An Introduction to Technology Integration


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. 

5 thoughts on “An Introduction to Technology Integration

  1. Your blog reflects ideas I read in another blog by Shelley Wright about creativity being the starting point for learning.  I found this blog while researching for an essay on flipped learning.  It made so much sense I nearly cried.  Everything I do with students that is successful learning starts with them creating and then evaluating.  And now I can cry again!

  2. Thanks Leigh, and thanks for the link to Shelly's blog post. Seems there are a large number of teachers out there who feel and act the same way as you, but it's compellingly baffling how we have failed yet to influence the system as a whole and make this the norm!

  3. The whole point of transformation as opposed to substitution is difficult  when faced with the fact that teachers are still getting excellent results by substituting technology for traditional tools and using very little technology. If what you are doing works why change? Some of the most respected and popular teachers at the school I now work in are not great users of ICT. What they do well is develop good relationships and develop systems and structures which support the students to pass their assessments. Would the use of ICT in a way that creates new learning opportunities improve the learning outcomes for students in these teachers' classrooms? I have no idea, and neither do they. What they do know is what they are doing now is working well. Therefore what incentive is there to change, especially when the technology cannot always be relied upon to work and the focus of our education system is on getting credits through the use of paper and pen?

    As you well know I'm a believer,  but I am in the minority. There is also the issue of "the fad idea". iPads are now the fad. BYOD seems to be the "buzz" acronym and all our educational fantasies will be realised once we all get fibre. 75% of the teachers I work with have no idea what byod stands for and are vaguely aware that fibre will mean faster access to the internet which means they can stream video without it irritatingly stopping.  This is hardly transformational. Even our two young, newly qualified teachers, who love to use ICT, still use it as a substitute tool. When I spoke about knowledge building and inquiry learning with one of them her response was that it was all good, but at the end of the day you just really wanted to know the stuff you needed to pass the test and get the credits – again not a transformational attitude. But she is an effective and popular teacher.

    We have had over 10 years now of initiatives and ICT PD projects and I still feel that the pockets of transformational teaching practice are sporadic and isolated amongst the majority of schools. There still exist the islands of innovation such as Point England School and perhaps Albany Senior High School, but the reality is that there is no incentive to change what we are currently doing, and until there is I think the status quo will remain.

    1. hi Conor – thanks for the reflection. Of course, you’re completely right – if recognition is given for doing things the ‘old’ way, then why change – thus the status quo remains. So – we either roll over and go along with things, or we stand up and be counted. We need a revolution. Sadly, the approaches I see among so much of the education fraternity aren’t what I’d call revolutionary. We resort to strikes and stop works, which are useful in making a point, but ultimately put the onus back on those who are currently leading things to make the change, something they’ve demonstrated so far they’re incapable of doing. Or we come up with all sorts of plans and business cases that require those same leaders to fund or support – again, not going to work. We need to be far more active and unified in the way we work politically, with business and within our communities. You mention Point England and ASHS (and there are others) as good examples of innovative practice – this is exactly what they  did and are doing. Their motivation wasn’t in the form of external incentives (pay, marks, standards, status etc) – theirs is internal (future-focused practice, global citizens, learner-led learning, community engagement etc.) 

      Watching TV last night I was saddended by the news of those in Pakistan who are refusing polio injections for their children, and the death of some nurses who were blown up by militants supporting that view. Seems they’ve been ‘brainwashed’ by a generation of propoganda from the ruling regime who have convinced them that the polio vaccine is a political intervention from the West that will result in modifying their DNA, making them childless etc. It was impressed on my yet again how unquestionning acceptance of current practice or views of current leadership can lead us down such a devastating path. 

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