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Posts Tagged ‘technology

There are so many things to consider when trying to make decisions about educational technology. Be it for a class, a school, a district, or an entire country, decision makers consider cost, sustainability, adaptability, and a host of other important considerations.

However, most complexities can be whittled down a simple core. Whether you marry someone or not might boil down to love or circumstance. Whether you adopt an ICT tool, platform, or strategy could boil down to three types of questions.

Most of the time it is edtech vendors that make pitches. Are they using marketing speak (that you do not understand) or education speak (that you do)? If it is the latter, are they using buzzwords or meaningful terms? This will help you distinguish the ones who are out to make money and those who actually care and deserve to get paid.

Is the technology primarily in the hands of the teacher (like “interactive” white boards) or do they belong to the learners (like mobile or wearable devices)? If your agenda is to promote learning that is authentic, lifelong, and lifewide, consider what students have in their bedrooms. Do they have IWBs or mobile phones? How much ownership do they have of a learning management system (LMS or LMess or hellMS) versus their YouTube channel or Instagram feed?

Do you and the vendor use words like “aid” and “enhance”? Or do you make the case for “empower” and “enable”? Are you investing in technology that relies on old strategies so that the ICTs are mere add-ons or options? Or do you have a clear direction towards technology-mediated pedagogies that nurture technology-enabled learning?

Any reflective decision maker worth their salt will realise that there is a lot of noise in the search for signal. Tune in to what is important. In the area of educational technology, the right frequency is the learner and learning. Everything else is secondary and noise.

I am not sure if I agree with the sentiment expressed in the tweet above. Technology is not my slave.

I do not ill treat, disrespect, or think poorly of my computing devices for example. I feed, clothe, and take care of them.

At worst, my computing technologies are servants. They do exactly what I need when I ask nicely and in the manner they understand.

Sometimes these technologies are like coaches in that they send me reminders to do something important, to read an article, or to watch a video.

Technology is not my slave and they should not be positioned as slaves for our students. As we make these technologies more powerful and intelligent, we might need to start viewing them as companions instead.

The mindset of technology-as-slave is borne of power and struggle. The mindset of technology-as-companion is one of kinship and exchange.

Slave and companion may only be words to some, but they reflect mindsets which then shape behaviours. I do not think and act as if technology is my slave.

We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.

I shared this quotation earlier this week. Now I share its source image below.

Some people only see the first half of the socio-technical process and believe that we are masters of our domain. Others forget that our behaviours are shaped by what what we create.

Anyone who has noticed how differently we walk and talk with a smartphone in our hands will be able to relate to McLuhan’s quote. Only a few might be able to think more deeply and figure out how to take advantage of this and apply it in education.

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 get the sentiment and thinking behind such a statement. It is about getting educators who have the passion to teach and are able to leverage on technology to help their students learn meaningfully and effectively.

These are the sorts of educators we need, but what are types we get and grow?

We can certainly find several individuals who have the passion and a few with the innate talent to teach. But integrating technology is a learnt and transferred behaviour that takes time and trials, neither of which most teacher preparation programmes and full time jobs in schools provide.

So what is wrong with embracing “tech geeks” who can teach? Who is to say that their focus and ability only lies in the tech and not, say, the ability to use social learning strategies?

Which is harder: To learn pedagogy or to learn how to integrate technology?

That is a trick question. It is the premise on which the original statement might have been built on. It is also a false dichotomy because you cannot separate the two.

What we need is passionate do-ers who are willing to learn by failing forward. They can be “tech geeks” or “teaching geeks”, but they will go on similar journeys with their learners.

I have been thinking about this question of late. Has technology really changed the way we learn?

You will get different answers depending on who you ask. The answers stem not only from different experiences and content perspectives, but also from various levels of scrutiny.

At the moment, I offer at least four levels to tackle this question and I provide some preliminary and relatively superficial answers. The levels are:

  • Neural
  • Psychological
  • Social
  • Socio-technical

At the neural level, we learn when brain cells make new connections at the dendrite level. I doubt that position has changed because we cannot really see it happening in real time yet, but it is the established thinking on how we learn at the cellular level.

I am not aware of any studies on how technology affects learning at this level. There are people who are worried (and even paranoid) about how wireless frequencies might affect the human body, but there does not seem to be anything conclusive.

In the area of cognitive psychology and physiology, we have theories like cognitive development, schema, and neuroplasticity. Most educators should be familiar with Piaget’s cognitive development theory for children. Schema (Anderson; Ausubel) deals with how we map and categorize to create meaning for ourselves. These theories are staple to any introductory educational psychology course.

The field of neuroplasticity stems largely from studies of how people function after brain damage. Even studies on learning disabilities have shed light on how we learn. These fields are still shedding light on human learning, but I am not aware of any that focus on the longer term impact of technology.

Ever since the rise of social constructivism, researchers and practitioners seemed to have paid more attention to how we learn socially. This makes sense because this is a level we can most relate to: We talk, we listen, we interact. This has spawned strategies like cooperative learning, collaborative learning, and team-based learning. All these strategies can be enabled and mediated by technology.

Last week, Polivka nicely encapsulated Social Learning Theory. It hints at how media technologies might augment social interaction, but at its core it seems to remain we talk, we listen, and we interact in order to learn.

The most interesting field of study might be how we learn socio-technically. This emerging field recognizes that we become part of the technology and vice versa. Some people fear and judge this. Even the great Sir Ken Robinson wondered how kids could be socializing when they were looking at their phones. I noted this at the Bett conference in the UK in January this year.

Perhaps we are changing the way we learn if we embrace ourselves as socio-technical creatures. Whereas we used to rely on one or just a few sources, now we can rely on the collective intelligence of many.

Where once learning was only text-based or through the medium of air, we can now benefit from digital videos that are more entertaining, informative, time-lapsed, or sped up.

We need not be afraid to Google the dumbest or most profound questions. We can potentially connect with content experts and find global causes.

I am still not sure if learning itself has changed in a socio-technical animal. But the learning opportunities have and those might shape who we learn from, and why, where, when, and how we learn.

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