Monday, March 25, 2013

Teaching With Technology != A How To

Some would say that for at least the last ten years, teaching has been heavily scripted to address the State Standards and No Child Left Behind. It has been so scripted that I have heard from folks in other districts that teaching in some case, for example the teaching of language arts, has boiled down to following a tight pacing calendar and essentially reading from a script in the adopted textbook. This has resulted in flat achievement scores and an increase in support remediation for those students that do not get the content the first or second time it is presented to them in the classroom. In addition, students entering the workforce, or entering higher education, are often left with basic academic skills and no knowledge of how to apply those skills. They lack critical thinking skills, communication skills, and their focus centers on finding the “correct answer.” They wait to be told what they should do next as opposed to being able to ask questions, research answers to those questions, share their thoughts with others, and elicit feedback to improve their original ideas. These challenges voiced by industry and are not solely the result of poor K12 institutions as higher ed shoulders some of the blame and often produces similar results. Talk to any recent graduate about the difficulty of finding work, and listen to industry and their inability to find employees that possess the necessary skills for the current workforce: creativity, imagination, critical thinking skills, collaboration, synthesis and development and you will hear the same message. We are failing to prepare our students for the world they are inheriting. Our world now requires individuals to be connected, collaborative, and possess participatory set of characteristics. Our world is no longer one which will support an individual who learns for the first 22 years of their life and is then set for life. Our ever changing world requires that individuals continue to learn, unlearn, and create themselves over and over throughout their lives, year after year.

In some respects, teaching with technology have less to do with technology and more to do with improving our listening, assessing, and creative abilities. Assessment in this regards does not mean increasing the number of bubble-in standardized assessments we give our students. Assessment means using our professional skills at diagnosing the learner’s difficulty and being able to prescribe a strategy to address those deficiencies. It requires that teachers can acknowledge individual interests in their students, connect in a meaningful way, and creatively wrap those interests around practices that improve the student’s deficiencies. Up to this point in time the tools and strategies we have had at our disposal to help in designing solutions that address student deficiencies has been limited.

In the “good ol’ days” technology required hours and hours of tinkering with the beige boxes and even then you were limited to what you could achieve. Fortunately for us, technology is becoming consumerized. It is less a black art done by geeky people with broken glasses and bad haircuts. Now the power of technology is available to the toddler at the touch of their finger.

Beyond the cost of technology, and even that has been reduced greatly since the days of the black & beige boxes, the real challenge has nothing to do with the physical technology. The real challenge of teaching with technology is the mental aspect. It is the ambiguity of not knowing where a student might stumble, discovering their deficiency by careful analysis and then expertly designing a solution. In the past those solutions were limited due to our tools. We now have the ability to look at multiple solutions, shared with us by our own created support networks, presented in ways we have not thought of, and with the ability of delivering those solutions to the student in a manner that has not been available to us in the past. Examples of solutions could be in the form of, in this case at the substitution level by a teacher (SAMR Model), discovering a YouTube video that provides the same direct instruction to the student in a new light, or in another example by having a student discover their own disconnect by utilizing the student’s metacognition skills and self-recording themselves using an app like Explain Everything.

In many of our schools, the idea of 1:1 technology projects, where the student has access to technology 24/7 is foreign. Many schools have no reference point for what this looks like in their environments. They have nothing to compare it to and as a result, they try to compare it to things they’ve done in the past or how technology is used in students’ homes currently. There is no common language for staff, school boards, or parents. For districts planning and discussing 1:1 technology projects, the challenge is creating that common language before actually being in the middle of it all, and continuing the language development while in the midst of it. It is similar to the commercial by EDS, Building Airplanes in the Sky,

The key to a successful 1:1 program is promoting those desired characteristics (creativity, imagination, critical thinking skills, collaboration, synthesis and development) in our students, while at the same time making an effort to improve our own skills. Some would suggest that we need to create collections of lessons that utilize the technology before we allow students to get their hands on the tools. This, in my opinion, shows a nearsightedness related to the idea that we would even know what the needs of our students are going to be that far in advance. That kind of thinking gets us back to doing things the way we have always done them, and in my opinion, goes against the whole principle of rethinking school. I do think we can build strategies in teachers regarding instruction, but I’m not sure creating actual lessons in advance of knowing our students would be helpful. In my opinion being able to effectively diagnose the learning deficiencies in our actual students plays a huge part in designing effective lessons. That can only occur when we have evaluated the students that are sitting in front of us, we have a network of educators we can share our ideas with, we are willing to try creative solutions with the realization that if our first solution does not work, we will learn from it, and try another.

Textbook image courtesy of  Wesley Fryer on Flickr,

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