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.

“Boring PD”…My #ITEC14 Takeaway

boredI recently attended ITEC, which is Iowa’s big ed tech conference held every year in October. I’ve enjoyed going to ITEC over the years and always walk away with something new. This year my focus was on all sessions related to professional development, although I admit I went to a great session on how a middle school teacher in Bettendorf, IA is doing real project-based learning. In general though, I went to sessions that looked at professional development and how to make it better. At one point someone tweeted, advocating for the use of social media as a professional development experience, that if you aren’t engaging in social media then you aren’t pushing yourself as an educator. After some back and forth the issue that “Boring PD” was insufficient to meet the demands of learners and society arose.

While engaging in social media is a great professional growth experience I believe more teachers should engage in, since it helps us get outside our comfort zone, I don’t consider it all that much different than attending conferences. Instead of engaging with people in a room we engage with people across Twitter on topics we care about. While this will, to a degree, lead to change in the educator and in a more convenient and cost friendly way, our growth as a teacher is much more multi-faceted than spending a few hours a week on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Great ideas are great…as long as they are implemented. Otherwise, it’s just an idea.

This brings me back to “Boring PD.” We often waste, ignore the opportunities that are available to us for professional growth. Weekly, bi-monthly, and monthly PD shouldn’t be an experience those being served by it feel is boring. I can’t think of a better time for growth than when a group of educators are together to start talking about how we’ve implemented our curriculum, how we can make it better, and then start designing the instruction to make it better. How many times have you experienced this at your school? Your college? Your university? Only on rare occasions have I been engaged in such an experience that led to the development of new instruction for my class or practice. Why don’t we do this more?I get that there are practical issues that we have to discuss, especially in K12 education. Yet, how many of these issues that effect student learning everyday could be resolved if we created more engaging instruction where students are doing more than passively getting by in class, hoping that they won’t be called upon to contribute?

Will there likely be meetings we have to attend that we’d rather not? Yes. Can we change the structured learning opportunities for teachers so that they are more dynamic, more engaging, more productive so that student learning can improve? Yes. We just have to want it enough that we advocate for it, which means that we take the leadership to make it happen. Social media is one cog in our professional growth wheel. There are other factors that make us better teacher, some we know and some we don’t, some we control and some we don’t. Growing as a teacher is complicated, which is probably why we often are unsure of how to go about doing it better. Social media isn’t the answer in and of itself. It’s a small part of a larger system, which means that if we want to grow and see growth in our students, then we need to make professional development not boring. We need to make better use of the time that we have with other educators so that we talk about what’s working and what’s not, how we might improve it, and then create the instruction that leads to better student learning.

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It’s all about options

Nice to have

I’ve worked with teachers for a while now and one thing has remained constant. They like options. I’m not a big fan of generalizations, but in general, most of the teachers and faculty I have worked with have enjoyed having a few options when it comes to helping them integrate technology into their teaching. Usually just a couple is all I like to offer, since too many options can overwhelm the most willing participant. The key is to listen to what the teacher really wants to do and then pick a couple of technologies that will do it well.

So the next time you work with another teacher on integrating technology, or probably anything, try listening to what they really want to do and then give him or her a couple options. Don’t force them to use X technology. Let them choose. This way technology integration isn’t being “done” to them, they are choosing to do so.


PBL: An instructional strategy or instructional design model?

Yesterday at work I began pondering whether PBL (project-based learning, not problem) is an instructional strategy or an instructional design model. This question reappeared early this morning while I was trying to get my 10 month-old daughter back to sleep. I successfully was able to coax her back to bed, but I couldn’t do the same for myself. I’m left wondering about PBL and what it really is. So in a vain attempt to go back to sleep before I have to get up in just over an hour, I’m going to expand upon my thoughts here and see if I come up with an answer that pleases me enough to put my mind at ease so I can sleep.

My general thought is that PBL is an instructional strategy. Much like any other instructional strategy. Say cooperative learning or differentiated instruction. There are a variety of characteristics related to PBL that make it different from other teaching methods. In short, PBL is one of a number of strategies I can use to teach my curriculum.

Where my dissonance emerges is with the design aspect of PBL experiences or units. I learned PBL from the Buck Institute and always refer to their terms and their characteristics of PBL when I’m explaining PBL or helping someone implement a PBL experience. Where I think I’m being thrown into chaos is with the way BIE has packaged the design aspect for creating PBL units through their project planning form. This form is a nice, compact guide that walks the teacher step-by-step through all the components necessary to make PBL work. Much like an instructional design model, it has all the major players: goals, curriculum standards, strategies, assessments, assignments, etc. However, as I work through the PPF, it feels like I following an instructional design model.

Now it probably feels like I’m following an instructional design model because I am. However, my instructional design model is not PBL, but rather something that better resembles a Dick and Carey or ADDIE flavor. As I’ve thought more about PBL and what it really is, it would seem that PBL truly is only an instructional strategy. But the way BIE has packaged their materials has confused me for some reason into believing PBL was an instructional design model. I’m not sure why this has preoccupied me so much, but it has.

And with that, I’ll go back to bed hold Nora because she just woke up…