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January 06, 2010

As I stressed in my prior post, if we are going to build effective learning environments, the thing we need to focus on is kids - not teachers, administrators, or even parents, but kids. And one of the most important things we must consider when building such environments is motivation, or more specifically, what motivates kids to learn.

Any study in human motivation will undoubtedly lead to Maslow's “Theory of Human Motivation”, which logically concludes that humans are essentially motivated by their needs. Knowing this, as well as how much the world has changed in the last decade, it might be tempting to assume that our students' needs have changed along with the world around them. But have they?

MaslowFor review, let's have another look at Maslow's theory and see what we can glean from it. According to Maslow, all human motivation is driven by a hierarchy of needs, which are typically represented in the form of a pyramid as in the figure to the right. The pyramid is functionally divided into two halves, with bottom half representing deficiency needs and the top half representing growth needs. While the growth needs are what we care most about as educators, it's important for us to understand the deficiency needs before we even talk about growth. 

The deficiency needs are what one might consider to be the obvious needs, with the bottom being the physiological - I need to eat, I need to sleep, etc. Once those physiological needs are met, then we are concerned about physical safety, followed by thoughts of love and belonging, and finally an interest in our self-esteem or sense of self worth. The important thing to remember is that these needs build on each other in such a way that the means to meet higher needs will not be sought until the lower needs are first met. A person will sacrifice their need for love/belonging, for example, if they feel physically threatened, and so on. The notion here is that the deficiency needs all have to be met before we can even start thinking about our growth needs. While schools are doing a pretty good job in these areas (although I have a particular beef with our obsessive over-emphasis on esteem, ie "everyone's a winner, noone's a loser"), we would be remiss if we didn't ask ourselves the tough questions: "Do my kids feel safe at school?", "Are they getting enough to eat?", "Do I create an environment where kids feel as though they belong?"

Once the deficiency needs are met, then an individual moves on to growth needs. In Maslow's original theory he only has one item above "esteem", and that is "self-actualization" or the desire for self-fulfillment and the ultimate reaching of one's potential. A deeper read into the matter, however, reveals that there are some important considerations that must be met on the road to self-actualization, and that there is an ultimate transcendent destination beyond it, which I have broken out in the chart above. He speaks of the cognitive needs - the need to learn, the need to know, the need to understand, and the need to explore. He uses the word "explore" or "exploration", which is something that I think we've lost much of today in education. Once one moves beyond the cognitive, they move towards aesthetics, such as recognizing beauty and the need for order and patterns. And only after that can one understand the nature of their abilities and endeavor to reach their true potential (self-actualization). But the ultimate goal, the one we should all be striving for, is that point where ego steps out of the way and we transcend to a level where we want to help others reach their potential.

Above all, the important detail to remember is that higher needs only gain focus when the lower needs are met, which means that a student's focus can be ever changing, depending on other influences in their life. It's hard to focus on math when you are worried about survival, but you are immensely interested in learning about survival. Likewise, the ultimate realization of a student's potential and consequential wisdom and transcendence will never be reached if we don't create environments where students fulfill their needs to know, understand, explore, and create.

But the interesting thing about all of this is that despite all the technology in their lives and all the changes in the world around them, kids' needs really haven't changed. They still need the same basic things. What has changed is the tools and influences around them that alter the mechanisms by which those needs are met...

More to follow in subsequent posts...

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Posted by Jim Klein | 13 comment(s) | Share This

August 31, 2009

I love what we call education technology "research" these days. It seems everyone is out to prove that this or that technology is the "magic bullet" that will fix education forever. And amazingly, the research always comes out favorably for the vendor who sponsored the study - go figure. So how do they do it? In reality, it's quite easy to setup a study to attain the results you want by doing what the vast majority of educational technology researchers do: don't isolate the technology in question. Let's take interactive whiteboards, for example. In order to get huge numbers for whiteboards, all you need to do is the following:

  1. For the study group, put in all the technology you need to get the results you want. Even though the study is supposed to be about boards, be sure to add a great projection system, new computer, subscriptions to digital media libraries, etc. Make sure that your control group has access to none of these tools.

  2. Invest tremendously in staff development to teach the study group not just how to use the technology, but also new teaching strategies for the content in question. While these new teaching strategies might also be applicable in a classroom without all the technology, be sure NOT to provide similar assistance to the control group.

  3. Provide continuous instructional support to the study group throughout the study period. Ignore the control group.

Of course, you could make matters even worse by doing what Marzano did for Promethean, which was to use the same group of teachers for both the control group and the research group, and ask them to simply "not use" any of the technology for some lessons. Again, you fail to isolate the tech in question, but this time you compound the artificial inflation of the results by introducing bias from the teachers who love their whiteboards.

Viola! You're sure to get the numbers you want!

