Focus on learning & use tools effectively

Jen at @injenuity shared her concerns in a post entitled, “Web 2.0 is Not the Future of Education”. She states that early tech adopters are focusing on integrating new tools in their teaching instead of focusing on LEARNING. She writes:

“Learning is the future of education. Students need to develop an awareness of how they learn. By student, I mean every human being with whom we come in contact… All people deserve the right to understand how learning happens and the power they have to control their own lifelong learning journey.

Why are we hording these technology tools like some kind of magic trick that can only be performed for those worthy enough to earn our approval? We must embrace a more holistic approach to teaching and learning…

I really just want people to start to build their foundational values as educators, without ‘Web 2.0? as part of those values. The tools can enable engagement, transfer of learning and collaboration and can open the world to the student. Please see the student before the tools and give them the power they need in order to be successful with them.”

As a technology teacher who has transformed her computer classes from skill-based to LEARNING based – I whole heartedly agree with Jen. Its easy to get caught up in the lastest gadget or software tool. I feel my goal is to teach students how to learn.

I think part of this excitement depends on your basic personality. I am a learner. I love learning new things. It excites me and motivates me.

Other people are more cautious. They question the need for change. Change makes them uncomfortable and are slow to adopt.

Is there anything wrong with either one of these approaches? No. They each have their advantages and disadvantages.

But in the classroom our focus MUST be on engaging students as learners. Technology does provide opportunities for students to connect and be creative in ways that are unique and tranformative. But it takes a passionate and educated teacher to know the best way to do that.

I admit that I am guilty of rushing to incorporate a new tool into my classroom and found the experience to be lackluster. Usually it is because I haven’t taken the time to determine how using this piece of software will best meet my instructional goals and demonstrate student understanding.

When I first heard about VoiceThread I immediately saw it’s potential to engage students and give them a voice. But without careful planning, my student’s first attempts were more like narrated powerpoints with a few audio comments that said “Good Job”.

I didn’t give up, though. My frustration with the results made me dig deeper and ask myself what is the unique power of this tool that I can’t recreate in person.

My students love to discuss and debate – but it seems that the only ones who speak up are those with outgoing personalities.

VoiceThread gives each student an opportunity to plan and share their idea or point of view in the medium they are most comfortable in – text, audio or video. The collaborative nature of VoiceThread also allows students to respond back in a way that is appropriate and safe. Eric Brunsell commented, “VoiceThread, just like PowerPoint, is pointless if students are not crafting an argument, creating art (visual, aural or written), somehow communicating authentic thinking.”

Whenever I assign a project, I like to give my students a choice on how they will present the information (video, blog, PowerPoint, VoiceThread, etc..). Students can now choose a tool that fits their personality and learning style and the focus is on the message and not the tool.

Last year I blogged about this concept of focusing on student learning:

Student-centered learning means that the focus is on the learner – not the teacher and how the material is presented. The emphasis is on how the student is learning, the choices they have for expressing their learning, and how the teacher comes to understand that the student is learning.

But at the same time, I also teach these students HOW to use the tools effectively so the project doesn’t become about the flashiness of PowerPoint or the coolness of video.

We need to do both.

Michele Martin’s comment on Jen’s entry summed it up, “It’s about using technology along with the right thinking and collaborative processes.”

5 Replies to “Focus on learning & use tools effectively”

  1. You nailed it when you said that technology is just a tool. It is up to the teacher to determine what tools are best to reach their classroom objectives. I have several lessons that I only use technology as a method of recording the learning that is taking place. I think that teachers that do not choose to use tech tools can still be effective, but I know that I am more interested in using tech and that helps me be a better teacher.

  2. Collette, I think you’re right on here in your description of what happened with your VoiceThread experience. People who are hung up on the shiny new tools would have been content with what happened in your first go-around. But you recognized that this had far greater potential than as a glorified PowerPoint and so looked at ways to push it further. That’s exactly what we need more of in school!

  3. I agree completely. Technology is one of many tools that should be used to aid in learning. Technology is not going away, it is only becoming more ingrained in our society. We need to teach children how to learn and give students an internal motivation to continue learning, but they will absolutely need to function in a technologically advanced society. They need to know how to correctly use those tools, just as they need to know how to correctly use non-technological tools (read a reference book, use a pencil and paper). The greatest gift we can give them is that of passion, creativity, and the ability to think for themselves. Memorizing facts will get them no where! They have to know how to gather information, process and evaluate it, and then make informed decisions.

  4. Collette, I had the time of my life teaching in an Apple 1:1 classroom. My 6th graders were totally engaged and loved every minute of it. But, as you say I had to continually remind myself that not every new website or tool had to be used in the classroom. I had to continually remind my students that it was about the learning and not about the computer.

    It took some trial and error, but at the end of the year I was a better teacher and my students learned to leverage technology to help them become better learners.

    One thing, and you point this out, is that technology doesn’t make it easier to plan. I many ways it makes it harder to plan because careful thought must be given to make sure the technology will aid the learning through effective use.

    Thanks for sharing you thoughts.

  5. I think you hit the nail on the head with this post. I’m going to be jumping into VoiceThread with students this fall and I’m going to keep your comments (and Jen’s) in mind. It’s not about the tool.

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