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My name is Larry Ferlazzo, and I am a Luddite.

Well, maybe not quite a “smash the machine” kind of Luddite.  But, coming from spending nineteen years as a community organizer and seeing that face-to-face relationships are the real glue that can genuinely bind diverse people together in struggles for social change,  I am very suspicious of the general effect technology has on relationships in our society.  And I am equally skeptical of claims that technology can revolutionize our schools.

So what’s a sort of Luddite doing writing in a blog about educational technology, and having his own blog about using technology in the teaching of English as a Second Language, not to mention being the Grand Prize Winner of the International Reading Association Presidential Award for Reading and Technology?

Well, I believe, and a number of studies have shown, that used in an appropriate manner, technology can indeed have a significant impact on academic achievement for second language learners and learning disabled students.  I’m an ESL teacher in the largest inner-city high school (over half of our students are English Language Learners) in Sacramento, California, and we have used technology successfully with our immigrant students and their families, including providing home computers and DSL service to assist them in studying English.  I’ve also begun working with the Special Education department at our school to expand their use of technology with students.

In terms of mainstream students, I do think it’s important for schools to equip our students with basic computer skills.  I’ve also seen, experienced, and read about teachers and students doing extraordinary projects with technology that have been very engaging and have had tremendous educational value, which I think should be encouraged and supported.  I’m also aware of many extraordinary projects that I believe have had an equal or greater impact on student achievement that haven’t used any high-tech gizmos at all, and I believe those should be encouraged and supported, too.  I’ve seen teachers use technology in useless ways, and have seen terrible lessons not using technology.  The key, I believe, has been the teacher and not the tools.  I’m not a Web 2.0 True Believer.

I use technology with my non-ESL students, but I don’t use it during my classtime with them.  They all have a Computer Applications class and that teacher has agreed to let my students do technology-related projects (that I assign) connected to my class during part of his classtime.  They use that time to write online about various topics and comment on each other’s journals.  I’ve found that using a web application called Your Draft is easier, at least for my students and me, than a blog.  I create a webpage, post an online journal link for each student, and they can very easily just click on it and write, or copy and paste.  On that same page they create a myriad of other Web 2.0 projects related to the unit we are studying at the time.  One example is using a great site called Fleck to annotate webpages with virtual yellow post-its to demonstrate the use of reading strategies.  Here’s an example of a student demonstrating the use of “asking questions” in our study of Natural Disasters.

Would I use my own classtime with them to use these programs?  Sometimes, sure, but probably not a whole lot.  This way, though, I, in effect, get an extra half-hour a day working with my ninth grade regular English students in a way they find very engaging.  I think they would also say they are also very engaged when they are in our class and not using technology.

I don’t even like to use much technology when I give workshops on using the Web with English Language Learners.  In these workshops, as in my own classroom, I’m a fan of transparencies and overhead projectors.  Tech conference organizers usually think I’m kidding when I ask if there will be an overhead projector in my room.  But I think it’s safe to say that teachers who come to my workshops (and students in my classes) are just fine with it.  Again, I’ve seen some great workshops using high-tech gear, and I’ve also seen some real disasters.  Equally, I’ve been in some loser low-tech trainings and some great ones, too.  It’s the presenter, not his/her tools.

What do you think?  Am I just being a fuddy-duddy “digital immigrant?”

12 Responses to “How Did A Guy Like Me End Up Blogging In A Place Like This?”

  1. [...] How Did A Guy Like Me End Up Writing In A Place Like This? is the title of a post I’ve just written for the blog In Practice.  In Practice is a collective effort by a number of teachers in lower-income schools, and is being spearheaded by Alice Mercer. [...]

  2. Doug Noon says:

    Hi Larry,
    Thanks for the links to the writing tools. I think I might be able to use the fleck thing for my own notetaking. In fact, that’s kind of the acid test for whether I use something with my students.

    I share your conservatism about using technology with students, mainly because it’s usually simpler to get things done with paper and books, which are still quite common in schools. Being an elementary teacher, though, means that if I don’t teach students how to do things with computers, nobody does. So we use them – sometimes more effectively than others.

    If kids go through elementary school without any technology experience, and then get to high school where they also don’t use computers, many of them may never have the opportunity.

