Sunday, November 13, 2011



Do you want to engage your students using phenomenal new tools?

Does your school have “technophobe” administrators who see technology as a distraction?

Do you have colleagues that think computer use by students stifles their creativity and innovation?

Would you like to learn about some research findings that support technology use in the classroom?

Take the next step! Effectively empower your students to develop critical thinking skills! Get set to zoom through cyberspace, efficiently!

First things first, teachers themselves need to understand why using technology in the classroom leads to higher student learning outcomes. Second, teachers should aim to carefully examine and intertwine course content and technology tools, and then translate that into student expectations. Let me share my thoughts and findings below:

Ever since I enrolled in my first Educational Technology course during the Summer of 2008, I was enamored by all that technology in the classroom offered, from my personal perspective as a student. When the following school year in August began, I as a teacher offered my students opportunities to stretch their creative minds and develop projects using engaging Web 2.0 tools, and I was amazed. My students had never been more engaged or more happy with a Language class. They were now film creators, editors, directors, actors, comedians, technicians, and commentators; at the same time, they were learning Spanish language content effectively and with enthusiasm.

I recall how my administrators and fellow colleagues were confused as to why I would offer these types of projects to Spanish language study students. I was met with the skepticism inherent to “old-school” Educational Administrators. When called upon to substantiate my methods, I found it easier to skip past the research supportive of Educational Technology, and instead explained the educational gains and outcomes.  I would just point to the students’ end-products and their knowledge obtained by my entertaining and interactive technology approaches.

During the Critics of Educational Technology articles readings, from a research-based perspective, I noted the following themes to be prevalent:
   Ÿ the significant financial investment made by educational institutions does not equal the benefit gained from learning with technology
         Ÿ the human and physical world offer so much more to a student than a one-dimensional computer, as clarified by Oppenheimer (1997)
         Ÿ computer use stifles creativity and innovation, encourages isolation and sedentary learning, and renders reading tedious (Oppenheimer 1997)
         Ÿ distance learning courses through a Web medium “are merely correspondence courses distributed electronically” (Zemsky & Massy, 2004, p. 5)

I located an additional article by Hokanson and Hooper, where they described the rationale for failed technology integration in formal education. They emphasized that computers are tools, and consequently that students ought to “learn with technology, not just from technology.”  Hokanson and Hooper also made reference to the research of Oppenheimer, Clark, Jonassen and Kozma, emphasizing that instructional methods and pedagogy are critical factors of effective integration. They articulated that the “soft and subjective beliefs of society” as well as the handling of education with a business model have limited educational advancement with technology.

I believe that each of the above criticisms makes a valid point, but these points also can be negotiated. First of all, there is the criticism about the considerable amount of financial investment thrown at technology by schools. An administrator unquestionably would have to validate the advantages gained compared to monies spent. Culp, Honey and Mandinach (2003) expressed that on the contrary, “one cannot ignore the immense costs saved.” The use of computers coupled with the internet have made it feasible and easy to “(deliver) instruction to geographically dispersed audiences…  (or to use) distance learning systems to expand the reach of teachers in specialized subject areas to broader populations of students” (Culp, et al., 2003). Or thanks to Web 2.0 tools, organization of content (taught/learned) can be easily and cheaply displayed.  It is difficult to argue that we do not strive to educate our children and provide for them financially so that they will be successful in their futures; why would we not apply the same logic to the cost of technology in education?

Oppenheimer argued that computer use stifles creativity and innovation, encourages isolation and sedentary learning, and renders reading tedious (1997). However Culp (et al.) asserted that
         “many reports present strong assertions that technology can catalyze various      other changes in the content, methods, and overall quality of the teaching and        learning process, most frequently, triggering changes away from lecture-driven instruction and toward constructivist, inquiry-oriented classrooms” (2003, p. 5).

