Category Archives: Technology as Tool For Learning

Technology as Tool For Learning

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):

 

Starting to Design a Distributed PD System

A while back, I described our need for a distributed system of professional development (as part of our comprehensive plan to support professional learning, including: workshops and trainings; coaching and formative feedback; educator lesson invention and tryouts; and opportunities for educators to get together to share successes and trouble shoot challenges).

So, we've put together a work group to start designing. We will focus first on building a system that will support educators learning to better integrate iPads into teaching and learning. Frankly, we could use the same kind of distributed PD system for our Customized Learning work, as well, but we'll work out the bugs on our iPad work first.

We have 1to1 iPads in K-2 and 7-12, and various clusters of iPads in between. Our work group has K-12 representation. But we know others are interested in this work and we often partner with folks from other districts, and several are participating in the workgroup. We love it when others come to play with us!

Distributed PD Website

And, if you're interested, there is an opportunity for you to lurk, or even participate.

We have created a Distributed PD website to help organize our work. We have pages for each key component of the design work and the Updates & Activities is our blog where we'll regularly publish (yes) activities and updates.

So if you want to lurk, check back at the site periodically to see what we've been up to (and I'll occasionally cross post or post updates to this blog, too).

If you want to participate, you can leverage the comments section of any of our posts or pages.

And if you're REALLY interested in rolling up your selves and being part of the work group, shoot me an email.

 

Instead of Banning, NYC Provides Social Media Guidelines

Lisa Nielsen writes that New York City has reached out to students, teachers and parents with social media guidelines.

According to the NYC DOE website, the guidelines are necessary because, “In an increasingly digital world, we seek to offer our students the opportunities that multi-media learning can provide, which is why we allow and encourage the appropriate use of these powerful resources. As we challenge our students with new methods of learning, we continue to ensure that these tools are used responsibly, and enrich the learning environment in our schools.”

And

This work is taken seriously. These guidelines aren’t just published and placed on a website in hopes that someone will read them. The NYC DOE provides professional development to staff interested in incorporating these guidelines into teaching and learning with classes such as “Using social media to increase teacher effectiveness,” “Supporting the common core with social media,” and “A Common Sense approach to prevent cyberbullying.”

More in the article including links the the NYC resources.

 

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?

 

Is “What’s the iMovie Curriculum?” the Wrong Question?

A while back, I was part of an online conversation when a tech director asked for ideas for an iMovie curriculum. His district was working to establish a course in digital video production at their high school.

Right away, I had to wonder if asking for ideas for an iMovie curriculum wasn't the wrong question. iMovie, after all, is just a tool. And you already know that I believe the real power of technology isn't having a “learning technology” focus, but rather a “technology for learning” focus.

I don't object to learning iMovie. I object to learning iMovie out of the context of a compelling purpose to use the tool.

In fact, my experience is that the lessons about the tool (iMovie) are much easier to learn (students remember the skills better) when they are taught in the larger context of being used for something. In fact, I have seen well intentioned teachers teach all the skills for a tool in advance of using it for some purpose meaningful to students, and having to reteach all those skills again when the task was at hand.The brain just really isn't wired for “just in case” learning. It's wired for “just in time” learning.

So I wondered, “Knowing their interest in students learning iMovie, what is it that they might really want students to learn?” What might be the authentic reason to learn how to use iMovie?

For example, a school could offer a course in digital storytelling. In addition to iMovie skills, the students would likely also learn interviewing; scripting and story boarding; pre-production, production, and post-production; visual communication styles, etc. (I have included some links to resources below.) But it would all start with students learning about and doing storytelling.

Or why not take it a step further and have students tell stories that they feel compelled to tell? Perhaps a documentary making class. Students could take on an issue of social significance to themselves, research it, and create a documentary that may even ask it's watchers to take action (and what action would they recommend!?).

Think of how powerful those courses could be for students!

Digital Storytelling Resources:

Documentary Making Resources