Category Archives: Learning as Desired Outcome

Let’s Make Tech All About Learning

I have found myself lately in several conversations about the price of technology. The conversations have focused on laptops and tablets and folks wondering if we could find devices that were less expensive.

And I realized that, in their thinking, all laptops and devices were created equal, in such a way that the only variable is cost (and, if this were true, I would have to agree).

But it made me realize that we were having the wrong conversation completely. The conversation shouldn’t be about price; it should be about value.

Further, I realized that we miss the boat on the value conversation when we spend too much time talking about the technology and the tools, or about providing technology and procurement. We need to spend most of our time talking about what kinds of learning we would like to make happen with the technology. You can only get to the value conversation when you can discuss what you want to do with the devices and compare different devices around how well suited they are to those purposes.

I used to teach with a really wonderful professor of elementary educational technology, named Ralph Granger. He used to say, when you go to the hardware store to buy a new drill bit, you don’t really want a new drill bit. You want a hole. When it comes to educational technology, we need to talk less about our “drill bits” and more about the “holes” we want.

Or as Marc Prensky says, we need more verbs and fewer nouns.

And, as TPACK reminds us, when we align our educational arrows, we are talking about content, pedagogy, and technology (What instructional strategies might we use to teach this learning target, and what role could our devices play?).

I believe that part of that conversation needs to be around student engagement and motivation.

So I was very happy to see that the National Association of School Boards of Education is pointing out that student engagement needs to be a critical criteria for judging the value of our educational investments (including technology). One article on their recent report starts, “Education is a $600 billion a year industry, but that investment means little unless students are physically and mentally present and engaged to benefit from it.”

How are you prepared to help make our educational technology conversations focus more on learning?

 

Does Technology Improve Learning – No! A Keynote

I recently had the honor of keynoting at the Illinois Computing Educators (ICE) conference.

My message was that technology alone will not improve learning; only teachers improve learning. But technology can be wonderful tool for teachers and for students under the guidance of teachers.

Watch the keynote here. And related resources are down below.

 

If we want to leverage technology well for learning, then these are the components we should attention to:

  • Focus on Learning
  • Deliberate, Shared Leadership
  • Community Engagement
  • How You REALLY Protect Stuff
  • Support the Heck Out of Folks

Resources

Technology:

Learning:

Leadership:

Community Engagement:

Supporting Educators (Professional Development):

 

A Child Struggles in School: Where Does the Problem Lie?

In a conversation recently with a caring, conscientious teacher, she commented that she had success working with struggling learners and helping to make them feel smart.

But when they got to the next grade and perhaps had a teacher that wasn't as effective at reaching those children, or perhaps thought there was a pace for learning and students should stick to it, or perhaps simply saw the onus for learning as being on the student, the students really struggled again.

She worried that perhaps she had led those students to have an unrealistic view of themselves by not being more up front with them about being struggling learners. She wondered, despite her success helping those students to learn, to feel successful, and to feel smart, if she shouldn't be more direct with them about being struggling learners, to prepare them for possible pain and disappointment later.

And I caught myself wondering, is the problem that each child isn't where the school is in the curriculum?

Or is the problem that the school isn't where the child is in the curriculum?

 

How Will We Use Our Technology? – 7 Powerful Uses

Whether you have technology for your students, or you are thinking about getting technology for your students, “How will we, or should we, use our technology?” is an important question.

The answers to that question need to come from what we know about learning, more than what we know about technology. Recently, I have written about how we should focus on learning when we try to answer this question; that we should think about how technology has changed how students learn outside of school; and if we are having problems with our technology, that it might be that our vision for learning is lacking.

And I think it is important to articulate how we would like technology to be used in our classrooms partly because personal technology skill is not the same as teaching with technology skill. Because a teacher can use an iPad herself doesn't mean that she knows how to leverage that same iPad for student learning. Articulating how we might expect teachers to use those devices helps provide teachers targets for their own professional learning.

We are currently working with the idea that there are 7 powerful uses of technology:

  1. Tech for Foundational Knowledge: How can we help students learn the basics?
  2. Tech for Using Knowledge: How can we contextualize learning and make learning engaging and meaningful? How can students use their knowledge? What is the role for creating and creativity, and for project-based learning?
  3. Tech for Learning Progress Management: How do we keep track of student learning? Promote a transparent curriculum? Make learning progressions clear? Help students navigate their learning? Maintain evidence of mastery?
  4. Tech for Personalizing Learning: How does technology help us tailor the learning to the student?
  5. Tech for Supporting Independent Learning: How can technology help the student do more on their own and need the teacher less?
  6. Tech for Assessment: How can technology help us capture what students know and can do?
  7. Tech for Home/School Connection: How can technology help us stay better connected to parents?

Again, note the pedagogical focus, not a technology focus. In other words, the technology isn't the end or the desired outcome, rather the technology is in service to desirable educational outcomes.

