Essential Questions

March 6, 2008 on 11:15 am | In education, technology | 2 Comments

I’ve been rereading Heidi Hayes Jacob’s thoughts on the importance of essential questions in curriculum development. We’re currently in the throes of curriculum mapping at my school, so I was originally approaching the ideas from the perspective of my role as Computer Science department head.

As I read, however, I’ve realized that the points she makes are just as relevant if I don my other cap of technology director.

I’ve long had concerns about how schools have tended to approach technology. There has often seemed to be a buy-first, ask-questions-later mentality driving the process. I worry when schools invest in hardware, software, and infrastructure without a clear sense of how it’s going to be used or how it’s going to be supported. I’m not saying that everything needs to be planned ahead of time – the availability of the tools can certainly enable and inspire creative uses – but without thoughtful goals related to learning and teaching, educational technology so often seems to stop at word processing and e-mail.

With this in mind, I thought it would be a useful and interesting exercise to think about some essential questions related technology use in education. In no particular order:

  • At what age should student computer use begin in school? At what age is one-to-one appropriate?
  • Which computing platform(s) and why?
  • Is technology additive, instrumental, or transformational?
  • Is it important for schools to be “cutting edge”?
  • What skills should all students be learning? What role does technology play?
  • What would be the benefits of a computer programming requirement for all students? At what age should it begin?
  • To draw from a recent post by Sylvia Martinez, how can technology enable students to Create?
  • How do electronic communication and collaboration impact teaching and learning?
  • To filter or not to filter?
  • How do we tap the online tools students already use to create learning opportunities?
  • Social networks as learning networks: How do we make it happen?

Well, that’s a start. I hope others come up with more.


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  1. Kim Y. and I were discussing at what age…this week. Literacy should begin as early as possible, at home if possible. A 1-to-1 program, in a district where there is a strong family-school relationship, and if there is buy-in, could start in middle school.

    Platform would depend upon the goals of the program, but certainly exposure to all (both) would be ideal. I imagine Mac would have to be more explicit while PC would be an eventuality.

    Yes. Technology is addictive, transformational and instructive.

    While it’s important for students to be prepared and aware of the options, I’m not sure it’s important for schools to be cutting edge, but I would certainly be as concerned by schools whose teachers use 10th generation mimeographs lesson plans as a school where progress is not being made in tech.

    Just a bit of weighing in. Thanks for provoking thought, engaging in the conversation and inviting response.

    Comment by Imani — March 9, 2008 #

  2. Hi Bill,
    I think these are really good thoughts – asking questions is sometimes looked at as being negative, but it’s essential.

    To me, choices in technology that enable student creativity and agency should always take precedence. Words like “deliver”, “automatic” and “efficient” always make me suspicious.

    Cutting edge is not important; the tyranny of the new can be fatal to creative uses of technology that get plowed under because “we’ve done that!”

    Comment by sylvia martinez — March 17, 2008 #

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