Education Chat

Tune In, Turn Off

This chat focuses on how educators are dealing with the constant influx of technological gadgetry into the classroom.

Tune In, Turn Off

April 12, 2006

Our guests: La Donna Conner, instructional technology specialist for the Carrolton-Farmers Branch schools (near Dallas), and
Alan Warhaftig, English teacher at the Fairfax Magnet Center for Visual Arts in Los Angeles, and technology columnist for Teacher Magazine.

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):
Welcome to today’s online chat about how educators are dealing with the constant influx of new technologies, such as iPods, that students are bringing to school. Should schools embrace the presence of those technologies and harness their powers for learning? Or are there good arguments for schools to restrict the presence and use of such gadgetry? We have some great questions waiting to be answered. So let’s get the discussion started ...

Question from MaryJac Reed, teacher, Norwalk Public Schools, Norwalk CT:
Should schools prohibit use of electronic gadgets? (currently my school does; would like to hear comments from others)

Alan Warhaftig:
These devices encourage the eminent distractibility of children. Too many kids “don’t have their head in the game” and regard school as either an inevitable purgatory or a place to socialize rather than to learn. Gadgets are badges of cool, which means they need to be in hand rather than in the backpack, where they aren’t visible to others.

If students are texting in class, playing with their phones, or thinking about whom they’re going to call at lunch, they aren’t paying enough attention during World History. If they’re using their phone during lunch, they aren’t using the time to prepare for their Geometry test the next period.

Theft of expensive electronics is a problem that comes up regularly, and students use cell phones to arrange fights during and after school.

After the Columbine H.S. shootings, it doesn’t seem possible to ban cell phones at school. Probably the best schools can do is define when and how electronic devices may be used (other than academically) during the school day. Personally, I favor a strict approach because I want students to focus on learning while they’re at school.

Question from Joe Petrosino, Mid career Student , Penn:
In an effort to get school leaders and faculty to use hand held technology, there must be a climate of trust established. How can I get the school community to embrace technology without them having to feel as if it is being forced upon them.Can I use today’s technology to establish a culture of trust in the school?

La Donna Conner:
I belive one way to establish a climate of trust is communication. Using today’s technologies can begin to open those lines of communication, for instance, Dr. Tim Tyson of Mabry Middle School in Georgia podcasts what is happening on his campus and his teachers podcast what is happening in their classrooms ( My district, Carrollton-Farmers Branch in Texas podcasts what is happening at the district level (

Question from Mary F. Spence, School Psychologist:
Could you please provide your view on whether banning various forms of technology is a recommended practice and why? How are such limitations viewed in light of assistive technology requirements of IEPs? Thanks!

La Donna Conner:
As a former classroom teacher, I certainly understand the need for a policy addressing the use of certain technologies. However, I believe sometimes those policies need to be revisited with changing technology. My district does have a policy prohibiiting the use of cell phones, iPods, etc. during the school day. When we were given permission to start the iPod Pilot this was an issue we addressed with our Administrtors, they saw the potential that the iPods provided and were willing to allow them to be used during the school day, as long as they were used in the classroom participating in the pilot. In my opinion, I think it would be a shame that a student would not have access to a tool that might help them be successful in school because of a district policy.

Question from Maryalice Turner, ODE:
What are some of your school board policies regarding student use of cell phones and other devices during the school day? Has there been effort to curtail because of cheating, inappropriate photography of tests or students changing clothes for PE, etc?

La Donna Conner:
The policy in my district prohibits students from having cell phones, iPods, etc. during the school day. This policy was estabished several years ago and becasue of the success of the iPod Pilot is being revisited this year.

