Projected slides (glorified overheads) is not technology integration…
I recently participated in discussions and decisions about placing networked LCD projectors in every classroom in a nearby school district. The new buildings in the district had projectors in every classroom while only a small percentage of the classrooms in the older buildings had projectors. The differences between buildings came up in many “why don’t we have what they have” conversations among parents, staff, and community members resulting in pressure from several fronts to “create more equity” among buildings. Ultimately it was decided to move forward with the upgrade across the district. Similarly, I am now starting a job in a different district and learning about the installation of smart boards in many classrooms with funding from several revenue sources. These decisions and situations beg the question: “What are the right reasons to expend significant resources on technology?”
My appreciation for the work of Jim Collins in Good to Great is no secret. Collins would argue that school leaders must be crystal clear about their mission and be strong enough to say “no” to opportunities that pull resources away from delivering on that mission. Sometimes technology is that very distracter. Collins would also say, however, that technology sometimes serves as an accelerator of an organization delivering on their mission. To rephrase Collins’ thoughts, technology use in education must serve as an accelerator for accomplishing our mission – student learning.
The thought that technology by itself increases student learning is shallow at best. The vast majority of technology use in classrooms that I have observed over the past 10 years includes projecting Power Point slides, showing movies, projecting graphs or problems on to a white board (and using the white board marker to illustrate in John Madden fashion), and a few incidents of projecting internet sites valuable to a particular topic. Looking past the fancy colors and larger screen, nearly all of those teaching strategies could be accomplished with similar effectiveness (in terms of student learning) with an overhead and a television. How does this accelerate student learning…? It doesn’t.
Technology or no technology, good teaching is good teaching. Effective instruction engages all learners, is focused like a laser beam on specific, measurable, and well communicated objectives, and is designed to challenge students to think independently, complimented with an overlay of meta-cognitive reflection processes. To use some Daggett/McNulty language, effective teachers use quadrant A content as a vehicle for challenging students to complete quadrant D work. It’s both rigorous AND relevant. It’s differentiated for individual learners tapping multiple resources to get to the same end. Students are observed working in groups, debating, asking questions, brainstorming, and ultimately, creating new knowledge. So the real tech integration question is… What technologies are accelerators of these behaviors?
Technology integration that accelerates student learning facilitates meaningful student reflection, student creation of knowledge, student writing, student participation, and relevant student interaction. It differentiates for learner needs and sometimes delivers the practice of skills necessary for demonstrating mastery of clearly articulated objectives. Sometimes, excellent technology integration includes teacher or student use of technologies to streamline necessary “class systems” such as handing in work, taking attendance, or giving meaningful feedback. Most important however, is using the technology to increase student thinking, reflecting, and participation.
So what technologies have you used or witnessed in action that accelerate student learning? What web 2.0 tools or activities truly help teachers engage students in reflection, writing, synthesizing data points, and creating knowledge?
Happy Leadership Day 2010!