Technology Changes Learning Needs

With the abilities to connect and communicate globally through the use and advances of technology, our world is getting smaller… but certainly not simpler. With this shift from local disconnection to global openness and the world’s knowledge at our fingertips we as educators need to take a serious look at what needs to be learned and how the best way to learn it is to optimize true understanding.

David Perkins in Future Wise points out the following: (page 36)

  1. Knowledge involves much more than information…
  2. It’s good to have a lot of information, but information learned in a didactic way is likely simply to be forgotten.
  3. A big reservoir of memorized information is somewhat less pertinent than it used to be, with information on just about anything at our digital fingertips.

We as educators know that information memorized isn’t retained unless it is used in a meaningful way. We also know that bits of information doesn’t become the knowledge of any topic, unless we facilitate students to make connections and discover true understanding. We also know that in a ‘Google World’ information is available at our fingertips, 24/7. So if this is all true, what can we do to  help our students learn in their new world order?  Here are some practical suggestions:

  • Determine the big understandings in your content. What is ‘Lifeworthy Learning’ in your content? Chances are it won’t be the individual facts and bits of information some spend far too much time focusing on. As you plan your units and lessons ask yourself: “Is this going to help my students live a better life?”
  • Once you’ve determined the big understandings of your unit, now you’re ready to plan the best way to deliver the lessons. The old model of teacher as ‘sage on the stage’ simply filling student heads with bits of information is not going to work. We have all been in classrooms where we took copious notes and crammed for tests to get an A in the course, only to forget all that disconnected information once the course was over. We as educators need to think about how this new learning environment looks. Project-based and problem-based learning are two examples of how this can shift to a more student centered learning environment where students engage in what they are learning to become what David Perkins calls an ‘expert amateur.’

Basic education should build expert amateurism more than expertise. The expert amateur understands the basics and applies them confidently, correctly, and flexibly. ( Future Wise page 38)

  • Since information is at our fingertips the other piece of this is to help students question what they read. They need practice in decoding all that information so they can intelligently determine what is accurate and what is not. This is definitely lifeworthy learning. Finding and accessing the best information is key to our students’ survival on the super information highway. Embedding questioning and searching techniques throughout all lessons is key. Google Scholar is one tool that helps students find scholarly information that is trustworthy. Other important lessons center around search techniques, evaluating resources and learning how to critically question and analyze information media.

Our students’ world is different then ours was. They have much more opportunities for global connections as well as terabytes of information readily at their fingertips. What hasn’t changed is how we retain knowledge and truly understand what we have learned. To be able to take knowledge and successfully transfer it to our lives we need to manipulate in, apply it to problems, explore options, rethink solutions and communicate how we know what we know in real world situations. That is real learning. That hasn’t changed. Technology should make this transition easier… let’s say no to focusing on the small bits of information and yes to helping our students find the needed information and apply it to their life and world.


A Vision: one-to-world

This post was inspired by Alan November’s February 2013 article: Why Schools Must Move Beyond One-to-One Computing  (I encourage you to read it, then come back for my 2 cents.)

My 2 cents… What we have seen in the past 15 years or so is a move from one ‘tech fad’ to another with, in some cases, little focus on the real need: best first instruction that offers multiple modes of learning for all students to be successful. At some point we all probably have been guilty of focusing on the wrong things, especially when the toys are sometimes just too cool to ignore. The problem, as Alan points out, is

Adding a digital device to the classroom without a fundamental change in the culture of teaching and learning will not lead to significant improvement.

Let’s start with a trip down memory lane….

I started teaching in public schools in 1997 after working in a number of non-for-profit organizations. Since arriving in education the available technology has definitely changed. At my first job we had a lab of Apple 2es that you could sign up to use. Unfortunately for most of the students these were put in without any professional development for the teachers  so most didn’t understand what to do with them except play  ‘educational games’, or simply chose to not use them. (Great for me and my students since we were able to go in often.) As the computers advanced the programs became more advanced as well. In some cases though drill/kill computer games replaced drill/kill worksheets.  More engaging for students, sure… more educationally promising, not so sure…

Enter the LCD Projector and the ability for teachers and students to now project their presentations. I actually won an award in 1999 from NYSCATE for my ‘Biographies’ unit where I had my students research and create a ‘biography’ PowerPoint presentation on their famous person to share with other fourth grade students. A simple application, but at this point I was on my way to realizing the potential of project-based learning using technology. The award included an LCD projector that I used in my classroom and shared with the building for those who wanted to sign it out. (Wow, how far we have come since then.)

Luckily for me the year after winning this award offered me many opportunities to learn how to truly integrate technology into my existing student-centered classroom. I was offered an opportunity to become involved in a ground breaking mentorship program where a group of teachers in the region were trained on how to infuse technology into learning. We spent Saturdays learning software programs like Inspiration, and a new online interface where we could engage with our mentees in a virtual online mentoring program.  Looking back it was 1999 and there truly wasn’t too many other programs like this. The best part of this program was that it had its priorities right: Learning FIRST, Technology second. But, let’s not forget my own educational pedagogy was already centered on inquiry, project-based learning. To me technology was a natural addition into my learning environment.

Enter SMARTBoards, and other interactive Whiteboards. The intention of course was to get students up and moving, interacting with the technology. Certainly it does have potential, and I have seen some great interactive lessons but don’t forget it is for only one (or in some cases two) people at a time to be interactive with the board.  It also can turn into a glorified tool for the ‘sage on the stage’ if again there isn’t a, ‘fundamental change in the culture of teaching and learning.’

Enter netbooks, ultrabooks, tablets and other mobile devices. Many school districts have jumped into the 1:1 fray, some being successful, but many not so much.  The missing component again is the vision. Flooding schools and students with devices won’t change the learning culture. Before moving to a 1:1 program schools need to think through the process and needs of the stakeholders. More importantly, as Alan points out, they need to have a vision and start looking at the possibilities from a ‘1 to world’ perspective.  Thinking of it as a ‘1 to world’ focuses on the global component of learning or as Alan says:

This simple, one-word change takes us beyond the focus on the boxes and wires and alludes to why we are making the investment in the first place. The planning considerations now evolve from questions about technical capacity to a vision of limitless opportunities for learning.

So, once again it boils down to a vision.  If a district, building, administrator, or educator doesn’t have a vision how can they see results and truly affect change? I’ve heard people say they don’t have time to articulate a vision. I say that you can’t afford not to take the time. Without a vision and follow through districts will continue to throw money into technology without seeing any improvement in learning.

Please Know:  I am not against technology, rather I’m truly excited about the possibilities.  I just don’t want us to lose sight of what the ultimate goal is: learning and success for all students.