Question from Martha Foster, Retired teacher, HoustonISD:
Obviously, if the extraneous technology is interruptive, the school must make and enforce rules concerning the ‘gadgets’ students are bringing to school. This has become a BIG problem in many schools. On the other hand, you can always take the stand ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. This must be primarily directed to upper grades (?), so is it possible for these ‘gadgets/ gizmos’ to be used in the classroom in a positive educational way? Are there any efforts being made to train teachers to be innovative enough to cause learning to take place making use of some of these popular gizmos? My expertise in primarily in the lower grades, and as technological as I try to be, I would be hard put to come up with an answer for that. There must be some innovative ‘geek’ out there that could come up with a plan to turn gizmos into PB learning and be willing to share it. They could become the “future Bill Gates of educational/ technology applications”.

Alan Warhaftig:
Before teachers can be trained, appropriate uses need to be defined, and from what I can see, this has not gotten very far. Billions of educational technology dollars have been spent on hardware, networking, software and technical support, and almost no money has been spent on planning curricular integration or teacher professional development. I discuss this in the May/June issue of Teacher Magazine.

There are certainly teachers who have found clever, educationally valuable ways to integrate technology in their classrooms, but they are exceptions rather than the rule.

As for the “gadgets/gizmos” our students bring to class, I will regard them as distractions until their educational value is demonstrated.

Question from Beyene Robi (Teacher) - DCPS:
As educational technologist, I see the advantages of integrating of instructional technologies into classroom setting in terms of; (1) increasing the number of ways students access instruction, (2) for tutoring purposes, and (3) for assessment purposes. As such, the use of instructional technologies complements the teaching-learning efforts. However, some colleagues (teachers) are still technology phobia. Are there resources/ funds /programs to educate technology-phobia teachers on the proper integration of educational technology into classroom setting? (Please list the major sources)

Beyene Robi.

La Donna Conner:
I think this is a very difficult question to answer.

In my opinion, the most important way to get technology-phobic teachers to incorporate technology into their curriculum starts at the top, with the expectation of the administrators.

I am very fortunate to work in a district where, from the School Board to the Superintendent to the building Principal, the expectation is that all teachers will incorporate technology into their curriculum. Did this happen overnight? Absolutely not, but as the technology-phobic teachers saw what was happening in other classrooms and they were provided opportunities to attend in-district technology integration training and provided instructional support, district-wide teachers integrate technology in their curriculum.

Question from MaryJac Reed, teacher, Norwalk Public Schools, Norwalk CT:
What can we do to better socialize the M-GEN?

Recently, I let students use iPods in class while they were working on a self-paced curriculum unit. I was introduced to their lack of social skills with regard to gadgetry. One student called me over to ask a question, then made me wait until the song finished, and saw nothing wrong with that.

Alan Warhaftig:
You’re right: kids don’t know, and technology is important to them in a different way than it is to us. Busy adults regard technology as a means to accomplish specific purposes, whether to acquire information, make purchases, or communicate efficiently. They also know how to behave like adults.

For kids, technology seems to be more – a pillar of their existence. Today’s children will reveal the impact of technology on socialization, and I hope we won’t regret the results. It’s a subject I explored four years ago in “The Prom Will Not Be Webcast,” a commentary for Education Week.

I recommend Kevin Bushweller’s “Tune in, Turn Off,” in the March-April issue of Teacher Magazine. I was impressed by how Kevin’s son and his teammates distanced themselves from their immediate environment with their iPods and cell phones. Does technology inhibit development of children’s capacity to interact at close range? Will the sensory input of the real world seem too overwhelming to children accustomed to multitasking? I don’t have answers to these questions, but Kevin concluded, quite correctly in my view, that parents have to set boundaries for children when it comes to technology.

Question from Doug Kirby - Faculty Member & Project Lead - Strategy Initiative at Portland Community College:
Our white paper to be presented to the Board of Directors at PCC addresses the question; “What shall teaching, learning, and technology look like in 2020?”

What predictions do you see?

Many thanks, Doug Kirby

Alan Warhaftig:
I’m less impressed by change than by continuity, so I expect that brick and mortar schools will continue as they have for several millennia – with groups of children in classrooms guided by adult teachers.

