Sex and Tech

I thought this title might get your attention, and I am going to talk about sex and tech, but more in the context of current events and personal observations. It looks like the bastions of male dominance in Silicon Valley may have received some sexual sensitivity training over the past week.  Oh, I know that Ellen Pao lost her case against Kleiner Perkins this past week, but it also seems that many more women are now pursuing similar cases against some of their tech employers.

These cases will not fit into the category of a sexual revolution I am sure, but may hopefully open many more doors for bright young women who can make their mark in this field.  In the area of social media, I think you will find that young girls and women represent both the early adopters and most consistent users of this technology-enabled means of communication.  In our formal educational systems, I am not quite so sure, particularly as it relates to opportunies for young girls and women to excel in the formal STEM fields: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  To my mind, there may be more social barriers and sexual stereotypes that girls (and boys) will have to overcome in the school setting.  This may very well include the biases held by their parents, teachers, extended family and school community in some cases.

Hope everyone enjoys the beginning of spring, and any time they may have to be with family and friends during this season of renewal.

Ray Myers

Tech-free Time?

I wonder what we would all do if we set aside certain times, days, occasions, etc., when we would all be “tech-free.”  This may be the hardest of all for our children, but for many adults, this would also be a wrenching experience.

I think you will find that some of our educational institutions at all levels are beginning to recognize the value of being “tech-free,” allowing administrators, teachers and professors to impose such restrictions at selected times.  At some schools in the boroughs of New York City, for example, there is a booming cottage industry in the storage of students’ cell phones outside the schools’ doors in renovated ice cream vans. There still may be plenty of technology inside the school, but imposing a ban on cell phones does appear to provide some degree of internal control.

The school building itself may be the last bastion for encouraging socialization (along with learning) across generations.

Ray Myers

Aerogrammes to Emails to FaceTime

So now there are a lot of ways to communicate globally.  Thanks to the Internet we may no longer have to write and read to connect remotely with colleagues, friends and family wherever they may be.  There are now many interactive technological tools that enable us to make these connections without being literate.   The telephone may be the most universally used in this respect.

Let’s consider some of the implications for students in learning about the world around them.  If we replace the book with the digital tablet, are we promoting electronic imagery and sound over printed text and individual imagination.  I recently read that college textbooks were still coveted by students for digesting and reviewing subject matter presented in their classes.  Perhaps this is not very scientific evidence in support of the best methods of learning, or maybe it is more an indication of how lecturing is still the most dominant pedagogy on college campuses?  Could it be that real learning is not going on in the classroom, but on the Internet or with the multitude of digital tools that today’s students possess if they are connected and affluent enough to possess.

The real issue may still be more about an economic divide than a digital one.  But as the title of this article suggests, we can still connect globally in a number of ways.  It may all be a matter of how fast you want it to be, but in this new century, speed makes all the difference.

Ray Myers

Technology, Testing and Data

Remember the good old days when you were taking a test at your desk and carefully shielded your answers from your neighbors’ roaming eyes, or maybe you were one of the roamers?  My, how the world has changed or has it?

Even with the advent of Common Core testing and increased online testing in general, today’s students still face many of the challenges that their parents and grandparents confronted, including – how do I get the right answers if I really didn’t study for the test?  Now we have entered into a more complex pursuit of “fair” testing with parents concerned over the protection of the privacy rights of their children.  Social media has provided a platform for the world’s population to share anything on their minds or pass on any information or disinformation they chose.  Answers to test questions shared by students through online tools such as Twitter and Facebook, may fall into this later category.

I don’t think that educational technology advocates envisioned this answer sharing as one of the “benefits” that technology would bring to teaching and learning.  Many parents are also concerned over how much data is collected on their children and how it is shared with other public and private entities.  One is all about getting the right answer, and the other about ensuring the privacy rights of children.

