Teaching and Learning (remember them?)

Thankfully, edubloggers are writing about the lack of classroom representation in the most widely read online conversations about educational technologies. Brian Cosby and Clarence Fisher bemoan the lack of teachers at NECC and classroom examples in NECC presentations. He draws attention to the Educational Technology Professional Development Manifesto, which urges presenters at ed-tech conferences to get specific and provide enough detail that others may implement one’s ideas in their schools.

Nancy Bosch suggests that including classroom examples in ed-tech presentations may not be sufficient. Bosch writes:

I spent ten years presenting (as a full time teacher) around my state and district. I also presented for 5 years at NECC and IMHO I was very good at it, bringing hundreds of examples and projects from the classroom to share with the participants. I then suffered from tech overload and frustration because, no matter how much they “oh-ed” and “ah-ed” at workshops, I saw little technology integration in the classrooms throughout my large district.

At the same time, Chris Lehmann feels that edubloggers need to start an organization in order to effect educational change, Will Richardson wonders how to broaden the impact of powerful learning with technology that he and others have witnessed.

On the positive side, Gardner Campbell acknowledges that critical mass grows slowly but offers one institution’s history as a light at the end of the tunnel. Campbell writes:

I was struck by the commonalities with my own experience, as well as with the stories I’ve heard from similar groups: early adopters, early resistance, the slow growth of a critical mass, the difficulties with communication and cooperation and resource allocation that come with all large organizations, the successes, the professional networks, the immense satisfactions.

This leaves me to wonder: what will it take for teachers to more widely teach effectively with technology? I don’t have a single answer, but I think I can see one important missing piece. Edubloggers and teachers are not involved in enough discussions together that address teaching and learning with technology in ways that serve both populations. I have participated in so many discussions with teachers in which we spend a lot of time just to move beyond the idea that teaching with technology means trying a new tool in the classroom. It takes a substantial effort to move the discussion back to the teaching and learning objectives for a unit of study and to bring pedagogy to the forefront. If we really believe that technology is a tool, then the discussion must center about pedagogy. Changing the tool is most the most effective way to improve curriculum, but it does directly change how students interact with curriculum. Pedagogy addresses the creation of learning environments in which students interact with curriculum. Technology tools make it possible to differently implement time-honored pedagogical strategies (group discussion, for instance) and sometimes make possible new pedagogical frameworks (e.g., connectivist environments).

As I enter a new academic year, I hope to collect and present more examples of effective technology integration in the curriculum at my school. Some of it lives within the curriculum integration category of this blog, but if you want to go further back in time, you have to select an archive first and then select the category again — not the best way to navigate this content repository. I would like to draw particular attention to technology uses that are particularly effective at supporting progressive, constructivist pedagogies at our school. For example, our lower (elementary) school Spanish teacher has students creating and revising their own presentations by sitting alone in front of an iMac with video camera. In the middle school, English students write a song about post-Civil War Reconstruction, share it with their classmates to hear, transcribe the lyrics, and then have a discussion about it, all online. In the upper (high) school, a history teacher plans a new Election class for the fall, hoping that students will create their own theories about the roles of new media in this election, using new media tools to investigate the question. The best example from my past is the ChemSense project, in which students create simple, 2D representations of chemical processes and structures and discuss them in an online space. In each case, students construct their own knowledge, and the technology tool makes the process easier and more powerful.

I am convinced that theorists and teachers having more conversations about effective technology support for specific pedagogies can only lead to greater adoption in the classroom.

Our lack of a common vocabulary for new, technology-infused pedagogies works against us. Other new educational ideas, such as small schools and learning differences, have developed this common vocabulary and more quickly make sense to more teachers. In educational technologies, the only common understanding is a false one: that educational technologists simply want teachers to use more technology in their classes, and that this alone will lead to better teaching and learning. Unintentional, unplanned technology integration that uses loads of resources is counterproductive.

The lack of common vocabulary hurts us in another way — Google searches. A teacher using Google to search for technology in the classroom will easily find ‘blog,’ ‘podcast,’ or ‘Web 2.0.’ She won’t just stumble across a discussion about ‘constructivist uses of technology,’ for example. Our good writing about effective technology integration gets lost in the vast pool of ed-tech buzzwords that exist out there. Teachers find plenty of support for the misconception that technology integration is just about the gadgets.

We need more cross-pollination between educational technology and teacher conferences, but we also need new, more clever strategies to make this happen. This year, I succeeded in encouraging our middle school world cultures teacher to submit a proposal to the K12 Online Conference. Now, I hope that the selection committee will accept his proposal, and both ed-tech theorists and classroom practitioners can benefit from viewing his ideas applied to the classroom.

I plan to start a small, professional learning community at my school this year to more frequently engage in regular discussion of the pedagogical applications of computer technologies in the classroom. I hope we will meet both in person and online, and that enough teachers will be sufficiently interested in the concept to give it momentum. In this way, I hope to reclaim the dominant conversation about educational technologies.

I also need to build my own personal collection of web sites that present examples from the classroom in a way that clearly explains the pedagogy underlying the technology. Nancy Bosch has done so. The Apple Learning Interchange, notwithstanding the corporate organization, seems to churn out podcasts and videos on this topic every day. Subscribe to their RSS feed. (I wish they provided more of this content as text.)

Some of us eagerly anticipate the start of Building Learning Communities this week. Others have already begun their work at the Lausanne Laptop Institute. I hope that the recent surge of interest in teachers and classrooms in widely read educational technology discussions continues and becomes permanent. We have completely addressed the broad justifications for this movement. Now, it’s time to get specific and applied.

Comments are closed.