Automative vs. Informative Change in Learning

In last night’s class discussion we covered Alan November’s classifications of looking at technology in schools through the filter of either automative of informative change.   Automating with technology is doing the same things in a more efficient way.  Examples include using the computer as a $1,000 pen for writing paragraphs or simply putting class notes that were once on the board into powerpoint form.

Often these initial automative changes ended up creating new and informative uses.  An informative use in many ways shifts the traditional structure and definitions of relationships and work within learning.   A heady concept but a powerful one none the less.   In the video below you’ll have a chance to listen to some educational theories as articulated by one of the most articulate voices in the constructivist movement.

I’m not one for believing that we have to throw everything out and that some direct instruction and good old lecturing are not useful from time to time.   What I do find continuing fascinating is the quality and variety of the work that students in a constructivist classroom create.

Technology and its advocates seem to be in two camps.   There are those pushing for what Stager calls “Reform TM” that believe it will lead to lower costs.  This seems to be the dominant mode at the time with online credit recovery courses, supplementing curriculum through the Illinois Virtual School and all.   The real power though comes from how the relationships and the work can change when technology is utilized well.


1.   When you hear leaders and parents speak about technology in schools what are the primarily advocating for?   Do they want glitzy toys and access to the web or do they want the transformative relationship change that a constructivist technology rich environment can bring?

2.  We often work in this course with the presumption that these changes to a more student-centered approach are a good thing.   Are they?  Is there anything we may be losing?  Or should we be free to:  rethink everything?


24 thoughts on “Automative vs. Informative Change in Learning

  1. When I hear my leaders advocating for technology in my classroom, I am not sure what they expect. What I do believe is they want to be able to say they give us technology, but using it is slightly different. We are currently getting a combination of promethean and smartboards put in our classroom. I am not sure why we are getting both brands, other than cost, as most teachers asked for promethean due to its focus on education, but about half are getting smart boards due to their cost. This makes me dread the day they ask me to switch classrooms. Ultimately I do believe it is about the glitz and the fact above tells me this, at least when you couple it with the stipulations that are continously put upon us, no youtube, no email, filter everything. If we want our students to see change let us give it to them. Let them make mistakes, fail, find things that are half truths and learn from these mistakes. I love the idea of having students do this or that on the computer but if it requires the student to sign up for an email or use an account it is against school policy. The semi controlled chaos that ensues from a technologically rich environment is just not what school boards want, it takes away from the whole school board approved textbook concept.
    I think that student centered learning is a good thing, as long as it is coupled with a dose of occasional direct instruction. Like anything moderation is a key, it is kind of like the concept of everyone is a winner, sometimes we need to learn to loose. Well sometimes you need to learn to listen to your boss, no matter how much his direct instructions do not match your Sponge Bob-esc attention span. Thus my main concern is that we will loose the ability to listen to another person speak and loose the ability to absorb information in such a manner.

    • Very interesting comments. The theoretical piece we’ll cover next week is the issue of fear and control. “Fear” tends to be the defining issue in education in terms of the filtering question. Fear of this fear of that. There is a local principals group meeting I attend once a month that I gain much from. Last month’s conversation focused on E-Readers. Now that a number of children received Kindles or Fires for Christmas the question was whether to allow them or ban them in school. To push reading a number of schools have open reading blocks where students are encouraged to bring in books. Some had decided to ban all e-readers. After all they could have unfettered access to the web through their device and that could end poorly.

      Often the default setting seems to be to try to regulate away the possibility but it often ends up creating a sterile environment. How to keep kids safe from the ugly side of the web but still provide access is a tough task.

      I have my own theory as to why the fear issue seems to dominate school. The average length of an administrators stay at a certain district or school seems to be getting shorter and shorter. There may be many reasons for this some tied to the volume of soon to be retirees taking off and causing the shuffle to take place. Other times though and with increasing frequency it seems to be tied to issues with boards and power and ugliness of human nature. Every district is different but my common experience is to see people operating out of constant fear for their job.

      It sounds gloomy but it might be better for administrators to just assume “they’ll come for you” and just do what is best for the students, staff, and the “learning” in the building. The question is always is the reward worth the risk. For the students sake I’d argue yes.

      • Kindles, EReaders, etc. have been and will continue popping up in classrooms left and right. Coworkers and I have been having discussions on whether or not they should be allowed in a classroom. I was recently faced with my first “Kindle” user request last week. A student that will do just about anything NOT to read got one for her birthday. I have yet to see her so excited about reading. She asked if she could bring it in and I said absolutely. From whole group to guided reading groups, I have tried everything from a teacher directed approach to motivate this child to read. Now that she is finally expressing an interest and excitement there is no way I am going to control that by denying her access to reading through a new tool. Just because I am excited about this new approach, I “FEAR” what rules will be created to stifle this excitement in children.