I look at it from the constructivist paradigm, where education is about participation, and includes social construction of knowledge and collaboration where students are encouraged to reflect on their learning. For example, with a collaborative learning approach, students are explorers, managers and producers putting forth a team effort. With problem-based learning approaches, a group of students may work together to achieve a final comprehensive goal. Working as members of a classmate group on a Moodle discussion forum or perhaps an educational social networking site such as Edmodo are the exact opposite of the isolation of which Oppenheimer claimed.

Furthermore, student technology use does not stifle creativity and innovation; quite the opposite occurs when students interactively work with content and digital tools. As Jenkins pointed out, “the explosion of new media technologies…make it possible for average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways” (2009, p. 8). In my Spanish classroom, students utilize Prezi or Brainshark for presentations, edit pictures with Photoshop, add their voice to animations and pictures with GarageBand or Audacity, annotate on a VoiceThread and demonstrate knowledge with Screenchomp or Bubble.Us. These Spanish classroom activities illustrate Jenkins’ theory and Lenhardt & Madden’s examination (2005) that students will more actively control and contribute to the production Web 2.0 culture to which they subscribe.

Finally, there is a criticism that distance learning courses through a web medium are flat and without interaction, similar to a correspondence course where only the teacher and student take part. I consider the opposite to be true and judge that online courses offer added value.  As Gee argued (as cited in Jenkins, 2009), these online spaces
         “offer powerful opportunities for learning…because they are sustained by common endeavors that bridge differences in age, class, race, gender, and   educational level, and because people can participate in various ways according to their skills and interests, because they depend on peer-to-peer teaching with each participant constantly motivated to acquire new knowledge or refine their existing skills, and because they allow each participant to feel like an expert while tapping the expertise of others.”

My personal experience with online graduate study is the reverse of “flat.” The online environment is rich, diverse and complex, and provides a space to share insight and experience. It forces a person to sharpen initiative, critical-thinking, and communication skills. My classmates and I explore, debate, reflect and gradually come to understand our personal and classmates’ perspectives.

As evidenced, I believe that a strong case for Educational Technology exists, and that the criticisms can be challenged appropriately with research findings. “College presidents predict substantial growth in online learning” (Parker, Lenhart & Moore, 2011); students will continue to be motivated and learn with the assistance of digital tools; and the computers and the internet will probably gain more sophistication in the near future. Similar to my personal experience as a graduate student, I believe students everywhere find the integration of technology in education to provide a positive and worthwhile experience; I therefore would count myself as an Educational Technology “criticism-naysayer.”


Culp, K. M., Honey, M., & Mandinach, E. (2003). A retrospective on twenty years of education technology policy. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 32(3), 279-307. Retrieved from

Goode, B. (2004). Unintended consequences: Distance learning and the structure of the university. Distance Education Report, (8). p. 2 & p. 7. Retrieved from

Hokanson, B., & Hooper, S. (2004). Integrating technology in classrooms: We have met the enemy and he is us. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Chicago: IL. Retrieved from

Jenkins, H. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation reports on digital media and learning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved from      E807E1B0AE4E%7D/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF

Lenhart, A. & Madden, M. (2005). Teen content creators and consumers. Pew Internet & American Life Project paper, Pew Research Center, Washington, DC. Retrieved from      Findings.aspx

Parker, K., Lenhart, A., & Moore, K. (2011). The digital revolution and higher education. Pew Internet & American Life Project executive summary report, Pew Research Center, Washington, DC. Retrieved from

Oppenheimer, T. (1997). The Computer delusion. The Atlantic Monthly, 280(1), 45-62. Retrieved from

Zemsky, R., & Massy, W. (2004). Thwarted innovation: What happened to e-learning and why. A Final Report for The Weatherstation Project of The Learning Alliance at the University of Pennsylvania in cooperation with the Thomson Corporation, Philadelphia, PA. Retrieved from

Additional Resources:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Book Review--Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives by Palfrey and Gasser

Listen to my Book Review podcast by clicking the link below, and then the LISTEN icon:

