Sunday, October 14, 2007

So you are into technology, now what?

An insane two weeks of connectivity, and I am on the more moderate side of things, has left me wondering where this is all heading. So many new tools that shorten the distance between worlds and worldviews have popped up. Twitter has just blown holes in my ability to disconnect. Now it's even infected my iPhone, keeping me glued to the action in any setting (is there a hack to install twitterific on the iPhone?). Whether it's uStream, Operator11, or even plain old Skype, our ability to teach and be taught on the spot by anyone who is willing is really throwing wrenches into my ability to filter out what matters and what doesn't.

Stephanie Sandifer, who just seems to be driving a lot of my thinking lately, rattled off this great post on Friday, which contained the following push:

In a comment or on a blog post on your own blog — take some time to reflect on and address the following questions:

What? (…is going on with our work, with our blogging, with our exploration… OR …new tools are we discovering, playing with, trying to find classroom uses for?)

So What? (Who cares? Why is this important? Why is this not important? What does it matter? Will it ever matter?)

Now What? (What do we do NEXT? What kind of gameplan do we need? Do we need a game plan? Do we collaborate, start over from scratch, quit doing whatever we are doing altogether, or disappear somewhere deep in Second Life? Seriously — WHAT NOW?)

much in the same way Steve Dembo dropped this on us Friday afternoon after the previously mentioned week of interconnection:

Time for Friday afternoon reflection: Share something you learned this week. (No websites or tools. Something new you actually LEARNED)

My reactions to these questions are below, but I before you read mine, I encourage you all to think along these lines as well. In the past, when we introduced new ideas into classroom pedagogy, we had the comfort of knowing that there would be ample time before the next "big thing" would come along. Now, do we have that time?

First, in reverse order, my response to Steve was as follows:

Learned that our best assets in the classroom are still our teachers who have vision and the guts to follow it.
By this I was referring to the meetings I had with teachers this week, all who wanted to push themselves and their students beyond what was required of them. I think I am fortunate to work in two buildings where things have really caught fire in terms of expanding the walls of the classroom. Our teachers want to be involved in creating with their students, and want to reach students in meaningful ways, and the explosion of collaborative technology truly augments their desire. The fact that they are becoming more adventurous each day makes me excited to be a part of the process.

Stephanie's post is slightly more difficult as it is truly forcing me to analyze where I am going.

What: When I answer this question, the first thing that comes to mind is our stated goal of trying to expand our learning time to outside of the 40 minutes we see the students. Our first steps involve getting teachers to use collaborative writing tools: Google Docs, wikispaces, 21Classes, etc. As far as some of the tools I mentioned in the opening, those tools are going to take time to trickle into the classrooms, but that "seep time" is so dramatically shortened by the situations our teachers are creating. One teacher wanted her students to create a news broadcast for a mock trial and I immediately thought: Ustream!

So What: What's important to me is that our teachers have begun to see that their learning cannot stagnate; if I can get around to it this year, I am going t really push for the creation of PLE's for our teachers. The translation to the students will be immediate. Case in point: we gave tablet pc's to nearly 80% of our high school staff, and the students in those classes are being exposed to resources that those teachers were privy to, but did not know how to translate them into the classroom. The level of transparency is unprecedented.

Now What: Our big focus, in my humble opinion, is to keep asking this question. Tools are not what we need to focus on, but the teaching is. If our teaching does not match our technological abilities, all we have is a digital dog and pony show. When we stop looking at these tools as a means to an end, then we have failed our teachers and our students.

The best meeting I have had this year with a teacher did not involve my laptop or discussion of tech, but rather a discussion of pedagogy and the Socratic Method. As tech coordinators and technofiles, we bridge a gap between teaching and technology. We cannot afford to be lacking on either side of our expertise.

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Image credit: Bridge Suspension, from Jeff Epstein on Flickr


Sue Waters said...

