Reflections on Technology Integration

8 06 2008

Post moved from prior location. Also posted on School Computing Wiki

I really do not like the term “technology integration”. I mean, when was the last time we talked about “pencil integration”? I have a different view on this topic. Effective use of technology in a learning environment can be seen when a computer is used as a tool of cognition and a means of collaboration. Production of papers with Word and PowerPoint presentations are not effective use of technology in the learning environment unless they help to meet either of these two conditions- cognition or collaboration.

This does not mean that these tools can’t be used effectively. My argument is that they are not used effectively in most cases because teaching methodologies have not changed to accommodate the power of the technology in the learning process. We teach with the same methods but with different tools. Yet, schools often look at these as examples of “integrating” technology into the classroom.

Here is a little piece that I wrote and presented at the ISAS Teacher’s Conference in New Mexico this year where I served on a speakers panel with two others. The panel was moderated by Todd Oppenheimer- author of The Flickering Mind. I used this to help focus my presentation of what works in educational technology. In short- it is about pedagogy.

Here is the text…

ISAS Teacher Conference 2006- New Mexico

With all that has been written on the ills of technology in education, there is an equally loud echo of what works well in educational technology. Having spent considerable time reading both sides of this argument and observing students and teachers at work, I hit upon the realization that perhaps technology really isn’t the issue. It is easy to point to a struggling lesson that uses technology and ask if it would be better without the electronic gadgets. At the same time, a class where students are really connecting with the subject, finding deeper meaning and understanding while using technology as one of their tools can be seen as a tremendous success. While both lessons have an element of technology, is it really the technology that makes the difference?

Research has shown time and again, that knowledge is not “handed out” like a stack of papers in class. Students must struggle with a subject within what Vygotsky calls the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) working to construct knowledge and understanding. They must connect pillars of knowledge within their own experience as well as the collective experience of the class where the teacher models mastery learning not mastery teaching. Within that context, technology becomes a tool of cognition and collaboration rather than a tool of production. Students seek relevance in all that they are studying.

There is further evidence to suggest that students today learn in fundamentally different ways than students in the past. As Prensky likes to say, they are digital natives while we are digital immigrants. For years, the model has been to take the spectrum of students and remove the extremes on each end. The gifted students enter programs where they can excel in what they do. The students that are identified as learning different are then grouped together and taught with different methodologies. Interestingly enough, these methods have a nice fit with current learning models. So what about the group in the middle? They fit nicely in the factory model that has existed since the 1800’s. Fill up the room, hand out the knowledge, test them for learning then send them on the way.

What happens however when students change? What happens when learning different become the learning norm? Should we identify them as learning different or consider ourselves as teaching different? Should we as teachers be modeling master teaching or master learning?

I argue that examples of successful use of technology in education are really a product of the different pedagogies employed. Students are encouraged to foster their own learning and curiosity, draw on the collective expertise of the community of learning and construct their own knowledge and understanding with the guidance of the more expert learner- the teacher. Students will develop a collective understanding while all learning something different. It is in that context that I share the following examples of where I have seen technology work well.

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