    • You’re right Tom! Moderation is key here and everyone needs to learn to try, lose, and move to the next plan. What if we were freed from all curriculum and assessment requirements? Less us, more them!

  2. As with anything in life, having a healthy balance is very important. It is no different for technology in schools. While most jobs will move to technological based work, not all jobs will. Students will still need some of the basic skills necessary to succeed in life. The same holds true with creating a student-centered approach. There are times that students should take control of their learning, but there are also times where the teacher needs to be in control. I think this is a great lesson for students to learn before they enter the work world. There will be times when they are the lead person on a project, but there will also be times where they need to take a back seat or when they won’t be the boss. While this can be a tough lesson to learn, students need to experience it on a consistent basis throughout their educational careers.
    I do feel that technology in schools is more about glam for parents. It’s easy for them to say that their child’s school has Smart Boards in every classroom. The key question is how they are used. Like we discussed in class, are the teachers using the Smart Boards as a cool whiteboard, or are they using it to transform how they teach and how students learn? These are really neat “toys” to have in schools, and the toys do a great job of capturing the students’ attention but imagine what would happen if we used them to their fullest potential…

    • I agree with the healthy balance Antonio. So many of the children in this generation are used to getting exactly what they want, when they want it. That is simply unrealistic and using different teaching approaches will help them realize how you have to do things differently sometimes to get the desired end result.

  3. I feel that we are still very much embracing the automotive use of technology in our schools. This might be because teachers are unsure how to hand over responsibility to the students. We are scared to let students to be in control of their own learning. We continue to have a very traditional instructional approach – partly because we are given a list of standards and objectives we must meet for assessment purposes. In addition, we have an assessment system the holds true to the traditional approach of surface level understanding. These regulations and controls have somewhat forced the education in our country to focus on superficial understanding and never reaching a deeper understanding of skills and concepts. “Whoever is doing the work is doing the learning,” and teachers have been working themselves to death! The transformation I’ve experienced personally (in my teaching and observing others) is a shift to students gaining ownership in their own learning. This is uncomfortable and involves a great amount of risk from the teacher. I do think we should “rethink” a lot of our current practices. Einstein once said, “If you keep doing what’s not working, you will continue to get the same results.” Seems pretty obvious… so why do we continue doing it?

  4. At our PTO mtg. last week, people were sharing strengths of the school and one parent shared that she thought technology was one strength. She especially felt the Promethean boards and iPads were huge assets and they would eventually like to see them in every classroom. I think people just expect to have the internet access and computer use. That’s the norm. They are looking for more modern technology—smart boards, e-readers, iPads.

    The supplemental materials that can be used with technology open an entirely new world to the student. They are able to search, engage, and enjoy their educational experience. The “glitzy” technology such as, IPAD, Promethean Boards, laptops, IPODS, social networks, IFLIP Cameras, tape recorders and digital cameras, are all excellent tools to grab the students attention. They give opportunity and chances to the students who only like to deal with manipulatives, the students who think outside the box, and the students who look at capturing their opinions in pictures instead of words. These are the students that enjoy access to the technology and their parents see the change in hopefully their attitudes and grades.

    I am going to have to side with what a few of the earlier replies state, moderation. I believe the student-centered approach may be more useful in today’s society, but only if they students are closely monitored and provided a direction to venture. In some cases, students know more about technology than their teachers, and know how to explore the web. If the teacher wanted to become active learners on their own, we could give them a challenge and have them solve the problems through answering questions, coming up with their own questions, giving time to discuss questions with their groups, debate, or brainstorm to complete the challenge. I feel it could be a useful strategy to use, but as the teacher you would have to make sure you are a good manager and check the students work to make sure they are on task rather than venturing off into the web (you know we are ALL guilty).

    • “I feel it could be a useful strategy to use, but as the teacher you would have to make sure you are a good manager and check the students work to make sure they are on task rather than venturing off into the web (you know we are ALL guilty).”

      I’d agree the access can be distracting and in technology rich schools class the classroom management piece needs to develop as well. One thing teachers learn in a 1:1 school is having the computers doesn’t mean they are open 100% of the time.