Ray Myers

Spring Forward for Ed Tech

I used to pack text books during the summer to earn spending money during my college years.  Collier-McMillian was the book company that had its distribution center based in Riverside, New Jersey (still may?)   Textbooks and  blackboards were what teachers and students used almost exclusively in the classroom (maybe some audio-visual aids on special days) at nearly all academic levels in those times (wow, this guy must really be old!).  Now text is giving way to tech as a pervasive learning tool, but the seasonal rituals of selling, distributing, using, and evaluating these tools for future use seem to be as much in place as ever.

Spring is in the air and many professional educational organizations, including those in the educational technology world, are busily convening and preparing for their educational renewal in the fall. The beginning of a cycle that will hopefully help many more students and teachers enjoy a more successful school year than the past one.  Hope springs eternal.

So here I am now, a recently retired federal employee who last worked in the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology.   In that capacity I was very engaged in how technology can improve and increase learning opportunities for all children.  I had spent the previous twenty years of my federal service in the Office of Special Education Programs.  In many ways the impact of technology in educational programming for students with disabilities was blatantly obvious.  Students could now use more digital tools better suited to their individual learning strengths, empowering both students and teachers in reaching new educational goals.

I think that the real key to success in the use of educational technology for all students would be the same recognition that technology is not a “one size fits all” proposition.  Technology has clearly produced more learning options for students, and can be used to help teachers reach all their students.  Let’s all spring forward in a new way.

Ray Myers

The Tech Triangle

For the past ten days, I have been “triangulating ” using technology to communicate from Florida with family across the Atlantic in Paris and then onto family in Maine.  This is not an everyday occurrence for us, but during this time we all happen to be in different places.  This is all made possible with readily available online tools such as Instagram, FaceTime, and good old email.  I am not exactly sure I know what triangulation means, but I think it has a certain alliterative ring in writing this blog.

I am just very grateful and continuously amazed that these connections all work with many more likely to come (at least for us with the connectivity in certain parts of the world).  As a grandparent I also marvel at how our grandchildren also know that these tools can put them in touch with the older generation when and if they want.  Please don’t be confused, there is nothing that will replace real face time, and I think we all have a responsibility to monitor the content and use of technology by our children.

In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, if you like, please feel free to substitute the shamrock as a paradigm for the triangulation discussed above.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Ray Myers

Tech Lessons from the Deep

We all hope that technology will make the world a better place.  At least I hope so, but sometimes I read that other mammals inhabiting this earth may be a little ahead in this game.  They may not have the latest technology or fastest internet access but they have innate instincts that are far superior to anything that human technology can do for them.  Consider the elder female killer whales.  With their extensive knowledge of their environment they can lead younger whales to food in times of scarcity (NY Times, 3/10/15).

They outlive their male counterparts by ten to thirty years, in some cases surviving to the age of ninety.   They in effect become the leaders in ensuring survival for their progeny.  Young males compete with each other for mating opportunities leading to higher mortality rates than their female counterparts.  Fortunately they have their whale matriarchs to help them through times of food supply scarcity.  These ladies had GPS (Global Positioning Systems) long before we even thought of it.

Now I know we are a different species of mammal inheriting this earth, but I think that there are some analogies that can be drawn here.  Women, on average, do outlive men, and their use of technology is different in how they might use it to stay connected and share information, etc., but I think I better stop THERE!

Ray Myers

Tech on the Fly

I used to be bored at airports, but now waiting time can be transformed into “catch up” with work and/or family or just shopping online.  And now thanks to technology, every plane seems to be full, flight prices vary depending on when you booked your flight and/or how you were able to shop online for the best price.  So what do you think about your flying experience in the twenty-first century?

Things surely changed after 9/11 when increased security screening was added, but in the beginning I think it was a very random process depending on where you were flying from.  When I first flew on government travel after the attack, I was “selected” for additional screening even though I had shown them my federal ID and boarding pass.  They were very young screeners and I think I represented the path of least resistance.

