I’m Having a Vision…(of digital learning)

July 7, 2014 — 3 Comments

one sizeDigital native?  Digital immigrant?  Are these things even real?  Depends on who you ask.  I do think some people take to technology more quickly than others.  If they didn’t, why would marketers have coined the term early adopters?  But are these labels enough to understand the ever-evolving world of tech, and more importantly, how can they, if at all, help us understand how this rollercoaster of buttons and apps applies, or should apply to education?

Speak Up is this great initiative to gain insight into student brains by Project Tomorrow, a non-profit that is “dedicated to the empowerment of student voices in education.”   Their annual report is full of facts and figures related to when, how, why, and where kids are using, or want to be using, technology in their learning.  So how does Speak Up get into these students’ thoughts?  Wait for it…THEY ASK THEM!  Such a novel idea, really.  They outline their findings in The New Digital Learning Playbook:  Understanding the Spectrum of Students’ Activities and Aspirations.

The study regularly points out that a traditional “one size fits all” approach to technology usually doesn’t fit any.  I’m not really sure why this is a shocking finding.  In fact, I can’t think of one scenario where one size fits all flatters anything or anyone.  To that end, they suggest we create a new “digital learning playbook that will meet the needs of all of our diverse learners.”  (Shouldn’t we be doing this in general?)

I found myself mentally responding to many of the points made in a snarky voice.  I don’t know if this is because I didn’t agree with the findings, if I am jaded by parenthood, or some combination of the two.  Suffice it to say, I will probably have another run through this to see if my snarkiness remains, or if Speak Up has persuaded me to believe differently.

Because here’s the thing:  I love technology.  I love technology in the classroom.  I love kids using technology.  BUT, and it’s a big but – IT HAS TO BE DONE IN A RELEVANT AND MEANINGFUL WAY.  We cannot just start chucking iPads, laptops, apps, and other digital learning tools into classrooms for the sake of saying we are technologically advanced.  Seriously.  I am all for being that super cool teacher where people are clambering to get into my class because it’s so much fun and she uses all kinds of technology.  But those kids better be careful what they wish for, because they are also going to WORK in my class using that technology.  And they are going to learn.

I am skeptical about the responses related to a potential shared vision of digital learning.  The teachers seemed to be relatively on par with the students except in all those areas one would expect – text messaging, social media, and digital games.  Kids need to get a grip.  When we talk about adding technology to the schools for use in digital learning, we are not going to add distracters.  Maybe I am being too cynical and not having enough faith in students that they can use these things appropriately and responsibly while in school, but I can tell you how distracted I get by them, and I’d like to think I am a pretty responsible person.

Then there was the “Final Play:  Students, digital learning and their future career choices”.  I had two massive issues with this.  First and foremost, why does it seem that our drive to incorporate technology into learning is only focused on the sciences?!  What about the arts?  Why are we leaving those kids behind in the technological field?  Should those interests and areas of learning be considered less important, less worthy of our attention?  I think not.  Personally, I can’t imagine a world without art.

But, back to our regularly scheduled programming – STEM.  Speak Up found – surprise, surprise – that girls lag behind boys in their interest in STEM careers.  Could this be because gender bias toward these subjects in the classroom still exists?  Could it be that somehow that stigma of being a “math girl” still exists?  The big question is how do we overcome this?  Sadly, I, with all of my opinions, don’t really have an answer for that.

So what does this mean for me, the pre-service teacher?  From a more global perspective, it’s hard to say.  I have no idea yet where I will be teaching, nor do I know what resources I will have available to me once I am there.  I have loads of ideas that I am hopeful I will be able to implement, but only time will tell.

The most important thing for me to do is ensure access.  If my school doesn’t already have one in place, I will advocate for a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program.  I have seen these in action, and they are fantastic.  No more fighting over laptop, netbook, and iPad carts.   The other advantage of BYOD is that it allows for device customization rather than that pesky “all the same apps for all the not-same kids” we have right now.

In math I totally want to be a flipped teacher.  Having the entire period that is designated for math be used for application of and interaction with the content is a really appealing idea to me.  (I wonder if more teachers did this if we would see a change in those gender gaps in the STEM interests.)  No Internet at home?  No problem.  My BYOD program will allow kids to download my flipped lesson while at school and so they can still watch it at home.

In science, I want my students to learn the way scientists do science – by doing it.  Maybe it will involve apps and other technological wonders.  I’m not sure.  I just want them to get their hands dirty, learn by doing rather than read about someone else doing it.

My kids will learn to write on a laptop.  I remember when computers first became a thing and I struggled to transfer my acquired writing skills to the digital platform.  I finally did in the end, and now can’t imagine writing a full paper by hand, but it was not an easy task.  More importantly, I want my students to learn how to be able to take notes electronically while still attending to the lesson at hand.   To this day, I am not proficient at this.  Sure I can type like the wind, but when I go back to review my notes, they often don’t mean nearly as much to me as they should.

Reading is the one I struggle with where and how to incorporate technology.  There is so much evidence that points to a connection between comprehension and a real-life paper book I don’t know how to justify changing it.  HOWEVER….I do think students need to be able to read digital copy, and be able to discern relevance and validity, so I am sure at some point, I will find a way to incorporate that into my language arts lessons (and certainly into social studies).

Of course my lesson plans will allow for cooperative project-based learning and performance-based assessments, because I have made no secret of my dislike for standardized tests.  But some projects may require work outside of the classroom.   This is where a tool like Google Apps for Education comes in.  Kids can work together without having to BE together.

What happens, though, if while working on their projects, kids run into trouble and have questions?  Then what?  They are stalled in their work until they can talk to me.  I would love to hold online office hours so kids don’t have to wait to continue their learning.

Again, my ideas sound great (at least to me), but are they realistic?  Will my school or my students have the resources to allow me to try them out?  Only time will tell.

We, as educators, keep saying we need to involve our students more in the learning process, but then behave as though their opinions and ideas are not important enough to adopt.  Well, now there is statistical evidence that maybe, just maybe, we should all be listening to our kids.

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3 responses to I’m Having a Vision…(of digital learning)

  1. 

    Tech integration depends very much on the readiness of the teacher. At my high school the music and theater tech use tech for many things. The music kids use tech to compose music while create the sheet music to accompany the work. The theater teacher used tech to create collaborative scripts and then record performances. There are a lot of great examples with the teachers that are ready:)

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  2. 

    DUDE! I totally agree with the arts thing. When I was observing at Jamestown Elementary, the art teacher had taught herself Google Sketch Up and had developed a lesson based on that movement where homes are being made out of shipping containers. She had students designing their own homes, using sketch up! It was crazy because half the class had a good handle on it, and the other half were completely lost. But the ones who had it down went around and help others out. A lot of the products were awesome, and the kids were having a blast with it. Adapted architecture!

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  3. 

    Great points! It is interesting to see how girls are not as interested in STEM. Also, I agree about using a flipped classroom for math…I think that would be extremely effective!

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