SENG

Education Technology For Our Children

Education Technology For Our Children

Author: Wenda Sheard, J.D., Ph.D.

Citation: First published in the SENGVine, February 2012

 

The SENG Director’s Corner column gives board members opportunities to share passions and insights that relate to supporting gifted, talented, and creative individuals. What is my passion du jour? Because I am currently teaching children, I enjoy exploring emerging education technologies. I love learning how new technologies can best help a wide range of students.

In this article, I share my thoughts about how new technologies might provide gifted, talented, and creative children with the high levels and speed of learning they often crave.

Two Caveats

Before I begin, two caveats. First, not all education technology is created equal. Some education technology is merely slow-paced, low-level content dressed up with computerized bells and whistles. In my opinion, the best education technology includes :

(1) high quality and attractive content as well as hardware and software,

(2) embedded rewards similar to those that make video games irresistible,

(3) pretesting so students do not have to pretend to learn what they already know, and (4) differentiation to accommodate different learning speeds and levels of thinking.

The last two elements—pretesting and differentiation—are particularly important for gifted, talented, and creative children.

My second caveat is that the technology I describe in this article is new. Research should not stop with the invention of a new technology, but rather should continue apace as real people—including children—incorporate the technology into their lives.

Anyone using new technology has an obligation to keep up-to-date with new research findings regarding the technology and its best use. Some researchers are investigating whether time spent in front of a computer alters minds and bodies. Other researchers are investigating whether wireless transmissions from cell phones and computers create biological changes in human beings, and to what extent those changes might be harmful.

Writing Technologies

Many gifted children suffer from a discrepancy between their high and fast thinking skills and their slow and young fingers. Speech-to-text and text-to-speech software can help bridge the gap between thinking and writing speeds. In my opinion, all students, especially those whose thoughts run faster than their fingers, should have access to speech-to-text software.

Professionals in many fields have been using speech-to-text software for nearly two decades. Speech-to-text software allows students to use their voice to take notes as they read, and to use their voice to record thoughts in electronic form.

Imagine students freed from the burden of translating their thoughts into penmanship or keystrokes. I predict that in the future, speech-to-text systems will become the norm, not the exception, for the production of written content.

Even when students speak their thoughts, students need to proofread and edit their work. The advanced grammar-checking features of today’s word processing programs help with editing and proofreading chores.

Microsoft Word’s grammar-checking feature, for instance, allows users to select from five different writing styles (casual, standard, formal, technical, custom), and permits users to specify changes within each style, and offers corrective suggestions.

The grammar-checking feature serves as a rudimentary, sentence-level writing teacher.

Because computers are not perfect, I recommend that an adult or older child sit beside young children as they first learn to grammar-check their writing. The adult or older child can explain grammar terms used by the program and can explain why some sentences flagged by the program as errors are acceptable.

Some of the computer-generated goofs I have seen are humorous and some are due to regional variances; all provide interesting learning opportunities.

Reading Technologies

Whatever technology children use today to read e-books—whether Kindle, iPad, laptop, smart phone, or device—teachers and parents should help students to use the technology to its fullest potential. Students need to learn to annotate e-books as they read them, to create hyperlinks inside documents for later recall, and to use automatic dictionaries built into some systems to help build student vocabularies. The electronic book is not merely a replacement for the paper book; the electronic book is a learning experience in itself.

Get ready for a surprise in this paragraph. Did you know that scientists are now developing e-books that can see you reading them? Here is a quote from a 2010 article in wired.co.uk:

Their technology is capable of monitoring your eyes in order to define words if you stare at them puzzled, eliminating non-essential information when you’re skimming, helping you pick up exactly where you left off, swapping images based on what you’re reading, surfacing relevant reference materials and more, as reported by h+ magazine.

If you read the entire article, please scroll down to the comment section where you will see my lonely comment, in which I voiced my hope that the scientists will incorporate diagnostic and differentiation elements into the “read your eyeballs” technology. See, http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-03/26/eye-tracking-tablets-and-the-promise-of-text-20.

Online Courses

The blossoming of online university courses gives gifted, talented, and creative children opportunities for learning at high levels without anyone arguing about their chronological age. The best news is that some online university courses are free and some are low-cost.

In December 2011, MIT announced the launch of online-only, graded courses designed with exciting videos and frequent quizzes that promote learning. If students wish official Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) acknowledgement of their learning, they will be able to pay a fee for a certificate. If students wish non-graded courses, they can partake in MIT’s original online course effort, called Open Courseware, to view videos and read transcripts of popular MIT courses.

When Stanford University offered three free computer science courses last semester, more than 150,000 students enrolled. The Stanford University news release from August 16, 2011, explained the education experiment:

The professors are taking technologies designed to enhance learning for Stanford students and extending them to a broad online audience. They are delivering lectures as short, interactive video clips that allow students to progress at their own pace through course materials. They are offering live quizzes with instant feedback. And they are testing new technologies that allow students to rank questions that should be posed to the instructors.

See http://news.stanford.edu/news/2011/august/online-computer-science-081611.html. See, also http://annualreport.stanford.edu/2011/. Not only are online course offerings continually changing, but the technology and teaching methods used in online learning are continually changing.

Great news! Stanford University is continuing its online course experiment this semester. As of this writing in February of 2012, I counted sixteen free online courses on the website. I signed up for the Game Theory course for myself. The sign-up process requires only an email address and a name. See, http://www.game-theory-class.org/. At the bottom of that webpage, you will see icons for all the other courses, some of which begin in February, late February, or March of 2012.

For older teens craving college credit as well as college learning, there is Western Governor’s University. The governors of nineteen states spurred the creation of Western Governors University as a nonprofit way to educate their citizens efficiently and effectively. Tuition is low—about $6,000 per year. The university has been quietly growing each year since it first accepted students in 1999, and now has over 30,000 students. The university assigns each student a mentor. The mentors track student progress during each term and until graduation. Although Western Governors University has a minimum age of 16 and requires a high school diploma or GED, it is a low-cost and somewhat individualized option for gifted children ages 16 or 17 who have attained a diploma or GED and want to earn college credits.

For an interesting discussion about the future of online education, see http://thenextweb.com/insider/2011/11/13/clayton-christensen-why-online-education-is-ready-for-disruption-now/.

In that article, the author notes that several hundred thousand students have taken a Brigham Young University professor’s accounting course, and five million—yes five million!—have viewed a Harvard professor’s physics lessons. One expert quoted in the article, Harvard University Business Professor Dr. Clayton Christensen, predicts that the online course world is ripe for changes because, “rather than everybody having to put up with crummy teachers, everyone can learn from the best.”

Khan Academy

No discussion of education technology and gifted children is complete without mentioning Khan Academy. Khan Academy, which Salman Khan founded after recording videos to explain math concepts to his young cousin, has blossomed into a major transformative force in education today. For more information about Khan Academy, see http://www.khanacademy.org/about, or http://www.ted.com/talks/salman_khan_let_s_use_video_to_reinvent_education.html.

Some school officials have worried that Khan Academy allows some students to advance far above their classmates. Here’s a quote from a Wired article: “Khan’s programmer, Ben Kamens, has heard from teachers who’ve seen Khan Academy presentations and loved the idea but wondered whether they could modify it ‘to stop students from becoming this advanced.’”

See http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/07/ff_khan/all/1. In my mind, if an education technology allows each student to advance as far as that student can advance, there is no problem with the technology. Enough said.

The 2012 BETT Show in London

For two years now, I have attended the largest education technology show in Europe—the BETT Show in London. Visiting all the vendor booths and attending all the seminars would take far longer than the four January days of the show—the show is enormous!

I love learning about new education technology at the BETT Show. My head is still reeling from all new technology toys to assist learning. I most certainly want a set of QWERTY alphanumeric clickers for my Smartboard 800; and I want the new Kurzweil cloud-based reading, outlining, and spelling software not just for students with dyslexia, but for all students; and I want an entire set of Lego robotics; and I want CD’s of multi-media Shakespeare plays; and I want the new “four-touch” Smart Notebook software that will allow four students to use our SmartBoard at once; and I want…the list goes on.

For a long-distance cyber-taste of the 2012 BETT Show, you can visit http://bettshow.com.

Conclusion

I realize that this article merely scratches the surface of how education technology might provide gifted children with the high levels and speeds of learning they often crave.

For more information, I recommend Hoagies Gifted Education Page. Hoagies has a Technology and the Gifted Child section located here:

http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/technology.htm

That page will lead you to a seemingly infinite amount of information about technology and gifted children.

Epilogue

Within days after I finished this article, I felt the need to add two items. First, Apple made a major iPad-related education technology announcement on January 19, 2012. For the full, one-hour version of the announcement, see http://events.apple.com.edgesuite.net/1201oihbafvpihboijhpihbasdouhbasv/event/index.html

While I welcome Apple’s announcement about putting fancy e-textbooks on the iPad, and while I appreciate Apple’s free iBooks Author application, I question whether the future of education lies in textbooks, paper or otherwise. Many of the best teachers I most admire have chucked textbooks altogether in favor of exploratory and project-based learning.

Second, more information about the Stanford University professor who developed the free online courses has emerged. For a refreshing view of the enormity of what Sebastian Thrun did, and how he recently gave up his tenure at Stanford to form Udacity University, see this article by the finance blogger at Reuters: http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2012/01/23/udacity-and-the-future-of-online-universities/

According to the blogger, Thrun hopes to enroll 500,000 students in his first online course, which will teach students how to build a search engine. Hopefully, the fast-changing landscape of education technology will result in better learning for all children, including gifted children.

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Wenda Sheard, J.D., Ph.D. is an emeritus board member and past president of SENG. She currently teaches near London, England, and serves as a trustee on the Council of Management of the UK’s National Association for Gifted Children.