  3. [...] Larry Felazzo’s post at “In Practice” does a good job of reassuring me that experiential, cultural and behavioral diversities exist everywhere, and that standardizing the use of technology is probably an impossible task… [...]

  4. Doug,

    Thanks for the comment. I’m certainly in agreement that basic training in computer skills is important in elementary schools.

    I’m amazed to find now how many of our high school students, including those born in the United States, don’t know where to type in url addresses or how to “copy and paste.”

    Larry

  5. Brian Crosby says:

    Larry – The really sad thing is that you could substitiute “teachers” (not just high school teachers though) for student in your comment above and it still rings true.
    Brian

  6. [...] use my old-fashioned overhead projector.  I’ll still bring it, just in case (see my post in In Practice). addthis_url = [...]

  7. Dorothy Burt says:

    Hi Larry
    I enjoyed reading your post and I agree with your statement:
    The key, I believe, has been the teacher and not the tools.

    However, I am an eLearning true believer as well as a died-in-the-wool literacy teacher, and I also teach in a school with high NESB numbers (66%). We are designated a Decile1a school in our system, which means – you probably guessed already- the lowest socio economic group in the nation.

    One of the difficulties low decile schools face is attracting consistently high quality staff ( I have just been reading Michael Fullan’s book : “Turn Around Leadership” and on p22 he says that problem is common to all such schools). So what do we do if the teacher is NOT the key to engaging students in learning? It is my belief and observation that eLearning can step up for us.

    I am typing this after presenting at our staff meeting today the initial findings of my year’s research into how podcasting (with a very narrowly targeted programme, KPE or Korero Pt England) has raised reading outcomes for our learners. The results are pretty exciting, but our discerning staff members accused me with that very thing you have posed: “How do we know it is podcasting that has brought about this outcome and not an inspirational teacher?”

    Well, because the case study was across 5 classes, not all the teachers were equally skilled and the students made it clear that it was the podcasting, not the teacher, that hooked them into reading, to start with.

    I am not for a moment suggesting that I believe technology can replace a teacher, but I have seen with our NESB and Maori students how 21st technologies will ‘hook’ students into learning. More stories about that to come…

    All the best

    Dorothy, Auckland, New Zealand

  8. mrferlazzo says:

    Dorothy,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I’d love to hear more about what you did with podcasting, and the research results. Perhaps you could write something more about it to share?

    I would say that a well-constructed and engaging curriculum can definitely help raise student achievement across the board even with mixed-level teachers. At our school, for example, we have an extraordinary ninth and tenth grade English curriculum that we all use that has resulted in substantial student improvement. It doesn’t use technology, though.

    I’m sure that a well-constructed and engaging curriculum that uses technology — which it sounds like you’ve developed– can have the same effect on students.

    Perhaps it would be more accurate for me to say that I believe “it’s the teacher and the curriculum” and not the tools. A curriculum that uses technology “tools” effectively, I’m sure, can be successful. I’m just not convinced quite yet that using technology in an engaging way is necessarily more effective than using a good curriculum that doesn’t use technology.

    I am, however, considering doing an experiment next year to try to determine the answer to this question — for myself, at least. I’ll share more about that once, and if, it gets worked out.

  9. mrferlazzo says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I’d love to hear more about what you did with podcasting, and the research results. Perhaps you could write something more about it to share?

    I would say that a well-constructed and engaging curriculum can definitely help raise student achievement across the board even with mixed-level teachers. At our school, for example, we have an extraordinary ninth and tenth grade English curriculum that we all use that has resulted in substantial student improvement. It doesn’t use technology, though.

    I’m sure that a well-constructed and engaging curriculum that uses technology — which it sounds like you’ve developed– can have the same effect on students.

    Perhaps it would be more accurate for me to say that I believe “it’s the teacher and the curriculum” and not the tools. A curriculum that uses technology “tools” effectively, I’m sure, can be successful. I’m just not convinced quite yet that using technology in an engaging way is necessarily more effective than using a good curriculum that doesn’t use technology.

    I am, however, considering doing an experiment next year to try to determine the answer to this question — for myself, at least. I’ll share more about that once, and if, it gets worked out.

  10. [...] to technology, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer (not to mention being sort of a Luddite).  I need things very, very [...]

  11. [...] though I use a lot of technology in my personal and professional life, I still, in my heart, am a Luddite and am technologically [...]

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