19 January 2012

Trends in Education and Digital Textbooks
The internet is buzzing with excitement for digital textbooks, but are we looking far enough ahead?  With the Apple's recent announcement of their push for digital textbooks and Alabama's call for digital textbooks for all students, I have been thinking about textbooks in general.  There are many trends in education that come and go, but there are several trends in education today that should and will stick around.  Gone are the days of read the book, answer the questions, listen to my lecture, take notes, and be prepared to regurgitate it all on a test.  Instead, we are asking our students to collaborate, create, and engage in content in ways teachers fifty years ago could have never imagined.  This shift has led us toward the inclusion of technology in the classroom like never before while simultaneously causing the textbook to become irrelevant.  Let's take a look at a couple of the trends in education and how technology and textbooks are affected by them.

Collaborative Learning, by definition, is two or more people working together to complete a given task.  Research has shown that students who learn collaboratively develop better critical thinking skills than students who learn individually.  In the days of the textbook, each student read the text and interacted with it (minimally) on an individual basis.  Even with new digital textbooks increasing that interaction, they are still a very solitary experience.  Now, with hardware, software, and cloud-based applications, students can collaborate with each other locally, with similar students on the other side of the globe, or even with professionals and academics in the fields they are studying.  The learning process has become collaborative.
Incorporating other trends like Collaborative Learning, Differentiated Instruction, and Inquiry-Based Learning, project-based learning is perhaps one of the most important of today's educational trends.  Students are given a problem or challenge to solve rather than information to consume.  They go through a process  of questioning, researching, solving, designing, creating, and presenting a long-term project.  The learning happens along the way with the student directing his/her own learning and the teacher becoming a guide on the journey.  Again, a textbook simply presents information.  Sure, new elements of digital textbooks allow more interaction with them (clickable, searchable, and embedded media), but they are still mostly used to consume information.  In order for students to truly learn, they must be allowed to become self-directed learners. 

These educational techniques are here to stay because they focus on student learning rather than the material being taught.  With a world of knowledge online, students can gather information with the press of a button without a textbook company in between.  They can weigh that information--deciding which is useful and which isn't--and use it to develop their own learning in their own way.  Despite what we may hear from the industry, textbooks--even new, exciting textbooks--are not the best way for students to learn.  Let's help students use their screens for researching, collaborating, and creating instead of consuming.

Further Reading

08 January 2012

Student Technology Usage and What It Means for Teachers

In December of last year, put together an infographic about the use of technology in colleges based on research from,, and  The results are interesting and reaffirm many of my beliefs concerning educational technology.  Here are some of my main takeaways.

1. Students prefer blended courses.  While secondary and post-secondary schools are seeing a big push toward online learning, only 11% of the college students surveyed prefer completely online courses.  Traditional courses didn't fare much better, with only 15% preferring no online content.  The majority--58%--prefer classes that are a mix of the two.  Moving courses into an online environment where students create more than they consume, have access to countless resources, and can pace their own learning is absolutely a move in the right direction.  Without a practiced teacher there to guide the students, though, it's like handing them the keys to the car without showing them how to drive it.  Online courses aren't making the teacher irrelevant as some fear; they're just changing the teacher's role from a dispenser of knowledge to a guide on the path to knowledge.

2. Old technology is not dead.  I wrote a blog post a while back about the death of email with the rise of social networking where I argued that email is not dead, just a different tool that meets a different need.  This survey seems to back up that argument.  Despite the rise of new tools, both online and off, some of the classics remain as relevant as ever.  The three "most important software and applications" listed in this survey are the word processor, email, and presentation software, respectively.  New tools are great, but we don't have to throw out other useful tools just because they're old.  We don't forget fire because we have heat pumps, we don't throw out the wheel because we invented wings, and we shouldn't throw out email because we can communicate through social networks. Each is a tool that has its own purpose.

2b. We're not living in a post-PC era (at least not yet).  Laptop and desktop computers still rank quite a bit higher in use than tablets and even smartphones with both students and instructors.  Again, back to the tools argument.  Tablets and smartphones are exceptional tools, but they are tools that perform specific functions.  These functions are not the same  as a laptop or a desktop computer.  They may be someday, but for now, desktops and laptops give more computing power, creation tools, and other functionality than tablets.  Why can't tablets, smart phones, desktops, and laptops all be used in schools just for different purposes?  Why is the argument that tablets are computer replacements?  You wouldn't throw out your hammer just because you got a really cool new screwdriver set, would you?

3. Students are using more technology than teachers.  Our students are using technology in their lives now, and they will be using it much more in their future education and in the workforce.  We have to start incorporating technology into every phase of learning.  A special trip to the computer lab once a year to do a research paper isn't enough.  Technology needs to be woven seamlessly into the all aspects of the curriculum.  Teachers aren't just going to start using technology in the classroom, though; they are going to have to start using technology outside of the classroom.  If you're a teacher, buy that new ultrabook and use it at home.  If you don't know what an ultrabook is, spend some time researching the latest technology trends. Take thirty minutes a day to find new educational apps and play with them.  The more teachers use technology in their everyday lives, the more likely they are to bring that technology into the classroom.

4. Internet access is monumentally important.  My favorite quote from the infographic is "90% of students believe that Wi-Fi is as essential to an education as a classroom or a computer."  And they're right.  The internet is the greatest collection of information that this world has ever seen.  Couple that wealth of information with the fact that all of it is accessible to anyone with an internet connection in moments, and the possibilities for knowledge and learning are exponentially greater now than at any other moment in history.  What we need to do is stop spending money on the static knowledge in school textbooks and reinvest that money in the dynamic knowledge we can find online.  It's not enough, though, to offer free Wi-Fi on all school campuses.  In order for students to learn at their own paces, our country must work toward equality in internet access.  In my school system, a majority of students are still without broadband internet, relying instead on wireless, satellite, or even dial-up connections to access the web.  Until access to broadband internet is equitable, there will always be a child left behind.

There's more to this excellent infographic that I didn't go into, but you can find it at  Go over, take a look, and let me know what you think in the comments!

03 January 2012

You Say You Want a Resolution

Wow.  It's been a really long time since I posted anything here.  It feels great to be back.

Learning and sharing are passions of mine, and it pains me that an increase in the former led to a decrease in the latter.  Some of you may know that last year I decided to pursue a degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.  The course is a four-semester gauntlet that includes three semesters of course work (last spring, summer, and fall) plus an additional semester for an internship that I am working on right now.  The coursework put a bit of a damper on my blogging and extracurricular reading, but it wasn't until I started my new job that things really got crazy.  Between learning for a new degree and learning for a new job, learning just outpaced sharing for a bit.

I'm proud to say, though, that having settled into my new position and wrapped up the majority of my degree requirements, I'm ready to leap back into sharing--stronger than ever.  My resolution for this year is to reinvigorate my sharing.  I am pledging at least 52 blog posts this year, hopefully on a fairly regular, weekly schedule.  I am also planning on renewing my social networking, both on Twitter (@derrickwaddell) and on Google+ (Derrick Waddell).

I learned a lot in 2011, and I hope to learn more and share more in 2012.  One down, 51 to go.

As an update to last year's New Year's Resolution, my wife and I cut the cord at the end of January 2011. We have a Roku box, a Netflix streaming account, and a subscription to Hulu Plus, which we supplement with Amazon and Red Box rentals.  We kept the cord cut through August when we added the most basic cable package available (local channels only) for football.  After January 9, we're cutting again.  Roll Tide!