Technology offers significant possibilities, but its importance in K-12 education has probably been overstated. If learning requires consideration of important texts, it doesn’t fundamentally matter whether the texts are printed on paper or in digital form. If students must learn to express ideas, it’s the ideas and the expression that matter, not whether it was done with a pen or a computer. It’s about the mind, not the medium.

Technology enables unprecedented access to current events, historical materials and cultural artifacts. It will be interesting to see what that access costs in 2020, as it’s not likely to be free.

By 2020, the proper place of technology in teaching and learning will be better defined, but I’m concerned about what we do in the interim. My common-sense rule is: Use technology in academic classes only if it allows you to teach what you’re supposed to teach better than you could do it without technology.

When this rule isn’t followed, precious instructional time is lost and kids pay the price.

Question from Jana Jackson, COVITS (Commonwealth of Virginia Innovative Technology Symposium):
For his COVITS 2006, the Secretary of Technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia has asked my team to plan discussions around enabling technologies for use in preK-12 and post-secondary classrooms. My understanding is that iPods are being used as a delivery mechanism for lectures, and PDA’s and Blackberries are helping students manage schedules and communicate with instructors and project teams in college. We see a gap in students being engaged in learning at school between 6th grade and college. This gap includes an epidemic 26% dropout rate in Virginia high schools that is followed by ~ 25% return-rate (i.e., GED is obtained, young adult enters college) by the age of 25.

How do K-12 educators (specifically grades 6-12) envision that these types of personal technologies can be embraced in ways that are engaging to teens participating in instutionalized education?

La Donna Conner:
iPods, PDA’s, cell phones, these are being used by students every day in there personal lives, they are becoming the common-place tool. Students being able to view a video on an iPod prior to class leaves more time for class discussions. Podcasting class lectures allows the students to listen anytime, any place. If as educators we can use technologies the students are already using in their day-to-day lives as a vehicle for learning, we need to do just that.

Question from John Blake, Teacher/Webmaster:
How can a classroom teacher address “texting” and loud ring tones? It is not part of our training and school policy is vague at best.

Alan Warhaftig:
Sounds like your school needs to clarify its policy.

In my opinion, cell phones should not be turned on when students are in the classroom. Why should they be turned on if students aren’t allowed to use them? If there’s a true emergency, parents should call the school. If it’s not a true emergency, callers can leave a voicemail regardless of whether the phone is turned on.

At our school, cell phones are confiscated from students who use them in class, and the student must serve five hours of detention before the phone is returned.

Question from Virginia Jordan:
There seems to be a push thwarted by education gurus and technology junkies, for educators and units affiliated with education, e.g. libraries, to use emergent technologies to aid in teaching and communicating with students. I think the push comes with very little discussion as to the appropriateness of applying various technologies; rather it seems to be about getting educators and librarians to simply use gadgetry because it is available. It is similar to the push to get computers in schools in the 1990’s, and those on the frontlines- again, teachers and librarians were like, now what? replace the blackboard with the computer screen? Maybe I’m off the mark.

Alan Warhaftig:
The Holy Grail is appropriate use. How should technology be used in education, and this must be defined grade level by grade level and discipline by discipline. If there are great uses, we should adopt them and share them with everyone teaching that grade level and that discipline. If there are only mediocre uses, we should draw the line and stop telling teachers that they must employ technology at every turn.

Unfortunately, the strategy has been to buy boxes and install wires and hope that things turn out. I think that’s unrealistic and an incredible waste of time and money.

Question from Sally Delpizzo, MAT grad student, SUNY New Paltz:
We were discussing this very issue at my last field observation (with teachers in study hall). We need certain kinds of technology to enhance lesson plans, but there is also the issue of having to deal with the misuse of technology by our students. For instance, one teacher does not ban cell phones, just asks students to keep them turned off, and they were used outside to take pics for an English writing project. Another teacher bans them altogether and will confiscate all phones till the end of her class. The school bans cell phones, but apparently it is not enforced. How can individual teachers be expected to “make up their own minds” about tech. use, and yet expect students to use tech. in the school?

