Edutopia have just released the video above to illustrate how effective technology integration is achieved when its use supports curricular goals. I'm always on the lookout for clips like this that may be helpful in my work with teachers, and like so many I've watched, this reminds me of how difficult it is for us as educators to constructively and effectively find the words to explain and describe what's being acheived with technology for a broad audience.
The video begins with Salmar Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, describing his excitement about how technology is now transforming what we do with the classroom, and transforming the things that happen within it. I find the concept of transformation in education personally motivating – something I believe we need to be working towards achieving, and Salmar Kahn's work with the videos in the Khan Academy is certainly an example of a transformational approach.
All too often, however, our thinking about transformation is limited by the existing practices, structures and expectations of our schooling system, so that what actually occurs is more of a 'veneer' over what we currently do. This is reinforced for me by the next quote in the video which labels technology as 'just a tool' – and that it's what we do with it that we need to focus on. While I'd certainly not disagree that it's our use of the technology that is important, I do have problems with the notion that technology is just a tool. This sort of thinking leads inevitably to a 'substitution' mentality – where once we used a blackboard as a tool, now we use a data projector, or a word processor instead of a pen or pencil. As Marshall McLuhan alerted us to some decades ago, the "medium is the message", and in his work with the tetrad of media effects, he demonstrated the ways a new techology/medium may change the overall milieu of the present.
So, when I hear discussion of 'integration' of technology in education, I often observe the objective is limited by the expectation that the new technology will simply be used to support, enhance or expand existing practices. e.g.
- using a word processor for written expression (instead of a pen/pencil)
- creating videos or podcasts as an alternative to writing essays or making posters
- creating slideshows to support oral presentations
In and of themselves, these things aren't transformational – they're substitutional. What makes them transformative is when we 'let go' of our traditional notions of what is important in this process (e.g. who decides on the timing, the purpose, the assessment etc of the learning) and move to a place where the learning and the learner's ability to control what is happening becomes the focus.
This is where the Edutopia video provides some valuable insights – although they're somewhat buried in the script – about two of the ways technology empowers learners to act, think and learn differently. The first is…
When you create you take ownership of your learning, you understand it in a different way…
and the second…
Kids respond better when they can share their learning.. to an authentic audience.
(please excuse the liberties taken in the transcription).
These two learning behaviours – create and share – are a part of the pedagogical model I promoted in a blog post last year. The top layer of this model was developed collaboratively with my colleague Russell Burt from Point England School, and is grounded in the practical experience of learning that he and his staff have been following over the past few years. The focus here isn't on doing old things in new ways – but on discovering the empowering potential of the new technologies to do new things in new ways, ways that enable individual learners to learn-create-share, and experience success in their learning.
The other important thing that this video highlights is emphasised towards the end of the clip, particuarly in the final credits, where the claim is made that student achievement is likely to be improved where a mix of face-to-face and online approaches is provided. I couldn't agree more, and earlier this year posted a blog claming that the future is blended. This is something that we need to consider seriously in the way we organise, support and manage learning in our schools. When we now have students learning content by searching the Web, or by watching YouTube or Khan Academy videos, what is the role/purpose of classroom time?
So – a useful video? Well, it certainly got me thinking about the work I do with teachers, and the sorts of professional conversations we have as a result. I think its usefulness will be in the conversations it stimulates (such as the thinking I've shared here), and the provocations it provides to do things differently. In terms of actually illustrating or exemplifying any of the changed practice we're talking about, I'd rate it only five out of ten.