  5. I feel like this is another example of the paradigm shift we continue to experience in our classrooms. We are so used to the traditional classroom not just from what experienced but even from what we learned in college or possibly our student teaching. The automatic approach is what most of us are used to and change is scary. My son’s preschool claims to be project based and I see the approach very different from our school and I believe most public schools. My son is only 4 so I think that the freedom these teachers have is much greater but I have to admit that my son has been very passionate about different learning they’ve done that he was a part of picking. One I was amazed with was week’s worth of learning about Maps. Even the teachers were surprised and not even sure where to go with it (not may resources on hand for 3 and 4 year olds about maps) but the things the children created and found were amazing. Mason was searching the Journal Star for maps it was really neat. Again I cannot see myself telling my boss that we are forgetting the standards and curriculum because the kids want to learn about maps but I have truly seen children engaged in this type of approach. Maybe a drastic change is what we need? Very thought provoking.

    • One thing mentioned in the video was the five hours of time each day for the students to work on their self-guided projects. I’ll admit ….that much time scares me to a large degree. One of the hardest pieces in school reform is thinking about how it really could be different. Many of our constructs from letter grades (originated in a shoe factory) to age based grades (Prussian) we take for granted. What should always motivate the change isn’t the novelty but rather the evidence that there is a better way. Most of us would agree with Julie above that much of the curriculum and what standards push for is only a surface level understanding a mile wide and an inch deep. Maybe the common core push will change this.

      In the back of my mind I think a good deal of fun would be to one day start a school from the ground up that embraces a radically different approach to learning and teaching. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what that would look like as I haven’t been completely convinced by the merits of constructivism.

  6. Less us, more them…this idea sounds great in theory, and in the examples presented in the video proves that it is possible. However, we still live in a society that dictates what educators should be teaching at each grade level. Currently we ARE held accountable for certain standards, and while I would love to focus making school the “best seven hours” of my students’ day, I am expected to fulfill certain responsibilites.

    I am not afraid to be on the same bank as my students-learning along with them. I think it is important that they realize that just because we are the teachers, it doesn’t mean that we are experts on everything. However, when there is currently such a negative attitude about teachers in our country, I fear that initially, the public’s perception about constructivism would be that teachers are still not doing their jobs.

  7. I definitely agree that there needs to be a balance between both approaches. Just as Nicole and many others mentioned, not a lot of us are quite acclimated to soley student-centered learning. I am an advocate of student centered learning;however, I believe there does need to be a balance and that teachers need to provide some direct instruction. I read an article last year about a school in Michigan that was following the approach of having students decide what they want to learn. The students basically were in charge of the curriculum. I can see how this approach can instantly get students engaged and learning but I can also see some problems. In the next few years, we will be adapting the Common Core Standards. After analyzing these standards, we have realized that we will need to “beef up” our current curriculum. I guess I’m not sure how this approach to having students choose what they want to learn will fit into these new standards but again, everything in modification is a must! I am constantly looking for new ways to help my students be engaged and in charge of their own learning and I will continue having an open mind about it.
    I agree with several postings here and just as Antonio mentioned, just like everything in life, you need a healthy balance. Very true!

  8. Less us more them…Becky has a very good point. This is all makes great sense, but the fact that we are held to teaching a specific curriculum and standards interferes with the constructivist style of teaching and learning. Another roadblock seems to be society’s obsession with testing and test scores. Until the “powers that be” realize that standardized testing is not the best measurement for student learning, we will continue to teach to the standards. Perhaps the new core standards will help us to move away from the “mile wide and inch deep” practice to more focused, rigorous, investigations into learning. After all, if we want students to continue to be lifelong learners, we are going to need to model and give them opportunities to practice researching things that they are truly interested in. Children have so many questions and curiousities, shouldn’t we as educators help them to find those answers.

  9. Becky and DeAnna both make great points about the push for standards and testing accountability acting in some ways to prevent a pedagogical shift from taking place. A number of comments have focused on the need for balance and I’d agree to a point. I do however think and maybe hope that with all the technology dollars being dumped on schools and as we move from the automative to the informative the methods in a number of classrooms will become more constructivist. To be fair constructivism does have it’s detractors and direct instruction its merits. Constructivism does seem ….. when done well …. to create an environment that is very open to learning and seems to line up more with the more brain-based theories of motivation and learning than carrot-stick models.

    I don’t find the general value of standards to be worthless. I’d agree as educated people we should all share some type of common knowledge about our world, country, the scientific method, literature, and the rest. Before we can think critically we need to know something to think critically about. Of course deciding who gets to choose what is essential and what isn’t is another ball of fun. The problem may be more with the way we choose to measure the learning through standardized tests.