La Donna Conner:
In my opinion, there needs to be a school or district policy in place, that is supported by administrators and teachers. This may take a great deal of compromise, but if the teachers are confused, think how the students feel. Without a school or district policy in place that is supported and enforced by all, in my opinion, it is virtually impossible to enforce random polices.

Question from Debbie Dobbs Vernon, grant coordinator, Grand Prairie High School:
Teachers are sometimes the most resistant to tech toys in the classroom due to lack of training in implementing technology in their lessons. How do you propose to find the time and resources to train teachers and more importantly, buy into the technology craze?

Alan Warhaftig:
If teachers are resistant, is it due to lack of training or lack of proven efficacy? Where’s the independent research, not commissioned by a vendor, to show that “tech toys” improve learning? That they do more than distract is, at best, hopeful speculation.

We need to concern ourselves with what students are supposed to learn and how that can best be taught. State standards, for better or worse, are our marching orders; what remains is how best to teach to these standards, and this is where technology may or may not come in. There are a lot of exaggerated claims about how technology will transform learning, and I simply haven’t seen evidence to support the pretty picture painted by vendors and true believers.

Rather than trying to find time and resources to train people to “buy into the technology craze,” I suggest that we expand efforts to define appropriate use of technology – grade level by grade level and discipline by discipline. Then, meaningful professional development can be designed.

Question from Carlos Carmona, School Psychology student at Millersville University:
Do you think its possible to have textbook companies provide audio versions of their books for kids to play in their Ipods and other audio devices while they commute to school,etc

La Donna Conner:
Textbook companies already provide many ancillary materials with their textbooks, so in my opinion I think this could be an excellent tool for students to be able to listen to books on their iPods, just think of the possibilities for ESL students, visually impaired students and students who are ADD.

Question from Peter Thorpe, Math Teacher, Vallejo (CA) High School:
Parents will not stop their children from using these hand held distractions (cell phones, etc.) at school. Any suggestions for gaining effective parental support?

Alan Warhaftig:
Some parents are difficult no matter what, about everything from academics to behavior. Some phone their children during school hours, even though they know that cell phone use is not allowed. Go figure.

One of our students recently forged a MySpace page, posting a teacher’s photograph without permission. That student also posted inappropriate comments before the page was taken down, apparently believing he was in a room in which he could scream whatever he wanted without consequences.

The father of the boy, a hardworking immigrant, was stunned. He had sacrificed to buy his son a laptop for Christmas to facilitate schoolwork, and instead the boy was using it to misbehave on MySpace.

In my experience, most parents are supportive – and genuinely disappointed when their children stray from the righteous path.

Question from Dr. R. M. Gallet, MOA Coordinator, California Department of Education:
Thank you for this excellent opportunity. I have two questions: 1) How do teachers who may not have an interest in technology learn of ways to capture student interest in different content areas?

2) Can you share examples of strategies being used by teachers to integrate technology in their classroom, across content areas? (I am hoping to learn something new outside of integration of web searches, video streaming and realtime dialogue and such online experiences.)

La Donna Conner:
Teachers in my district have many opportunities to learn about technology integration, from the Technology Integration Academy held during the summer to the Beyond Hardware Initiative training provided during the school year. Both of these provide teachers with a small group training, focused on a curriculum objective, using technology as the tool to teach the SE (student expectation). We provide training in everything from FrontPage to Kidspiration to how to use the teacher presentation cart our district provides - this cart includes a computer, a data projector, a document camera, a VCR (we are after all in education and have many tapes in our school libraries) and speakers.

I think the number one way teachers who do not really embrace technology, begin to have an interest is when they see the exciting things their team mates are doing using technology.

