Are We Talking Technology or Are We Talking Learning

More and more, educators are recognizing that the true value of technology isn’t learning how to use the tools and devices, but rather using the tools and devices to learn (see here, here, here, and here).

Even a recent meta analysis of the research on 1to1 learning environments shows that when the studies focused simply on the presence of technology, there was no real improvement in learning. Yet, when a study focused on how the devices were used, certain types of use (those focused on effective instructional practices), there was a real improvement in learning.

We will never be successful having our technology help improve student learning if we continue to primarily discuss the technology.  Our technology conversations must focus on the kinds of learning we want for students. After all, if the goal of our technology initiative is simply to make sure that students have technology, when we are successful, all we have are students with devices (and perhaps distracted students at that!).

The good news is that Maine’s statewide BrightBytes data on technology and learning show that students and teachers feel they are encouraged to use their technology for learning:

Teachers and students encouraged to use tech for learning

But those data also show that, although we’ve done a pretty good job of teaching teachers and students how to use the devices and tools, we have a ways to go for implementing those tools and devices for learning:

Knowing skills and using for learning 

So, our state data reinforce the need for our push for “More Verbs, Fewer Nouns” – our need to talk less about the devices and tools and more about the way we want to use them.

How can you tell if you are talking about Tech or talking about Learning?

You are talking about tech when you talk about the following:

  • Cost of devices
  • How easy it is (or isn’t) to manage
  • Wanting same device/platform K-12
  • Teaching skills or about the tools (out of context)
  • Tips and Tricks PD
  • Latest Gimmick/Gadget PD

And you are talking about learning when you talk about the following:

  • Specific academic content focus
  • Used meaningfully for learning task
  • Beyond facts to deeper understanding, to creativity and complex reasoning
  • Student engagement
  • Teaching tech skills as foundation to completing learning activity
  • PD on good instruction (with tech) 

There is no doubt that we need “noun people” as part of ensuring technology is used purposefully for learning. We still need a technology infrastructure to support the learning activities for which we want to use technology. In the Maine Learning Technology Framework, we refer to that as Learning-Focused Access.

In Taking Classroom Tech Use to the Next Level: Specific Traits to Look For, the author points out that Alan November recommends six questions to determine if technology adds any value to the learning:

  1. Did the assignment create capacity for critical thinking on the Web?
  2. Did the assignment reach new areas of teaching students to develop new lines of inquiry?
  3. Are there opportunities to broaden the perspective of the conversation with authentic audiences from around the world?
  4. Is there an opportunity for students to publish (across various media) with an opportunity for continuous feedback?
  5. Is there an option for students to create a contribution (purposeful work)?
  6. Were students introduced to the best example in the world of the content or skill?

OoAnd the author points out, “Three of the most important traits they look at when evaluating a lesson are whether it is discipline specific, promotes critical thinking and whether technology is used in transformative ways.”

One approach to making sure that your education technology conversations are well grounded in learning is to create a shared vision for learning with a diverse group of stakeholders (at least including educators, students, parents, and community members). That shared vision isn’t a vision for the school or a vision for education technology, but rather a vision for the kids of learning experiences the school community want for its students. 

Here are two easy-to-implement strategies for creating a shared vision for learning. Neither takes a lot of time to implement. One asks participants to think about a preferred future for children they care about and then the kinds of learning that they would need to be doing now to achieve that perfected future. The other asks participants to think about a good learning experience and then about the characteristics of that experience.

 

 

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