clevr
  • What’s happening and why? – provide a photo or series of photos centering on an historical event and have students identify the event and how the picture is connected to the events significance.
  • How Many Really?
  • Create infographics like this one created by a student last year:


created by Adisa Narula, Ruamrudee International School

But it wasn’t until I stumbled onto this resource that I could see the proper way to approach functionality of the visual in the proper context. You see visuals often play a very specific role in the external environment.  I am inclined to see how visuals can take complex issues or situations and bring much needed clarity to the viewer. I can also see the opposite effect of the visual when considering the aesthetic value of art or the  powerful purpose of a symbol. Through history, symbols have provided meaning and ambiguity. Man’s earliest attempt to provide help and also conceal secrets have come through visuals (Dan Brown has made millions of dollars off of this concept). One of the earliest, and still one of my favorite, websites is an outstanding educational tool called the Encyclopedia of Symbols which allows users to identify symbols through their unique  visual characteristics (axis; hard/soft lines etc.) and also find symbols that have a special meaning to the individual. I highly recommend adapting this resource into a lesson for it’s appeal and visual literacy components.

So what makes humans so attune to visuals? Short answer: It’s the brain.

Cognition requires energy and focus. The brain looks for significant meaning by anchoring itself to cues. The trick is the nature of the cue and the proper level of association to the cue (that conceptually is the fundamental purpose of forging connections). Text, for example, is a symbol system and must be decoded to have meaning. That is, the brain first must compare letters and word-forms with shapes stored in memory. Then it gauges how the words fit together in the context of sentences, and so forth. All considered, reading is a lot of mental work. Granted, such effort may be perfectly justifiable while reading a novel and sipping iced tea in the back yard, but it’s not effective when listening for long periods of time. More importantly, written languages are accompanied by particular nuances that slows down processing.

Alternatively, images require relatively little processing because they fit with the message. Audiences routinely and efficiently observe visuals, analyze their meanings, and give attention to the speaker’s words, without a problem. That’s why watching television or movies is effortless. Showing people meaningful, content-based visuals, as opposed to text, lessens their cognitive exertion and improves overall experience. Most importantly, clarity is brought to complex concepts by allowing for entire pieces of a concept to be identified at the same time. The synchronic feature of images is often underscored….unless you are looking at a subway map or a complex photo.

Teachers should consider anchoring their lessons in visuals as either tools or as assessment products. According to the Engauge Report, students who are visually literate:

* Have working knowledge of visuals produced or displayed through electronic media

* Understand basic elements of visual design, technique, and media.

* Are aware of emotional, psychological, physiological, and cognitive influences in perceptions of visuals.

* Comprehend representational, explanatory, abstract, and symbolic images.

* Apply knowledge of visuals in electronic media

* Are informed viewers, critics, and consumers of visual information.

* Are knowledgeable designers, composers, and producers of visual information.

* Are effective visual communicators.

* Are expressive, innovative visual thinkers and successful problem solvers.”

It is reasonable to embed one or more of these outcomes into any unit plan and to help with that adaption, I have placed a very cool and helpful tool below called the The Periodic Table of Visualization Methods . Use this tool to complement the lessons you plan or for students to use when creating visuals (which is one of the emerging 21st century skill sets in commercial and non-commercial sectors of society).

Amazing way to think about visualizations.

I was very excited to find the video below to support the utility of visuals. Academy Award winning director Martin Scorese is a huge proponent of visual literacy initiatives and articulates what he believes to be the key power of visuals in reaching creating meaning and connecting to a wider audience.

A Conversation with Martin Scorsese: The Importance of Visual Literacy