Thursday, May 28, 2009

Determining the Purpose Before Integrating Technology

As we mentioned yesterday, you must start with the purposes of your curriculum in mind before integrating technology. By "purposes", I mean the necessities that go way beyond the specific outcomes or benchmarks of a particular lesson. Think bigger picture: what are you trying to do to enhance learning and build the complete student? Or in the case of this discussion, what is your purpose for using technology?

Not all purposes are geared towards technology. Consider enhancing logic and reasoning. Or building self-worth. Could a lesson involving technology also help with those purposes? Yes. But those would be tangential benefits. And, could a purpose be reached without using technology? Again, yes.

Therefore, keep in mind the 12 purposes listed below are a list that make it easier to see where you would integrate technology into your curriculum. They are not an all-encompassing list of what is important in education, nor do they mandate using a computer to achieve them.

Writing Literacy - One of the 5 literacies listed in the Iowa Core, writing can be greatly enhanced via technology, as tech gives students the ability to write more, share with larger audiences, and receive more feedback during the process.

Visual Literacy - Another of the 5 literacies, it is important for educators to know how much today's student thinks and understands with visual images. Tools that provide visual images in conjunction with concepts help firm learning and build on student schemas.

Oral (and Aural) Communication - Two more of the literacies are speaking and listening. Much like written literacy, technology can enhance the way we speak and listen by giving us a multitude of different media and audiences for which to communicate. And, they give students a chance to dissect their own communication skills, which is near impossible to do in a live setting.

Collaboration - The Iowa Core emphasizes that 21st century teaching and learning is a collaborative process. Several tools give more sophisticated collaboration forums, allowing it to happen at a distance in both space and time, and giving everyone access to the same workspace. Try having 4 students write an essay with one piece of notebook paper and see how "collaborative" the process is.

Networking - Using the modern day learning theory of Connectivism, as Alan November mentions, a major part of teacher's work in the future will be networking them with people outside the classroom, school, community, and country. Technology gives teachers the tools to connect students with millions of other teachers and colleagues that are out there.

Data Collection and Interpretation - An absolutely critical purpose of education, students need to understand how to access data in different ways. Be it temperature probes, digital cameras, heart-rate monitors, spreadsheets, or more, through technology there are ways to access the variety of data out there, for each content area. And, giving students access to collection of data is a pre-requisite to having them interpret it.

Critical Research - Much like data, the process of finding and analyzing information is paramount in this age. Tools that help students filter the process of finding information, as well as knowledge of how to critically judge information are vital.

Formative Assessment - A key component of the Iowa Core, so many tools out there now can give a teacher a better glimpse of what the student has learned, what they are ready to learn, and what they are struggling with. Be it diagnostic assessments or tools as simple as Clickers or PollDaddy, the teacher can differentiate, remediate, or eliminate content and be much more systematic about their instruction.

Graphical Representations - Given the body of research that indicates humans think in graphical representations, there is a mismatch of best practice and instruction if a teacher does not use those in the classroom. This is a somewhat of a catch-all category, as the charting, mapping, and drawing tools out there actually have a variety of different uses. But it all starts with a teacher focusing on the purpose: I need to better utilize graphical representations in my classroom.

Presentation - Don't let the name fool you, this purpose is not just about Power Point. Rather, it is the process of sharing one's learning with someone else. Which, makes this a category that includes technology you'd see in many other categories, be it an Inspiration chart, a word processed essay, or a spoken voicethread. Still, even if you ended with the same tool, the key is to know what your purpose is.

Organization - Probably the primary use of technology among adults is to help organize our lives. Why is it a forgotten purpose in education? When given a project to do, students need to find ways of organizing the task to make it do-able. And more and more, there are a variety of tools that can help them with that process.

Enhanced Opportunity to Learn - One important component of the Iowa Core that isn't discussed is the need to extend learning beyond the time and space confines of the classroom. Portal and content management technology allows learning to happen during study hall, lunchtime, or after hours.

I find this list makes sense to educators. They can look at this and agree that A) all of these things are valuable, B) all of these things are enhanced with technology, even if I don't currently know the tools, and C) all of these things have bearing in my class. I should be enhancing all of these. But at the very least, I can see 1-2 immediate ones that, with some direct focus and planning, will make my classroom more effective.

And, that's where we start. With understanding and agreement of this list. Once we say "I need to better graphical representations" and we find the specific lesson which is our greatest need, we'll find the best fit of technology to use. And, we won't waste a teacher's time learning how to blog if that isn't the best fit of technology. This is the way to conduct focus technology professional development in your school.

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