Tag: engagement

Does Educational Technology Matter?

Over the Thanksgiving break, multiple family road trips served as good opportunities to catch up on some audio books that I’ve been carrying around in my phone for the past year or so (My family might question this, but I’m driving, and they have their own headsets, so…). Once book I’ve been listening to is Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek. It is an interesting read/listen, if a bit repetitive at times. I have long believed that  vision was the best motivator of people, and Sinek shares many examples of groups where shared vision nurtured great accomplishment and sustained success. While primarily focused on business, the importance of understanding our why might be even more important in education. Our best schools and best educators are certainly not motivated by money or fame, after all. There is something more intrinsic and powerful that makes great teachers get to school early, stay late, create colorful and engaging learning environments, lend an ear to a student in crisis, continue to learn and grow professionally, put up with the tests and budget cuts, etc.

The book prompted me to do some reflecting on why I work as an educator and digital learning leader. Educational technology has been a source of some debate for many years. Research has, frankly, painted widely varying views of the educational impact and value of investing in computers, iPads, software, peripherals, etc. Entire schools have been set up as computer-free zones. Classroom technology and infrastructure funding are annually sources of debate and always on the chopping block. Still, technology integration remains something that some of us passionately promote at staff meetings, conferences, professional learning sessions, in social media, and even over family dinners. Here are my whys, which happily made a convenient acronym, CORE, and everyone loves acronyms!

  • Creativity — technologies offer countless opportunities for students to create.  Creativity is demonstrated and strengthened through producing an imaginative multimedia presentation or video, writing an original program, constructing a robot, or designing a 3D prototype. The most powerful moments I have witnessed involving educational technologies are those where original ideas became concrete products. Importantly, creative thinking transfers to almost all areas of life, whether solving a problem at work, fixing a car, raising a child, etc.  The creative processes of imagining something, making it, evaluating its quality, troubleshooting, and making needed improvements  are vital to our students’ future success, and technology is a valuable partner in their development.
  • Opportunity.  Whether a geek or a caveman, it is impossible to deny with sincerity or credibility the importance of some level of technological proficiency in the home, workspace, etc. Students who graduate without being able to use multiple tools and platforms are immediately at a disadvantage to more experienced peers, whether in the college classroom or the workplace. It is my goal for our Matador students to be exposed to a wide range of technology tools and, when possible, to master them. The opportunity to use these tools also opens students’ eyes and minds to future learning and working opportunities that they might have never considered or imagined. In short, I don’t want any of my Matadors to be limited in life by a lack of experiences while a student here.
  • Relevance. Used well and appropriately, educational technologies make learning immediately more relevant to students and the way they live. For example, a teacher could take students to the library or refer them to the class encyclopedia or dictionary to conduct research. I have heard teachers express that students need to know “how to do it the old fashioned way.” I have never churned butter, and it hasn’t once kept me from putting too much on my pancakes. I won’t argue against library research skills, but for most of us, research happens in the palm of our hands or sitting in front of a monitor. Name an elementary or middle school research topic, and a student can find an informative and suitable Youtube video in seconds (something they usually didn’t need a teacher to learn). Ed tech is comfortable and familiar to students, and the actions and products created reflect what they are doing and making outside of school. T
  • Engagement. My 3rd grade teacher’s biases aside, I have always found that happy students are more effective learners. Students faced with interesting, relevant, and challenging learning tasks  engage deeply and, therefore, learn better. Technology alone does not guarantee engaged kids. However, when technology is a part of a powerful, creative learning experience, and when it is a tool for creatively sharing ideas or projects, engagement soars. While “fun” should not be confused with engagement, students’ affinities for technologies make learning tasks less tedious, resulting in greater effort and stamina. The engagement effects can be especially significant for populations most at risk.

It should be mentioned that I don’t spend a lot of time promoting or supporting prescriptive technologies or software. I do recognize the value or place for some of these. However, specialized math tutorials, reading programs, commercial assessments, and similar technologies are simply too narrow in focus to fit the CORE reasoning behind what I do, and subject area specialists are often best suited to make those choices. For them, an important why might involve a student mastering multiplication facts or understanding context clues. My work necessitates that I focus on tools and strategies that have broader, more open-ended impact, and my whys reflect this.

It is also significant that I do not see high test scores as a worthy why or goal for using educational technologies. In my experience, effective, engaging learning experiences produce students more than capable of handling the tests. I wanted my students to truly lose themselves in the learning, and that is impossible if our why is just a  test. Tests are not a why that kids will share, and learning will suffer.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts. What are your whys? Leave your comments below. 🙂

Innaugural #edwhy and #edwhatif Chat Storified

Below find the chat logs from tonight’s first ever #edwhy and #edwhatif chats. Not a huge response the first time out (Okay, very small.), but that’s not a problem–I believe it will be worthwhile, because we need to question things in our field if anything is ever going to change for the better.

Besides, I’m a longtime blogger–I’m used to talking to myself! 🙂

#edwhy 

#edwhatif  

No Fear

While at a campus I serve recently, I had a conversation that is being repeated a lot in education right now. We discussed the importance of giving our kids the opportunity to participate in a rich array of learning experiences. We talked about the importance of students using technology. The teacher with whom I spoke got an “amen” when she bemoaned the lack of art in the daily lives of students. We spoke of how powerful, engaging, and meaningful these things were, and how they made students want to attend school. We also talked about research that proves the value of such experiences in producing well-rounded, thinking kids who also, by the way, ace those ever-present tests. We talked about how everyone already knows all of these things.

Yet, walk into the average classroom, (particularly the older students get), and what do you find? Very often, you find good teachers and good kids undertaking routine, meaningless tasks. You see worksheets, lectures, and drills. Writing is by formula, as are math and science. History is reduced to memorizing dates or parrotting theme statements. Art and music are…well…down the hall in the kindergarten class (Although some are beginning to advocate eliminating that “fluffy” nonsense.). You see high-quality educators engaging in low-quality tasks with a dogged, single-minded purpose: to get students to pass the tests.

The value of these assessments won’t be debated here. That they are our present and near future reality is beyond debate. We can love them or hate them, but they are in every classroom, staring at us from the middle of the front row. How we respond to them, however, is not set in granite, and this is where we are too often falling short. We attend workshops, read books, and listen to keynote speakers with charming anecdotes and impressive statistics, and we believe. We believe that, when we make learning about solving big problems, working with teams of other learners, creating and sharing beautiful products with a global audience, our kids will succeed on those tests. They will succeed because they have already done tougher things on a routine basis. They will succeed because the research says they will.

Our beliefs, however, falter under the weight of today’s high-stakes system. The pressure to see our kids perform well on formulaic, standardized assessments leads us to implement formulaic, standardized instruction. When the goal is for all students to achieve the same things at the same time, we sacrifice the engaging and individualized learning opportunities in favor of whole-group, single-minded tactics.

There are 2 alternatives:

  1. Continue down the current path, achieving the desired test scores for most, but sacrificing individual needs and real motivation to learn.
  2. Change our tactics, having faith that the research is sound, and believing that kids learn best when engaged in meaningful, powerful tasks, and the tests will take care of themselves.
I believe the ability and desire to take the second path is in the heart of the vast majority of educators. We want to see our kids accomplish great things, develop their unique abilities, and become equipped with knowledge and skills that far exceed those of the tests. To achieve this requires us to rally together and attack our work as a unified team. It requires us to seek out opportunities to learn and grow in our profession, to master the art of teaching. And it requires us to take risks. Of course, the research says the risks are not real, only perceived, so we first have to really believe.

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jp-/2301224820/sizes/s/in/photostream/

 

 

 

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