Later today, I am going to Skype into a class of prospective teachers at Creighton University in Omaha that is being taught by a fellow tech traveler, Mike M. I feel honored that I am even being asked and I am trying to think of a message that I can send to these folks as they consider the world of teaching and technology.
Mike asked if I might think about talking about my work around webcomics or stopmotion movies. But I want to try to distill a message, too, about why I think technology belongs in the classroom and some practical advice for other teachers to at least consider.
Here, then, is some morning brainstorming around my ideas of technology.
- Technology must become part of the general curriculum. The phrase technology integration is how we say it but what we mean is that ideally, all schools would rip out their computer labs and move computers and technology right into the classroom. There are still too many places where “technology” is a time when classroom teachers drop their kids off for their own prep period. Technology in isolation is almost wasted time. We need to find ways to integrate the tools into the everyday world of learning. There are, of course, many barriers to this, including aging equipment and lack of equipment. I understand. But isolated computer labs just won’t cut it.
- Teachers need mentors/coaches as collaborative partners. There are many districts that have this model (not mine), in which a teacher with some expertise in technology is the coach of others. Sometimes, they are called technology integration specialists. An ideal model for this is that a mentor teacher goes into the classroom for long stretches of time, working on the planning of a unit of instruction with the classroom teacher. Together, they find tools that expand the learning opportunities and push the students beyond, or in conjunction with, the traditional curriculum. And then (this is key), the mentor stays in the classroom with the teacher as the unit is taught, acting on a sounding board, troubleshooter and helper. This would instill confidence, which could then spill over to other projects. The fear factor is a huge deterrent to technology adoption by our colleagues. one difference between most teachers and most students (not all) is that students are fearless with technology. They’ll dive right in and not worry if they might “break” it. What they often lack is a framework for why they are doing what they are doing, and that is something we teachers need to help them understand.
- We all need to play. Teachers need time to explore and play with technology, and they need this time within the professional development framework. And they need to do this “play” collaboratively with other teachers so that they can help each other out as they are learning something new. This is not wasted time. It is valuable time because as we play, and as we move into new territory such as cool tools, we learn more about how we learn. Students need the same. They need time to play when you are introducing something new. If you don’t give them this time, they’ll do it anyway. Trust me. Better to allocate time for exploration and then move towards focused learning. Don’t underestimate the play time.
- Students need to be active composers, not passive gatherers. In my mind, accessing the Internet to gather facts for a report is not “using technology.” This is mostly a passive activity that merely replaces an encyclopedia with something quicker. I want students to be creating content with the digital tools available, taking ownership of the material. I want them to be composers. We need to constantly strive to make sure our students are not merely watching the world, but engaged in the world. Technology provides amazing tools for doing this — with writing, with voice, with video — and that kind of engagement around creating something original should be at the heart of most learning opportunities.
- Reflective practice should be part of every assignment. I imagine this is mostly true for most of us, but we need to make sure students are reflecting on what they have done. What did they like about that tool? What did they not like? How would this project have looked different if they used another tool or site or platform? How could you improve upon the design of it? This stepping-back reflective stance is what helps shift students into critical thinkers.
I am pretty sure I can talk about webcomics or stopmotion movies through the lens of these ideas.
Peace (in the brain dumping, to quote Bud the Teacher),