Saturday, March 7, 2009

You choose the tool

I had a good conversation with a curriculum director at Heartland's recent Curriculum Network meeting. We discussed the concept of classroom integration, and how there are several depths to this. We got talking about "unconnected integration"; that is, integration done more for the tool's sake than learning's sake.

The thought that came out of this discussion is that there is also "dictated integration". This, like unconnected integration, exists at different intensities in the integration spectrum. In her district, what she traditionally saw was teachers telling students "We are going to do a project where we will learn 'X' and 'Y', and to do so, we are going to use a wiki" (or power point, or podcast, or webquest, etc).

The pedagogical question: Is dictated integration bad, much like unconnected integration is?

We discussed a long time, and though her gut told her it was, we concluded that it wasn't necessarily a negative. Dictated integration is direct and it can focus the class on the 'X' and 'Y' instead of the tool. And, it usually brings all the positives of integration in general... it is engaging and interactive and... you can run down your list.

But dictated integration shouldn't be your end outcome. And unfortunately, this is where many of our schools don't succeed.


At Howard-Winneshiek, where we were a regional model of effective integration, we made what I believe to be a curricular design mistake with our 8th grade technology assessment. And this comes despite my general feeling that we did an excellent job overall. We were very thorough with our assessment process, identifying the skill and concept sequence starting in Pre-Kindergarten, and utilizing assessments at each grade (unlike many other schools that only assessed technology proficiency at the 8th grade level, none before and none after).

What's more, we eschewed poor assessments... no multiple choice, or even worse, using the "grade achieved in the 8th grade computer class" model. We assessed using process rubrics to deep integration units in all four major content areas. This means we looked for the same technology skills in different units, which is critical to build reliability in authentic assessments.

The problem is, we always picked the tool. "We are going to represent our science lab data using Excel" or "We are going to demonstrate our findings on the American Expansion period using power point." We never said, "Here is your task... you need to determine the tool."

Which of course, while not being all of what you seek when you teach with technology, is extremely crucial. It represents the critical thinking, process analysis, and authentic ability needed in life. In this age of a myriad of technology, students ability to determine the tool to solve their problem will be directly related to their level of success. It is aligned to a host of ISTE standards (3c, 4a, and 6b explicitly).

As we look to assess the Iowa Core's implementation of effective teaching, and we discuss the inadequacies of the ITEDs to measure 21st century teaching and learning, we will create our own authentic assessments. We must keep in mind that to fully analyze how well students know what we want them to, we have to make sure our assessments avoid dictated integration. They must demand students to find their own technological solutions to the problems they face.

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