Random Thoughts

I'm struggling with Tech Standards again….

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If technology is a tool…and we all agree it’s a tool right? Then why the heck do we need standards for it?

What are we trying to prove?

If you have a technology class..then yes there should be skills (a.k.a. standards) you are trying to teach students.

But…if it’s just a tool in the classroom that we’re using to produce and create information do we need to assess the tool, or the content we’re creating?

I spent one hour with these four girls showing them how a wiki works. That’s it, it was a tool…it could have been a hammer, a pencil, or any tool…but it just so happened that this tool is called a wiki and it takes a computer to access it.


What is it about this site that is exciting? Is it the technology or the content they produced?

I’m struggling here. If it’s embedded into the classroom…like it is in this classroom. We should not need to assess it. We should get excited over the content, grade the content based on content standards and appreciate that we have tools today that allow us to express our learning, and allow students to share their content with a global audience.


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I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Of course we need tech standards. If we think that technology should be ubiquitous and no one in any subject area should feel like they are doing their jobs unless they integrate or embed 😉 technology in their instruction, then how they use that technology, which technologies are used, the purpose of the integration of that particular techology should be a part of the teacher’s self assessment. The sword cuts both ways, my friend. You can’t be all fired up about how essential technology is and then say, “we get a pass on how well we’re using it.” You have to be the spoon, you can’t just bend it. (matrix reference that may not mean a thing)

    Personally, I’m searching everywhere for the rubrics you posted once a long time ago on using blogs. I’m not one of those people who thinks that just because the kid can upload and is excited to be doing it that my job is done. I could say it’s content (because I’m an English teacher), but in the blogosphere I’m much more interested in what constitutes a good blog (in my view that would be everything from good syntax and structure, to meaningful and well researched content, to visually appealing format, to hooks that keep people coming back, to brevity (see soul of wit), to commenting elsewhere, to use of peripherals such as images, videos, polls, hypertext etc. Otherwise it’s noodling and a waste of their time (no matter how excited by it they are)

  2. Pingback: Standards Soup | ablog

  3. hhhmmmm…pushing my thinking here…thanks!

    In your first paragraph you talk about teachers and I do believe teachers should be evaluated on their use of technology. But not on their use of technology such as “Teacher checks e-mail 3 times daily” (which I’ve seen in some districts). No, teachers should be evaluated on the principals that they allow students to use technology within the content area. I want teachers teaching students literacy skills based on literacy standards (other wise known as Library standards in most schools).

    In your second paragraph you talk about students and the use the blogs.

    “…in the blogosphere I’m much more interested in what constitutes a good blog (in my view that would be everything from good syntax and structure, to meaningful and well researched content, to visually appealing format, to hooks that keep people coming back, to brevity (see soul of wit), to commenting elsewhere, to use of peripherals such as images, videos, polls, hypertext etc.”

    So I’m looking at what you list here…and as a teacher I think you should be looking at these things…but are these technology standards. I’m looking at the new NETs and I’m looking at your list and I’m not seeing the connection. I’m also looking at the rubrics which I linked above where the students list: Content, Visits/Comments, Spelling, Organization. Off of which are covered under the Language Arts standards. The blog is just the vehicle. It could be a piece of paper, and we could still use this same list: content, spelling, organization, spelling and turn Visits/Comments into Revise and Edit and you have a rubric for writing a paper. If the tools just allow us to engage students in the writing process then they are embedded tools in our classroom.

    ….I think. 🙂

    Thanks….this is good!

  4. Very good question.

    My school has recently decided to implement technology standards, and found NETS-S to be most appropriate for us. However, I started wondering last year about the value of having technology standards at all (although I did not formulate my doubts as clearly as you have here), but did not have a cohesive, well-formulated alternative to present to our Leadership Team in time.

    I’m therefore pleased now to see the changes in the NETS refreshed standards (thinking skills, creativity, collaboration, etc. and not just technology). If implemented well, I think they can serve as a good roadmap for a faculty with a diverse range of technology and information literacy skill levels.

    We’re looking at overhauling standards in all our subject areas (it’s accreditation time), but it looks like we’ll be introducing NETS-S as trans-disciplinary standards, i.e. for all subject areas to use and fulfill, so I’m hopeful we can ensure implementation in a meaningful way that frames technology as a tool and not an end in itself.

