Which came first? What changes what? I’m not referring to chickens or eggs, but what I mean is, does technology change teaching practice, or does teaching practice change technology? I believe that it works both ways, but that new innovations can be powerful catalysts for change if we examine our interactions with them closely.

In the past while, I have witnessed many student and teacher interactions with technologies and innovations that have shown that, although pedagogical practices using inquiry in real-world experiences is vital to meaningful learning, sometimes the tools themselves can be a central force in helping teachers and students re-examine what constitutes quality teaching and learning in our times. Furthermore, many people need something tangible like the technology, to understand how we should approach teaching and learning in the 21st century.

The following are a few of the many strong examples that have stuck in my mind. I not only use these as personal points of analysis and thought, but also as speaking points in discussing technology implementation with colleagues and students.

  • Students use their cell phones to take photos of notes written on a whiteboard. Like many people, typing (or hand writing when I don’t have my laptop) helps me to process and analyze ideas. However, while going to school, I never enjoyed trying to keep up with my teacher’s lectures while copying down notes at the same time. I was unable to recall anything that my teacher actually said because it took so much focus just to copy the notes. Therefore, we should allow students the time and focus to process our words, instead of diverting their attention to taking notes. Or better yet–we can devise more active ways for students to learn what it is that we would like them to. Taking a picture of a diagram or notes on the board can be helpful for students without the dexterity to copy text quickly, or who do not process, code, or de-code efficiently. We should then examine: 
    • What is the educational value of copying by hand or otherwise?
    • When is it effective learning to have students copy something down?
    • When is it effective for a teacher to lecture?
    • If we can research and share information in a variety of ways, then shouldn’t we?
    • Some teachers argue that giving students notes via handouts encourages a lack of attendance. My argument to counter this asks why teachers expect students to come to class to be lectured to and copy notes, instead of engaging in hands-on, experiential learning activities for the majority of class time. If you can lecture it, then students can also view a video or read the material at home. (See my post on the Flipped Classroom for more on the reduction of lectures from class time in exchange for interactive learning.)
  • Students bring their own devices (such as a laptop) to the classroom and, using wireless internet access, look up information and ideas before a teacher has even had the chance to explain them in a lecture. This is not to say that lectures are unimportant, but students already have the ability to research information that teachers normally lecture about. Even if there are only a few students who bring their own devices, they can work in teams using inquiry-based learning approaches to learn in more interactive and collaborative ways. And active learning helps students to engage, understand, and retain information far more effectively than listening to lectures. This also brings up the important point that we need to help students develop research skills in a sea of virtual resources so that they can select the most accurate and effective sources and cite them properly.
  • Students record reflections about their learning processes and progress using blogs, podcasts, e-portfolios, and vlogs. One of the vital ways in which students build metacognition, is by reflecting on their participation in the learning process, thinking about how they learn, and their progress in learning. Many people no longer hand write personal journals and in general, journals allow for limited mediums of expression. Now it is incredibly easy for students to create video journals, record their thoughts orally, and use multi-modal forms of expression to reflect and think about their learning. When used regularly, technology tools facilitate the development of metacognitive skills in students.
  • Students and teachers who have only one or two computers in the classroom use it to conduct inquiry-based research in rotating groups. My observations of high school and elementary school teachers has shown me that elementary teachers have the right ideas about how to conduct group work in different areas of study with limited resources. When you place two or three students at one computer and require them to engage in collaborative work, they are far more likely to learn more and deeply than they would be if they each had their own computer. The same is true for teachers who learn to apply technology tools in their classrooms. When they collaborate with other teachers around their teaching approaches, they progress quickly, build trust with one another, feel accountable to their team, and develop confidence in their own abilities.
  • Teachers with LCD projectors in their classrooms not only use them to show real-world examples in multiple formats (ie. videos, podcasts, images, text, etc.), but also require their students to share and teach other students. When teachers act as guides and fellow learners to the students in their classrooms, this type of collaborative learning can empower students to learn together and share their learning with each other. I believe that it is more important to accomplish learning as an empowered individual and a member of a collaborative team, than it is to receive learning from any one source in a passive manner.

So as to what comes first, it really does happen both ways. Using technology helps to change the way we teach and learn, and the way we teach and learn changes the types and ways in which we use technology. The cycle is endless and continues to improve what happens in our classrooms every day.

Do you have some striking examples of how students and teachers interact with and use technology to further their learning? How have these examples shown you the power of technology as a catalyst for moving teaching and learning forward?

(Image: Shell-v2, by PugnoM. 2009. Available under a Creative Commons License.)
Tech Changes Practice; Practice Changes Tech
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