21st Century Learning


So many times we use the phrase “Teaching & Learning” but really we need to be asking ourselves:

Are we focusing on teaching or learning?

This came up in a discussion with Kim earlier today, (BTW….the two of us in a room for longer than 10 minutes is enough deep conversation to keep me going the rest of the day) that what we are focusing on is not necessary student learning, but instead teachers teaching. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and take our eye off of what we’re really here for.

As we continue to support teachers using technology tools in their classrooms we need to realize that teachers’ use of technology is not the same as supporting teachers teaching with technology. In these early days I’ve been supporting the use of technology. Answering questions about SmartBoards, Entourage, Office 2008, OSX 10.5, etc. Although it’s important to support teachers in the use of technology it’s much different then supporting teachers teaching with technology.

Supporting the use of technolgy

Supporting the use of technology focuses on the tool itself. Not on the learning or the students. When we support teachers by helping them with a SmartBoard Notebook file, or teaching them some new trick in Office, we are supporting their use of the tool, not their use of that tool for learning. One can easily get sucked into supporting the use of technology full time (such as I have lately) and not make a true impact with technology in the classroom as a learning engine.

As long as we continue to think of technology as a tool for learning we are going to get caught in this circle of supporting teachers use of the tools, rather than focusing on student learning.

Technology as a tool worked when the impact on learning was small. I think of the use of Word or any Office application for that matter. It was a tool that we used to replace a way we had/have always done things.

Technology for Learning is Bigger than the Tool!

Technology for learning is about connecting students to information and using applications that allow students to manipulate data, ask questions and interact with information.

I think of the use of Google Earth…not to study the Earth being round (using the tool like a globe) but instead using Google Earth with an overlay of migration patterns to talk about why people migrate (a lesson I did last year with 5th graders). Then having student interact with data by having them create their own migration pattern, and share that information with others (connecting information) to create an understand of why students in international schools migrate and where they come from.

I am continually reminded of the Marc Prensky article in edutopia where he states the different levels of technology use.

  1. Dabbling.
  2. Doing old things in old ways.
  3. Doing old things in new ways.
  4. Doing new things in new ways.

To me using technology as a tool is still dabbling with technology and not really affecting learning in a deeper more meaningful way….I mean it’s 2008!

When a new technology appears, our first instinct is always to continue
doing things within the technology the way we’ve always done it.

Technology as a tool.

What we’re talking about is invention — new things in new ways.

Technology as a connector to information allows us to look at data, to interact with learning like we have never been able to do before and connect with people, places and things in ways we were never able to do prior to the Internet.

What I find when I talk to teachers it that this is a HUGE jump! Thinking beyond replacement into a world where you can create, invent, and think about information and learning in new ways does not come natural to many educators. (Ouch!)

Let’s focus on learning, let’s focus on creating an atmosphere in which technology is more than a tool, but is an embedded part of our classrooms, our own thinking as we plan lessons, and a gateway to inventive teaching. Let’s stop using technology as a tool and start using it as a way to connect ideas, to create new and interesting way to learn and interact with information in ways that were never possible before. Let’s use technology as a way to make learning meaningful and authentic to learners.

It’s more than a tool….it’s a connection creator!

A recent comment about Mac or PC in schools has cut my sleeping short the past two nights.

That sounds like a great help to your colleagues. Our school has all macs – the entire district actually. Some of the people that have come from industry have brought up the point that by using macs we are not preparing our students for the workforce (even though there are so many neat applications on them). What do you think? (N.D.)

What do I think?

I think if we are worried about the OS of the machine we’re focusing on the wrong part!

If we are teaching kids an OS and specific software and not skills then that is the disservice to our students!

Example: We teach students how to create and compose audio files. We teach elements of sounds and communication via audio and how to share that recording with a global audience.

Can you name the software that was used to meet this outcome? Does it matter? Or will the students be able to take that skill and apply it to other audio software in the future?

I cannot count the number of times I have been asked if I’m a PC guy or a Mac guy. My answer: neither or both, it doesn’t matter!

Computers are just the gateway to information. Before computers it was the newspaper and magazine, before that town hall meetings and town squares, and before that the camp fire and story telling ceremonies.

It’s not the actual place that brought people together; it was the people there that brought people together. You go there (or went there) because that’s where people were giving out information. You get a newspaper because that’s where information is given. You watch (or watched) the 6:00 news because that’s where information is (was) given.

