Friday, August 8, 2008

Crocodile Tears

Here he goes again.

Wes Fryer's latest blog post, This is why we have so few laptop initiatives in Oklahoma, is a rallying cry for the technocenctric who think schools and universities should use any and all information technology available or our children will be left behind.

Wes is a nice guy, but I must confess that I am occasionally confused by his prolific blogging. He seems to justify any application, regardless of its quality or educational practice it supports, while simultaneously working tirelessly to scare the pants off parents and educators afraid of all the "bad stuff" out on the Web.

Fryer's blog states that Oklahoma Christian University and Abilene Christian University "are among the first colleges in the United States to implement initiatives which involve ALL students in entering classes purchasing and using either Apple iPhones or iPod Touches." Then he goes on to say...
I almost passed out on the spot, but I was torn by a simultaneous urge to weep.
Question: What is Wes so upset about?

Answer: He met a professor at Oklahoma Christian University who "broke my heart"

It seems that the professor Wes spoke with was less than enthusiastic about the prospect of iPhone use in his classes. This in turn resulted in Fryer condemning the academic's disinterest in 21st Century skills (assuming they exist) and accusing the professor of all sorts of crimes against modernity.

Putting aside the generalizations drawn from a conversation with one academic, Wes' attempt to persuade the professor to embrace technology is as ridiculous as the institution's iPhone/iPod requirement.

Wes reaches into his bag of free Web 2.0 tricks and asks the professor if is aware of PollEverywhere. That's right. In Wes' world of plug kids into anything that plugs-in (as long as you remember that they may be abducted), PollEverywhere is just the ticket to "enthralled" [Wes' term] students.

On my planet, PollEverywhere sustains medieval educational practices. Thanks to Wes and PollEverywhere, a teacher can give a multiple choice quiz in class and get responses instantly via cell phone or other mobile device. That leaves me to answer, "WHO CARES?"

Justifying classroom technology use with such weak examples as PollEverywhere does not represent progress as much as it does desperation on the part of the evangelist. I am only worried about the professor if he is in fact persuaded by this argument.

Lots of institutions of higher education require students to have a personal mobile computer. Pepperdine University, where I work, required student laptops during the Clinton administration and I began working in K-12 1:1 schools before the first Gulf War. This however is not why Abilene Christian and Oklahoma Christian is being singled out by Wes Fryer. Wes is touting their requirement that each student have an iPhone or iPod Touch.

It is ridiculous to suggest that an iPhone or iPodTouch is an adequate learning tool.

These devices are great for looking up answers to easily answered questions or even blogging. However, they offer VERY little of the potential of computers as intellectual laboratories and vehicles for self-expression.

Why does an institution of higher education make such requirements? Because these devices 1) APPEAR cheap and 2) APPEAR modern and groovy.

So, the institution doesn't have the courage to ask kids to buy a multimedia laptop. Instead they suggest an iPhone and then shift the ongoing expenses to the student anyway in the form on monthly fees.

It might also be true that Abilene Christian and Oklahoma Christian have higher priorities than "21st Century Skills" or epistemological pluralism. To quote Hebrew National commercials, perhaps they "answer to a higher authority."

No matter what you think of the arguments above, I hope we can find common ground in stating unequivocally that neither the requirement that every college student own an iPod or the fact that professors don't embrace them has NOTHING whatsoever to do with Wes Fryer's blog title, "This is why we have so few laptop initiatives in Oklahoma."

Note: Here are a few recent examples of blog interactions to support the analysis above:

Labels: , , , , ,


  • I thought his post was pretty bizarre, too. In particular, when I think about the best classes I had in college, I don't imagine that they would have been improved by everyone having a laptop open.

    By Anonymous Tom Hoffman, At August 8, 2008 6:36 PM  

  • The website is Poll Everywhere not Poll Anywhere.

    By Anonymous Karen, At August 8, 2008 7:43 PM  

  • Well, maybe I should have kept those thoughts to myself. Maybe I shouldn't have let myself be affected at all by what that professor said. Perhaps my views are in left field on this. I seem unable to write or say anything that you agree with or support, Gary. Certainly the primary purpose of my writing is not to cull favor with you, but I admit I'm feeling a bit alone at this point.

    I'll offer one point of clarification. I certainly don't think PollEverywhere represents learning nirvana for the professor I spoke with or anyone. I think it can be a useful tool, and it certainly seemed to be the one educational technology application which this professor understood and in which he could see value. That seemed to be a step forward, since his initial position was that digital devices had no place in his classroom at all.

    How do you suggest I advocate for 1:1 learning in Oklahoma, Gary? As I hope you know, I am sincerely interested in this answer and would value your concrete suggestions for advocacy even more than your continued criticism of my ideas. Of course critique and criticism can help us grow and change, so I am thankful for that opportunity as always.

    With respect to the "what technology do you not advocate for" question, I think I answered this in a post but one specific program is Accelerated Reader. I'm not a fan.

    By Anonymous Wesley Fryer, At August 8, 2008 9:36 PM  

  • The comparison of iPhone/Touch to laptop is a little disconcerting. As cool gadgets continue to emerge, it is important to think of devices along a continuum, from creation tool to consumption tool.

