Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Is It Time To Move Past Tech Integration?

What is your school's mindset surrounding technology use in the classroom? If you're like a lot of educators, you are probably working to integrate technology into instruction. You might even be discussing the merits of blended learning. But what does it mean to integrate technology? And what is blended learning?

I think those terms are used similarly and seem to indicate a desire for technology to be used more effectively in schools. A fairly common definition of blended learning is an education method in which a student learns at least in part through delivery of content and instruction via digital and online media with some element of student control over time, place path, or pace. The increased student agency is the most important part of the entire definition to me. 

And yet, I think many schools claim to have blended learning while maintaining a teacher-directed approach. The part about giving some element of student control gets lost in the shuffle as teachers use a variety of 'cool' tools in an effort to add pizzazz to the same old lessons they taught before.

Most teachers feel like they need to use technology in their classroom. They are aware of the "technology push" in schools. Everyone seems to be calling for more technology in schools. In fact, spending on K-12 education technology is nearly $10 billion a year. That's a significant push! But to what aim?

Most teachers (but not all) have come around to the idea that it's important to use technology in the classroom. However, far too many think using a PowerPoint and a projector equates to being a forward thinking teacher. If you ask teachers why technology is important, you will hear a variety of responses. But one common response I hear is that kids are interested in technology, so using technology will help make kids more interested in learning.

There is an element of truth to this. Some kids do seem to prefer learning that involves digital opportunities. Technology can support student engagement. But it can also support student empowerment. And there's a distinct different. A student who is engaged wants to learn something because it's exciting or interesting to them. But a student who is empowered wants to learn something because they find inherent value in the learning for themselves and others. They are choosing to learn because they find meaning in what they are doing. It is more than a fun activity, it's an important pursuit.

If we are using technology to shift agency to the learner it can truly be transformation. By the year 2020 there will be nearly 6 billion smartphones in the world. We all know smartphones continue to get more powerful each year. A connected device gives its owner access to the sum of human knowledge at his or her fingertips. If your students aren't empowered learners, how will they use this access to reach higher in a world that is rapidly changing?

Technology should not be an add-on to learning in the classroom. It shouldn't even be an extension of learning. It's just how we learn in a modern world. One way. Not the only way. But one very important way. I recently heard George Couros speak and he remarked that "if I told you the library in your school is just an extra, and I am going to remove it from your school, you would be outraged. Your community would be outraged. You would never allow that. Technology is just as essential to learning as your school library."

I enjoy gardening. This year I'm trying to raise my game and make my garden the best its ever been. So I worked extra hard to prepare my soil, select my plants, and find out what great gardeners do differently. I think that might be a great title for Todd Whitaker's next book! I talked to friends who are good gardeners, and I regularly conducted research online to answer questions that arose. 

And check this out, I am cutting-edge here...I am integrating a shovel, a hoe, and a water hose into my gardening. I went to a garden conference, learned about some cool tools, and have now decided to integrate these tools into my garden plans. What the heck, you say?!? You would never say that you're going to integrate essential tools like a shovel, a hoe, or a water hose into gardening. They're essential. You just use them.

As I used technology to research my garden, I watched YouTube videos and read various blogs and articles to learn more. And it's funny, never once did I think "I'm now going to integrate some technology into my garden project." I viewed the technology as a helpful tool, a very powerful tool, a potentially transformational tool, to help me be a better gardener. In the same way that my shovel, hoe, and water hose are essential tools to gardening, technology is an essential tool to almost every kind of learning.

At the typical edtech conference, there seem to be a lot of sessions on the what and how of using tech tools in the classroom. Someone will also be sharing the latest version of a cool app, game, or platform. But I contend that we must always start with why. I learned that from Simon Sinek. We must understand why we are using technology in the class and have a clear vision of empowering students as as adaptable learners. They will need these skills in a world where there will soon be 6 billion smartphone users.

Question: Are you integrating technology as an add-on, or is it just an essential part of learning in your school? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

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