You get on a computer because that allows you to access information.

My 7th grader two years ago said it best “What did you all do with computers if the Internet wasn’t around yet?”

If schools are still wondering if they should be PC or Mac…..my answer is to just be something! Just make sure it connects to the Internet!

Computers today more than anytime before are the gateway to the real information of the world. We go there because that is where the people are who have the information. We go there because that’s where everyone else is. Why Twitter? Because that’s where everyone is! Why Facebook? Because that’s where everyone is.

Of course Clay Shirky does a much better job of explaining this in Here Comes Everybody. But if we’re still debating PC or Mac then we’re still asking the wrong questions.

Yes the Mac has cool tools already built in but there isn’t anything I can do with a Mac that I can’t do with a PC. Open-Source Software has leveled the playing field. In fact, I found it interesting to see how many people in my earlier post recommended using Audacity on a Mac. I thought Garage Band was supposed to replace that?

We need to understand that it’s the network we need to worry about. We should be asking ourselves what’s better a 10MB connection or a 100MB connection. We should be focusing on what a computer allows us to do today in the 21st Century. Write, read, connect, think, share, collaborate, create, analyze, evaluate, compare, etc.

Don’t ask me if I’m a Mac or PC guy. Ask me what my connection speed is!

A great article out of the New York Times entitled: Can You Become a Creature of New Habits? Has had me thinking today about creating creative cultures in our schools.

David Warlick wrote a post recently that looked at the top 25 economic cities in the U.S. and how a “creative class” played a role in the rankings.

What I found interesting was the Bob Cook, who evaluated the cities factored in the portion of the population (that) were in the creative class. This includes scientists, engineers, artists, and teachers. The belief is, and this is consistent with Richard Florida’s writings, the creative class benefits the economic prosperity of a community as well as culture.

So perhaps one of the challenges of communities today is, “How do we attract creative people?” “How do we convince our creative children to stay?”

Or another question: How do we create creative people?

The authors and researchers quoted in the article has some interesting things to say.

“The first thing needed for innovation is a fascination with wonder,” says Dawna Markova, author of “The Open Mind” and an executive change consultant for Professional Thinking Partners.

Do we encourage our students to wonder? I see it all the time in Kindergarten classrooms, see it a lot in 2nd grade, not so much in 5th grade and by 8th grade? I don’t think I’ve ever hear a middle school or high school teacher say “I wonder…….”

Instead we ask students to make decisions. We as them to decide between this answer and that answer. We ask them to decide between fact and opinion.

“But we are taught instead to ‘decide,’ just as our president calls himself ‘the Decider.’” She adds, however, that “to decide is to kill off all possibilities but one. A good innovational thinker is always exploring the many other possibilities.”

So by asking students to make decisions rather than wonder about possibilities we’re fitting students into the box of what we believe to be right or wrong.

The article goes on to talk about brain research and how habits play a role in our creative nature.

…brain researchers have discovered that when we consciously develop new habits, we create parallel synaptic paths, and even entirely new brain cells, that can jump our trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks.

Now that’s cool. I’m sitting here with my legs up on my desk and I cross my left leg over my right. Why? Habit…it just feels right. For the rest of this post I’ll cross them the other way.

So we need to help students consciously develop new habits to stay creative. Think of the habits you could help students consciously develop in your classroom.

What if once a week students in your class had to write with the opposite hand. Just once a week for 40 weeks….new pathways?

What if as a teacher you consciously took a different route home from work. Making yourself pay attention to the road, to signs, etc.

In fact, the more new things we try — the more we step outside our comfort zone — the more inherently creative we become, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.

I wonder if that is part of the reason why educational technology people (for the most part) are a creative bunch. Most of us (myself included) started out as a classroom teachers and we tried new things with technology. We tried this tool, that website, we got creative to a point where today….heck, I try stuff just for the fun of it.

I have test sites set up where I try to break programs. I hack PHP script without thinking about it, yet four years ago I would have thought PHP to be a drug.

The current emphasis on standardized testing highlights analysis and procedure, meaning that few of us inherently use our innovative and collaborative modes of thought. “This breaks the major rule in the American belief system — that anyone can do anything,” explains M. J. Ryan

You mean to tell me we can’t test the creativity into students? That the current state of testing mandated by the government is counterproductive to creating innovative and collaborative people. The same skills that companies are looking for in new employees? (I’ll stop there)

Where are students allowed to be creative today. Art class is the first that comes to mind. Maybe it’s because my office is down the hall from the art room where music is blaring and kids take risks with every stroke of the brush. They wonder, they innovate, them try something new, learn, and try something new again. What about the performing arts? Students continually reinventing themselves for parts in a play, acting this way or that way that breaks the habits of what they know and who they are.

