Facebook
Edutopia on Facebook
Twitter
Edutopia on Twitter
Google+
Edutopia on Google+
Pinterest
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
PrintPrint
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share
Three children around a tablet device

School would be a lot easier for administrators and teachers if technology were left outside of the classroom walls. Technology brings significant and frustrating obstacles to student learning. The range includes infrastructure issues like wireless connectivity, printing difficulties, projector failures, student behavioral challenges, and helping parents navigate the home environment with mobile technology. Teacher training and ongoing support are at the core of instilling a successful digital transformation. And high-quality master teachers are essential to ensure that technology is used to deepen student learning.

However, the adoption curve can be slow, uneven, and filled with ups and downs.

Susan Pinker, in a recent op-ed for The New York Times, asks, "Can Students Have Too Much Tech?" She questions the need for widespread technology adoption and cautions us to look carefully at the evidence about whether technology adoption transforms learning. She invokes the phrase, "drive-by education" to describe programs where "adults distribute the laptops and then walk away."

And if that is the approach taken by schools, then she's right to question the validity of making more of a push for technology in schools, to fall in line with President Obama's call to prepare students for an "increasingly competitive world," through "a free and open internet" that "extend[s] its reach to every classroom and community."

Opening New Routes to Learning

If we change the question to why must schools adopt technology, adding a sense of urgency, we gain greater insight into why schools should develop thoughtful, intentional, meaningful approaches for using technology to make learning more efficient, organized, and ultimately transformational.

In the MIT Sloan Management Review, Michael Fitzgerald cites "a study by MIT Sloan Management Review and Capgemini Consulting" that "finds that companies now face a digital imperative: adopt new technologies effectively or face competitive obsolescence."

In the study's executive summary, the authors note: "Technology's promise is not simply to automate processes, but to open routes to new ways of doing business." This first step, "to automate processes," should not be underestimated.

As schools continue the work to integrate technology into learning, they address several key issues and structures:

1. Clean up the wires.

This is critical to future success. If the wires behind the walls are tangled and messy, then the classroom experience for teachers and students will be the same. Putting time and resources toward ensuring smoothly-functioning systems is essential. This part of the work should be invisible to users, but it's the backbone upon which all future success rests. Teachers and students will fast lose confidence if they face daily frustration with connectivity or printing issues.

2. Find the right LMS (Learning Management System).

Again, this is not trivial. The LMS should be intuitive, easy to use, and offer opportunities to make learning more organized and efficient -- at its first stage of adoption. Schoology is one system that's appealing to students and teachers because the user interface (UI) looks similar to Facebook. Teachers can post assignments, create learning calendars, and post grades and feedback for students to review in real time. Schoology also has an easy-to-use online forum for each class where students can post questions to their peers and get answers, creating a peer-to-peer learning environment. It can be the main gateway for information if that's how students and teachers choose to use it -- which illustrates why schools need to spend the time and resources to make sure that all stakeholders know how to use the LMS.

3. Teamwork is key.

Teachers who work collaboratively in different teaming structures can speed up adoption, as learning spreads across the team instead of residing in one individual or department. When teachers model collaboration, students see teachers working together to create solutions.

4. Ask the students.

When in doubt, ask the students. If something isn't working in the classroom, or if an LMS feature isn't clear, the students are likely to have experimented or played with the tool to make it work better.

5. Transform your skills.

Teaching computer programming, computational thinking, and coding are a must for schools. Students are tackling these skills on their own outside of school. Schools must bring those courses and skills to fruition for students.

6. Create a makerspace.

Students need a place at school to tinker, explore, dismantle, and reassemble the hardware of technology. And teachers working in these spaces need a network of other educators to help create opportunities for students. MIT's Fab Labs provide a blueprint. The key here is that exploration is not done in isolation, but is most successful through networking and sharing.

