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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#UNIETD Post 4: Apollo 13 Problem

I came across an article written by Punya Mishra and Matt Koehler about first day activities called Apollo 13 activities. The idea behind these activities is that on the first day rather than reviewing the syllabus, policies, etc., students are actually engaged in course content and begin to experience how the course will be taught. I’m super intrigued by these types of projects, because they are pretty short and get at finding multiple solutions to problems we face.

Although it’s not the end of the semester, I’m going to give this a try in my Educational Technology and Design course. This is our last week of the course and I have a small group of students who have completed everything for the course. So what I’m going to do with them while everyone else finishes up their final assignments, is to have them complete an Apollo 13 activity of my own. I didn’t get super creative with this one, but I wanted to be somewhat safe in my first attempt. So here’s the plan:

We’ll begin by watching this video:

Then in small groups of 2-3 students will do the following task:

  • Teach me how to use social media with children using PowerPoint
  • You have the rest of this class period to get it done
  • Caveat: It has to be standalone once it starts

I had thought about doing something a little more innovative than PowerPoint, but my goal isn’t teaching them an innovative technology. I’m more interested that they experience problem-based learning, especially within a somewhat time restrained environment. I also didn’t want the technology to be a barrier and with PowerPoint I felt that would be a nice medium for keeping the process simple, yet allowing for multiple paths. We really do have limited time in class to do this, because we meet today and Friday and I’m not grading this so it can’t be homework, nor should it be in my opinion. And following the guidance of Mishra and Koehler, I wanted to avoid junky presentations so students will have to make this a standalone product once it starts. I’m not sure how this will go, but I have high hopes. I’ll be sure to share some samples.

To learn more about the activities, read the linked article above.

#UNIETD Post 1: What would Dewey do?

Dewey (1976) said:

…to satisfy an impulse or interest means to work it out, and working it out involves running up against obstacles, becoming acquainted with materials, exercising ingenuity, patience, persistence, alertness, it of necessity involves discipline, -ordering of power-and supplies knowledge (p. 25).

I’ve started reading Dewey a bit more lately as I begin writing my dissertation and I’m struck by how clear he is and, yet, how muddied improving our educational practices have become since Dewey’s time. Sticking to what I know, I immediately reflect to the professional development experiences surrounding new technologies that teachers everywhere are subjected to, some times on a monthly basis. The idea that no single technological innovation exists for all teachers (Mishra & Koehler, 2006) highlights the almost cruel nature and certainly squandered learning time for teachers when they attend such professional development sessions. So as I reflect and make sense of what I’m reading, I ask: What would Dewey do? How would Dewey approach professional development for teachers surrounding what in fact are critical issues facing not just our society with regards to being competent problem solvers, critical thinkers, collaborators, etc., all at the intersection of content, pedagogy, and technology.

The quote above, to me, provides some clarity. While Dewey was talking about children, I feel at heart we all are children only as we get older we conform more to society and the responsibilities that go with being an adult, an employee, a teacher, a parent. Why can’t we explore the topics, the needs, the desires that our teachers have? That’s what Dewey is saying we should do and when we do, it’s going to be a little bumpy and that’s okay. The bumps provide openings for weaving in subject-matter  knowledge and skills, which is the concern we all have as educators. How will the students learn the content if we don’t teach them? They key is to indulge students in their interests and use that to wrap in the content they are supposed to learn.

So as we approach professional development for teachers, we should listen and think about what Dewey would do. Let’s listen to the teachers and see what they’re interested in or what problems they are experiencing in the classroom. Then start working with them so they can create educational technology solutions at the intersection of content, pedagogy, and technologies.

Knowing When and Why, Not What and How

I was reading this article today and thought it summed up my beliefs about technology. The real challenge is convincing others to believe the same.

Knowing when to use a particular technology for activities such as collaboration, or why to use a certain technology for acquir- ing specific disciplinary knowledge, is a vastly more important, transferable, in- finitely relevant type of knowledge, one that will not quickly become antiquated with ever-changing technological trends.

-Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe & Terry, 2013, Pg. 133

Kereluik, K., Mishra, P., Fahnoe, C., & Karr, J. A. (2013). What Knowledge Is of Most Worth: Teacher Knowledge for 21. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 29(4), 127–140.

 

It’s about the technology, pedagogy, and content

A few weeks ago I was talking with a group of colleagues and the topic of how we integrate technology came up. One of them said that it’s all about the pedagogy, not the technology. The point he was trying to make was that we don’t want to base the decisions we make only on the availability of technology. For example, we shouldn’t say “I have this iPad, I should use it to teach Math!” This is a very technocentric approach to technology integration, because we aren’t consider what we teach and how we teach it (content and pedagogy).

