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I was tempted to share a piece I drafted a while ago on the various Cs of educational technology. You know, the usual communication, collaboration, connection, etc. But I thought that others had already been there and done that better than I could.

I thought about what I have observed teachers trying to do and also what they might strive to do. At the moment I have three Ms: Motivate, monitor, mediate.
 

iPads arrive in 4th grade... by timlauer, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  timlauer 

 
When technology became more common in modern classrooms, some teachers rationalised that it was a way to motivate learners. Today teachers still think and say that, except the word now is “engage” (but here are reasons why engagement is not enough).

Technologies like mobile phones and laptops certainly motivate, but only in certain contexts. Outside the classroom, learners have free play with them. For example, they can watch the videos of YouTubers they subscribe to. If they wish, they can post or respond to comments about the video.

In the classroom, the teacher selects a video and typically leads the questioning or a discussion. Learners might be interested initially, but over time they realise they do not have the same level of choice and ownership. Such a motivational strategy gets old very quickly.
 

 
Since the rise of the learning management system (LMS), teachers have used technology to monitor their learners. This type of technology not only helps teachers assign work to their students online, it might provide answers to this question: How do I know they have done what I told them to do? This is still a common concern.

I am sure that teachers would like an LMS to also automatically mark (grade) student work. With the exception of more objective multiple choice-type tasks, the technologies in this collective is not quite there yet. This M-word does not make the grade yet.
 

 
A more important and powerful strategy is leveraging on technology to mediate learning. This strategy requires teachers to design student-centred learning experiences in which students learn with and from technology.

The teacher builds bridges, scaffolds problems, or creates links with the technology. Mediating technology connects students with content repositories, knowledgeable others (this includes the teacher), and spaces to explore and create. Ideally, such technology becomes as transparent as the older technology of the pencil and paper so that it enables learning instead of distracting from it.

The teacher needs to use mediating strategies as well. Whether the strategy is flipped, game-based, or social media-enabled, the teacher needs to become a small but critical part of complex learning experiences.

The teacher who mediates learning with technology need not be the only one to look for content because it is so readily available. Instead, the teacher needs to help learners see or do what they cannot. The teacher needs to be the meddler-in-the-middle. For example, the teacher needs to help learners search for and evaluate content. This not only helps with the learning of content, but also with critical thinking skills and digital literacies.

Many teachers still cannot see themselves doing this because they have never been taught this way and they might not think this is feasible. They might not realise this is how we currently learn after we are out of school. We learn without curricula or tests. We learn when the situation demands it. We learn all this with the help of technology that connects.

Today I conduct my third workshop on technology-mediated pedagogies at a school. It is my way of meddling with old mindsets, modelling a more progressive approach, and reaching teachers one person at a time.

I have always felt uneasy when people say “technology is a tool”. I definitely take issue with those who say “technology is just a tool”.

However, I could not clearly articulate why except to cite and explain Marshall McLuhan who said: We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.

We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.

Teachers and school leaders who say that technology is a tool often mean that pedagogy should come first. This gives it purpose. But so does context, relevance, or the nature of the content. So what comes first?

I also used to believe that the pedagogical horse should lead the technology cart. However, that analogy is not relevant. Today we have the car where the horse and the cart are integrated. You can still tell the engine from the cabin, but it would be silly to favour one and not the other. If you did, it would not be a car.

But I discovered an even better analogy in technology isn’t a tool, it’s an instrument. The author cited a gun-related article which stated:

A gun isn’t a tool – it’s not a hammer or a drill that you can pick up, use to solve a problem, and put away until you have the next problem you want to solve. It’s an instrument, like a guitar or piano. It requires constant care, it requires checking and tuning before each use, it requires an intimate relationship with its mechanisms, with its parameters, with what it can do and what it should do and what it is meant for. It requires care and feeding. And it requires practice, near constant practice for you to be any good at doing anything with it.

After that the author summed up his thoughts like this:

Technology is an instrument. Learning how to use it properly makes you an artist. You can create works of art or works of work. You can become skilled. You can use it to touch other people’s hearts or pull money out of their wallets.

Citing technology as merely a tool is often used as an excuse by those who do not wish to use it in teaching. They say that pedagogy comes first and technology distracts. To borrow a phrase from the author, they treat technology as a wall instead of a conduit.

The shift in thinking could be to see technology not as hammers but as violins instead. Except for trades folk, tools like hammers and screwdrivers are used when they are needed and then put away. Musical instruments, on the other hand, need to be used every day (perhaps more than once a day), practiced with, read up on, and cared for.

There are basics that one needs to master with both tools and instruments. But to be masterful and to change the minds and move the hearts of those who you play for takes dedication with an instrument.
 

musical toolbox 01 by byronv2, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  byronv2 

 
All that said, some surgeons call their tools instruments. Some people use tools to create intricate pieces of art. So my reflection is not really about debating the merits of educational technology as tools versus instruments.

A problem that teachers might not realize they have when they reject technology is that they are focusing on skill set. They worry about not being able to use the technology or lacking ideas on how to integrate it. They see technology changing so quickly that what they do might be obsolete before they master it.

The underlying issue is mindset. Pedagogies do not change as quickly as technology and some technologies last longer than others. These are the practices and instruments that last and should be practiced every day.

Whether educational technology is viewed as musical instruments or artisanal tools, their practised use can become less of a chore and more of a joy.

Sharing by blogging and tweeting every day is no more a chore for me than watching entertaining YouTube videos or reading enlightening online articles. This is because basic skill sets have become ingrained by practice and transformed themselves into a mindset. If teachers want to integrate technology effectively, they must acquire both sets.

I have said this early on in my life as a teacher educator, but it bears repeating: If your students are not the ones using the technology, then you are not doing it right.
 

 
If you are the one with the fancy presentation, backchannel, or online feedback form, you are in control. You will feel like you are teaching and you will be the one that has learnt and will learn the most. If you do this, you might as well be talking to an empty room.

Why not transfer that feeling of fulfilled learning to your learners? What excuses are you making?

Is this how your students are taking notes (because you only live in an analogue world)?

Students Using Technology by cluzio, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  cluzio 

 
Is this how your students are consuming content (together and with available technologies)?

 
Is this how your students are creating content (again together and with available technologies)?

 
Is this how your students are learning by teaching (inside and outside the classroom?)

 
If not, what excuses are you making? Why are you denying them opportunities to learn in ways that are more relevant and powerful?

By the time you read this blog entry, I should be done sharing some ideas on educational innovation.

An ex-colleague invited me to deliver this keynote less than two weeks ago. It was very short notice, but I decided to help. I titled my session Educational innovation: Thinking and acting outside the box.

My modus operandi for talks is to use Google Slides and have a TodaysMeet backchannel and this morning’s session was no exception. I also included an online poll and an exit ticket with the help of Google Forms.

I strung together seemingly disparate items to tell a story on innovation at the classroom level:

  • A Jerry Seinfeld story
  • Time travel and emotional learning
  • Jailbreaking
  • Never being ready and failing forward
  • Informal professional development
  • Setting aside time
  • Unkilling learning zombies
  • Stepping outside yourself

I also featured this video to remind them how innovation (creativity in action) happens.


Video source

The idea was to get teachers to think and operate outside the box they put themselves in. Only time will tell if I have tilted the box enough for them to fall out.
 

 

If you have observed some major online players offering open educational resources, you might think that the era of free and open online learning resources has arrived.

What am I talking about? For something more recent, consider Apple’s iTunes U, YouTube Education, or the Prezi U announcement and site. Carnegie Mellon has its Open Learning Initiative. MIT might be considered a pioneer with Open Courseware which has been around for just over 10 years.

In our own small way, CeL has been trying to provide more open resources at NIeLearning as well as at a free help site and templates for the e-portfolio initiative here in NIE.

Why go open? Entities like Apple, YouTube, and Prezi benefit from brand recognition and platform adoption. Openness is an indirect but important way to make money. Educational institutions that put open educational resources in such platforms gain in a similar way.

But what of organizations whose primary goal is not to make money? If you believe that education is a socio-economic leveller, then being open and providing open educational resources are means of getting there. Doing this might solidify your reputation for good service in the educational ecosystem.

In an ideal world, all education would be free. In the real world, there is a need to provide infrastructure, utilities and transport, pay people to teach, advertise and recruit, etc. But these are not the real barriers to open education as people who take their education online bypass the brick-and-motar model and either reduce or remove cost in order to learn. People who have the information, knowledge, and the means to teach are the real barriers.

Ask most instructors why they would rather not share a resource openly and they will cite institutional policies (if any) and copyright. It is relatively easy to change policy; whether people take ownership of it is another. If an institute mandates that a certain percentage of courses goes open, how many instructors will buy in?

As for copyright, I see two main arguments: 1) The instructor wants to retain the copyright of the resource (not let others take credit or profit from it), or 2) the instructor is using someone else’s copyrighted material.

Providing a resource openly does not mean that you give up the rights or that it is totally free. If you make it available online, it is time-stamped and you might be better able to say who came up with an idea first. Offering some resources for free (a taster) and requiring payment for the rest is not a bad idea either.

The more serious problem is not sharing because you are using someone else’s copyrighted material. But we have phones and email to contact copyright owners, do we not? Alternatively, use the free and/open resources already available at the repositories above or search for CC-licensed resources.

Openness can be infectious, but only if we overcome mindsets.

Ever considered some educational use of social networking tool like Facebook? I have.

Well, Red Rover claims to have that covered. Red Rover says that it will help learners connect with one another based on their interests and whether or not they already have Facebook profiles.

I’l have to examine this tool in greater detail. Perhaps I might use it for the community of technologically-inclined teachers that I hope to establish. Perhaps it might be a useful tool for pre-service teachers in my ICT classes next semester. I’d love to see them connect across groups and academic disciplines!


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