What about technology? Kids hack up their Myspace pages to create their own themes, they learn, create and produce their own videos for YouTube. They imagine then create their own avatars for online games. They take risks every time they play a computer game, they make decisions, learn the outcome, reevaluate and try again. They continually try new approaches, new methods until they find one that works for them. How many times have you been working on the computer or playing a game and thought to yourself:

I wonder what would happen if……..

How do we instill this wonder into our education system? Why do we not allow students to explore information, to reach their own conclusions by creating their own answers? Why is it so hard for us to become the schools we know we need to become?

I know…more questions then answers. But what did you expect….my legs are crossed the wrong way!

(Full Disclosure: It comes on right after American Idol on our TV so watch it by default….I’m in China our choices are limited! 🙂 )

1) Grab your laptop and go to Google.com

2) When a question is asked see how long it takes you to find the answer.

3) Think about all the useless content we teach students 1-5 grade.

  • What does this say about what we’re teaching?
  • How much of the content that we teach in grades 1-5 is useless to us in the “real world”
  • Think like a 5th grader today: “Why should I learn this stuff when I can find it on google faster and when I need it?”

So I still have Shirky’s post running through my head.

Here’s something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here’s something four-year-olds know: Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. Because four year olds, the people who are soaking most deeply in the current environment, who won’t have to go through the trauma that I have to go through of trying to unlearn a childhood spent watching Gilligan’s Island, they just assume that media includes consuming, producing and sharing.

When today I head into a 4th grade class to talk about cyber safety (the school counselor talked me into it 😉 ).

As we were wrapping up I asked the kids, “How old do you think the Internet is?”


Counselor: “What!” laughing “No way!”


Me: “Well actually the web as we know it today got started in 1996.”

“What! That’s it?”
“No Way!”

Every student but one has their own cell phone
Every student raised their hand when I asked if they go on the Internet at least once a week.
Every student has an mp3 player

To reword Shirky from above:

Here’s something fourth graders know: Media is free, content is free, it’s always been that way. Here’s something fourth graders know: Information that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. Because fourth graders, the students we’re teaching are soaking most deeply in the current environment, who won’t have to go through the trauma that we have to go through of trying to unlearn a childhood spent watching (Insert favorite sitcom), they just assume that information is consumable, producible and sharable.

And that’s just the way it is!

What interested me the most is in all six of the classes, as soon as I start talking about technology they all get that look….teachers know the one…..the one of complete attention, of wanting to know and wanting to share what they know.

We talk about all their favorite sites, we talk about who has this gaming console and who has that one. We talk about cell phones…and when they are really excited, we talk about staying safe on the web. What do you share, what not to share, were are the “cool places” and where should you not go.

One fourth grade lied and is on Facebook

Three others have older siblings who are under 13 and are on Facebook.

Ladies and Gentlemen we’re missing opportunities here to teach with the tool they so desperately want to use and want to learn. I could have asked them to write about their favorite features on their cell phones. To write a letter to their parents about why they should get an iPhone (persuasive writing).

We could have discussed the lastest podcast from ?????

We could have discussed the latest developments in Club Penguin.

We can do so much with what they are excited about. So many opportunities to bring learning into what they are doing, what they want to be doing, a where they are and want to spend their time. Opportunities….so many opportunities.

We can not expect teachers to take a risk and try something new if we ourselves are not willing to try something new.

I held a PD session for K-12 teachers after school today. It was one of 5 technology sessions we offered to teachers in what is known as TECH Wednesdays. Basically one Wednesday a month is set aside for tech PD. Today’s sessions included:

Blogging: (Brought 15 more teachers online)

Netvibes: Learn about Ginger and the new Universe function (Netvibes is the dominate RSS reader at our school)

Photoshop: Basic photo munipulation (resize, crop, rotate, etc)

Beginner Basics: For those who need just basic computer help at a beginner level

Why Not?: My session which focused on the question Why (BYOL=Bring Your Own Laptop session).

