There are a hundred different articles out there that will explain why it is so important for students to learn to code, or to use computational thinking, or to be makers of media, rather than just consumers of it. These articles all address the 'why' of using technology -and for the most part, the points they make are valid and important for 21st century educators and schools to be aware of, but there aren't as many articles that address the 'how' - that is, how educators might be able to use technology to best effect in the classroom.
Programming, laptops, tables and other uses of educational technology have a long history - Seymour Papert was discussing why it was important in the 1970s, but we have only recently started talking about the best methodologies for using the technology, and the kinds of knowledge and skill that teachers need to be able to access if they are going to deploy it effectively. Many teachers are familiar with the TPACK model, and Ruben Puentedura's SAMR framework has gained a lot of interest, but I think Jane Hunter's High Possibility Classroom's Model is the most complete example that I've seen.
Drawing (very briefly) from Hunter's work, I've devised three questions that I think are helpful for teachers considering how they might use technology in the classroom. I use these questions to help the teachers formulate in their own minds what the purpose of technology is in their classroom, and how they can make the 'how' fit the 'why'.
Is there a tangible benefit to using the technology?
I'm not a believer in the idea that we should use technology for its own sake. Any use of technology in the classroom should have a clear purpose - and that purpose should have a benefit beyond more traditional ways of doing something. If, for example, you intend for students to write an essay, what possible benefit is there in doing it via a word-processing application? If, like in Australia, students still need to hand write their final exams, then perhaps by preventing them from hand writing, we are actually doing student a disservice. Of course, there are lots of ways to step up the traditional essay to make it a more effective learning experience through the use of technology - for example, by using collaborative editing and revising.
Does the technology allow more students to participate at a level that is suitable for them?
Teachers generally work hard to differentiate or personalise the learning in their classroom, but it's a tricky proposition at the best of times. Recent studies have shown that there might be as much as seven years difference in levels of achievement in a single classroom - providing engaging learning materials for such a wide spread is a challenge for even the most competent teacher. However, I think that technology has real potential to assist in this way - as long as the teacher in question deploys it appropriately. For example, there are plenty of examples of software that will provide reading level appropriate materials for students, or software that will deliver adaptive questioning for students at their level. Teachers can - and should - make use of all of this.
Does the technology encourage broader community participation?
My final question that I ask teachers is really related to question one. One of the great strengths - and also risks - of our connected world is that it allows students, teachers, classrooms and even schools to communicate beyond the walls of the classroom. There are now many examples of programs that link classrooms from around the world so that students can learn from each other. How much more powerful it must be for student to actually talk to someone from Brazil, for example, rather than simply learning about Brazil from an encyclopaedia or Wikipedia. Of course, teachers need to ensure that such interactions are meaningful and appropriate - but it would be foolish to miss out on such an opportunity.
These three questions are the starting point for conversations - they are not meant to be a complete list, but rather a way of directing the use of technology in the modern classroom. What questions would you add to the list?
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.