Friday, June 6, 2014

Does the Use of Technology in School Match Your Vision of Student Learning?

Many of us see technology as important because a variety of uses are so integral to our daily lives. We often ask the question, "where would I be without a cell phone today."  Or for those of us older folks, we remind ourselves about the inefficiencies of the typewriter, and we take for granted the instantaneous communication of an email or text message.  Even many of us who use social media understand how we have relied upon and have even been "spoiled" by the daily new information and the privilege of participating in a much different form of conversation.  This includes the unprecedented opportunities for "brave" expressions previously unavailable save for the fact we sit behind an emotionless and neutral monitor.  That is the world we live in, and our students live in a much more intensely dependent technology environment (for good or for bad).  However, does that mean they have to use these tools at school just because they are used to that world?

The use of technology at school is not justified simply because they use technology the majority of their time outside of school.  This is true even though students tend to "power down" when they come to a school without the technology communication culture they are used to.  Technology use at school is only useful if it is used to add to student learning, and we are not going to know that unless we understand how students learn.

For example, we know seeing or hearing something new for the first time does not sink in to our long term memory, and we certainly do not gain mastery learning with at the introductory or surface level.  Student access to information on a continuing basis assists students in pulling in relevant information continually, and that access to information 24/7 can accelerate students' opportunity and ability to move that information into the "back part" of their brain.  We know it may take several times to practice a particular math problem before they "get it."  We understand access to an immediate definition of an unfamiliar vocabulary word provides more and more opportunities for exposure to those terms.  The use of an iPad or laptop (right click or press and the definition pops up) provides those remarkable encounters with instantaneous and relevant information and it can start to "stick in their" head over time if they do enough reading, writing, practice, etc.

We know repetition and practice are critical to mastery learning, and the use of their own device to increase the number and quality of those repetitions can be advantageous in their learning.  I mention "quality" in repetitions because there are opportunities for students to receive constant feedback on their practice and learning unlike anything we have seen in previous skill based practices.  This goes from feedback for success in solving math simple to complex problems  to reading aloud and receiving feedback on fluency, annunciation and comprehension to writing with the potential to increase skills with growth potential never before witnessed in former generations.

This match of learning to technology is important with the caveat the planning and the implementation of the lessons that fit the learning desired is hard work.  It is based on understanding where we want students to go in their learning, and the use of the technology has to be purposeful to meet that desired learning.  (It is opposite of adapting the learning to the technology.)  This takes focused and passionate teachers who have the determination and skill set to make it happen.  Even though technology does make our lives easier, there is no free lunch!  Kudos to the many teachers in our district who make this happen day in and day out.