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Re: [school-discuss] student:computer - studies to reference?

Hi Matt,

I should preface my reply with a brief introduction.

For 9 years I taught physics and/or astronomy at 3 different Atlanta
area universities and colleges. They range from high-end (Emory
University), middle of the road (Georgia State University) and community
college/college-prep (Georgia Perimeter College). Each school had
varying degrees of in place technology for teaching. The quantity and
"quality" was a direct function of the funding ability of the school.

At Emory, I was able to implement an entirely computer driven physics
lab sequence. These were not the lab simulations (I think those are a
poor stand-in for doing labs) but were an online lab notebook for data
collection, notes, and data manipulation. As it was a huge leap up from
the previous version (3-5 different applications with cut-n-paste...) to
a single tailored application, the response from the few who used both
versions was quite positive. For the first time users, they had no
opinion as long as it worked reliably.

At Georgia State, computers were used for for writing reports or
specialized data manipulation and lots of online research (gopher,
veronica, archie - yes, pre-netscape days).

Georgia Perimeter used computers primarily for email, web surfing, and
in the lab for experiment control with specialized lab kits and for
astronomy simulations (note my dislike for these above includes some of
the ones we did here - yet there were some that were quite good and
mimicked what the pros did).

The big impacts I saw as an educator in science were the following:

1. Ready access to information. Sometimes this was just another website
with a different simulation, other times it was access to pro-level data
and analysis. At the places where access was a given, it was used. The
drawback was they got very good at finding the information while the
application of that information was not enhanced or practiced. On the
whole, I think it was more than compensated by having huge libraries
available at the fingertips.

2. Removal of the drudgery of certain tasks. I have mixed feelings about
this. While making repeated, tedious calculations (that will NEVER be
replicated anywhere but a particular lab experiment) breeze by
accurately using spreadsheets, the students also lost a grasp of the
important thinking skills used to create a graph by hand (scale,
planning, measurement, estimation) and the computer became more like a
TV. For a long time, the first graph was always required to be done by
hand to instill the knowledge and a sense of appreciation. Then I caught
people plotting it and tracing it...

3. We could now do things that only the "big boys" could do just a few
years ago. This level of technology was not in the intro classes but was
quite prevalent in the upper level classes. Using computer-assisted
processes, students in senior research labs could recreate some of the
famous, ground-breaking experiments with tremendous precision by using
computer-controlled hardware. This did require a higher degree of
learning sophistication than just mechanical manipulatives from years
earlier. Some things could now be done safely that could not have been
at all safely a few years ago (most nuclear physics until 1995 was done
with pencil and paper by undergraduates as the safety factor was too
difficult. Now with precision computer systems and detector devices,
ultra-low radiation sources can be used safely).

Where does this lead for K-12 education?

Again, drawing from my own personal experiences in class, students with
prior exposure to computer technology were more willing to "jump in" at
the college level. They were not afraid to try things on the computer.
Exploratory learning is a good thing. The hard drive can always be
cleaned off later. 

Two experiences had a profound impact on my view of academia: I was
asked to fill in for a colleague who was on a research run. I had two
very different groups of student for the same class, a very basic, no
math physics lab. One group was composed entirely of art and music
majors. They were fun! If a device had a knob or button or switch, they
wanted to see what it did. Everything they did was a "what if..."
question. I wound up staying after lab that day with most of class for
another 2 hours while they just played with the lab equipment. Once they
figured out they could use the oscilloscope software and pipe external
sounds from a microphone or internally generated sounds and then do
screen captures and image edits... It was a barrel of fun. And they did
some serious critical thinking as they were looking for repeatable
patterns in the processing they were doing so the could design the
visual using the sound.

The second group was a graduate-student bunch working on their masters
in education. They were quite the opposite of the first group. They
literally had to have a priori knowledge of the outcome of anything they
to do in lab or they wouldn't do it. There was no room for experiment,
trial and error, test and measure. They would not try new things with
being led by the hand to the outcome. It was very different seeing these
people try and get out of their boxes and learn how to think and not
just what to think. (Note: I don't want to sound like I'm coming down
hard on them. Maybe it's because they were older and were all "in the
field" that they were less inclined to jump in and play).