Aside from what you have mentioned, our teachers use iMovie (even though we are primarily a PC district) to integrate technology across content areas. There is a tremendous amount of research, storyboarding, writing, and editing incorporated when the students create their movies.

Question from Debra Pierce, Associate Professor, IvyTech Community College of Indiana:
Recently, at a presentation for faculty, sales reps from a large textbook publisher showed us new products that are available to students using their textbooks. They are a “main points” version of the text... offering only highlights/abbreviated versions of each chapter that the students can purchase (inexpensively), on a chapter by chapter basis, to download as audio lecture, to an iPod. I asked the rep whether they were “shooting themselves in the foot” with this product, because students (it would seem to me) would prefer to do this than purchase a $100+ textbook and then have to read it all. They told us that there are many students who just do not purchase a course textbook at all, but would be apt to purchase this alternative. They would be marketing to this type of student, but realize that the traditional texbook-buyer may also be swayed to this alternative... but they have to take that chance. Can you comment on this?

Alan Warhaftig:
The first thought that comes to mind is Ian Parker’s “Absolute Powerpoint,” which appeared in the May 28, 2001 issue of The New Yorker. In it he mentioned a professor at Stanford who dropped a book from his syllabus because he couldn’t figure out how to “powerpoint it.”

Colleges have to decide whether they’re going to maintain academic rigor or do lightweight glosses. It’s a marketing decision that, over time, will affect the value of their brand. Lazy students may flock to colleges that don’t challenge them, but employers and grad schools will recognize these applicants as products of inferior institutions.

For years it has been possible to purchase lecture notes in lieu of attending class, so it isn’t surprising that publishers would seek new revenue streams by selling summary podcasts. It may appear that they’re cannibalizing their own business, but production and distribution costs are lower than for big, thick textbooks, so it’s likely very profitable for them.

Question from Susan Murphy Visual Arts teacher, Central Middle School Eden Prairie, MN:
What are the programs that are effectively integrating the tech gizmos students as a part of the class curriculum? I know that various college instructors have done thise, it might be an effective strategy to join the students, rather than spend hours constructing roadblocks to the stuff they like to play with.

Why not harnass their stuff to be part of the learning environment and daily lessons?

La Donna Conner:
In Carrollton-Farmers Branch we have an iPod Pilot which is very successful, the teachers podcast assignments and students sync their iPods so they can listen anytime and place. I once heard Dr. Tim Tyson, Principal at Mabry Middle School in Georgia make the statement, “If students can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.” In my opinion, these tech gizmos may just be one of the tools we need to use.

Question from James Carlisle, Univ of Phoenix, Student of Education:
The Special Warfare School at Ft. Bragg NC teaches Special Forces, Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations soldiers their jobs including language skills. The school has embraced I-Pods for language training with significant success. Is there any way that this concept might be addopted by elementary school language programs so as to provide more education than fits in the normal school day?

La Donna Conner:
Absolutely! We have iPod Shuffles in kindergarten classrooms and iPods in middle school and high school classrooms to assist our ESL population.

Question from Michael Moreno, writer, Los Angeles:
Will integration of iPods into curriculum pose a control problem when these devices are not being used for classroom purposes?

La Donna Conner:
It could, but in my opinion, when you set the expectations upfront with the teachers and students, then you have fewer problems later on. If the school or district has a policy that the iPods can only be used in specific classrooms and the student violates that policy they are subject to the same consequences as a student who brought a personal iPod to the campus.

Question from Dixie Dozier, Teacher, Smiley Elementary:
I guess I am drawn to “gadgets” because I see how interested to students get using them. How big do you think podcasting will become and do you think there would be a big benefit in jumping on this type of instructional medium? This may determine how others “view” students who use iPods (in an instructional way instead of solely for music)

La Donna Conner:
I think podcasting provides the opportunity for teachers to post class notes, vocabulary, text files, even video for the students to be able to access 24/7. Students can listen to the podcasting even without an iPod or mp3 player, they simply need access to a computer. The power of podcasting is the anytime anywhere access.

