Back in February I presented at the ECIS Technology Conference in Munich. My session was about how technology will NOT transform education. I thought I was pretty edgy to pick such a topic to share with a room full of ‘techies’ but was happy to see that many people were in agreement with me. My big idea?
Technology alone is not going to transform teaching.
Connected teachers who want to make school different by allowing students agency and freedom over their learning and are not afraid of using technology to flatten classroom walls and move their role to guiding student inquiries. That is what is going to transform education. And that is what I think good technology integration looks like.
If you were to ask me what my top uses of technology in the classroom were, I would tell you:
- Observation. Exposure to events, images, information that would otherwise be out of reach for students. Abseiling into a volcano with a camera on your head, touring the Louvre, exploring London from the tops of buildings, seeing a murmuration – these are things technology allows our students access to.
- Collaboration. Inviting expert lecturers into my classroom. From my favorite, Sal Khan, to a host of experts in their own field via YouTube, the internet and technology allows students to learn from so many different people. Why should I (with zero rythym or essence of cool) try and teach hiphop dance when YouTube can do an infinitly better job?
- Documentation of student learning. The ability for students to be able to explain their thinking via apps like Book Creator, Explain Everything or DoodleCastPro is invaluable for me as a teacher to ensure I can hear what each student has to say. In the same way, I find asking students to reflect on their learning by turning on the camera and making a video yields infinitely more information than asking them to write (especially when they are 6 years old). Book Creator is a great way of collating digital resources in one place to be able to observe development over time.
- Creation by students. As teachers, if we ensure that our focus is on conceptual standards, HOW students demonstrate their understanding of those concepts should be up to them. Technology opens the door for students to become creators of videos, animations, stop-motion, puppet shows, podcasts, iBooks….the options are virtually endless.
In my role as Learning Technology teacher, I see it as my responsibility to provide options for teachers that push them beyond asking, “Is there an app for xxxx?”. I try and do that by helping to curate playlists of experiences, videos, and instructional material based on the conceptual understandings of the unit. But I also try and listen to what the teachers are trying to learn from and about their students and then equip them with the tools to help make the learning visible.
What I have found is that we are most successful in elevating learning through technology when the learning itself is open-ended, grounded in conceptual understandings, and allowing for authentic inquiry from students. If we as teachers, spend our time planning in a way that really allows students to be true inquirers, the use of technology to achieve the outcomes desired by both the students and teachers, is almost intuitive. What it also requires is a re-thinking of the role of the teacher and the desire for the teacher to push learning further, higher, and deeper than before.
In terms of the SAMR model, I don’t think this means we discourage ‘teaching below the line’ or exclusively teach ‘above the line’. I think it means we look for ways during the planning process to teach in a way that expects technology integration as an integral part of teaching and learning.
In my presentation, I talked about pencils and lightbulbs because I had read the following from The Tech Rabbi:
Revolutionary inventions are not about the invention itself, but whats the invention gives use the ability to do. A truly revolutionary invention should in time become invisible. No longer is it viewed as something special, yet its effects are far reaching.
We don’t plan a unit around the fact that we have pencils. Pencils are just one tool that the students can use to demonstrate or document their learning. We don’t need to “all hail the iPad”. We need to think about the iPad (or other device) in the same way we think about the lightbulb:
The lightbulb changed the way the world functioned. The world was no longer bound to productivity during daylight, or the length of time it takes your oil lamp to burn up. It was about what you would be able to do because now there was a constant and stable source of light.
What can we do now that we have devices in our classrooms? The Tech Rabbi believes in invisible technology. And I do too. To me, tech integration means transforming teaching and learning beyond what was previously possible in a way that empowers students and allows them to express themselves and direct their own learning. And there’s definitely no one app for that.