End result: Technology is not the solution to educational problems. It
is merely another tool for teachers to use in the learning process. But
the teachers won't use it if it doesn't work. Putting Linux thin clients
in the classrooms won't make the slow kids faster. It will give the fast
ones something to do constructive while the slower ones get a bit of
one-on-one. That is the real boost. The teachers have the ability to
split the class up into smaller, more manageable chunks and give more
specific attention to smaller virtual classes while providing valuable
access to research and communication tools with the technology. For the
kids, it gives a way for them to move more at their pace rather than the
average of the room.

A bit more closing bio: I don't sell hardware. I am a consultant who
works with Linux stuff (live and breath it is more accurate). My 2 kids
use their own Linux systems to do nearly everything (we do have one
windows pc for some games). I was introduced to Linux at Georgia State
in 1992. I introduced Emory to Linux in 1997. I am the project architect
(and chief Linux geek) on the Atlanta Public Schools Linux thin client
pilot roll out project. This is the next-step expansion from the
pioneering (and outstanding!) work done by Brandon elementary parents
Daniel Howard and William Fragakis (who I get see and work with over at
Brandon "Skunk Works"). Because of our involvement in this process and
our collective vision of how it can be a boon to schools, (another idea
from Daniel) GOSEF, Georgia Open Source Education Foundation, was formed
( http://www.gosef.org ) and I am called VP and Director of Engineering.

