by Johnny Taylor, MIT, MBA
Special to the NNPA from the Houston Forward Times
Over the last group of weeks we have been covering Technology in Education which included insights into Education Technology Infrastructure, Research and E-Learning. This week we will conclude the series with Mobile Computing and Social Networking which is growing throughout schools and school systems within the United States; specifically within Houston, Texas. We invite and encourage our entire readership to tap into this information so you are properly equipped and informed to make intelligent decisions for your children, grandchildren and future-generations. We now live in a “Knowledge Based Economy” (KBE) which means in simple terms that people are paid based on their knowledge levels in specific areas or vertical markets. For those who are educators this data is being compiled from ‘Education Week’. Stay tune and here we go; today, we are discussing Mobile computing and Social Networking in Education.
Increasing access, growing acceptance, and decreasing cost are all helping to make the use of mobile devices a popular and increasing trend within the world of educational technology. While the digital divide between the affluent and disadvantaged still exists, mobile devices appear to have the potential to close it, at least in terms of access.
According to the “Horizon” report. The report predicts game-based learning will be widely adopted by mainstream classrooms within two to three years (New Media Consortium, 2013).
Instead of educational software, e.g. Math Blaster or Reader Rabbit, students and teachers are much more likely to incorporate Web-based educational games into classrooms, which are often available for free. The National Science Foundation has played a large role in providing funding for the research and development of Web-based science games such as Crystal Island—a game developed by the IntelliMedia Group at North Carolina State University where students investigate an infectious outbreak—and the River City Project—a multi-user virtual environment for science inquiry created by researchers at Harvard University (Education Week, March 17, 2011; Education Week, April 30, 2008).
Some educators hope that games and simulations will provide a way for students to picture themselves in career paths they may otherwise would not have chosen, especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects, and some argue that games and simulations offer students a way to connect what they are learning in class to (simulated) real-world situations in a safe and low-cost environment (Education Week, March 17, 2013).
Researchers have also found that games and simulations may help students learn by helping them visualize processes they otherwise could not see, such as the flow of an electron or the construction of a city. Games can also promote higher-order thinking skills, such as collaboration, communication, problem-solving, and teamwork (MIT, 2009; National Academies Press 2013).
However, creating a healthy marriage of an engaging and entertaining game with educational objectives and goals is a challenging process that has yet to be perfected. To create and design games with the kind of high-resolution graphics and complex situations that children are used to seeing in commercial games takes a large amount of funding and time that educators often do not have. And finding the time and resources to train teachers who may not be familiar with game-based learning is a challenge for most schools.
Despite these challenges, many educators and researchers are committed to developing educational games and incorporating game-based learning into classrooms across the United States.
Many schools are no longer debating whether social networking should play a role in education. Instead, that debate has shifted to what social networking tools work best and how to deploy them (Digital Directions, June 16, 2013).
Some schools are using mainstream social networking tools, like Facebook, for everything from promoting school events to organizing school clubs as well as for more academic purposes related to assignments and class projects.
But educators wary about security, advertising, information-sharing, and social interaction in such an environment are often seeking out social networks designed specifically for learning instead. These sites, like ePals and eChalk, are more restrictive, often allowing teachers and school officials to limit not only who can join, but who students can talk to and interact with. Some educators also say students seem to take these sites more seriously and treat them with a more academic focus and tone than they would a site they routinely use for socialization with their peers. These sites also often provide safety features that can detect foul language or bullying phrases and alert a teacher (Education Week, June 15, 2011).
Many educators say the academic benefits of social networking are real. They allow students to work cooperatively on projects in an online environment that feels familiar to students. Teachers often report that a student who does not speak up in class will be more engaged on a social networking site and that these sites allow instructors to extend the school day.
Educators have also taken to social networks for professional development. The social networking site Ning, for example, has a plethora of group sites organized around teaching a particular subject, like English literature or high school biology. In addition, Twitter has become a force in the professional development arena, with features such as EdChat, weekly one-hour conversations that take place around pre-arranged educational topics (Digital Directions, June 16, 2013).
Web 2.0 and other technology tools are making it quicker and easier than ever to create digital portfolios of student work—a method of showcasing student progress that experts say increases student engagement; promotes a continuing conversation about learning between teachers, parents, and students; and extends academic lessons beyond school walls (Education Week, March 17, 2013). New social networking tools to aid this are being developed and updated regularly.
Wikis and blogs allow students to work collaboratively and share their work with a limited or unlimited number of people. The video phone service Skype is also popular with teachers, particularly for allowing their students to connect with peers in other parts of the country or the world. Other tools, like VoiceThread, which archives and indexes images, videos, text and audio, are popular with all ages of students, including at the elementary level
In closing, huge differences in technology infrastructure remain among schools in the United States especially along racial lines similar in scope and scale to “Banking Redlining”. And while chief technology officers generally say that school infrastructure is improving, many openly doubt that capability will catch up with demand, since new digital tools used in education are requiring ever-increasing amounts of bandwidth. The USA must get serious about solving our Education problem centrally because the longer we wait the further China and India moves ahead of the USA, noting they also have larger human population which is a key driver to even greater growth output for China and India. Just something to think about as we moved back to a “Flat-Global-Economy” verses an Industrial Economy thanks to the Internet, similar to the time period prior to the Industrial Revolution when the country with the most human populations ruled the world based on populations, economics and global-output(s). Thank you for reading and this article concludes the Technology in Education series written over the last month.