New High School Course to Examine Technology

I am currently working with a group of teachers to overhaul a course offering in the high school where I work. The course has existed for many years under the name, Information Technology. Collaborating to update it has been an incredible learning experience so far.

It amazes me, how outdated the course has become in fewer than five years. In many ways, even the current the course curriculum still reads like a secretary’s handbook from the 1990’s, full of outcomes that reflect long lists of static technical skills like:

  • entering text in a document
  • numbering pages
  • changing font, font size, and style
  • adding clip art to a slide

However, a recent curriculum update has added and enhanced some more thoughtful outcomes including:

  • analyze and demonstrate the effective use of communication tools (synchronous and asynchronous)
  • define and evaluate digital literacy
  • think and solve problems
  • be adaptable

As I continue my work to overhaul this course, I am drawing conclusions about what it should look and feel like. It is clear that the course should no longer focus on the mechanics of Microsoft Office applications–it needs to branch out to Web 2.0 tools. But far more important than diversifying tools, is how we teach students to think about and understand their interactions with technology. Students often use technology without examining the processes that they went through to use it, the benefits or limitations of the tools, how to problem-solve, and how they can apply the tools in the real world. In many ways, we are following ISTE’s (International Society for Technology in Education) NETS-S Standards for Students in our work.

With this in mind, I would suggest that we call the new course Innovative Technology and focus on:

  • real-world examples and applications
  • assistive technology applications
  • networking with professionals to learn how they use technology
  • discussing, thinking, and sharing the process of using technology
  • examining social, emotional, cognitive, and academic effects and consequences
  • sharing ideas, knowledge, and skills through a variety of mediums with specific audiences in mind
  • examining ethical issues and digital citizenship
  • using and contributing to creative commons works
  • researching and preparing for how to respond to and use emerging technologies and future trends
  • using Web 2.0 tools

These are my thoughts so far on the overarching themes of our new Innovative Technology course. Do have some suggestions for me? Ideas? Resources? As always, they are all very much appreciated and welcome!

(Image: IT10 brainstorm, by TechPudding. 2011.)

It’s Not About the Tools–It’s About How You Use Them

There are times when I feel as though the ever-growing, ever-changing list of Web 2.0 tools becomes overwhelming. At a recent conference, 90% of my conversations with technology specialists started with the sentence, “Have you used this tool yet?”.

Instead of starting with the tool, let’s start with the learning. We all know that tools will come and go faster than ever before, but the skills that we teach our students remain consistent, even if the emphasis on certain skills ebbs and flows. We want our students to engage in critical thinking, research, analysis, synthesis, collaboration, and problem solving. We want students to care about their world and open their eyes to diverse perspectives. So why don’t we start our conversations with the sentence, “Have you engaged your students in critical thinking today?” and then see what tools (technological and otherwise) can be used in the process?

We as users define how and why we use particular technologies to accomplish tasks. The magic that users bring to a piece of technology includes how we use it, our prior knowledge, and the way in which we work it into our existing mental models and contextual frameworks. Let’s acknowledge that what we bring to a tool is relevant and important to the task–it’s not really about the tool at all if you can use it to accomplish 200 different tasks, or tasks that it wasn’t necessarily designed for.

By elevating our interaction with technology over the novelty of a tool in its own right, we can think about and use technology in pedagogically sound ways. Below are elements that make up sound pedagogy in the application of educational technology tools. Let’s apply them every time we hear, “Have you used this tool yet?”:

  • Authentic, interesting, and academically rigorous content and tasks. Tasks should exist in the real world, involve a genuine audience, real challenges, and real work.
  • Ownership. Students must feel as though they can make decisions and regulate their own participation and roles in their learning.
  • Active collaboration. Students need to interact with others, socialize, and work together to solve challenges, learn, and be productive.
  • Create, share, analyze, organize, synthesize, and draw conclusions and present them in a variety of different ways in different mediums.
  • Open reflection, analysis, feedback, sharing, and reuse, repurposing. Students can gather the works of others and feedback to build on their learning and metacognitive understandings.

The article that got me thinking about the concepts above is titled, Assessing technologies for teaching and learning: understanding the importance of technological pedagogical content knowledge, by Richard E. Furdig.

Ferdig, Richard E. “Assessing technologies for teaching and learning: understanding the importance of technological pedagogical content knowledge.” British Journal of Educational Technology 37.5 (2006): 749–760. NA. Web. 24 Feb. 2011.
(Image: Hammer…for what?, by Per Ola Wiberg ~ Powi. 2007. Available under a Creative Commons License.)

Publish First; Write Second

Today I stumbled upon an excellent collection of PD resources called EDtalks – Educators Talk About Learning. These talks are published by CORE Education, a not-for-profit group based in New Zealand and the UK focused on PD, leadership, innovation, and technology in education.

One of the videos on EDtalks is a 6-minute presentation by David Kinane, called Publishing Student Voice. Take a look:

David advocates for using web 2.0 tools to publish student work before it has reached the state of the ‘final product’. By using technology to share works in progress, students see greater value in their time and efforts, feel accountable and committed because of an authentic audience world-wide, and continue to learn long after a project is finished because they can  re-purpose and re-mix their work and share it with others who will do the same in the future.

Some of the ways in which students benefit from sharing works in progress with an online community are:

  • Sharing with an authentic audience (world-wide, within class, throughout the school, with families and friends, and within  communities).
  • Work is exciting and relevant (and stays that way even with long-term projects), and students feel more committed to keeping up with it to share with their audience.
  • Learning to use the Creative Commons (CC) to share and distribute work. Students can use the work of others to build on their own and then share it again to help others in their learning.
  • Draw on outside resources to build on work throughout the process by gathering ideas, feedback, and suggestions from online resources and users, and by engaging in continuous research over the course of a project.
  • Reflect on work throughout the process using web 2.0 tools as a digital portfolio of the entire learning process. Learn about the process and skills used to tackle a learning challenge, instead of focusing only on the final product (with little reflection).
  • Teachers can monitor student progress and help students throughout the process, yet they will not be the only voice contributing feedback. Instead, they can be one of many voices contributing to the project.
  • Use web 2.0 tools to brainstorm, think, plan, and do ‘brain dumps’ of rough ideas before going back to refine, build, and polish them.

Here are a few suggestions for using Web 2.0 tools to share works in progress. Many of these tools can be integrated together:

  • Individual student blogs for sharing research and reflecting on long-term work. These can be private blogs where students share personal reflections on the class with a selected group of teachers and/or peers, or they can be public blogs where students share their work with a larger online community.
  • Class blogs or course management systems where students can collaborate, share information, research, debate, participate in discussion boards, and ask each other questions.
  • Class wikis or Google Docs can be effective when a class is divided into small groups and each group researches an aspect of a broader theme. The groups share their research on a wiki and then use all of the gathered information to draw conclusions and learn from each other. This is also a great way for students to collaboratively create unit review and exam study resources.
  • Timeline tools where students chart their progress or learning over time. (Check out my review of five timeline tools here).
  • YouTube, Vimeo, and other video publishing services can be used to capture work, student reflections, and a series of events.

What are your thoughts on publishing works in progress? How can professionals and students use this to further learning?