How are you leveraging technology for each of these 7 uses?

 

Is the Problem Your Students, the Device, or Your Vision for Learning?

There has been a mixed bag of results for technology in schools lately. You certainly hear about districts creating exciting learning opportunities for their students by leveraging technology. But you also read about LA Unified's problems with their iPad initiative, or Miami-Dade schools putting their initiative on hold because of the troubles in LA and in North Carolina.

The blame for the failures in these districts is pointed in lots of directions, but includes students as “hackers” (although there was no hacking, just clever students figuring how how to make locked down devices function as designed), or lack of keyboards (don't get me started on how stupid that issue is – it comes from adults who haven't sat with a tablet long enough to know how easy the virtual keyboard is to use). Diane Ravich points to overly agressive timelines, poor project management, poor contract management, and a failure to evaluate curriculum resources, especially against district curriculum standards.

But I believe there is a much deeper problem at the root of these disasterous educational technology initiatives.

Let me come at this from a different direction… Recently a friend contacted me, saying she was working with a district that was trying to decide what device to invest in. Tablets? Chromebooks? Laptops?

Based on 13 years of working with 1to1 initiatves and all the lessons learned, my reply was to ask, “What's their vision for learning? Frankly, without such a vision, I'm not sure it would matter what they bought; it will be equally unsuccessful…”

How do you know what you want technology for if you haven't decided what learning should look like in your classrooms? A tool bought for no other purpose than to have the tool (or because you believe it is good to have the tool) fulfills its purpose by simply being there. Yet, later, purchasers are surprised that amazing things haven't happened by simply being in the tool's presence…

Or maybe you have what I have come to think of as a “default learning vision.” In the absence of a vision for learning driving the instructional use, the instuctional use becomes the vision for learning. The vision defaults to what you do when what you do isn't informed by a vision.

So, what may be the default vision for learning in these initiatives?

I look at these three well-publicized initiatives and I see a vision of learning that boils down to this: electronic workbooks.

There is no doubt that access to digital content and resources should be one slice of how schools leverage technology for learning. But workbooks (of any variety!) have always been wholely insufficient for quality learning programs. (If they were sufficient, we would have the best educational system in the world by simply dropping a box of textbooks and workbooks at each student's home each year…).

Or as Diane Ravich points out about this problem:

…the content of the tablets must allow for teacher creativity, not teacher scripting… The time will come when tablets replace the bulky, puffed-up textbooks that now burden students’ backpacks. The time will come when tablets contain all the contents of all the textbooks, as well as a wealth of additional resources, in multiple subjects. But they must encourage exploration and inquiry, not fidelity to a packaged program. Customized and individualized must become a reality, not a sales pitch for programmed learning.

Is it any wonder that these technology initiatives are a train wreck, given their vision for learning?

 

iPads in Primary Grades: What Veteran Teachers Think – Stephanie

This is the third installment in a series of interviews with veteran teachers to get their perspective on our iPads in primary grades initiative, Advantage 2014. Is the initiative really having the impact our early adopters would have you believe? Would our more cautious or hesitant teachers agree? Here are the first and second posts in the series.

Stephanie Hathaway teaches kindergarten. Here are her thoughts on the initiative.

Highlights from Stephanie’s interview:

  • She felt there was a lot of pressure to succeed, which she found daunting, since she wasn’t familiar with iPads before the initiative.
  • But the district provided lots of professional development
  • Impact: Assessment (time 0:48)
  • Impact: Like having 18 teachers in the room – interventions & individualization (time 2:18)
  • Impact: Motivation factor and creativity factor (time 4:07)
  • Also supports the learning of handwriting.

iPads in Primary Grades: What Veteran Teachers Think – Jean & Chris

Auburn has had some real success with Advantage 2014, our iPads in primary grades initiative. Although many folks like hearing about the enthusiastic teachers who have done many inventive things with the iPads and their students, others wonder what veteran teachers might think; teachers who may not be so enthusiastic.

In March of 2013, I interviewed a handful of such teachers to see what their perspective was. This is the first in a series highlighting the veteran teachers' perspective of teaching and learning with iPads in kindergarten and first grade.

Both Christine Gagne and Jean Vadeboncoeur have taught first grade “for a long time,” as Chris says. Both were skeptical of having to use the iPads with students, and Jean admits that she is not a “pro screen kind of person.” In this video, Chris and Jean talk about their experience in the first year of using the iPads, and the impact the iPad, apps, and their professional development had on their students.

 

Highlights of their comments:

  • By March, all their students were meeting or exceeding standards.
  • The apps and using the iPads generated a lot of excitement in the students.
  • They saw students try harder and work more diligently to figure out the work on their own.
  • They were surprised at this year's students' progress compared to previous years.
  • They thought the amount of practice and the immediate feedback were secrets of the success.