Image source: Alec Couros of Open Thinking blog
Last week, while presenting to a group of high school educators on the topic of technology integration, I posed the following question: What are the benefits of using technology based activities in the classroom? As I waited in silence for the teachers to respond I looked around and noticed someone flipping through the Daily News, and then I spotted two people in the back having a heated discussion about the weather. So then I tried to rephrase the question, and said -- "Well, what are some ways you believe technology might replicate teachers or extend learning beyond the 4-walls of the classroom?"
As I finished that question one of the teachers, a bespectacled gentlemen with a goatee looked up and said, "Before we can even think about using technology in the classroom we need to teach these kids how to type. How are they supposed to use the computers effectively if the majority of them can't even type?" That was a valid point, which I tried to diffuse by saying -- "I completely agree that typing is an important skill, but is that enough reason not to bring these tools into your classroom?" His response: "You're supposed to be the expert -- you tell me." At that point, I knew this was going to be a tough group to win over.
As the conversation wore on a kind person who clearly had her dose of caffeine piped in and said, "I recently implemented a podcasting project in which my students wrote, recorded and produced monologues based on the novel, Monster. I have to say my students were extremely engaged in the learning experience. Not only that, but they also collaborated with each other to complete the projects, and did so in a civilized manner."
Then it happened -- the ideas started flowing. One teacher mentioned the importance of using critical thinking skills to evaluate websites, and another explained how programs like Read 180 facilitated customized learning experiences for her students, and then someone yelled out "classroom blogs allow for more transparency", and another, who I wanted to hug -- asked "Why aren't we using technology to create global learning experiences?" and on and on it went until we had created a long list of ideas that answered my initial query.
As the brainstorm winded down I summed up their ideas by saying:
"Based on our conversation you have helped me to see that everything we talked about goes far beyond looking at technology simply as a tool. As educators we are living in an exciting time when we can easily begin using technology in the classroom to replicate/support our teaching. But we must never forget that the pedagogy and content come first, and the technology is an add-on that can take our lessons and project-based learning experiences to another level."
At the end of the session, I showed a short video clip that I believe demonstrates what it means to be a learner in today's technology infused world. As the teachers watched the video, I noticed that the newspapers were closed and that the conversations had stopped. For a brief moment we were all on the same page -- sitting in comfortable silence trying to figure out the best ways to get our students excited about learning in the 21st century.
*This anecdote was a blend of fact and fiction based on several professional development sessions I facilitated during the 2008-2009 school year.