Not only did I want to try and help teachers understand why we need to be using technology to teach but I also wanted to demonstarte how one of these tools could be used in a classroom setting.

If I was asking my teachers to take a risk in their own classroom, then I felt I needed to show that I too was willing to take a risk with my presentation and push myself to try something new. So, I set up a chat room using chatzy.com. As people filed into my session I had them open their laptops and helped them to log into the private chat room.

I was taking a risk on a couple of different levels.

  1. I had never used chatzy.com before and was praying that it was stable enough and easy enough for teachers to be able to figure out with little instruction.
  2. I was worried that our wireless access point would not deal with more than 20 laptops in the room. So earilier in the day I asked the IT department to install two other access points…praying we could make it work.
  3. We are in China…and there is always the “China Factor” that you need to worry about.
  4. Would the teachers take the chat room seriously or would it, like it could with students if not structured correctly, become a place to play rather than to think deep?

And of course…just in case something failed I brought chocolate! Teachers, after a long day of teaching, will forgive you when you fail if you have chocolate….I always have chocolate. 🙂

I began the session by explaining that I was taking a risk, and quickly explained what a back channel conversation was and how it could be a very powerful learning tool in a classroom. I of course, couldn’t watch the chat on my computer as it was playing videos and held my notes for the session (I did however have two spys in the audience that I had asked ahead of time to try and focus the conversation if it did get off task…teachers are the worst students 😉 )

So I began where you usually begin when you are talking about change…the beginning. I started with the constructivist theory of learning seeing that all of us in the room went through teacher school learning this theory. It’s not a bad theory and one that I do believe in. The problem is it was created in 1967 and things have changed since then. It’s a good theory that needs a couple updates. In comes the connectivism theory. A theory that looks at the connected nature of information today and the role networks play in the learning process.

So we have a theory that states: individuals construct new knowledge from their experiences.

and a theory that states: Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual.

So together we get:

A theory that states: Individuals construct new knowledge from their experiences. Experiences that occur within nebulous environments of shifting core elements.

We’ll call it the Constructive Connective Mashup Theory of Knowledge Acquisition for now. 🙂

We talked about the two theories for awhile and how in a world where information is chaotic connected and complex that we need to find ways to make that relevent to our students and engage them in creating new meaning from what they themselves have experienced.

We then went on to talk about how Bloom’s Taxonomy of High Order Thinking Skills has been revisited based on research that learning is an active state. Therefore, Bloom’s Taxonomy needed to be updated to reflect this by using verbs.

external image Bloom_1.jpg

Again, remember as I’m explaining all of this the room of about 15 teachers are chatting in the private chat room and I don’t have any idea of what they are saying. It’s an interesting moment when you look up to get an audiences reaction to something you just said to find that not one person is looking at you, but instead staring at their laptops. I didn’t know if it was a good thing or a bad thing…but it is different and it is something that as presenters and as teachers we need to get use to if we want our audience to engage in reall meaningful conversations (again creating meaning from personal experience).

After I had my 15 minute talk. I opened it up for discussion on what teachers were thinking and any thoughts they had on using the chat room. We had a quick discussion about the theories and the taxonomy but not one comment about the chat room. I started wondering if it was just to much for the teachers. Did they not get it? Should I have explained it more? To late now…..

I then showed two videos and asked that they just reflect on their message and use the chat room to learn and think from each other.

We watched

Pay Attention


Do Schools Kill Creativity?

I had more to share and planned on bringing it back to some of the things that teachers are doing already in our school but we ran out of time. We finished with a discussion about the two videos and again I asked about their experience with the chat…and again no response. The nice thing about chatzy is that it archives the chat so I sat down tonight and went back through to see what the conversation was about. Here are some of my favorite thoughts from the chat.

how do we set up the chatzy?

As long as you structure your lessons to make the use of the technology tool it will work

The diversity of opinions is key… especially with our population. So many of our students still want to be told what to think.