    I think you’re on to something in your June 9th post where you suggest the standards may be serving as a focal point, something to wrap your head around. Finally, I think David hits the mark when he says the standard is whether we equip students with the skills required to teach themselves. We talk about 21st Century skills, but don’t actually see further than perhaps the next decade or so. Beyond that, we don’t know what the kids will need to know or be able to do. The only logical thing to do then is to teach them how to teach themselves.

    At least in my school, I think the NETS-S standards will be useful for the next few years.

    Thanks for your perceptive, thoughtful post, Jeff!

  5. I think we need to be cognizant of why we use the tools. What is the purpose of using a blog or a wiki or Google docs? Each tool has its strengths and weaknesses and is suited for particular learning objects (content standards). If we are teaching students to learn to learn, and these tools facilitate learning then at some point they should be able to make good choices about which kind of tool to use. This, as you have proposed should be embedded within the content standards. But does there need to be a document that informs that process? In my state, our curriculum standards have just been revised for science. They have included technology standards. Unfortunately this inclusion is not much more than an add-on piece to the overall document. The idea of embedding, which you have written about lately is powerful, but it seems there is a long ways to go before it is grasped at some of these decision making levels.

  6. Do we need tech standards? I think you need to ask why…

    Common answers:

    1. We need to make sure all the kids know the same stuff.
    2. We can’t test the kids unless we establish what they will learn, and then test them on that content.
    3. Of course we need standards.

    Maybe there are other answers, but I hear these a lot.

    So here are my arguments against tech standards.

    1. If technology is a tool, does it matter that students all know the same tool in exactly the same way? Maybe it wouldn’t be so horrible if one kid knew how to make movies with some level of expertise, and another really got into blogging. Seems to me if we sacrifice expertise for “coverage” then no one really benefits.

    2. Assessment is a tail that wags the dog of curriculum. It’s not supposed to, but it does, let’s not kid ourselves. If you make a checklist of tech skills, you will end up testing vocabulary and lists of stuff. If your standards are so vague that almost anything can qualify, you end up with even less. Standards that look like checklists make testing easier, but that’s it. Standards that sound like, “all students will use technology in meaningful ways” are just a waste of time.

    3. Of course we need tech standards? This is just because it’s easier to do things the way we’ve always done them. Technology is not a content area, it’s not a discipline. Standards make no sense in this context.

    That’s not to say that we shouldn’t expect students and teachers to use use technology in authentic ways. We just have to assess the use with authentic assessments. It’s not impossible, English teachers reading an essay use authentic assessment all the time. Art teachers look at work, music teachers listen, coaches watch kids. We trust these teachers to make judgments based on their own expertise as teachers and masters of a domain of knowledge.

    We only think we need tech standards because we don’t trust teachers to make quality judgments about student work, and we don’t trust teachers to incorporate technology in meaningful ways. While those fears may be justified, imposing tech standards is attacking the symptom, not the problem.

  7. Because we are still in the integrate/embed stage I think the new nets provide a great framework to help drive curriculum. I also know that the kids in our school (k-8)need to get some basic instruction in the tools because they are not as savvy as some would have you believe. The start of the thinwall project in September revealed how much time we needed to invest in teaching some of the tools so that the students could later make choices for their work. The new standards however are not tool oriented , they address the things we all are saying we must help our students learn:Creativity, collaborations, innovation, information fluency, digital citizenship….This is the stuff of “their future”
    I can’t link to it yet but we are currently in the process of using the categories of the NETS refreshed as the framework to define our Schoolwide Learning Expectations. These drive our curriculum and define what we expect a student to know and be able to do when they graduate from our school. They guide our understanding of our standards and more importantly our pedagogy. So the standards are changing the way we teach and learn. The only category we have dropped is #6Technology operations and concepts because we believe it is subsumed in the other 5.
    Okay maybe I should have just blogged about this because it is getting long. I will end here and write a blog entry when we finish our SLE’s. Then I will also address assesment.

  8. I go back and forth on this one a lot. On the one hand standards can come across as totalistic and simplistic; they do separate out tech from what we are ‘really trying to teach’ or have kids understand. of course it should not be about resizing photos or ‘how to use dreamweaver’ – it should be about being powerful communicators in a digital age. Having the literacies to know what medias work best to communicate a message or and idea and being about to use those mediums (or collaborate with those that do). When I think this way I say “throw the standards out the window”. However, when I’m faced with a classroom of students who can’t attach a file to an email or resize a photo I go the other direction: “get back to basics”, “there should be some basic tech skills we expect all kids to know”. Because as anyone who is ‘tech’ knows it is a little bit of a chicken and the egg. We want to communicate so we figure out how to use tools in context. However, it is also true that when we learn to use tools we see new possibilities.

