Tonight I will be thinking about and discussing the implications that the National Education Technology Plan’s chapter on teaching with technology will have in my own classroom. For those of you who may be interested, the entire document can be viewed online at the U.S. Government’s Educational Technology site.
Let me begin by saying that the big theme of this section seems to be the idea that technology integration in the classroom means more than digital literacy outside of the classroom. In other words, the technology that educators use with their students ought to be tailored to their educational goals and supplement content area curriculum rather than simply being an add-on to what teachers would otherwise be doing. The recommendations that the NETP document suggest at the end of the chapter for improving this sort of integration primarily concentrate on Professional Development for pre-service and in-service educators on programs and technological assets available to them.
One place I think the NETP plan missed the ball in this section is in reference to the difference between technology integration, and blended learning. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the distinction between the two, I urge you to watch this video that provides good examples of ways that technology can be used as more than a supplement to learning, and actually use it as a tool that helps our students to become more prepared for twenty-first century skills in a technology rich, global community–another theme of this section of the NETP document. The basic idea presented in the video can be summed up by saying that blended learning takes a traditional “sage on the stage” kind of classroom, and puts the students themselves on the stage. From here they can engage in student-led dialogic conversations within their classroom and the greater online community, access online information that would otherwise be unavailable, and pursue ways to connect their in-class activities to their own interests, otherwise known as inquiry-based learning.
While the NETP plan hints at these ideas, I think they missed a valuable opportunity to improve clarity by naming this distinction. Instead of having students type a paper instead of handwriting (technology integration), teachers can have students write blog posts where other students and the teacher can comment and broaden the learning that students are participating in on their own. This sort of dialogue is a twenty-first century skill that students aren’t able to access simply through technology integration.
So what does this look like in my future classroom?
The video provides a good example when it discusses students writing in an online forum that allows dialogue between students while also letting them self-assess the clarity of their writing and the depth of their ideas on a concept or topic. A key to this that is missing in current classrooms, even at the University level, is how to incentivize students to actually go back and read the comments that others make on their posts and thus grow their thinking. In my own experience, most students rarely go back to read and reply to comments, a key place where learning can occur.
Another way to integrate technology and blended learning into my classroom is through the use of a learning management system. There is a wide variety of these systems available, but some examples include Canvas, Schoology, and Moodle. These systems provide a platform for seamlessly blending the classroom experience with student’s online experiences. They also allow for educators to provide students with additional resources and rabbit-holes to explore and increase the depth of their engagement. However, the best way to utilize these systems is to use them school, or even district-wide. If they aren’t utilized universally in a student’s education, these systems can be cumbersome, and actually inhibit student learning. One of the downfalls of technology integration in the classroom is the nature of distraction. While the internet provides students and teachers alike with boundless opportunities to increase the scope of their learning (both depth and breadth), it also allows for boundless opportunities for learning to be derailed. In the case of learning management systems, the use of two or more systems for in a student’s different classes means that they have to go to different places to find the information necessary for their success as learners. This means they have to increase their multitasking abilities (arguably another valuable twenty-first century skill: more on that later) and increase their focus. As soon as they have to go to two different places for their learning, they have already created a disjunction that opens up another opportunity for distraction.
While improving the above-named skills is valuable, it does not benefit instructors or their students to create a roadblock by using a different LMS (learning management system) than the one students are already using. The reason for this uncanny roadblock’s presence for instructors and their students, is that we are all good procrastinators. If you have time, check out this TEDtalk on procrastination. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to understand what I say when I say that the internet is the perfect habitat for the “instant gratification monkey” and often covers a large area of “the dark playground.”
Because of the human desire for things that are “easy and fun,” it is of the utmost important for teachers to do two things: 1. They need to teach their students that hard is good. For my students in an English class, this is essential. Reading and writing are hard! But they are essential to participating in the twenty-first century and American democracy. However, teachers must also 2. Create environments, particularly online, where students have a clear path to their destination. This doesn’t mean that instructors need to limit the paths their students take to reach a learning target, but simply that they have deadlines and steps to help them keep track of their progress and to hold themselves accountable. These scaffolds can provide an infrastructure that helps students avoid the multitasking demon that so often leads people to procrastinate and get distracted.
With that said, I believe it’s time for me to bring this all back to where we started. The NETP guidelines for technological integration in the classroom are valuable. However, I think we will be doing our students a disservice if we stop at simply integrating tech, without being mindful of how those activities and resources accent and enrich student learning, rather than simply supplementing that learning.