Sunday, October 6, 2013

Effective and Ethical Users of Technology?

General Learner Outcomes for our Department of Education are the overarching standards for all students in our schools.  GLO #6 is "Effective and Ethical User of Technology."  What, exactly, does this mean for today's students and how can we ensure that our students use technology effectively and ethically, not just in school but out-of-school as well?

In June 2013, Apple announced that the LA School Board of  Education had approved an expenditure of $30 million for the first phase of a 1:1 rollout of iPads.  Within one week of distribution at high schools, several hundred students had figured out how to bypass the built-in security and began using programs which were supposed to be blocked on the devices. LAUSD put a halt to student use at home until they can figure out what to do.

This blog, "Why LA's iPad Rollout was Doomed" shared important issues that must be addressed: hurrying to implement without addressing potential problems; limited teacher training and professional development; responsibility for the iPads when students are carrying them from home to school and back; and the cost of iPads especially when they will be probably be outdated in a few years.

More importantly, though, is how these devices will be used in a 1:1 initiative.  Is it teacher-directed or student-directed?  Are we using the power of the Internet to enable students to take responsibility for their own learning, or are we putting curriculum on-line and expecting students to be more engaged because the lessons are on a mobile device or laptop?

As an elementary school principal, I am an advocate for the use of technology in instruction.  In fact, through a Department of Defense Educational  Activity grant, we are piloting a blended learning program where fourth and fifth graders are assigned a laptop for the year so they can access their instructional program on their at-home days as well as in-school days.  It is amazing to see the growth and confidence of these students when given the opportunity to think critically, collaborate, communicate, and create, especially when they are given choices in what to research and how to share their learning.  It has been a learning experience sprinkled with frustration, however, when we realize that some of the best resources or learning tools are blocked by the Department.

In this day and age, many students use mobile devices to communicate with friends or to play games.  However, when we limit use of school devices to approved programs, we are losing an opportunity to guide students in using their mobile device as a teaching/learning tool and in making decisions regarding credible resources.  Additionally, 1:1 devices should offer students choices on how to share what they learned.  Most of the time when we hear "1:1 initiative," it means that every student has a device with pre-loaded instructional content and assignments submitted on-line as opposed to using paper/pencil.

Our ultimate goal is that all students show evidence that they are self-directed learners, community contributors, complex thinkers, quality producers, and effective communicators as well as effective and ethical users of technology (General Learner Outcomes).  If we want students who are college and career ready, we need to "Teach kids to be their own Internet filter" as this blog shares.  It shouldn't start when students begin high school, however.  We have a responsibility to start this conversation in elementary school by teaching what "plagiarism" is, by having students search for "reputable"  information related to their topic, and using tools like EasyBib so students reference the source of their information when researching.  (Check out this presentation by a group of fifth graders; their individual notes as well as reference materials are a requirement for this project and are linked to their presentation.) When we teach students the importance of being an effective and ethical user of technology, and when we give them tools so they can research to discover or find answers to their questions, students will be more engaged and willing to share their learning.

Hopefully, other school districts won't make the same mistakes as LA Unified School District when rolling out a 1:1 initiative.  Although putting a device in every students' hand is a great idea, ensuring that the devices serve the purpose for which it is intended is the bigger issue.  We want students using the devices to think critically, collaborate, communicate, and create because these are the skills they will need to be successful in the 21st century.  Being an effective and ethical user of technology means more than just following district rules regarding computer or Internet usage; it means that students have access to and can make decisions about their own learning using all the resources available to them.  

#technology #SAVMP - NSJ&J


  1. Jan,

    I always cringe when seeing a new technology initiative that is implemented at twice the speed of sound! :-) All too often I feel good intentions get clouded with the confusion between technology being a tool, rather than something that should support instruction that is already happening in the classroom. The technology as a tool mindset is always and will always been doomed. It can't be technology for technology sake. Like any other initiative we have all been a part of, without the proper time, training, and support it will not work. I'm sure we can both recall a number of curriculum initiatives that given proper implementation would have produced amazing results for students and staff would have bought in and believed. Technology is not the saving grace and can never take the place of high quality classroom instruction. What it can do with proper time, training, and support is create a learning environment that promotes ethical use and allows students to become self-directed, engaged, and competent learners. This still assumes a high-quality instructor is facilitating the process.

  2. Scott,
    You are so right; I am guilty of having rushed through initiatives as well because I thought it would improve teaching and learning :-(
    When is the "right" time? We have to use our judgment on this one, and it depends on trust. If our staff doesn't trust us to make good decisions based on research and what's good for our school, any new initiative is doomed.
    I'm concerned that the public believes that an iPad in every student's hands will automatically mean more engagement and higher test scores.
    Thanks for your comment!