    So ultimately I think standards can be useful for ensuring we don’t disenfranchise kids by just assuming they will ‘get it’, and also allow subject area teachers peace of mind that they have students that at particular age groups have certain skills so that they really can work on the higher level literacies.

  9. I don’t know whether it was Jeff’s post or the comments that followed here, but my thinking on this issue aligns very closely with Justin’s. While Sylvia makes great points regarding the proficiencies that each very different student should or should not be required to show, we can look at historical models here to help us out.

    We never ask students to think critically without first arming them with the tools to do so. We never set students upon a path toward completing any higher level thinking without giving them the proper scaffolding to reach it. I think what will work best for us in the current climate (at least from my perspective) is a situation where students are required to learn the basics of our networked society (email, word processing, networked learning, copyright, etc.) as they progress through elementary school. As they begin to enter middle and high school, our standards should reflect less upon the technological applications, but move more towards the application of the right tool for the right task: a higher level decision.

    Now, what do we do with our teachers…

  10. Patrick,
    When you say, “we never ask students to think critically without first arming them with the tools to do so.” I just don’t see that as a fact. Sometimes the only way to push a student to see the need for a new tool or a new mindset is to push them out of their comfort zone and ask them to think critically about something they have very little experience with. That’s not the end of the story, of course, you don’t just hang kids out to dry, but I think it’s rarely as step-wise as you suggest.

    We often bore students by teaching them the mechanics of things first, where if they had an authentic task to do first, they would more readily learn the basic skills they need along the way.

    I don’t see scaffolding as a step that is done before the student gets the real learning, but soemthing that you give students AS they are climbing, ready to reach their foot out to the next level of understanding.

    I guess I shouldn’t assume that I know what you mean by “current climate” – so it leaves me unsure about whether you’ve modfied your views about how best to teach to be more accomodating to this percieved climate, and what your views would be in a “perfect world.”

  11. Jeff,
    I agree with your initial post. For me, technology is a tool. I teach special education at the middle and high school level. In fact, I teach those levels at the same time in a blended classroom.

    We use blogs for much of our writing because it facilitates the writing process for many of my students. Yes, I teach my students how to use a blog, but I grade my students on the output, not the tool they are using to create it.

    In fact, one of my students has a very difficult time with written text so he is not using the blog in the same way as others. He is using it right now as a way to present visual essays and will begin podcasting shortly.

    Another of my students has visual impairments coupled with cerebral palsy AND cognitive impairments that make typing into and reading the blog text difficult. So she does something different.

    What I am getting at here is that the beauty of web 2.0 for me is in its usefulness as a collection of tools for learning and not as standardized content that needs to be learned and assessed.

  12. Thanks for the response, Sylvia, and I apologize for my delay in getting back to you.

    Let me first clarify what I mean by “current climate.” In my buildings, the staff would not adhere to letting students just go out and fail; there is too much test anxiety for that. So yes, in a perfect world, and one in which I believe we are on the road to creating, I couldn’t agree with you more model more. Failure has to be an option in the learning process, actually it’s imperative. I just don’t think my teachers ready to let that happen. So in the meantime, as we move towards that, there has to be some middle ground for them to achieve when it comes to having methods to assess the students technological skills. The fun will begin when we really start pushing the teachers out of their comfort zones!

    When I speak of providing the scaffolding to students prior to allowing them to do higher level thinking, I meant that we provide them with tools, perhaps not all of them, but enough to let them ask the right questions of themselves and the situation.

    I like your description of “just in time” learning, where the step they need is the one we provide, but as they need it. What a great metaphor to pass on. Thanks!

  13. Hi Patrick,
    Thanks for explaining – I do hear and see what you describe a lot. Maybe I am a utopian, but I also hear a lot of pre-compromising from teachers who really could get away with being more progressive in the classroom talk themselves out of it before they even try.

    I don’t work in the classroom, but work with a lot of schools especially when they are redesigning, rethinking their technology related curriculum, and we’ll be sitting in the room and everyone says, “oh, they won’t/can’t let us do that!” – and then realizes that “everyone” is actually in the room and really DOES want it to happen. It’s a weird self-censorship thing.

    And you’ve hit on the big issue, you can’t just let “kids go out and fail” that would be horrible, obviously, so the teachers who teach this way also have to have an understanding of how to manage a classroom like that, make sure kids are aware that taking risks is allowed, and not then turn around and punish them if they do take those risks. Not that simple.

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