EME 5054, Module 7, Fall 2011  

Podcast Transcript:
   My name is Fran Siracusa and welcome to my book review podcast. The book is called Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives. The two co-authors, John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, wrote and published the book in 2008.  John Palfrey is a Professor of Law and Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources at Harvard Law School. He is also a faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. Dr. Urs Gasser is the Berkman Center for Internet & Society's Executive Director and was previously an Associate Professor of Law at the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland), where he led the Research Center for Information Law as Faculty Director. One can find more information about the book and authors at the and the website links.
   This volume is topically divided into 13 chapters, which include chapter titles such as “privacy,” “safety,” “overload,” “innovators,” and “learners.” The authors wrote from an expert perspective, and stated that due to the changing face of technology, some parts of the book will already be outdated by the time a reader obtains it. (However, the book does include a current relevant Afterword chapter.) The intended audience is comprised of parents, teachers, future employers, policymakers, technology creators and others who intend to figure out how better to work with Digital Natives. Moreover, digital natives themselves would truly benefit from reading this book.
   Palfrey and Gasser endeavored to explicate Digital Natives, or people who were born after the year 1980. The term was first coined by Marc Prensky (2001) in his article “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.” Digital Natives are connected to each other through a common culture facilitated by digital technology immersion. They have only known a life full of technology, not without. Their human-to-human connections very much involve digital spaces, also resulting in the formation of relationships, quite different than that of other generations before them.
   Palfrey and Gasser scholarly presented each chapter with clarity and full development of the topic at hand, and vastly supported their arguments with  evidence and research. The writing style is semi-formal and candid, as they explored the habits and role of digital natives, while clarifying their viewpoints.  To me, the book reads like a discussion, with educated opinions, expert views, and includes quotes from digital natives focus group members. In my opinion, the authors have successfully succeeded in educating the reader.
   I believe this book is quite valuable to parents, educators, and digital natives themselves. Palfrey and Gasser made numerous important points that clarify critical issues of today’s digital world immersed by youth. For example, that digital natives’ digital identity can be remixed but will always exist somewhere else in cyberspace; or that from before they were born, each digital native has an expansive digital dossier outside one’s true control (p. 45); or that even if one posts something privately, it can be accessed by the world (possibly illegally or without one’s permission) (p. 57). The book affirms that parents and educators need to have productive conversations with youth so that they themselves may develop skills and tools to keep themselves safe online; that young people harness amazing talents evidenced by their creations (narratives, blogs, mash-ups, videos, and pictures); and that students are overloaded with digital content on the web, and again need the skills and tools to deal with the situation effectively (p. 194).
   This book reinforced my previous teacher perspective that students ought to receive the necessary tools and develop the skills NOW that they will need to succeed later in life. I was pleased to examine the authors’ interpretations of digital natives, which gave me new perspective and suggestions for comprehending digital natives’ choices and habits. The book asserts that digital natives are outstanding in their thinking and learning processes; and that it wise for teachers to let students be the guides in navigating these new ways of connecting with people all over the world.  Similarly the authors point out that some old-fashioned solutions that worked in the past also apply to the problems of the digital age: that is, “engaged parenting, a good education, and common sense” (p. 10). Palfrey and Gasser made a valid point I had not previously contemplated when speaking about identity: they reiterated that “some aspects of online engagement are cause for concern” (p. 21) and it is more important than ever to help them develop strong literacy skills.
   Born Digital was praised by Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig who called it a “beautifully written book…(that) is required reading for parents, educators, and anyone who cares about the future.” He is the author of Code and Free Culture. Howard Gardner, a psychologist and professor from Harvard, recommended the book when he stated, “From now on, any attempt to understand what it is like to grow up or to live one's life in a digital world must begin with this outstanding, original synthesis.” Gardner is the author of Five Minds for the Future and Multiple Intelligences.
   I highly recommend this book for parents and teachers, and would assign it a 4.5 on a 5 point scale. This book warrants such a high score because it raises awareness of parents and educators about current significant topics and issues. It has such a timely focus, as it speaks to the vulnerability and opportunity of Digital Natives.


Palfrey, J. and Gasser, U. (2008). Born digital: Understanding the first generation of digital natives. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5).

Additional Resources: