Far too often educational technology is viewed as a simple way to fix complicated dynamic issues in education. This unwavering belief in technology means that in many schools and districts, technological solutions are implemented without questioning whether or not they are effective.
Project based learning where students design website, create wiki’s and podcasts, develop infographics, record speeches, etc. can have value. These projects are visual, easy to share artifacts of learning. Teachers and administrators can point to these types of projects to justify the purchase of new technology and to demonstrate evidence of learning outcomes. I agree that each of these projects has value. What is concerning is that technology based projects, and the purchase of technology itself, can take precedence over the types of skills that make these projects valuable.
For example, a student created wiki that gathers information about the diplomatic tensions between China and its Pacific neighbors in the South China sea is a valuable and worthwhile project. To complete this project, students need to:
- Locate credible sources that contain both information and analysis
- Read and understand the information in a larger historical and cultural context
- Consider the point of view of each nation
- Write and present the information in a non bias manner that fairly presents the opinions of each country
- Correctly attribute information to specific sources
- Develop sophisticated paraphrasing and summary skills
Each of the above skills must be used before the students begin to master the technological hurdles of presenting the information in a wiki format.
The skills listed above are useful and transferable. However, at the beginning of most wiki projects these are not the skills that are taught or evaluated. Instead, students learn how to start a wiki, create pages, develop inter-wiki links, and embed multimedia. These are valuable skills but they are secondary concerns. In this example, a wiki that should have served as a presentation of learning became the emphasis of the project.
For technology to be of any legitimate use in the classroom, it needs to easily support or facilitate the acquisition of fundamental skills.
In a reimagining of the project above, each student is required to complete the same project only the writing needs to occur in a Google Document that is submitted to Google Classroom. The integration of these two pieces of technology offer the student the following learning enhancements.
- The in process document can be shared with the teacher and peers for immediate and ongoing feedback
- The instructor can use the revision history of the document to measure effort, observe the student’s writing/research/thinking process and design mini-lessons to meet individual student needs
- In process documents can be shared with the whole class as a model and feedback can be obtained (verbally and in writing) from both the instructor and the student’s peers.
Here the classroom technology does not stand apart from the learning of necessary skills – it facilitates and enhances the learning.
Once the difficult work of researching, thinking, writing and re-writing is complete the class learn how to publish and present the writing in a wiki format. This allows the class to build 21st century skills without sacrificing the development of critical thinking skills.
Don’t misunderstand, I am a tech enthusiasts and I use a whole range of technological tools to facilitate learning in my classroom. However, I learned the hard way that each new piece of technology requires a rethinking of instructional methodology and learning outcomes. The existence of technology does not justify its use in a classroom. Instead, it is the role of the instructor to protect the limited time in the classroom from anything, including technology, that distracts from the very important job of learning.