Friday, October 17, 2008

Definition of Integration

Like many parents, my wife and I ask our kids what they did at school today. When my kids first started school, they would list off "recess, lunch, reading...", things they did every day. They quickly became more sophisticated in their answers, saying things like "Today we had music", or "Today we had an assembly." One of the answers I get about once a cycle now is "Today, we had computers".

When I work with teachers on using technology in education, we use the buzzword "integration". That word has slipped to the likes of "standards" and "rigor" in terms of a word with a watered-down definition.

For most teachers, integration means "use". For a few, it means forced use ("I do it because we're told to use technology..."), but the overwhelming majority of teachers look forward to having students use technology. It provides energy and opportunities for learning... both for student and teacher.

The problem is, "use" of technology is peripheral. It's a side item in the day, a separate chunk of learning circumstances and environment. It is like it is for my kids: first we have reading, then we have computer time. Or, today is the day we get to go to the lab.

This isn't integration. The use of technology isn't seamlessly infused into the learning process. It is an abrupt and conscious shift in it. No student will be unaware when they work on a computer.

This leads to technology being used for technology's sake, not learning's sake. David Warlick has phrased this as "getting past the 'wow' of technology." Sure, learning about technology is important, but this practice doesn't mirror life. When you are at work, do you consciously have "computer time"? For me, the answer is that I used to, back when computers first came around, or when the internet first came around. But now, using the computer is a seamless part of my workflow, as I bounce from using it to using other tools to accomplish my tasks, like face-to-face discussions, the telephone, and resource manuals.

Think of seamless integration this way: a pencil is, for all intents and purposes, a piece of technology. It is used for a great deal of work in school, and that's a good thing. However, my kids don't come home and tell me "we used a pencil today." It's picked up and used and then put down again with out conscious interruption. That's where we need to get with computerized technology.

Now, this isn't the fault of the teacher. I recently showed some teachers Survey Monkey as a way to pre-assess student understanding before a lesson. The teachers were very excited about the possibilities. So, being the killjoy that I am, I raised the question "What would it look like if you tried to use this in your current classroom?" For the elementary teachers, that would require getting all the students up, go down to the computer lab for a 2-minute survey, and then come back. 10 minutes of time lost in the transportation, another 10 lost in the preparation. The secondary wasn't much better, as a student would have to go get the laptop cart from next door and then each student would have to get out a laptop, take the survey, and put the laptop back. The truth is the teachers won't use it. I wouldn't either. Despite its obvious benefits, Survey Monkey is a conscious interruption to the learning process.

This has serious danger to everything we do with teaching technology integration. When Inspiration came out, I loved it. I saw so many uses, and not just of the end-of-term big-project variety. Five minute applications like take the concepts we talked about today and sort them on this venn diagram, and the computer will tell you whether you are correct. But, I couldn't integrate it... it had to be peripheral learning. We can be gung ho about the read/write web, but it will sadly become the latest Inspiration if we don't change our structured approach to integration. We have to get a device in the hands of every student and make this learning seamless.

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