I agree about the PLE except I really hate the word wonder how people new to these tools feel -- is it a turn off like it is for me?

I have to say I am going as far as banning it from my vocabulary. Now I am trying to think of a term that would make me want to buy in without using that term. Mmmm okay you can have web sites that you use for your own personal learning --- Answer "no time", 'too busy'! "Why?" Okay maybe personal learning is also bad term for new people...

Oh dear stuck for a better term -- but I do think that we need to get them using these tools first for their personal learning -- once using effectively then they are better able to see how to use with Where the pedagogy falls down is when they implement the tools without first using them well themselves.

Melanie Holtsman said...

Patrick, you are so right. I do get excited about the cool "tools" we can use and so do colleagues (elementary teachers get excited about everything - myself included), but the bottom line is the learning that is going on in the classroom. One of the big terms I keep hearing in my district is differentiated instruction. Whenever I do training I can see the a-ha moment where they realise using the web takes the ceiling off learning.

I think as teachers of the younger students we tend to want to hold their hand and show them things...and many times we forget to let go. When I give students the opportunity to drive their own instruction after my initial focus - they always take it farther than I imagined. It makes me realise that I was limiting them without even knowing it.

Daily I have to remind myself to let go of the control. Everyone's product won't be the same, but they will all be their personal best...which is all we were asking for in the first place.

My planning consists now of looking at the standard, planning my instruction (I may or may not use technology) and giving the students options to springboard their road to demonstrating mastery. Making them a true stakeholder in their learning...they push themselves farther than I ever would.

P.S. Glad to know I'm not the only one with the problem disconnecting. :)

David Truss said...


So many of us are 'on the same page' right now with regards to questioning where technology is taking educators.

"All these tools are technological with only the potential to be pedagogical... but they aren't designed with pedagogy in mind. And so with regards to education, I wonder if those in the lead are actually worth following?"

I believe that collaborating with good teachers, and using a few tools very well, will be much more meaningful than any new tool that is put out as the next 'flavour of the week'.

Patrick Higgins said...

Thanks to everyone for commenting;


Too many three-letter acronyms flying around out there at the moment. Maybe we can call it the egosphere? After all, it is all about you..


Excitement is never a negative thing when it comes to learning, however, capitalizing on it and moving it in a direction that is sound and meaningful is crucial. We have all worked with teachers who are using tech for the sake of using tech. The more I work with teachers, and being a teacher myself, I see the need for professional reflection and peer review in our daily practices. Too often teachers are just thrown to the wolves with very little daily support.


I always wonder if the authors of these tools have students in mind when they create them. Have you ever felt like a yenta? Matching the tools with the pedagogy as a matchmaker would partner to partner? The technology is zooming so far ahead of its pedagogical uses that analyzing it for classroom use has such lag time. Somehow, I don't feel that is such a bad thing given the need for reflection on practice and pedagogy.

Kelly Christopherson said...

I'm not sure what a PLE is but we have PLT's (professional learning teams) that we are using to decide where we need to focus our energies.

I agree with what Stephanie says and her questions will definitely get a response. Your reflections demonstrate that you are doing this each time you look at a new tool which is so important. It's not that others aren't reflecting but we really do need to figure out where pedagogy/curricula/tools intersect.
It's about the interaction of student/teacher/knowledge and whatever tool (paper/pen/crayon/podcast) works best for that student is selected.

Sometimes we get so wrapped in the technology that we forget the people who are attached so we need to take time to just stop and figure out where things are and what we are doing. Great post!

Patrick Higgins said...


PLE- Personal Learning Environment (I went back and hyperlinked to wikipedia for further investigation).

The idea of designing backward, i.e. Understanding by Design, when it comes to curriculum and unit planning lends itself to pulling in everything and anything that accomplishes the goal of creating understanding in the truest sense. If this includes the use of technology, great. If not, I will never be the one to try and supplant good teaching with a shiny new gadget.