    While there is some creative possibilities associated with iPhone/Touch, it is primarily a consumption tool. So, the pedagogy associated with is consumptive. I think a major challenge in today's world is training students to be creators of knowledge, not just consumers of knowledge.

    I'm just left wondering why schools wouldn't encourage something like the Eee PC by ASUS or HP Mini-Note PC?

    While these are still fairly cheap (ASUS $300 and HP $500) when compared to an iPhone/Touch, they have much greater creative potential.

    By Anonymous andy chlup, At August 9, 2008 8:54 AM  

  • "Crimes against modernity" -- nice line there.

    Wes and everyone, I think the thing that at least I found a little hard to believe in Wes' post was how such extreme conclusions could be taken from a single, brief interaction (if you can call it that). I think those of us who see the potential for educational good in technology really hurt the process of implementing it through these kinds of reactions, where teachers who are skeptical of technology are labeled, immediately, as bad teachers. That's just not the case and that's what I found so bothersome about the post. Can't a teacher be effective in the classroom without embracing the idea of kids bringing iPhones to class every day?

    By Anonymous Robert Talbert, At August 9, 2008 2:16 PM  

  • Any teacher serious about teaching technology and investigating values and ethics around that subject area would reject the iPhone entirely. It is not a platform designed for learning.

    By Anonymous Peter, At August 11, 2008 5:18 AM  

  • I work at OC, and also saw Wes' article. I don't agree with all of the conclusions he came to concerning our faculty based on that one statement, but I suppose it's his interpretation.

    But just to clarify some facts, specifically regarding this line- "So, the institution doesn't have the courage to ask kids to buy a multimedia laptop."

    Our program does involve students receiving a MacBook and the choice of an iPhone or iPod touch. Our school has had a laptop program for 7 years. You can find out more information at .

    By Anonymous ann, At August 11, 2008 6:31 AM  

  • Thanks for offering that clarification Ann, I wanted to point that out as well, that students are not just coming to class this fall with iPhones or iPod Touches at OC, but also with laptops that are part of the existing laptop initiative. Andy, I was not making an assertion that an iPhone or iPod is the same thing as a laptop. I agree the former are primarily consumptive rather than creative tools. There ARE worthwhile ways to use both for learning, both inside and outside of formal classtime. My points did not include the assertion that iPhones and iPods are synonymous functionally with laptops.

    The professor with which I spoke wanted student laptops closed all the time during his classes. I am not saying he is a "bad" educator or teacher. I was saddened by his viewpoint which didn't see any potential value in having students bring either of these devices to class. As I wrote in the original post, however, that perception can certainly change at any time, and hopefully it will.

    I've never argued that using technology makes someone a good teacher, or that technology has intrinsic value in the learning environment. In my view it is all about the ways technology tools are used that is most important. Scissors and pencils can be used in dangerous ways too, but we recognize that and encourage appropriate uses. I certainly agree that laptops are not just pencils, they are protean devices with far more flexible uses.

    I shouldn't be surprised by a negative reaction to laptops in the hands of students, I suppose, I really do think that view is fairly common among many higher ed faculty. Please note, however, that while I did mention that the professor I spoke to taught at OC, I did NOT generalize and attempt to claim that his opinion was shared by others there. This was not a post criticizing OC or the laptop/iPhone initiative there. I actually think it is fantastic both OC and ASU in Texas are leaders in higher education with 1:1 programs. My post regarded my reaction to this one professor's attitudes and perceptions with regard to student technology devices in his classroom.

    Also I would say in response to Gary's assertion that I am "simultaneously working tirelessly to scare the pants off parents and educators afraid of all the "bad stuff" out on the Web" that I try my best to present balanced perspectives in my presentations about Internet safety, safe digital social networking, and cyberbullying prevention. Podcasts of my past presentations on these topics are available on the previous sites, please check them out and judge for yourself. I was specifically asked to be on a panel discussion for the Oklahoma Library Association this past spring on Internet Safety to counter-balance the views of a law enforcement official who primarily focused on the predator danger online. That danger is real and we DO need to be aware of it, but we also don't need to help reinforce the perception the media has largely emphasized that the Internet is a terrible place for kids where only bad things happen. Bad things do happen but lots of good things happen too.

    My role in helping lead our statewide Celebrate Oklahoma Voices digital storytelling and oral history project is one way I'm working to find ways to showcase the positive, constructive ways new media technologies are being used by both students and teachers.

    By Anonymous Wesley Fryer, At August 13, 2008 8:14 PM  

  • I am jumping into this discussion very late, and before having read the original post from Wes Fryer. My question is, how prepared are college professors for modifying instruction to effectively incorporate emerging technology in the array of tools for students? Yes, online notes, social networking, and email are wonderful. But, beyond that, what are professors asking students to do? Online courses are not really online courses if the content on Blackboard does not vary from that presented in a classroom. I work at a high school, and we require teachers to attend LOTS of classes to help with modifying instruction. Does that go on at the college level where faculty tends to be older? (sorry to imply all old people are lacking in tech skills, but we have to admit that they often are more reluctant to try new things related to technology)

    So, while new technologies are often developed at higher ed institutions, that doesn't mean that the faculties there are more likely or better prepared to use them. And trying to talk them into something as new as an iPhone, which has such a brief history and no proven record as an educational tool is silly.

    By Anonymous Bea Cantor, At August 14, 2008 3:25 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home