However, making the claim that it’s all about the pedagogy is similarly misguided, because it assumes that the ways in which we teach will encapsulate the use of technology (let’s just leave effectiveness out of the discussion for now). We all know this isn’t true and to prove it isn’t true we just need to walk down the hallways of our school, whether it’s elementary, middle, high or post-secondary. There are a number of teachers who don’t use technology and have success. So we have an inherent issue when we say that it’s all about the pedagogy, because as a number of teachers have shown, only considering pedagogy simply ignores the use of technology. Pedagogical knowledge is technology neutral and is concerned with issues surrounding classroom management, assessment, instructional strategies, etc.

If we want to effectively integrate technology into the teaching and learning process, then it really is about the technology, but it’s also about the pedagogy and content too. Integrating technology is not an isolated technology event. Rather it is the complex interactions between three types of knowledge: technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge. It’s not enough to have each type of knowledge in isolation from the others. Each has to be considered in relation to the other two, because only when we consider how a technology effects what we teach by how it can be represented and understood through the use of the technology, as well as how the way we teach that content changes due to the use of the technology, will we be able to truly integrate technology in purposeful ways.

My purpose isn’t to nitpick what one of my colleagues said. Rather, it’s to point out that we can’t continue to think about developing knowledge in isolated ways. We can’t learn how to technically use an iPad and then be expected to integrate it into our teaching. It doesn’t work that way. But we also can’t just focus on pedagogy development either, because that doesn’t guarantee the effective use of technology. If anything, it would guarantee the effective use of a management, assessment, or other instructional technique. So if we really want to integrate technology in an effective way that has implications for learning, then we need create opportunities where we are developing knowledge about a particular technology, but only insofar as it relates to how to teach a piece of content in a particular way.

This is the only way we are going to have forward progress with the effective use of technology in the learning process. As you begin to plan for professional development this next school year, reconsider your technocentric sessions. Find ways to create opportunities for your teachers to develop knowledge surrounding not only technology, pedagogy, and content in isolation, but also with how each of these interact with the other. Then you’ll be on the right track and will have the potential, not the guarantee but the potential, for successful technology integration. Remember, this is the first step, not the last. There’s a lot more to do and no truly clear way of getting there.

 

It’s the Total PACKage that matters

BoxI’ve started to realize that as I work with more and more teachers to use technology in their courses that they really are only interested in developing one of two types of knowledge. The first is Technological Knowledge. They just want to know how to use the technology. What steps to do I need to go through to make this work. The second is Technological Content Knowledge. An example of this would be the teacher wanting to know what the good math apps are.

There’s an implicit problem with both of these approaches to integrating technology…they don’t address teaching. If our goal for any professional development is to help teachers become better teachers, then we need to make sure we are talking about teaching. But here’s the problem, there are a lot of teachers who don’t want to talk about teaching. They’d rather just keep on keep’n on. I think this is the biggest challenge I, and I assume others, face. We need teachers to talk about their teaching. Oh, and it needs to happen more than once a month.

 

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Striving for Good PD

I’ve been providing regular professional development for teachers at one of my partner schools this school year. I’ve been trying to provide PD that is more valuable than what has typically been the norm in my experiences. The norm from my vantage point has been you come, sit for a few hours, and then leave with little real accountability. Pretty much a waste of time. I think we can all relate to this type of PD.

So what I’m attempting to do is the following. Every month when we meet for PD, there is some form of accountability built into what we are doing. There is an outcome. I can’t stand doing things for doing thing’s sake. I just won’t do it. I can’t.

I’m also changing what I do to make the PD more like an instructional design session. What I find amazing from my experiences has been that we learn about all these new topics, whether it’s technology, pedagogy, or content, but then we never have time to look at how we can use them in the teaching and learning process. We’re left to do that after the fact, alone, with little support. Sounds like a recipe for success…right? What I’ve attempted to institute has been a Learning by Design PD where the teachers come, work in groups and design a lesson with whatever we’re learning about.

Once we are done at PD, the teachers have had a pretty good idea of what they want to do, and at that point, it is up to them to do it. However, I think it’s easy to fall back from a PD session and not use what was learned. That’s why as a follow up, we are going to look at what they did in their lessons. What happened when they actually taught the lesson? Did it go well? What happened that you didn’t expect? How are you going to change it for next time? Are there external issues we need to consider before moving forward? And so on.

I’m still learning and developing my own iteration of Learning by Design. This is my first attempt and next week I’ll have another go at it. I’m doing a little research to see what I need to change to be more effective. I’m also looking into how I can change the focus of the PD from being more techno-driven to being more pedagogic/content-driven. I find it very discouraging if we lead with the technology because it all too often follows that we only focus on the technology skills. As Mishra and Koehler have said many times, there is not single technology solution for all teacher, courses, or teaching philosophies. So I think it’s time we stop looking at our PD that way.

If you have any thoughts, suggestions, comments, etc., I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment.