It’s not the technology, it’s what you want to do with it that matter

ipad-airWhen we think about integrating technology into our teaching, we’re thinking too much about how to use the technology and not enough about how that technology will impact our instructional decision making. What we do in our lessons is directly related to the decisions we make when using technologies. Simply put, technologies and their affordances and constraints are on equal footing with the content we’re teaching and the instructional strategies we’re using to teach that content. Therefore, if we choose to use a SMART Board, the content we teach and how we teach it are going to be impacted in some way, good or bad. How we represent information on the SMART Board is going to be different from what we’ve experienced in the past. How we teach using the SMART Board is also going to be different than it would if we didn’t use the technology. What this all means is that when we’re going to use a technology in our instruction, we need to change how we approach creating and preparing for that lesson.
Hofer and Harris (2009) explain that there are five basic instructional decision making actions made when planning learning experiences. These include:
  1. Choosing learning goals/objectives
  2. Making instructional decisions about the nature of the learning experience
  3. Selecting/Sequencing activities that make the learning experience
  4. Selecting formative and summative assessments to determine student learning progress
  5. Selecting tools and resources that will assist student learning
Looking at this five step process, which is pretty linear, it’s clear the last component we need to account for when designing the lesson is the role technologies will have. Instead, the initial focus is on what we want students to learn, which is really what we should be focused on. What is the goal of the lesson and what do we hope students will learn? That’s perhaps the most important piece to consider when planning the lesson, because if we can state that clearly and in ways that we can assess it, then half the battle is over. Then it’s a matter of deciding the look and feel of the lesson.
Here are some quick guiding questions you can ask yourself regarding the look and feel of the lesson:
  • Will the focus of instruction be on the teacher or student?
  • Will the students create something?
  • Will the student perform something?
  • What will you be doing during the lesson?
  • How will you know if students are making progress towards your learning goal/objective before the class ends?
  • How will you determine if students met your learning goal/objective?
  • If students are making or performing something, will they use digital technologies (computers, Web 2.0, iPads, etc.) or analog technologies (paper, pencils, markers, whiteboards, etc.)?
  • What resources will students needs, including material, human, and community, in order to be successful?
If you’re stumped on some of these questions or are just unsure what you want a learning experience to look like, then check out the Learning Activity Types. These are subject specific taxonomies that provide lists of instructional activities students can complete. As these activities are combined lessons are created. What’s also nice is that once you’ve selected and combined your activities, there are corresponding technology suggestions that make the final step in the planning process a little easier.
There is no single technology solution for every subject and every way of teaching, even though it would be easier if there were. Integrating technologies into our instruction is a very ill-structured problem, because we don’t always know what’s going to happen or what we need to plan for to make sure we’re going to have success. Confounding the problem often is our own perceived lack of knowledge, preparedness, and confidence we believe is needed to use technologies. Instead of hitting barrier after barrier when we try to use technologies, let’s take a different approach that’s more focused on the learning experience we want to create by first stating what we want students to learn, the what we want that experience to look like, and then look for purposeful ways technologies can be used to support learning. Doing so will likely increase your chances of using technologies in more meaningful ways that support student learning.
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