Question from Eric Mandell, Student Support Specialist, LIU #12 Migrant Education Program:
Do you happen to know if any schools have created an open forum for students to help educators better determine the possiblities of implementing technology in our classrooms. As of late - it seems adults are busy trying to figure out what is best for students - Has anyone listened to what students have to say about their future and the role we as educators could take in helping them succeed in a new telematic age?

La Donna Conner:
We have focus groups organized at the end of each school year these groups do include students (K-12) and their opinions are valued.

Question from Eric Mandell, Student Support Specialist, LIU #12 Migrant Education Program:
1.What are some successful strategies for creating a balance between appropriate and inappropriate uses of technology during the school day? (Aside from reviewing a tech plan and / or signed AUP’s)

2.Does discouraging students from bringing tech related products to school send a pessimistic message about technology?

3.How can a school become better prepared for utilizing rather than confiscating or outlawing the different tech gadgets students seem to be bringing to school on an regular basis?

La Donna Conner:
There needs to be a policy in place, whether it is a district level or building level policy that all parties can agree to. If the expectations for the use of the tool is set at the beginning then there are fewer issues later on, just like classroom expectations are set by teachers at the begining of the school year. The students in our classrooms are of a different generation, they use cell phones, iPods, PDAs, etc. as a normal part of their day-to-day lives, we need to embrace these tools and use them to our advantage, not discourage the use of them. When implementing anything new, whether it is technology related or not, planning in the beginning is critical to the success of program.

Question from Ruth Bahr, science teacher, Liberty Junior High:
TIME magazine had a recent article about the damage caused to areas of the developing brain when overloaded by technology. Your opinion of that article, if you saw it?

Alan Warhaftig:
The article in Time (March 27, 2006) was very interesting, and the questions it raises about public health and cultural change are profound and may take decades to answer. Will use of technology accelerate or alter the course of our evolution? Will natural selection require multitasking as an adaptation for survival, or does diminished awareness of our immediate surroundings place us at greater risk of being consumed by critters with a different concept of the food chain? Does paying simultaneous attention to many things diminish our capacity to pay full attention to one thing? In time, historians may regard the companies that sold us technology as no better than those that sold tobacco.

Developmental and health research on sustained technology use by young people should have been done before most kids in America had a computer, cell phone and two or three other devices, but that’s not how the marketplace works. If there are ill effects, society will just have to pick up the pieces and pay the price. I’m afraid that the ship has sailed.

Question from Ping Wang, SUNY New Paltz:
I am a Chinese student in TESOL program. Students are forbidden to use any gizmo in class in Chinese schools, although many students have cell phones and MP 3. So, I am eager to know how to use cell phone and MP 3 for teaching ESL appropriately? Thank you for any suggested information or resources.

La Donna Conner:
We are using iPods in a pilot in my district with middle school and high school students. The teachers podcast things like vocabulary, stories, skits, pre-recorded books, pictures, etc. to help the students learn the language ( The students also podcast stories they read and specific vocabulary assignments the teacher then syncs their iPod and use the audio files for assessment. The wonderful thing about using this kind of tool is that the students have access to correct pronunciation, spelling, etc, 24/7, not just during the class period.

Question from Linda Armour, Principal, Lakeside High School:
All year long I have dealt with the problem of cell phones. What strategies are other high schools using to alleviate the possession and use of the cell phones on campus? Also what are the consequences that are attached? I need to strengthen my policy.

Alan Warhaftig:
Expect to deal with the problem next year as well. And the year after that.

I wish I had a great answer. Los Angeles Unified allows students to have cell phones at school but leaves it to schools to formulate policy about when they can be used. I’m told that the district is reexamining its policy.

Our school’s policy has been that cell phones cannot be used at all during the school day, but that has led to many confrontations with students who believe that the right to use a cell phone at any time is God-given. If a phone is taken away, the student must serve five hours of detention before it is returned.

