Friday, June 18, 2010

Tech Tools Don't Transform Learning - Teachers Do!

A recent article in the Washington Post by Stephanie McCrumman questions the value of the expensive technology being installed in classrooms all over the world, particularly interactive whiteboards. While I agree with a lot of what she is saying, she misses the key point. Unless teaching and learning activities change to more learner-centered experiences, technology will not revolutionize our schools. And this depends on teachers knowing how to change their approach.

In 1975 I had a wonderful technology in my kindergarten class - a machine with a monitor, speaker, keyboard, and early stage interactive disk which the kids would sit at to learn to read. A word would come on the screen and a voice would say "cat" and then the student would type the word "c-a-t" and if successful, they got to see the word, hear "cat," and see a picture of a cat. WOW! For 35 years ago that was pretty amazing technology. Everyone wanted to be on the machine - but after only a few weeks, most found it boring, and the expensive toy was abandoned. I learned to design more engaging activities, like having the kids dictate experience stories into a tape recorder (technology), transcribe them with our parent volunteers, illustrate them, then read them to their peers.

Fast forward to today and the New York City  School of One, in which differentiated learning is the philosophy and approach (this came first) and the technology is the enabler. A similar school in South Carolina, Forest Lake Elementary School created a self-directed curriculum in which students as young as five interact with each other to learn, create, and publish their work in a variety of ways. Teachers are designers of engaging work and facilitators. In both schools there is a tremendous amount and variety of technology, but the curriculum design came first. Wouldn't you love to teach in these schools? Why can't every school adopt this approach in which the students thrive? Vision, strategy, plan, is an enabler and essential to today's educational landscape, but the educational vision comes first.

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