The Web = Chaos – we have to make sense

Why aren’t we all aware of a new Blooms? Should we be sharing it? Who decides

perhaps it’s also – can we ourselves create new knowledge? how can you teach creation without experiencing it yourself?

cell phones give our kids confidence, (
My 6 yr old) had access to one the other day to play by herself and she utilized it like a pro

Go to http://www.ceap.wcu.edu/Houghton/learner/Think94/NCmarzanoThink.html for a link to Marzano’s New Blooms

i love that comment about the students only asking a question every 10 hours, the tech they can access is so much more immediate and real to them than that

DEAR is spent reading blogs in my class, twice a week

I can’t believe that even 39% think school will matter later in life

IPod + podcast = anytime learning… I need to put that in my elective description.

creativity requires thinking

risk taking

success in NCLB is not on how well teach the test but on how well we teach kids to think…personal experience has taught me that the best teachers teach kids to learn not a content

And to create an environment of risk-taking the teacher cannot serve as the know it all… they serve as the facilitator of the creativity!!!

absolutely – facilitating activities, providing models to tweak etc

The HS digital media club impresses me and is almost all student driven beyond what we have ‘schooled’ them in. Students drive the creativity though like jim says the test driven format of HS limits us and them.

We can all end up at the same point it is how we get there that makes the difference

I think that young child stop taking risks and stop being creative when they stop playing or when we organize their play too much

I think there is far too little time for PE for our elementary kids – they need to run and play more often!

one of the best experiences I had was when I had a classroom without desks and every lesson we used the outdoors to learn things. the kids were engaged and interested and thinking. I didn’t have paper assessemnts I watched the students and assessed them. basicly the students played at tasks while I watched and then we talked about their learning. And this was with grade 7’s and 8’s. I would love to have a classroom like this again

The chat: can be used in so many ways

Now I don’t know how they actually felt about using the chat as a back channel as none of them spoke up to tell me. But I learned a lot by going back and reading the chat and there is a part of me that wishes I could have been a part of it. Note to self…next time bring two laptops. One for the preso and one to chat. 🙂

[tags]21st Century Learning, connectivism, presentation[/tags]

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(A blog post I wrote to 11th graders and to myself)

Some interesting research has come out in the past couple of months that looks at the use of social networks and blogging and the trends that are happening in society today.

Nearly half of 18-24 year old social networkers (45%) told Future Laboratory researchers that if they had 15 minutes of spare time they would choose spend it on social networking sites rather than watching TV, reading, talking on their mobile, or playing video games. The impact of this trend is so significant that a quarter (25%) of respondents state that the rise in social networks has decreased the amount of traditional television they consume.

Social NetworksI continue to look at trends in our society and find myself among those that have decreased my TV time in favor of the social network. I continue to ask myself why is it that social networks are where I want to be and where I do most of my learning.

What I have noticed personally is a change within myself from a consumer of knowledge to a producer of knowledge. Watching TV does not allow me to interact with knowledge, allow me to leave a comment, remix it into my own words, or interact with the author in a true and meaningful way.

Social Networks, and the social web (also known as Web 2.0) allows me to not only consume but easily produce knowledge of my own. It is this interaction with knowledge that leads to new understandings and pushes me to think.

Because I am connected to the social web I am then allowed to create new knowledge based on my new understandings. Does that make sense?

What really interests me is that we use to believe that those who spent all their time connected to a computer where lonely, disconnected, and had no life. Yet new research is pointing to the exactly opposite.

The research, from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, found after two months of regular blogging, people felt they had better social support and friendship networks than those who did not blog.

Social Networks2Those who are connected in social networks already know this, it’s just great to see research back it up. I have very few friends here in Shanghai, but I have support and friendship networks that are very live and personal to me. My wife gets frustrated when we are sitting on the couch at night and I have Skype calls from my friends around the world. She picks up the phone to connect to people, I pick up my computer. I use twitter, Skype, Facebook, and my blog as my communication tools. That’s how I keep up with my friends. I read their Facebook, I read their blogs, I talk/IM them on Skype. I am constantly reading, commenting, writing, learning. Why is it that I hated learning in school and now go home at the end of a long day and look forward to reading and learning from my social network?

Interacting with people in the social web allows us to not only consume information but produce it. This is new to education as we were all raised to be consumers. We sit in class, we listen, we do our assignments, turn them in and move on. We consume, show that we consumed and that’s it. We never were asked to produce, to think deeply about what we were learning and we never had the opportunity to share what we thought (as scary as it is) with our social network and allow them to comment or think deeply about what we ourselves are trying to learn and understand.

Social Networks3In the social web each of us becomes a node of information. We are allowed to connect to friends, people, sites, information. We are allowed to consume, produce, share, learn, recreate, remix, and be as large or as small a node as we want. Education in the 21st Century is not about consuming information (it changes to fast), it’s about creating new knowledge from what we know, what we think, and what we are passionate about.