Our school’s policy will change next week, and students will be allowed to use phones during nutrition and lunch but not inside the buildings. In addition to the detention, parents will need to come to school to receive the phone. I’m not optimistic.

Comment from Linda Brown, Adjunct Faculty, Pima Community College:
Since I began teaching as an adjunct faculty member in the local community college, my syllabus has included a section concerning the use of cellphones and other electronic devices in the classroom. Students are allowed to use their devices before class and in the hallway or outside the building during class breaks. Some instructors have gone so far as to deduct points from a student’s overall grade for ignoring the syllabus directives. I believe that students must be aware of how their actions impact the surrounding environment and the difference between appropriate/inappropriate social interactions.

Question from Patricia McNerney (University of Cincinnati):
You mentioned in an earlier answer “Use technology in academic classes only if it allows you to teach what you’re supposed to teach better than you could do it without technology”. However, is there any danger in not utilizing appropriate technology since students need technology skills as the interface to accomplish their work when they enter the workforce? As a technologist, I agree with your statement to some extent, but I have seen students suffer from jobs due to lack of technology skills since some teachers seem to use this statement as a reason not to integrate technology

Alan Warhaftig:
I refer you to the argument I made in “Rounded Edges,” in the January-February issue of Teacher Magazine.

The standards I am obliged to teach in language arts are highly academic, requiring development of reading, thinking and writing skills. We are supposed to prepare students for higher education.

The best teachers I know are always pressed for time, and unless technology allows them to accomplish their primary responsibilities more effectively, they aren’t going to devote class time to multimedia.

Students should be required to demonstrate technology proficiency to graduate high school, but should this come at the cost of content in math, science, social studies, fine arts and language arts?

Question from Dr. Kevin Carl, Principal, Northwest Valley 7th and 8th Grade Center:
What techniques are schools using to effectively regulate (and balance) the interruptions / distractions that can be caused by technological gagetry and the school’s need to maintain a focused adademic environment?

Alan Warhaftig:
Again, I wish I had a great answer. I teach honors English to juniors and seniors, and when we read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man or Shakespeare’s The Tempest, I need 100% of their attention – anything less and they’re lost.

This is even more important for students who are not high achievers, who are struggling with reading, writing and math year after year. A lot of kids have one foot out the door and the other on a banana peel. Having gadgets to distract them doesn’t promote success, and they’ll be challenged to afford their gadgets if they drop out or don’t go on to higher education.

Question from Jonathan Seal, Grad Student, University of Connecticut, and Math Teacher, Norwich Techincal High School:
How do you allow technology and keep students from using in for cheating purposes, for example texting answers back and forth?

Alan Warhaftig:
Cheating has clearly been transformed by technology, though it remains a character problem rather than a technological one.

The only solution is to require students to put their communication devices away before a test – to clear their desks and not have their cell phones on their person. Then watch them like a hawk. Of course, this erodes trust in the classroom and takes much of the pleasure out of teaching.

A more serious problem, from my perspective as an English teacher, is falsification of writing – whether by purchasing papers, exchanging them with friends, or copying work other students have proudly posted on their web pages.

It’s a brave new world we live in.

Question from Arthur Chiaravalli, Teacher, Meridian High School:
Do any of these gizmos hold lasting promise for education? In what ways do they differ from other technological developments of the past (radio, TV) that were falsely heralded as having the potential to bring about a fundamental shift in pedogogical paradigms?

Alan Warhaftig:
It’s one thing to promise, another to deliver what has been promised.

Many technologies, from filmstrips to video, were seen as revolutionizing education, but we’re all still waiting. You might want to read Larry Cuban’s book about the history of technology in education.

I don’t dismiss the potential of technology in education. I just think we should be careful about making substantial investments before there is proof of efficacy.

Question from Dave Emke, graduate student, SUNY Cortland:
Do you feel that cellphones, especially those with picture and video technology included, have a place in the English classroom? While students would probably jump at the opportunity to incorporate these devices into projects, do you think the risk of misuse is too great?