On Mon, 2006-10-09 at 08:35 -0400, Matt Oquist wrote:
> These are interesting responses which indicate that I need to clarify
> what/why I'm asking.
> Of course we're not focusing only on hardware, or only on
> a computer:student ratio. The district has already conducted teacher
> surveys (concerning prof. dev., amount of usage, hardware, software,
> gadgets, etc.) at some schools and several more are currently
> following suit.
> The planning committee has some idea of where we want to go, and since
> at the moment only labs have computers for students (no classrooms
> that I know of in the entire district have computers for students to
> use!), it's obvious that having more computers for kids to use is one
> thing that we need to change.
> We can't change the entire district at once, and we don't want to take
> off at 100MPH in a direction that turns out to be wrong. So we're
> hoping to propose a pilot project to the school board, and we could
> really use data from other schools and studies that have been done to
> bolster our claims that such a pilot project has the potential to
> improve the lives of teachers and the educations of students. Instead
> of adding one computer to every classroom in the district and assuming
> we're headed in the right direction, we want to know how many *Linux
> thin clients* to add to a small handful of classrooms as a pilot to
> find out what kind of difference it makes in those classrooms. 1:1 is
> not an option on the table at this time, so we need to know where we
> should be aiming -- /if there is a specific place to aim/.
> At this point in the meeting, I indicated that I believed other people
> had already studied this issue and that we could make use of those
> results. I was asked to find such data and report back.
> Therefore, I sent a very specific question to three widely-dispersed
> lists without explaining *any* of my background assumptions and giving
> the impression that I was blindly sprinting into hardware-centric
> confusion in which obtaining a particular ratio will be expected to
> yield precisely-defined results. Hopefully this message rectifies that
> concern at least a little. :)
> I should mention that I'm already planning to recommend that we do
> a survey (another one, unfortunately) to ask teachers how many
> computers they would need to make a difference. My wife (a teacher,
> also on this committee) and I, along with the other members of this
> committee, are very concerned to know what teachers think and we value
> their input highly. Unfortunately, we can't take it as a given that
> everyone has that same degree of respect for teachers' opinions, so we
> want/need more than just teachers' input, and I was hopeful that some
> more formal investigations had been conducted.
> Thanks for your input, Yishay, and I will contact you separately for
> more information.
> Thanks,
> Matt
> Yishay Mor wrote:    [Sun Oct 08 2006, 06:06:36PM EDT]
> > Matt,
> > 
> > I want to strongly support Les here. In focusing on hardware you risk a
> > backlash. We've all heard of endless research that 'proves' that computers
> > don't contribute to performance. I reject it, and yet it's right: computers in
> > themselves are heaps of metal. They don't contribute to performance any more
> > that the tables they stand on. A study of the sort you imagine would most
> > probably be outrageous. Any result showing improvement in standard test in 
> > direct relationship to the ratio, and ignoring all other factors, would only be
> > obtainable by exotic manipulations.
> > 
> > I think its important to involve the teachers in the process, let them say how
> > many computers they want, and where. Perhaps present them with case studies,
> > and collaboratively design a solution which includes hardware, software and
> > practices. Here's an idea: if 1:1 is the golden grail, why not give each
> > student a wifi enabled PDA, and have one PC+projector for sharing? See: http://
> > www.simcalc.umassd.edu/projects/cc2/
> > 
> > All that said, you may find some useful resources here:
> > http://www.g1to1.org/inventory/bibliography.php
> > 
> > Also, I remember once seeing a serious article which used sophisticated
> > econometric methods to eliminate all other factors, and showed that generally
> > children with access to PCs perform better in school. I can try to look it up
> > if you want (contact me directly).
> > 
> > good luck!
> > 
> > - Yishay
> > 
> > On 08/10/06, Matt Oquist <moquist@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
> > 
> >     Note: I'm also posting to k12osn and k12opensource; sorry for any
> >     duplication.
> > 
> >     I'm on the newly-formed school tech planning committee in my
> >     community, and at the second committee meeting I discussed the idea
> >     that there's a tipping-point at which access to technology naturally
> >     snowballs into increasing technology integration. (There's a bit of
> >     the "if you build it they will come" thinking in here.) I asserted
> >     that I believed studies had been done on such data points as the range
> >     of student:computer ratios that define such a tipping-point.
> > 
> >     The committee chairman (a school board member) insightfully asked if
> >     I could find out about such studies and report back at our next
> >     meeting -- so now I'm asking all of you. I've done some googling and
> >     I'll do some more, but what studies (formal and informal, but I'm
> >     looking for more than just opinions) do you know of that communicate
> >     concrete results such as (NOTE: I'M MAKING THIS UP as an EXAMPLE!):
> >       "Moving from a 10:1 student:computer ratio to a 2:1 ratio is 75%
> >       more likely to result in a 20% increase in math standardized test
> >       scores than moving instead to a 5:1 ratio."
> > 
> >     A study with results like that would be outstanding, of course, but
> >     I'll be pleasantly shocked to find one. What has actually been done?
> >     What more do we have than anecdotal evidence of the sort of
> >     tipping-point that I described?
> > 
> >     I'm pretty sure I snagged the phrase "tipping point" from one of the
> >     slides in Daniel Howard's presentation to the CIO of Atlanta Public
> >     Schools on their case study at Morris Brandon Elementary School.
> >     Here's what he said:
> >       Tipping point: must have at least 5 PCs for teachers to fully
> >       integrate into instruction, more is better for most teachers
> > 
> >     I'll follow up with Daniel to find out how many students those
> >     5 (LTSP) PCs are covering...but what have the rest of you experienced
> >     in your own schools?
> > 
> >     With 1:1 as the assumed goal, what ratio will give us the best
> >     bang-for-the-buck along the way?
> > 
> >     --matt
> > 
> >     --
> >     Open Source Software Engineering Consultant
> >     http://majen.net/
> > 
> > 
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> > 
> > 
> > 
> > 
> > 
> > 
> > --
> > ___________________________
> >   Yishay Mor, Researcher, London Knowledge Lab
> >    http://www.lkl.ac.uk/people/mor.html
> >    http://yishaym.wordpress.com
> >    https://www.linkedin.com/in/yishaymor
> >    +44-20-78378888 x5737
> --
> Open Source Software Engineering Consultant
> http://majen.net/
James P. Kinney III          
CEO & Director of Engineering 
Local Net Solutions,LLC        

GPG ID: 829C6CA7 James P. Kinney III (M.S. Physics)
Fingerprint = 3C9E 6366 54FC A3FE BA4D 0659 6190 ADC3 829C 6CA7

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