June 2, 2018

I wish I could…

Teachers are often frustrated by the logistical, financial or time constraints. While technology is no silver bullet, it can solve some of these constraints by breaking down the walls of the classroom. But too often teachers approach technology integration the other way around. They learn about a new product or tool and then start looking for a problem that it can solve.

eLearning Principle: Support LearningLet’s look at a few examples where technology can support learning:

  • As maths teachers, we have been talking for years about doing a short test at the end of each chapter. We even tried it one year, only to be swamped by paper and marking. A quiz that gets marked automatically can solve this problem. For a while typing maths still caused a problem, but Equatio solved that. Programs like Kahoot, Google Forms and IXL not only save the teacher a lot of time, it also provides prompt feedback (eLearning Principle 3 – Instant Feedback)
  • In a recent conversation with an English teacher, she was telling me how much her learner’s writing will improve if only she can find a way to get them to write something every week. But there is just no time. Blogging is the obvious solution to this problem. No more carrying around stacks of essays and by creating an authentic audience, you will find that learners suddenly put in a lot more effort. There are lots of platforms, like Blogger and Edublogs that makes managing class blogs a breeze.
  • Every chemistry teacher knows that it will be better if each learner can do the experiments themselves. But unless you have a well-stocked lab, that is just a pipe-dream. This is where online simulations like Phet comes in. Online simulations will never replace doing an actual experiment, but if the choice is between nothing or online simulations, then they are better than nothing.
  • Another teacher was lamenting the fact that she never has any time to talk to an individual learner or a small group. Technology cannot create time out of thin air, but with models like Hyperdocs and The Station Rotation Model you can plan your lessons in such a way that you spend less time speaking to the whole class and more time with small groups.
  • Last year I realised that teaching my grade 11 class will be a challenge but flipping the class will free up more time to work on riders together.

To incorporate technology effectively, teachers need a sound knowledge of technology, pedagogy and content. You might have heard of the TPACK model. TPACK is an extension of Shulman’s idea of Pedagogical knowledge.

Knowledge of the subject content enables a teacher to identify what learners need to know, pedagogical knowledge helps you to determine what is necessary for students to grasp this content. But you also need an understanding of available technology and how you can use it to ensure that learning takes place.

But it is imperative that a pedagogical need always drives the use of technology in your class. When I started with eLearning, I was told, “If you do something on a tablet that can be done just as well with pen and paper, you are wasting your money.”

It is often tempting to make use of a cool new gadget, just because you can (and it is soooo cool), and it is not wrong, per se. But unless driven by a pedagogical need, it will not have any noticeable effect on your teaching, and it is possible that it can even hinder learning.

But it is just as important that you know the affordances of the technology. You cannot stop a leak with tissue paper.  Neither will sea water do anything about your thirst. People often get frustrated with computers because they struggle to do what they want them to do while in the meantime they are trying to do something that the program is not designed to do.

Schools often ask me to come and do professional development on how to use this or that tool, but very seldom do they have PD sessions on how you plan a lesson around the technology. While some teachers find it challenging to learn a new program, all teachers find it difficult to adapt the teaching practices to incorporate technology efficiently.

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