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ICT Fluency in the 21st Century

  • What do students need to know about information and communications technology (ICT) and how should that affect what happens in high schools?

  • How can technology best be used as a multipurpose tool for learning and applying knowledge when its speed of development outpaces any given set of skills?

The workshop’s first session addressed the influence of ICT on the world today—and especially on the future—and why it is essential for students to leave high school well on the way toward acquiring ICT fluency. Speakers at this initial session therefore discussed the big picture: what the teaching of ICT fluency must take into account in order to be realistic, motivating, and effective.

They addressed the fast-changing nature of ICT and the consequent need not just to teach skills for using currently available technology but also to give students foundational understanding—both of the underlying information science and of associated problem-solving techniques. They addressed ICT’s alteration of the world’s socioeconomic landscape; incentives for acquiring ICT fluency, not only for abetting good citizenship and personal pleasure, but also for acquiring and keeping jobs; and broad metaphorical constructs by which teachers may tap into this potent phenomenon to inspire and enlighten students. And they suggested some means by



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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary 3 ICT Fluency in the 21st Century What do students need to know about information and communications technology (ICT) and how should that affect what happens in high schools? How can technology best be used as a multipurpose tool for learning and applying knowledge when its speed of development outpaces any given set of skills? The workshop’s first session addressed the influence of ICT on the world today—and especially on the future—and why it is essential for students to leave high school well on the way toward acquiring ICT fluency. Speakers at this initial session therefore discussed the big picture: what the teaching of ICT fluency must take into account in order to be realistic, motivating, and effective. They addressed the fast-changing nature of ICT and the consequent need not just to teach skills for using currently available technology but also to give students foundational understanding—both of the underlying information science and of associated problem-solving techniques. They addressed ICT’s alteration of the world’s socioeconomic landscape; incentives for acquiring ICT fluency, not only for abetting good citizenship and personal pleasure, but also for acquiring and keeping jobs; and broad metaphorical constructs by which teachers may tap into this potent phenomenon to inspire and enlighten students. And they suggested some means by

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary which the teaching of ICT fluency may be integrated into high school curricula. Presenters were William Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering and Christopher Dede, Timothy E. Wirth Professor of Learning Technologies at Harvard University. Respondents were Michael Eisenberg, dean of the Information School at the University of Washington and Bob Tinker, president of the Concord Consortium. INEVITABLE CHANGE William Wulf stated that he did not need to convince the audience of the importance of ICT—the workshop’s purpose, after all, was to address how to teach it, not whether to teach it —but that he did want to emphasize a point in the welcoming statement of Lawrence Snyder, professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington and chair of the committee that produced Being Fluent with Information Technology (National Research Council, 1999). That point pertained to the inevitability of change in ICT, and thus the virtual impossibility of making accurate predictions about its manifestations beyond the near future. This reality has great implications for the Being Fluent framework, particularly regarding its list of contemporary skills, which by definition will change. Having written his first computer program in 1959 and sent his first e-mail around 1970, Wulf said, “I feel like I’ve sat for 46 years on the 50-yard line, watching this technology change and watching its impact on society. And it has been absolutely fascinating”—especially to see how even the cognoscenti are often clueless about ICT’s future course. High on his list of wildly erroneous predictions are those of three of the field’s most distinguished pioneers. Thomas Watson, as leader of IBM during the early 1950s, foresaw that the worldwide market for computers would be limited to merely six machines. “I observe,” said Wulf in retrospect, “that my present car alone has more than six computers.” Kenneth Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, said in 1978—two years before the introduction of the IBM PC—that no one would ever want a computer in his or her home. And Bill Gates, the celebrated and highly successful head of Microsoft, predicted in the mid-1980s that no one would ever need more than 640 kilobytes of memory. “Why were these people, each in a privileged position and thoroughly acquainted with the facts of the technology, so incredibly wrong?” asked