Now, let's say we REALLY want to find out if the BOARDS make the difference. To do so, we would need to isolate them by:

  1. Provide all the same technology resources to both the study group and the control group, with the exception of the technology in question (IWB.)

  2. Invest in staff development for both groups. Teach those who don't have the boards to effectively use the rest of their tools in the classroom, specifically digital media resources (online and offline), presentation tools, interactive experiments and demonstrations, etc. Teach BOTH groups the new teaching strategies they will need to effectively integrate the technologies they have in the classroom.

  3. Provide continuous instructional support to both groups.

Unfortunately for Promethean and other vendors, what you will find is that the whiteboards, document cameras, and similar technologies really don't make that much of a difference, and both groups will show gains. You will find that what really mattered was the introduction of a diverse set of media-rich content, effectively integrated into the instructional process through the introduction of new teaching strategies.

All that said, my penchant is to invest in technologies that promote a 21st century, participatory and collaborative learning environment, rather than those that reinforce 19th century instructional models that, as history has obviously shown, no longer effectively prepare students for the world they are about to enter. I'd trade 1 IWB for 15 netbooks (which are about the same price as a soup-to-nuts IWB install) any day of the week, and twice on Sunday. Lets move our technology investments away from the perimeter of the classroom, and toward the center - where the kids are.

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Posted by Jim Klein | 3 comment(s) | Share This

November 27, 2008

I recently attended a conference for technology directors in the state of California, and I must say I was heartened by some changes in the program and, in some cases, the attendance of the sessions. What was different, you ask? The focus of these sessions on students and education. To be sure, these sessions were in the minority. But they were there, and they indicate the beginnings of what I believe will be an important shift in education technology. My only question is, are we too late?

To understand why I ask this, one simply needs to look at the vast majority of technology departments in school districts across the country, and their relationships with the instructional staff. More ...

Keywords: Budget Cuts, Education Technology, Leadership, Technology

Posted by Jim Klein | 1 comment(s) | Share This

July 02, 2008

For the final NECC keynote, Idit Harel Caperton shared her vision for the future of education technology. She is tremendously accomplished, perhaps best known as the co-editor (with Seymour Papert) of the 1991 book, Constructionism, the first book about constructionist learning

Idit's presentation was, to say the least, challenging for many of us. She promised to take us on a journey through 3 decades of catalyzing change, 3 days of  the catalysts of change (ie those at NECC who are endeavoring to drive change), and 3 wishes for the future. The overarching theme of the presentation was “The Transformational Power of Social Media Technology in Learning”, which was of particular interest to me, for I am a proponent of the use of social technologies in education. More ...

Keywords: Constructionism, Education Technology, Idit Harel Caperton, NECC, NECC08, Social Media

Posted by Jim Klein | 3 comment(s) | Share This

June 19, 2008

Today I stumbled upon a blog post by Miguel Guhlin entitled "TexasCTO2008 - Legislative To-Do", which was about a recent CoSN Chief Technology Officers Clinic held in Texas on June 18th. In it, Miguel referred to the comments of a member of the Texas legislature, who was part of a panel presentation, "A Vision for Education Technology in Texas: Legislative Landscape."

Ordinarily, I would not have found such a thing of interest - I rarely find that a state legislature is really in touch with what's going on in the classroom, especially when it relates to technology. But I was particularly fascinated by the comments of Scott Hochberg, Vice Chair, Higher & Public Education Finance, Select Committee. More ...

Keywords: Education Technology, Instructional Technology, Integration, One-to-One programs

Posted by Jim Klein | 41 comment(s) | Share This

June 02, 2008

I'm often asked to speak, write, participate in webcasts, and serve on panels discussing education and technology, and enjoy the opportunity to share some of the things we are thinking about here at Saugus. Having done so on many occasions over the past year, I find myself struck not by the value of the discussions, but by the consistency of the responses. For it seems that no matter how much we speak of change in education through technology, no matter what is said, no matter what is offered, or who leaves inspired, the foundation is rarely shaken. Most often the light of new ideas is bent through the lenses of personal perspective and bad habits, which results in technology decisions based on personal appeal, a sense of safety, or worse, a desire to be part of the "in" crowd, rather than utility, value, and potential.More ...

Keywords: Education, Education Technology, Twitter, Web 2.0

Posted by Jim Klein | 1 comment(s) | Share This

June 20, 2007

Jay Pfaffman, an instructional technology professor from the University of Tenessee recently wrote an excellent piece which appeared on the LinuxInsider site entitled, It's Time to Consider Open Source Software. As can be expected, this generated a fair amount of debate and comment on the CETPA (California Education Technology Professionals Association) listserv, which revealed a surprisingly prevalent perspective that using open source software somehow equates to "switching" or replacing existing applications only. More ...

Keywords: CETPA, education technology, Jay Pfaffman, open source

Posted by Jim Klein | 11 comment(s) | Share This

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