So now we know that we have streamlined the airport screening process and apparently increased efficiency in clearing and knowing who is boarding our airplaness but have we lost something in the process.  Flying has become a busier process, and to some extent we are expected to make the most of our time in waiting out delays and generally getting the most of any down time we have because technology enables us to always stay connected.  Oh, and please don’t expect any better service or friendlier skies, since we must now focus on safety, security, and  profitability to the exclusion of all else because technology makes it so?







What’s Your Reality?

So life is full of many choices, and now we have all have a very critical ones to make.  Would you like to live in a virtual or real world?  A bit oversimplified I agree, but we do now have choices that did not exist until technology came along and made it at all possible.  The virtual world may be rapidly becoming the world where we spend much of our waking hours where we work and play online, communicating with increasing ease and access on a twenty-four hour basis.  In a certain sense we can create our own realities in the choices we make.  This was hardly an option that earlier generations had.

Technology can also be a tool that enhances the breadth and meaningfulness of our personal and professional lives.  But access alone does not guarantee this.  I think one of the “twenty-first century skills” that our students and all families must now learn is the prioritizing of our time so as to maximize our life experiences in both worlds.  I am also concerned that many children’s realities are exclusively contained in the four walls, or stories, of their family homes.  Ironically it may be the technology that confines them there physically when the World Wide Web can take them anywhere virtually.

Of course there is always the experience of attending school in a building with other students and teachers.  This reality is also changing with many variations and permutations of how and where students can attend classes, from elementary school through higher education.   Technology has again made this all possible.  A flexibility that surely benefits and enables access for many more learners.  While “old school” advocates may decry such alternatives in learning, this is a “twenty-first century” reality that may make the biggest difference of all.

Read More Books

I have not read a book in months.   When I was working for Uncle Sam there was always plenty of reading time on the Metro on the ride and from work and sometimes in between.  Occasionally, I would have time to look at the local newspapers at home before or after hours in the office.  Now I play with my iPad that also does allow me to download books and other written essays if I am so inclined.  But there are many other diversions on this tech tool that I seem to find entertaining in keeping up with family and friends, following whatever may be the most happening news event anywhere in the world, or around the corner.

My work world and family time we’re not always like this.  Nearly forty years ago when I first began federal service, my initial work assignment in the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped was to respond to literally thousands (over four years) of inquiries and comments concerning the issuance of new regulations for the Education of the Handicapped Act, as well as routine inquiries or requests for assistance in getting adequate services for students with disabilities at the local and state education agency level.  Similarly, Senators and their staffs would pose questions about regulatory development and what this would mean for constituents back home.  I think that for most federal bureaucrats I met at that time, this was a task they considered far  beneath their specialized academic or professional training and work experiences.  For me, it was a job that I needed after some limited professorial experience and completion of a doctoral degree at the George Washington University.  Answering mail the old fashion way with hand written drafts, paper and typewriters was obviously more tedious and involved layers of internal control by higher level career supervisory personnel and short term political appointees.  I think I learned more about this new federal education program and the political and programmatic aspects of its implementation during these years of service.  As the law evolved and states began to implement these federal requirements, I became involved in onsite monitoring of special education program in over thirty states and traveled to other jurisdictions such as the Virgin Islands and Indian reservations and schools administered by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.  Many would consider this on the job training for a freshly minted doctoral graduate who also had some classroom teaching experience in this area.  With our boundless technological reach for online resources and social media, I am not sure that we learn by doing so much any more.

We can now find out about most things through the Internet.  It can make us faster learners and contributors on any number of subjects.  My early work experience at the Department of Education was strictly “old school” but it was a way of learning and connecting with colleagues and friends at that time in a much more interpersonal way. I am thankful that technology now helps me stay connected with family and old friends near and far, and text messages and cell phones enable us to be in touch whenever and wherever we want.  But I worry when I go to restaurants and watch families checking for messages or sharing online media when they are gathering socially.   I am sure there must be more things going on I their lives that transcend social media. 

And I should get back to reading more books!

Ray Myers