Knowledge is power! We create it through interacting with information not consuming it! Get social, become a node, and start producing new knowledge.

[tags]sas, 21st Century Learning, tok[/tags]

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Yes we have over 600 student blogs running here in Shanghai. From grades 4-12, students are blogging up a storm. In fact we’re getting to a point that the blogs are part of just what students do here.

Today this e-mail was sent out to all staff from a student (shared here with permission…and excitement).

To whom it may concern,

My name is Caitlin and I am a 8th grader. Recently we have been
working on a project about global issues in my Humanities class.

My group decided to focus on school violence. One of the actions we are
taking in order to lower school violence is a blog. A blog made for teens to
vent and if needed contact us about their problems. This will hopefully get to
teens before they result to violence or catch the violence before it get
serious. We would greatly appreciate if you wouldn’t mind forwarding this email
to anyone who can help, post something about our blog
and linking our blog on your blog or any other website, inform teenagers
about our blog, and finally (if possible) check out our blog yourself and leave
a commit.

Thank you so much,

How cool is this! That the students are starting their own blogs for projects, are using them for learning, for communicating, for collaborating, and for helping others. They are starting to understand what it means to have an authentic audience. I mean, they’ve always understood it. Just now I think they’re seeing the power in the network, the power in learning and communicating in a place that is open and familiar to them for educational purposes.

What I love is that the first thing any student does when they start a new blog is activate the FireStats plugin so they can see how many people are viewing their site. They usually then go to clustermaps or somewhere else on the web and get themselves a map of where people are coming from.

An audience is important to them. It is important to know that someone
else is reading your thoughts, maybe even leaving a comment. They want,
and at this point, crave that authentic audience.

They are also understanding the importance of linking. The e-mail is asking teachers to link to their blog so others can find them. That right there is understanding the power of networks.

When sharing, communicating, and collaborating becomes open….learning happens!

[tags]21st Century Learning, SAS[/tags]

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They know a heck of a lot, and when it comes to technology, they know way more then me and I’m the one who’s employed to know it.

It’s a scary thought, but one that is real and if we can get to a point that it’s OK to ask them to teach us it changes relationships and learning on many levels.

After having issues with my laptop last week during a Shifting Our Schools podcast I decided that it was time to take the plunge for real and try out Ubuntu. I’ve been wanting to play with it for awhile now and decided that now is the time.

So over the weekend I installed it and started playing. My goal is to turn the laptop into a podcasting machine. I know I can load Skype, Audacity, and some virtual audio cables to make the whole thing work like is should.

So I downloaded Skype and Audacity and took about 3 hours to try and figure out what to do with the files once I downloaded them. Frustrated I gave up.

Today I came to school, went to the office and asked for the schedule of one of the our students who I know runs Ubuntu and loves Linux. I found her in class and asked if she had some free time and could stop by and help me out. Sure enough she took her study hall time to stop by and in a matter of about 30 minutes she taught me enough to keep me busy for the next couple of weeks.

The interesting part was to watch and see what she wanted to make sure I had installed. I asked her to teach me how to install programs.But before she could teach me that she needed to first show me how to install some cool features. Like the switching of screens in cube form, how to paint fire, and some other simple add-ons. She then downloaded an audio playing program for me, telling me I just had to have this one, and then showed me how to check for updates. Only after all that did she show my how to download programs and install them using the built-in installer.

Sometimes teachers feel like they have to know it all. Like we need to understand the technology before we are able to use it. I don’t think that is necessary true. What I think educators need to focus on is the Why. Why do we need to use this technology? Is what teachers get paid for. Ryan Bretag had a great post about just this the other day on the techlearning blog titled: The Missing W

However, skipping the why because of the excitement of the what and how is a poor practice to get caught up in for educator and it surely is unacceptable for those in roles to assist educators in such planning.

I agree with Ryan. The why question is the pedagogy, is the curriculum. The kids and the support can help with the what and how. But understanding the why is what teaching is all about.

Why do we teach reading?
Why do we teach writing?
Why should my students be blogging?
Why should we use a wiki for this project?

These are the questions that teachers need to focus on and are the questions that we as educational technology supporters need to help them answer. The why is more important then the what and how. Those can be taught or in many cases students already know the how or can learn it very quickly.

We have smart kids! We need to be open to learning the how from them, but as educators we are paid to know the why!