7. Enable online learning.

Students need the experience of taking an online course to let them connect beyond the school walls, engage with other thinkers in different communities, and then bring that learning back to their own communities. Online courses can open up pathways for students and teachers, and increase the opportunity for connection. It's critical to deepen learning by accessing and leveraging online spaces.

8. Teach digital ethics and citizenship.

Culture is critical to develop and preserve around digital technologies. Schools need to make time and space for conversations with students and parents and promote positive peer pressure with the use of technology. Common Sense Media has developed some terrific, practical materials for schools to use with its Connecting Families Module, which includes how to set up and run a teen panel and how to use case studies to talk with parents.

Amplifying Our Mental Power

So why go through all of this trouble?

Because we must have the courage to enter digital arenas with students to prepare them for a future we don't yet know or understand. We are building platforms for learning, where students are able to see and make connections across different content and discipline areas, with technology serving as a bridge across these areas.

Lori Hough, writing in Harvard's Ed Magazine, discusses the work of David Perkins, the author of Future Wise:

Instead, we should be moving away from an understanding of something -- the information on the test, the list of state capitals -- to an understanding with something. With the latter, he says, students are able to then make connections to other things. For example, rather than just learning facts about the French Revolution, students should learn about the French Revolution as a way to understand issues like world conflict or poverty or the struggle between church and state. Without those connections, Perkins says he's not surprised that so many people have trouble naming things they learned early on that still have meaning today, or that disengaged students are raising their hands, asking why they need to know something.

Technology enables students to "make connections to other things." That is an essential skill for the future. There are many layers for schools to put in place to connect the synapses with technology. And in the hands of capable, passionate, and supported teachers, these synapses will be connected.

Erik Brynjolfss and Andrew McAfee write in The Second Machine Age:

Computers and other digital advances are doing for mental power -- the ability to use our brains to understand and shape our environments -- what the steam engine and its descendants did for muscle power. They're allowing us to blow past previous limitations and taking us into new territory. How exactly this transition will play out remains unknown. (p. 25)

So the question for schools becomes: "How can we not engage with technology?"

Was this useful?

Comments (4) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

Thanks, Matt! This is an excellent breakdown of what districts and schools need to address if they are going to bring technology to students. I embarked on that journey on my own, as I wrote grants for classroom laptops before my school or district saw the need. Five years later, my district is going to 1:1 iPads in the fall, and I can already see them trying to address a lot of what you suggest here. But it won't be easy! We see a huge gap between teachers who are very tech-savvy and those who still don't use a smartphone. How do you tackle that issue? How do you provide support for teachers at such a wide range of needs to make sure that students are getting a valuable experience no matter what classroom they are in?

Matt Levinson's picture
Matt Levinson
Head of School, University Prep

I think a key component is collaboration so that teachers feel supported and not alone. By working in teams, they are able to share ideas and process trying new things.

Jayne Miller's picture
Jayne Miller
Blogger, Chalkup

Three cheers for collaboration, Matt. I think that's one of the most important parts of this conversation.

In terms of selecting an lms, I recently wrote and researched best practices for transitioning from paper-based systems to paperless ones. I can't recommend enough doing a digital assessment of your school to find a system that's the right fit for your needs. And thumbs up on intuitiveness. The easier to use your lms is, the more likely you'll see a high adoption rate across the board, which is key to a tech transition.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hey Matt,
Thanks for sharing this. There is lots of interesting material here, and it provoked some thought amongst my colleagues and myself. I think one of the crucial parts here is envisioning a new way of teaching and learning - not trying to do the old way with new tools. An example of this might be eBay or Amazon - I know that they are commercial enterprises, but they changed the landscape of buying and selling. What might that look like for education? I think you are on the right track regarding online learning.

Another point I wanted to pick up on: in the 1970s and 1980s, computer programming was hugely popular in schools, but it never really led to anything, and later on schools seemed to abandon it as one of those educational fads. I firmly believe in teaching kids to code (see some of my posts on Edutopia!) but I wonder how you respond to those teachers who roll their eyes and say, 'Not this again!'

Keith

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.

Join the movement for change