Response to: Is Experimentation Ethical?

Doug Johnson over at The Blue Skunk Blog made me write this post in response to this:

Questions that come from the dark side of the force…

  • Why should a teacher be given any more latitude to be “creative” with a computer than an accountant? Why should a teacher not be required to use district adopted software, much as they are required to use district adopted reading series or textbooks?
  • Should a teacher experiment rather using established best practices? (A medical doctor who “experiments” on his patients would be considered unethical – that job is for specially trained research scientists.)

I am especially interested in the last question. So much of what is being written about in the educational blogosphere (at least what I read) promotes the experimental use of technology with students. At what point do we need to ask ourselves is this healthy for students?

These are not “experimental” practices. They are tried and true, research based, best practices and techniques used with new media, technology and applications. It’s research (librarians should like that), quantifying data, brainstorming, gathering and organizing data, synthesizing information, designing a method for dissemination, editing and more.

The leverage comes in many forms, but include: being able to print pictures from primary sources (could we cut pictures from your books or periodicals?) and change the size and crop out unnecessary, distracting areas and enhance others. It’s being able to ask questions from experts here-to-for that were very hard to access (email, blog requests, ask-the expert sections on many web pages). Instead of writing a report and delivering it in a report folder that the student and the teacher and maybe the student’s family will see and learn from and so who really cares, students can deliver in a web page/blog, Wiki, slide show, digital video and more – and have the report become an international resource instead of a folder in a drawer (which just might mean we are more motivated to polish and rework and rethink and revisit and polish some more and even update at a later date – I can just see someone pulling their old report folder on the Revolutionary War out of their drawer and updating it).

The experimental part comes in having to think out of the box (we wouldn’t want that!) to think about which media or application or venue should be used or not used or is appropriate to use (you mean think about, discuss and debate ethics and best use?). One of the best parts is that when things go wrong it is often an opportunity to problem solve and learn from mistakes and learn to deal with mistakes (unthinkable) in a relatively safe environment when you’re not going to get fired from your job.

Why should teachers be creative? Hmmm, boy that’s tough. Think about your best, most memorable learning experiences in school. Come on really think. Did you list reading groups or working a sheet of math problems or doing a state report? You may have thought of one of those, but if you did it was probably because the teacher had you do that in a creative way! Most likely however, you thought of a project or field trip or activity or science experiment.

Blogging is akin to journal writing (journal writing is a big waste of time?).

Doctors would be liable if they “experimented” on their patients – but I guarantee that no two doctors do the same procedure exactly the same way (except of course for the most absolutely critical parts). I’ve had doctors try new approaches and methods on me a few times – and I’m Ok, and I’m Ok, and I’m OK. Teachers may use the district adopted textbook or reading series – but use it the same? – excuse me I’m still recovering from my laughing fit – and of course I can see your point. When teachers use the district adopted textbook or series they are always successful and teachers that try new ways usually fail. (Sorry, I’m bent over laughing again – or at least trying not to cry).

Student motivation is one of the keys to teaching and learning. New approaches are often intriguing. Many students are not served well by traditional methods, but there are many examples of unreachable, unmotivated students being caught up in a new approach.

Communication is intriguing – and blogging and Wikis and publishing and presentation applications are all about communicating.

I’ve gone on long enough – I’ll ask others to add to and enrich my thinking and comments (dang! there I’m pointing out an advantage to blogging again – I hope no one notices this publicly published post). : )

Learning is messy!

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