Thursday, November 20, 2014

Effectively Leveraging the Tech You Have

Here's another post from my Leading Edge Certification - Digital Educator course that I had to do that felt blog post-y. The prompt is in italics, my response is below it.

How do the number of devices, student access technology, and 'classroom' setting influence one's pedagogical approach? What steps can an instructor take to best leverage the technology in his or her classroom?

Huge caveat: this answer is grounded in my (limited) knowledge of how to teach history at a high school level. I don't pretend to speak for or know anything about teaching other subjects. Or multiple subjects for my elementary colleagues.

Given that... Let me now make a broad sweeping statement: I think that the ideology - the pedagogy - behind teaching can look the same regardless of tech access. Teachers can be the focus of class, or classes can be more student centered. Classes can focus on the memorization of facts, or focus on students creating knowledge. Teachers do what they think is best for their students, or they can look listen and hear what students really want in their classes. Teachers can focus on content acquisition, or they can focus on skill acquisition. Classes can pursue a curricular goal at the same time and with the same content, or teachers can allow space for student interest and choice. For me, with tech or without tech, the goal of my classroom is always the latter.

However, I also think tech makes me better able to be student centered. To focus on student creation. To hear my students' feedback. To allow for skills to be the focus. To leverage choice and interest. So tech doesn't change my focus.  However, used thoughtfully and fearlessly, it allows me to get closer to the classroom I want to run.

I think that the most important step an instructor can take to best leverage the technology in their classroom is simply to reflect on who is using the tech and to what end the tech is being used for. Regardless of the number of devices in the room, if the teacher is the one using tech - or is using tech the majority of the time - I think that teacher needs to ask themselves some reflective questions. Could stations be set up to free up what tech is available? Could kids use the available technology to do the thinking and explaining more (and the teacher subsequently doing the explaining less)? Can tech be offered as an option - but not the only option - for demonstrating knowledge? Do students own devices that they can use to increase the amount of technology available in class?

There are ways to stretch devices, to make less than a 1:1 environment work. But important questions need to be asked about who is using the technology - it should be the students - and how the technology is being used - it should be used for creation of knowledge, not consumption of knowledge. Focusing on these things allowed me to stretch the technology that I had before I was 1:1.

The final word: do you want tech? Then go out and get it. Offer to pilot anything and everything. Ask your PTA for funds. Talk to your administrators. Have a clear and compelling vision and share it. And if you feel like you need the technology and it isn't going to come from your district, go out and get it. Look for grants. Use Donors Choose. Make it happen!