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary Wulf. “I have pondered this question for years and years, and the only explanation I can come up with is that in every case the person was assuming that the future was going to be like the present.” The state-of-the-art computer available to Watson when he made his comment was the ponderous ENIAC (weighing 30 tons and occupying a space the size of a squash court), designed to calculate the ballistics of weaponry. Thus it was hardly a mass-market item. Olsen’s model, though smaller, was still refrigerator-sized and in need of special conditions and constant maintenance—not a likely product for the home. And Gates’s prediction was made at a time of no color, no graphics, or the various bells and whistles that computer users today take for granted and that require orders of magnitude more memory. By basing their predictions so heavily on the present, these would-be prognosticators were led very much astray. “Don’t make that same mistake,” Wulf cautioned his audience. “The future is not going to be just a better version of today. It is, in some profoundly transformative way, going to be different from today.” Technological change has long been measured by Moore’s Law, which states that a computer chip’s number of transistors per unit area—and therefore its processing power—doubles about every 18 months. Although some people question whether this rapid rate of change can continue indefinitely—or at least, into their own future—they do so at their peril, said Wulf. It’s best to assume that Moore’s Law will continue to apply, which means no one should get too attached to the present ways of doing things. If the law does hold for the next dozen years, Wulf said, we’ll wind up with a microprocessor the size of the cross-section of a pin. While he couldn’t predict the uses to which such a device would be put, he did argue that the profoundly larger keyboards and screens of today would be rendered obsolete. And the general-purpose personal computer—on which you run spreadsheets, do word-processing as we now know it, and browse the Internet—may be gone as well. “I don’t know what will replace it,” he said, “but if you stop and ask yourself how you would use such a tiny computer processing chip, it wouldn’t be that way. “It’s not just that the underlying hardware changes fast,” explained Wulf, “but as it does so, it enables more and more other things to change. And it’s not just how we do things that will change, it’s what we do that will change.” This implies, he continued, that of the three competencies identified in Being Fluent, skill level is the most volatile and the most likely not to endure. “Skills will change. They will change rapidly, and they will change in discontinuous ways.”

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary Thus, he concluded, his greatest priority for educators is that they teach the fundamentals of technology, which remain relevant with change and even help to affect it, and that they not limit themselves to teaching how to use particular technologies. FACETS OF ICT FLUENCY Chris Dede noted that Tom Friedman, in his 2005 book The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century,1 recalls how when he was a boy his mother told him to eat his food because people all over the world wanted it. Now he tells his daughters to work hard—people all over the world want their jobs! That situation results in large part from advances in ICT, Dede said. “We live in a very interesting time right now, because emerging technologies are doing three things at once, worldwide. They are shifting the kinds of knowledge and skills that society values in education. They are letting us use new and powerful methods of teaching and learning. And they are changing the characteristics of learners at every age.” Dede lamented the disconnect between formal (academic) and informal learning, particularly for ICT. He indicated that what kids are doing outside of school—using sophisticated technologies and learning how to access information—is much more closely aligned to what knowledge workers do in industry than to what those kids are doing in school. He agreed with Wulf that the technology is changing so fast that no one fully understands where it is going. “Whether you look at the device level, the application level, the level of media, or the level of infrastructures,” Dede said, “on any given day somewhere in the news there is a significant advance that is reported.” Yet he pointed out that this rapidity of change has not stopped many countries (other than our own) from making ICT—and ICT education—central elements of their planning. Though dealing with ICT is essentially to “have a tiger by the tail,” he said, policy makers are still obligated to deal with it as best they can, which means taking the inevitability of change fully and realistically into account and, while taking note of potential problems, looking at the upside. Dede cited The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market, a 2004 book by economists Frank Levy and Richard 1 New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary Murnane,2 as noting that while some jobs have disappeared because of ICT, others have flourished. Often, these latter jobs stress the skills that people can acquire but computers cannot. “When I think of myself in partnership with information communication technology,” Dede said, “I often feel like the sorcerer who has a very fast but very dumb apprentice.” It is through ICT fluency—and the productive, mutually reinforcing human/ machine interactions it enables—that such partnerships may prosper, he maintained. Dede offered three metaphors to illustrate his conceptions of ICT fluency. “Sometimes I feel like an artist who has a multidimensional palette,” he said. For example, “in a course I teach every fall at Harvard we have eight different ways of interacting face to face and seven different ways of interacting across systems. When I come to a particular topic in the course, I typically think: Do I want to use groupware? Do I want to use a videoconference? Is this an asynchronous discussion? Is this something that best takes place in an immersive virtual environment? Or can it only be done face to face? “I know that each of those options shape their messages differently, and they shape how my students feel and how they interact with others. So as an ‘instructional artist’ I have to think about how to paint with that palette of media. That’s a kind of ICT fluency.” Turning to his second metaphor, Dede said he sometimes feels as if he has an external virtual memory, made possible through technology, as a complement to his own internal memory—both of which operate in nonlinear ways to represent knowledge and help him gain access to information. “How I take advantage, without literally losing my mind, of an external memory that complements my internal memory is also a kind of ICT fluency.” For his final metaphor, Dede referred to the multiuser virtual environments that he and his colleagues study. Many students regard these systems not just as learning environments but also as a theatre for the exploration of identity—especially among those who have come to think of themselves as academic losers. In a multiuser virtual environment, they can cast off that identity and express a different one. “One of the most exciting things about ICT work,” said Dede, “is how students who are underperforming in school often do as well as students who have much better academic records, have much better classroom be- 2 Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary haviors during conventional instruction, and much better class attendance. For the first time they are being taught in a way that not only reflects their learning style but also gives them the opportunity to let out an identity in a safe manner that has been repressed for them.” This too, Dede maintained, is a kind of ICT fluency. But he stressed that these three metaphors, and others, are just his own way of dealing with the complex construct called ICT. Other people may develop their own to suit their individual circumstances and styles. “As each of us thinks about the metaphors that reflect our own experience, or our children’s experience, it is going to help us understand how to get all the parts of ICT fluency together.” As a parting thought, Dede said that while he is interested in ICT in its own right, he also sees wrestling with its uses and implications as “a prelude to the Faustian dilemma” that is coming with biotechnology. “Right now we are exploring the kinds of complementary relationships we can have with devices, tools, media, applications, and infrastructures as we ‘cybernate’ our lives. We try to understand what that means for us and for society— where it’s a step forward, and where at times it’s a step back. Thus, ICT fluency may sometimes mean: Don’t do this with ICT. So my hope is that when we gain the power, through biotechnology, not just to manipulate an external memory but also our own memory and not just a virtual identity but our own bodies, we will by then have learned enough lessons from our ICT fluency experiences to know what to do and what not to do.” IT’S NOT JUST THE TECHNOLOGY Michael Eisenberg agreed with both of the presenters on the rapidity and impact of technological change that now characterize society. Consider, he said, how the World Wide Web, in just a decade, has so broadly affected our lives. “The next generation, or generations, of technology will likely be about something just as profound, if not more profound,” said Eisenberg. Like the two earlier presenters, he confessed to not having a crystal ball for seeing what that will be, but he suggested that “it might very well be a combination of the digital and the biological.” In any case, he said, “I have a strong suspicion that we are going to see wave after wave of this, so I don’t think we should get too comfortable.” Yet it would be a serious mistake, Eisenberg insisted, for educators to deal with the undeniable effects of technological change by focusing just on technology. “It’s not about the technology,” he said. “It’s about people. It’s

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary about people’s needs. It’s about productivity. It’s about money: we are a capitalist society, and a lot of what is driving technology is our businesses and individuals trying to make money.” “It’s also about fun”, Eisenberg said. “Technology today is about fun. People search the Web for fun.” Fun applies not only to recreation but also to just about any pursuit that gratifyingly engages the human mind. That’s why, Eisenberg predicted, the Being Fluent framework will change least in terms of intellectual capabilities. The contemporary skills will change the most, as obsolescent tools are succeeded by better ones. And the foundational concepts will change as ICT itself changes. But the basic attributes that enable people to apply ICT in complex and sustained situations, and to practice higher-level thinking in the context of ICT, will stay pretty much the same as the technology undergoes evolution or even revolution. Nevertheless, people need to stay up-to-date in order to orchestrate the laundry lists of skills, concepts, and capabilities for students’ benefit. In that spirit, he noted, “I love Chris Dede’s metaphor of the teacher as instructional artist.” Eisenberg expressed confidence in students and issued a challenge to their teachers. “There is something special about growing up in this country—a free and open environment where we can imagine and do just about anything. So I’m not worried about America’s youth. As an educator, I just want to put them in a position to succeed.” DEEPENING THE ICT EXPERIENCE Bob Tinker offered his own challenge to educators, prompted by what he sees as the “over-romanticizing” of kids’ use of technology. “They are not a species separate from us, and they are just learning, too,” Tinker said. “In many cases, I have observed that students’ use of technology, which may be very broad, can be very shallow.” For example, having long watched kids playing with Sims software, he concluded that they tend to focus on the 3-D construction aspects of the situation rather than on the underlying mathematical model that is the basis of much more profound learning. Similarly, while some people use spreadsheet software to build their own models, a great many others simply put numbers into the existing cells. Thus, Tinker observed, ICT skills don’t necessarily get to higher-level skills without explicit teacher intervention. “It’s important,” he said, “to think about what it is we want to teach.”

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary Tinker suggested that one useful path to more in-depth ICT learning would be its acquisition as part of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning. Devising applications of ICT for that purpose would improve the quality of these tools, and they in turn would improve STEM education. He cited as example his own work with the Kids’ Network, in which e-mail was the basis not only for the sharing of data but also for students’ active collaboration and intellectual development. More generally, ICT can also make possible “modification, customization, construction, and adaptation, which can really enrich STEM education overall,” he said. At the moment, however, while the sophistication of technology is growing rapidly, “the educational use of technology is certainly not,” said Tinker. “Too often, when computers are used in education the kids are passive; they are not taking advantage of the power that is sitting right in front of them.” More fundamentally, he added, is that the teachers themselves are not making good use of these technologies, and consequently “are throwing away a tremendous resource.” One of the reasons for this, Tinker suggested, “is that our dissemination model for ICT is wrong. There simply isn’t enough money in the system to lubricate the corporation—the private business models that are necessary for really sophisticated use of ICT. We just get the simplest things. And I think the model has to go over to open-source applications as well as open-source operating systems.” Another big problem, he said, is teachers’ professional development. “We have to devote significant resources to it, and significant resources to doing it well”—especially if we decide to put ICT skills into the high school curriculum by building it into STEM education.” THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY Some of the speakers referred to this kick-off session of the workshop as “the view from 50,000 feet.” Audience members, many of them educators with extensive high school teaching experience, responded in kind— and with passion. Some of these commentaries related directly to the goal of ICT fluency, but most put ICT fluency into a larger educational context or addressed even bigger big-picture issues that underlie not just ICT but virtually all of K–12 education. Eric Klopfer, director of the MIT Teacher Education Program, agreed with Bob Tinker that people sometimes over-romanticize the vision

