Sunday, October 5, 2014

Technology: It’s About Creating And Not Just Consuming

We have really barreled headfirst into the world of technology usage in the classroom.  As a former technology teacher, I have always found the use of computer hardware and software to be a powerful tool for constructivist learning, but three years ago this was taken to a whole new level with the introduction of iPads at Liberty and the evolution of the one-to-one classroom concept.  A one-to-one classroom, coupled with a technologically savvy teacher meant access to stores of knowledge and adaptive tools that were never possible previously.  It was exciting how ubiquitous and ‘unremarkable’ the technology was in this ecosystem as a classroom developed where student would use the tablet the same as they would a textbook or pencil; simply another tool to enhance the educational experience.
Yet for all the technology usage that was going on in the classrooms and all the excitement surrounding the seamless use of tablets, much of the learning, if you really thought about it, fell onto the lower rungs of Blooms Taxonomy.  Students were using ibooks to read texts, the IXL software to practice their math questions, Safari to conduct research on informational topics, and Starfall to identify letters and sounds.  This use of technology is impressive, but students were using the technology to consume information, not necessarily analyze, synthesize, and create.  Don’t get me wrong, each of the tools listed above is a huge step forward in terms of learning.  For instance, through the use of IXL, an application targeted at practicing and assessing mathematical skill we were able to track student data in fifteen minute increments and make real time adjustments based on what kids did or did not know about the skill being covered.  This powerful tool has allowed us to intervene, enrich, group students with like deficits, all while empowering kids to take ownership of their data and progress.  Blended learning tools such as these have their place, the problem becomes when these programs become the sole reason why the technology is being used as opposed to providing opportunities to have children create using the tech tools.

The Shift- Creation To Consumption 
We began to have conversations at the school about how the technology could be used to not just consume information, but to create it as well.  To guide our learning, we borrowed a tool from Kathy Schrock and modified it to fit the Liberty context.  Thus was born the Bloom’s Taxonomy for iPads (Liberty style)…

We began to discuss different strategies for having the kids create using the technology and began experimenting with tools like Edmodo and Poplet that teachers were familiar with, but had never regularly applied in their classrooms.  Teachers were then encouraged to take risks and experiment with these new tools in a manner that would lead to the highest possibility of success in the classroom.  Applying these strategies of course takes a tremendous amount of preparation including exploring the tool, troubleshooting potential problems, setting up passwords, designing appropriate assignments, and discovering ways the technology could be used to drive student learning (not just using technology for technology sake).

The Innovation Challenge
Our consumption to creation strategy finally took a huge leap forward with the introduction of the
Innovation Challenge in spring of 2014.  This technology showcase and competition challenged each class to submit an entry that showcased their use of technology as a creation tool.  The real benefit of the Innovation Challenge is it gave teachers the go ahead to try something new, experiment, and feel free to make mistakes.  It didn't hurt that the challenge period occurred near the close of the year and after state testing has completed.  Teachers rallied their students to produce various iPad created products that included Prezi presentations, student created iBooks, Kid Blogs embedded in QR codes, Show Me videos that were uploaded to Edmodo, Adobe Voice created public service announcements, and iMovie videos as book trailers.  The Showcase Event really demonstrated the capability of both our staff to facilitate rigorous technology projects alongside the ability of our students to create academically aligned assignments.  In terms of an event, it was highly successful, but as a professional learning opportunity, it was really a home run, setting us up for a year of thoughtful and rigorous technology usage.

What Have We Learned

  • Paradigms Must Change- So much of the technology talk has been on programs, generally narrowly tailored to address lower level skills.  These are important, kids cannot move to the higher levels on Blooms Taxonomy without basic content knowledge and skill mastery, however this cannot be the end, it must be a means to an end.  We must push our students to create using the technology in the way that we educators, and every other professional, work to synthesize, analyze, and create in the workplace.
  • Safe Practice And Room To Experiment- Educators are generally very conservative in their classroom decision making.  This is probably the result of many years of being held to compliance measures and not being given the autonomy to think, explore, try new things, and make mistakes.  Technology usage is tough, things will go wrong, and mistakes are part of the learning process.  We must of course do whatever we can to minimize the propensity of mistakes to occur, but we cannot stifle the creativity in our classrooms or things will never move forward.
  • Competition Can Create Fertile Ground For Learning- Our Innovation Challenge project highlighted what the insertion of a little healthy competition can do for furthering any particular initiative.  This project was great because it was academic, challenged teachers and kids to try something new, and set up a dynamic where everyone could win through the learning process.

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