Alan Warhaftig:
Photography and video have a place in the language arts classroom, and if a teacher has a good lesson in mind, they should be used – whether the low quality image produced by a cell phone or the better images produced by a standalone camera or camcorder.

Question from Stav Birnbaum, Producer, Scholastic:
I would like to know if teachers are using podcasts in their classrooms and how.

La Donna Conner:
We have several teachers podcasting. They podcast vocabulary words, stories, skits, and pictures to help students learn the language. We have a teacher who podcasts information to enhance his lectures on Texas history (

Question from Sharon Texley, Program Associate, Learning Point Associates:
How does the flood of such tech devices make us question the methods and even goals of education in the 21st century?

Alan Warhaftig:
I’m concerned that the rationale for technology in schools is largely vocational – the main point of my article, “Rounded Edges,” which appeared in the January-February issue of Teacher Magazine.

We’re supposed to be teaching to extremely rigorous standards, and the countertrend of preparing students for the work force doesn’t always square with our basic responsibility.

Question from Brian Dzwonek Director 29-90 Distance Learning Consortium:
How do you anticipate video podcasts will impact learning environments do you have any links to good examples, I have watched a few on Google Video.

La Donna Conner:
We are just beginning to use Video iPods, in my district, but I see a lot of potential for them. I think Georgia State College and University has the right idea about the use of iPods in the educational arena.

Question from Deb Hatfield, Instructional Designer, National Center for Family Literacy:
Would you talk more about the iPod Project? I’d like more information about it, thanks.

La Donna Conner:
We have 2 middle school Newcomer classes, 1 high school ESL I class and 1 high school French IV class as well as 1 kindergarten class invovled in the pilot. At the secondary level each student was issued a Photo iPod. At the elementary level, the kindergarten teacher has 8 Shuffles that she rotates sending home with her students. The idea is to provide a tool to the students that will provide them with any time any place access to their teacher. The teachers podcast vocabular words, skits, stories, songs (for rhyming) and pictures that the students can then review at any time. It provides the students the opportunity to listen to the teacher more than just the hour in the classroom. The teachers have seen their students vocabulary grow tremendously by using the iPods on a daily basis.

Question from Awilda Hernandez, Elementary teacher, Private School in Puerto Rico:
In our school we teach the three levels (Elementary, Middle and High School) and it’s surprising how kids from every level are carrying one of those gadgets. Although I’m not against technology at all, we have some rules in order to run the school. But, how can we persuade them and their parents to use them only when they are allowed?

La Donna Conner:
In my opinion the parents have to see the value of the tool being used. I think when they can see how things like iPods can benefit their student, they become more open to the use of the tool.

Question from Sheila Adams, teacher, Rye Jr. High:
I have a health related question. How are most schools handling the use of headphones? I’d like to be able to do some lessons that require headphones.

La Donna Conner:
We have recommended if the teachers are going to rotate the use of the equipment that each student have their own earbuds.

Question from Joe Bellacero, NYC Writing Project:
I’m curious about how we might be able to use these technologies in the classroom in the service of educational righteousness.

Alan Warhaftig:
Personally, I love technology, and I use it all the time to improve instruction. Over the years, I have used the internet to chase down almost all of the musical references in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I’d enter a text string in a search engine, and I’d find the song the words came from. I’d find recordings of the songs and purchase them from online vendors – they were too obscure to find in stores. When the CDs arrived, I’d transfer the relevant tracks to my iPod (now more than six years old).

I also prepare extensive background packets for the students, profusely illustrated with photographs and art found on the web. I have a 15 page color handout on English History - which provides context for both The Scarlet Letter and The Tempest.

As educators, we must always focus on what we teach and try to make it better for our students each time. If that’s what we’re doing, the result will meet my definition of “righteous.”

Kevin Bushweller (Moderator):

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