  10. So many things in the video jumped out at me. I heard two comments from Stager that I think about often as a teacher. The first being, what if we were freed from all curriculum and assessment requirements and the seecond being remove all stakes. There are many times that I teach a lesson and think how great it would be for the students to extend this lesson themselves into something bigger and better and who cares how long it takes them. Then the voice in the back of my mind is saying you better move on to teaching mean, median, and mode because that’s on the ISAT or the curricuclum map says you should be teaching the unit on rocks right now. I want to do what’s best for my students but stuck between a rock and a hard place because right now is it best for them not to meet on the ISAT? Stager also made the comment that young people have a remarkable capacity for intensity. I think that’s also true for many teachers, they have the intensity to teach and transform but can’t to the best of their potential when so much is riding on test scores and RTI.

  11. The gift of technology is positive in schools if it is used correctly. I believe every teacher has been automative with the use of their present technology. I found myself just excited to be adding in technology and not taking a step back and asking “what does this do for the students?” There is a definite challenge to bring the automative skills into an informative approach. I truly believe in years to come our classrooms will not look like they do today. They will be student centered where it truly does mean “less us, more them.” In our society today we are not helping students by making them sit and listen rather then actually experiencing themselves. Embracing students with the gift to educate and experiment on their own is going to be the best thing we can teach them. In our classrooms we really need to take a step back and let the students go at the work at hand. I believe this is the best way to prepare them for the outside world.

  12. Wow! These are some great thoughts. I agree with DeAnna, with government holding teachers/schools to teaching specific standards/curriculum and the demand for tests and more tests to show learning, constructivist learning is not possible in its true form.

    I do believe that children are capable of a great deal that we are not seeing because of traditional instruction and curriculum requirements. An example would be my kindergarten students using the Smart Board and “troubleshooting” problems that occur. It is also neat to watch them help each other with it as some are much more adept at using technology.

    I like the idea of changing assumptions, especially where the students can choose the book or project and choose the learning tools. I am not sure about five hours of uninterrupted time.

    Nicole talked about the project approach at her son’s preschool. I have seen this style of learning and it offers a lot of excellent learning opportunities for all learners. Documenting learning in a variety of ways or using portfolios would show learning of individual students. I believe that this style of learning, what we saw in the video and project approach, enables children to take ownership, learn more and retain more. “If they are interested we can get more” – this is so true. But, too often children are learning what they need for the test and not retaining the information.

    Children are capable of a great deal, but I think this gets lost in the prescribed curriculum and time constraints. Are we losing learning here too? Maybe with the new Common Core we will see more of these opportunities.

    “Less us, more them” is new way to look at our teaching. It sounds like a lot of work, but the rewards and learning would make it well worth the change.

    -Janelle Niemeier

  13. I think that parents want to see technology in classrooms because students are being exposed to it outside of school as well. If we want to the opportunity to engage students, our classrooms need to reflect what their environment looks like outside of school. My concern is the expectation of a teacher’s knowledge of technology. Sometimes things like SMART boards are installed in classrooms, and the teachers have to play with it to learn how to use it. Overall though, I think that we should be embracing the technology to create meaningful lessons for students. The key is making sure that they are involved in using the technology, not just being observers. Lastly, I completely agree with Amanda’s point of letting students experiment on their own to discover things. By having students explore the world around them, it is one of the best ways to explore their own interests.

  14. When I hear parents talk about technology in school, I think the parents know the kids are using all of the different mediums, so they want their children to learn how to use it to learn. Kind of like on video games, parents know their kids are playing them, so why not play them, but also learn, and get exercise from it. You see this with the Wii, and Xbox Kinect where the children are playing, but they are getting exercise in a fun way. Also, using their IPads or computers, they can use them in different ways to learn as part of their school work.

  15. Dunlap is moving towards more student-centered classroom. I think it is a good thing, but there is a balance like everyone else has said. The teachers are guided the learning, learning with the students and working collaboratively together. (Like Gary Stager said) I think student-centered is good because we do need to build on the capacity of the learners. In order to keep the students engaged, it is important for them to connect with the projects or find a project that interests them. Students learn better when they want to learn about it. For example, the student that the school district thought could read or write, that show them an autobiography written about technology. Skills are being developed when they are doing something that has more meaning. The less us approach more them has great meaning for the future. I think that this approach is great, but it is risky with all of the standards that are being adapted nationwide. It will be a huge shift, and risk that the education system will have to be willing to take.


  16. I guess my other post did not go through. Thanks for all the thoughts. This was very thought provoking about capturing a student interest and attention can drive them for so long. It sounds like the program he was working with had a lot of support from the surrounding community and professionals which makes me wonder if in our communities we do a good job of tapping into the talents of our population. I also think it does take a little reeducation to get students that are in the mainstream of their education to rethink how they learn material. I know when I try projects like this it takes about a day of frustration until they take ownership of the project and really buy into what we are learning. It is something that is simply not done enough so it takes some getting used to.

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