[tags]21st Century Learning[/tags]

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Evaluating the use of technology in a classroom environment is not something most administrators are trained to do. It is easy to walk into a classroom and see that every student is using a computer, but how do you really assess if and what type of learning is taking place?

In the past, I have had administrators tell me “I walked into the teacher’s room and all the students were on laptops.” As though just the site of students working on laptops meant they were engaged in the learning process.
I have been trying to wrap my head around a simple way for administrators to evaluate the use of technology in the classroom (a thank you to Dennis Harter who got me thinking about this).

When most administrators evaluate teachers during the evaluation process, they have some sort of check sheet they are working from either mental or as part of a school’s evaluation process. I wanted to come up with an easy way for administrators to add to that list some questions that they can answer without knowing a lot about technology and by just observing its use within a lesson.

I remembered a Marc Prensky article in Edutopia in which he talks about the typical process of technology adoption:

  1. Dabbling with technology
  2. Doing Old things in Old Ways
  3. Doing Old things in New Ways
  4. Doing New things in New Ways

What if we turned these stages of technology adoption into questions that an evaluator could use during the evaluation process?

  1. Is the technology being used “Just because it’s there”?
  2. Is the technology allowing the teacher/students to do Old things in Old ways?
  3. Is the technology allowing the teacher/students to do Old things in New ways?
  4. Is the technology creating new and different learning experiences for the students?

This could be a simple list that any evaluator can use to decipher how the technology is being used in a particular lesson.

Is the technology being used “Just because it’s there”?

This would be the use of edutainment software, the use of a particular piece of technology because it happens to be in the room. The teacher dabbles with technology, not having a real focus on its use within the lesson but uses it as an add-on or at a very basic level (no real impact on the learning process).

Is the technology allowing the teacher/students to do Old things in Old ways?

Publishing a piece of writing in Word rather than hand writing it would be an example of this.

Also, using an LCD projector instead of a white/black board for a lesson.

Another example would be researching on the Internet rather than in an Encyclopedia.

These are all great things, and great ways to use technology, but they are only replacing the way we have always done things with something that might be faster, easier, and more accurate. In the end however, they are still the same old things we have been doing for years in education.

Is the technology allowing the teacher/students to do Old things in New ways?

Examples would be: watching Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech or listening to a recording of Stalin. Old things in New ways could also be reading and evaluation an original piece of writing or visiting a battle site via Google Earth.

These are not new things…just new ways of doing old things. We used to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech to the class, now we can watch him give his speech in Washington D.C.

We used to read the words of Stalin, now we can hear him speak them.

We used to read from a book, now we can read and look at the original document.

Instead of talking about a battle site, we can now visit that site virtually.

These are not new things; they just enhance the old ways of doing things.

Is the technology creating new and different learning experiences for the students?

Does the technology allow students to learn from people they never would have been able to without it?

Does the technology allow students to interact with information in a way that is meaningful and could not have happened otherwise?

Does the technology allow students to create and share their knowledge with an audience they never would have had access to without technology?

Many of our teachers are not at this level yet and many might never get here because this level of technology use requires a new way of looking at learning. One in which many of our schools are not yet prepared to look deeply into.

Prensky puts it this way:

For the digital age, we need new curricula, new organization, new architecture, newteaching, new student assessments, new parental connections, new administration procedures, and many other elements. Some people suggest using emerging models from business — but these, for the most part, don’t apply. Others suggest trying to change school size — but this will not help much if we are still doing the wrong things, only in smaller spaces.

As you evaluate a teacher, you should be looking for answers to the above mentioned questions. I am not advocating that every lesson should use technology or that every lesson should try to answer “New things in New ways”. However, it is good to know just how the technology is being used. There is nothing wrong with only using an LCD projector, or Google Earth to visit a battle site. I get excited when I see both of those things happening in a classroom. I just think it is good to put it into perspective just what impact the technology is having on teaching and learning. If a teacher is only ever ‘dabbling’ or doing ‘Old things in Old ways’ then a conversation can start about how to move the use of technology to a deeper more meaningful level within the classroom.

It is great to see teachers using technology in their lessons during an evaluation. It is even more informative if you can evaluate at what level that technology is effecting learning. Is it a replacement for the way we do things or is it something completely new and pushes both the students and teacher to new heights, new learning, and new knowledge?

[tags]administrator, evaluation, 21st Century Learning[/tags]

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