Tech Changes Practice; Practice Changes Tech

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.)

The New York Times Learning Network: An Innovation in Student Engagement

Today I stumbled upon a highly innovative resource called The New York Times Learning Network. In particular, I came across the Student Opinion blog. I am incredibly impressed with this resource and feel that most educational sites can learn a few things from it! There are a few reasons why I believe this to be an exceptional resource:

  1. High quality posts
  2. High audience engagement, interaction, and collaboration
  3. Organized appearance and layout

High quality posts

First of all, the posts are written for junior high and high school students, and contain thoughtful, educational topics of high interest. A major highlight is that the articles are written in a way that respects the intelligence and abilities of teens. Currently, the first three posts are titled, “What hidden talents might you have?”, “How do you relieve stress?”, and “Would you mind if your parents blogged about you?”. These issues are all highly relevant to students, and contain links to additional resources and articles. They provide thought-provoking questions, bring creativity to their subjects, include current issues and events, and can be used in all subject areas. Furthermore, each post is short and to the point, and is very well written.

High audience engagement, interaction, and collaboration

One of the most accurate ways to judge the quality of a site is not the number of hits it receives, but the way in which it encourages audience interaction and elicits quality responses. Judging from the well-written comments under a post titled, “How do you define family?”, I can tell that students are encouraged to be thoughtful and incredibly honest about such a personal topic. In fact, the only other place where I have encountered this number of thoughtful comments posted by young people is on a make-up review site where young women share tips and opinions. (It absolutely amazes me how eloquent a teenager can be about a subject that interests her!) Besides encouraging thoughtful responses from readers, the Learning Network also includes interactive elements including: Daily News Quiz, Word of the Day, 6Q’s About the News, Student Crossword, Test Yourself Questions, Poetry Pairings, and more (full list to the left). There are also lesson plans for teachers. All of these elements provide a variety of ways for students and teachers to interact with the material and each other.

Organized appearance and layout

I am surprised at how much information is packed into the Learning Network site, even though there is plenty of white space, columns for easy reading, and a highly accessible navigation menu at the top and right side of the page. It should be easy for teachers and students to use this site daily. Rarely have I visited a site that is so well-organized and well thought out.

Ideas for use

Here are some ideas for how to use this rich, vast resource with students:

  • Hook students with something curriculum-related
  • Give students a ‘thought break’ half way through the class
  • Encourage discussion about critical and relevant issues in the everyday lives of students
  • Have students respond to an article, comment, or interactive activity on the site
  • Begin research on a topic presented in one of the articles
  • Explore the writing style of the posts and use them to teach students how to write for the web
  • Have students contribute to their own blog about relevant issues

Have you used the New York Times Learning Network resources? How have you used them? Do you have additional suggestions for resources of this quality? How do you assess the quality of a resource?

Blogging = PD; PD = Blogging

I haven’t been blogging for long, but so far, I have been pleasantly and excitedly surprised by the professional development that I am experiencing as I share my thoughts online. I am beginning to see many positive effects on my own practice, as well as the opportunity to share and influence the practices of like-minded educators in our online community.

Here are the benefits that I see thus far, that I am certain will expand and become even better as I continue on my blogging journey!

  • Motivation to keep up my professional learning so that I can blog regularly
  • An organized way for me to document my ideas, thoughts, actions, and reflections
  • An on-going portfolio of my personal and professional growth
  • A way to gather ideas, strategies, opinions, reviews, and tools from a vast online community
  • A place to gain positive support from educators who understand the challenges and realities of education in the 21st century
  • Make connections not only with professionals in my own field, but also students, parents, and professionals from other related fields of work
  • Accountability for a standard and quality of work in my practice as well as what I share online
  • Model and experience first-hand, the kind of relevant and authentic learning that we want our students to engage in
  • Searching for online tools, images, articles, or media items to expand my thoughts, reflect on, feature, or try, always leads to additional exciting resources to explore
  • Offers a growing number of differentiated ways to express thoughts, opinions, and ideas: through writing, video blogging, creating other types of media, using images, podcasts, mind maps, and multiple modes of synchronous and asynchronous communication

I must give a huge thank you to my own online community–everyone who has helped me to learn and grow through sharing their ideas, support, and inspirational stories! I encourage you to share the metacognitive, personal, and practical ways in which you are learning and growing through the use of blogs and other tools.

Here is an interesting video titled, The potential of blogging for knowledge sharing and staff development by the UN Knowledge Campus, which explains many ways in which blogs, wikis, and other online tools can be used to support professional growth.