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Thursday, June 23, 2011

This obsession with turning the classroom into funhouse isn’t new.

This obsession with turning the classroom into funhouse isn’t new. Eighty years ago, Austrian educator Rudolf Steiner wrote, “I’ve often heard that there must be an education which makes learning a game for children; school must become all joy. The children should laugh all the time and learning will be play. This is the best educational principle to ensure that nothing at all is learned” (Rudolf Steiner [1922], The Younger Generation,” in thirteen lectures).
Clifford Stoll (1999). High-Tech Heretic: 
Why Computers Don’t Belong in the 
Classroom and other Reflections by a 
Computer Contrarian, p. 13.

One of my colleagues circulated this story on why we should use twitter in the classroom. In reading it I was reminded of a lecture that Neil Postman gave at SUNY–Fredonia about a dozen years ago. He was plugging his latest book in his lecture, Building a Bridge to the 18th Century, and he talked a lot about how many of the new technologies that we have don't really solve problems so much as make us think a problem existed where one never was. At one point, while telling an anecdote about buying a car he said 
I went to buy a new car. A Toyota Camry. The salesman told me it had power windows. I told him I didn't need power windows but he said they were standard. I asked, 'what problem does power widows solve?' and he said so you don't have to do this [indicating rolling up the window]. I told him I've never had a problem doing this...
This is pretty much the place we are at now. The article mentioned above is about the third article of its kind I have read in the last month and each time they include a list of suggestions WHY twitter or Facebook, or whatever will improve the classroom—remember Steiner?

Twitter lets me: Send reminders

Something I have been able to do with e-mail for more than 20 years.

Share links See above.

Teachers can collaborate: We already do that in the hall, at conferences, via e-mail and the telephone, over lunch. What problem does Twitter solve? 

Encourage creativity: Something I can do with a box of Popsicle sticks.

Replace e-mail: Why? It works fine.

Other dramatic claims included: "change the way that students submit and receive their assignments, using tools such as Flickr, YouTube and a blogging platform, like WordPress or Tumblr." I teach publications and writing, why are these relevant activities? Indeed, none of them really need to be part of an education in public relations. What students need to learn is not HOW to post a blog entry. Bertram Thumb Cat ( can do that, but how to use the technologies for strategic communication—something that does not actually require a student to actually post a tweet. 

I study new technology. I have more than a dozen articles on it. I love it. But, like Postman suggested, if it isn't broke why fix it? I love power windows. They solve a problem (my windows were harder to roll down than his). I see twitter as a valuable communication tool. It's just not an educational tool. And it does not have to be. The telephone is an amazing communication tool. I don't need it to teach my class. 

What we see are people who've found a toy that they love and want to share it with everyone in spite of whether it's a fun (or useful) toy for everyone else. They have a hammer so they want to nail stuff. Just once I'd like to see REAL (thoughtful not propagandistic) suggestions for how to use a new technology. 

What might twitter be good for? Let's see, (1) sending notices to the parents who spend 20-40K per year for their kids education that they have skipped class yet again. (2) Requiring students to send links to valuable articles to their peers and to read them—they'll be on the test. (3) requiring students to link to valuable blogs and "follow" genuinely valuable educational sites. (4) about you come up with some now. 

If you were paying attention, you're saying "can't I do all that already with e-mail?" Yea, you can. I guess Twitter is not really a very useful educational tool is it? And I wonder why? You can say a lot in 140 characters or less. #not

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