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary of what kids do with technology and that in fact their uses are often superficial. “Still, in many cases this is more than we are asking them to do in schools,” he said, “and it’s something we should try to build on.” At the same time, Klopfer added, we need to help change “kid culture,” at least in the United States, to render it more amenable to learning in general and to gaining ICT fluency in particular—in contrast to the literacy that so many kids already have. “Students should want to learn those skills,” he said. But the challenge is considerable. He quoted Tom Friedman: “In Japan, Bill Gates is their Britney Spears. In this country, Britney Spears is our Britney Spears.”3 Deborah Boisvert, director of the National Science Foundation IT Center at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, similarly stressed the need “to really challenge education to create an environment for learning.” She specifically contrasted the traditionally solitary type of educational environment in the United States, one that is much less social than in many other countries. “I remember a demonstration that we had done with a very exciting collaborative network environment,” she said, “and the [U.S.] teachers came back and said, ‘Omigosh, we can’t deal with this, because all the kids are cheating!’ ” Ralph Coppola, director of worldwide education at the Parametric Technology Corporation, reminded the audience that “technology and software tools are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.” Moreover, some of those ends can be ambitious indeed. In the Chicago public schools, he reported, some 90–95 percent of the students who graduate are not ready for college. “In dealing with this issue of a large fraction of our public school population who are not succeeding with the traditional methodology being employed,” he said, “perhaps we can use an alternative portal to the academic enterprise—and perhaps that portal can be ICT.” Steve Robinson, a high school teacher from Eugene, Oregon, currently on a one-year leave as an Albert Einstein Fellow to work for Senator Barack Obama, pointed out that the diversity of students can confound the teaching of ICT. “I have students who need to power down to come to school, and I have students who have never seen a computer before.” Another critical challenge, he said, is teacher competency in ICT. Few educators are qualified, “not because they are bad teachers but because they just haven’t 3 The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. (2005). New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary been trained in this area.” The task often goes to biology or math teachers simply by default, whether they are “ICT gurus” or not. Robinson thus asked whether any state teachers’ colleges have made teaching about ICT an integral part of their curriculum. Bette Manchester, director of special projects at the Maine Department of Education, made a similar point while raising the stakes. “Sorting out the needed skills and competencies, whether they be of the children or of the adults,” will be moot, she said, “if you have leaders and principals and superintendents who are unable, or don’t have any idea how, to create a learning organization inside a school. Leadership is something that needs to be attended to.” Isa Zimmerman, a professor at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a former high school principal and superintendent of schools, cited a problem that she said can tie the hands of even the most competent of educational leaders—community resistance to change. “So although I am one of those people who resents being told what to do, I have on many occasions appreciated a piece of legislation that enabled me to say: ‘You have to do it, because that is what the law says.’ ” In the absence of such forcings, she said, a community often lacks the political will, which means that resources to effect change will be scarce. “Things won’t change,” she said, “unless we change the political climate.” Jim Stanton described his work at the Southwest Regional Employment Board in Boston, Massachusetts, as “developing partnerships between some of the state’s larger corporations and an array of public schools specifically around STEM programs.” And in his comments he raised the issue of political will to the national level. “One of my very great concerns here is the fundamental disconnect,” he said, “between what is happening in public education and what is happening in our economy, and there is an order-of-magnitude difference.” Unless we redouble our efforts in the United States around STEM-career education in general and the teaching of ICT fluency in particular, said Stanton, businesses will have to look elsewhere for their workers. Margaret Honey, vice president of the Educational Development Center and chair of the workshop, summarized the audience’s comments. Many of those who spoke, she said, suggested that education simply has not changed in response to the realities of technology and that we are stuck in 20th-century education practices. “What some of you are asking us to do is to come up with different strategies for acknowledging, recognizing, and encouraging the development of people’s competencies.” Alongside these

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary challenges, Dr. Honey suggested, are the issues of equity and access, which need to be acknowledged in any discussion of ICT and education. She reminded the audience that Karen’s Pittman’s paper (see Appendix A) for the meeting noted that roughly one-third of all teenagers in the United States do not graduate from high school (50 percent of all teens of color do not graduate). Honey pointed out that while there are some very real disconnects in all of our professional contexts, at this workshop we want to keep our focus on the appropriateness of the ICT fluency framework as a template to guide how ICT is operationalized in the high schools. “This meeting is really about creating a blueprint to help people move forward,” she concluded.