Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A Cheeky Look At How Tech Affects Education

I've read several posts on the ways tech is changing education.  Here are a few:
And the list goes on.

I like how posts like these all take a different bent on the effect of tech on education.  Some look at higher learning; some look at devices; most include some part of what's commonly referred to as 21st Century skills (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity).  But all have a bird's eye, sitting in a comfy armchair, chin scratching and wearing a smoking jacket kind of view.  What about the educator in the trenches?  What has really changed day to day?

Not every teacher has gone "1 to 1", or done a Skype Chat, or got their students blogging. And collaboration and communication have been pillars of an educator's classroom for decades. (Remember Cooperative Learning?)

So here are my own four ways in which technology has changed education for me.

So many techniques, so little time
Educators have always felt constantly exposed to new educational techniques. Tech however has put our exposure into overdrive. Flipping, BYOT/BYOD, Project-based Learning, Inquiry: they all come at you quick, fast and in a hurry. You can Teach Like a Pirate. You can Lead From Within.  Even if you are not looking for it, someone will share with you over some kind of social media something new that they are working on.

This can be great.  Never before has the world been so small as to be able to build on ideas from around the globe.  Never has sharing been so easy--a tweet, a blog, an update away.  But without a modicum of restraint, it can be like drinking from a fire hose.  The new ideas can come so rapid-fire that there is no depth to the learning.  Patience is a virtue in this situation--a patient look at all the possibilities and patience with oneself.  There is no law against slow implementation, nor restraint.

Collaboration over sleep
If you've ever found yourself in an educational conversation with a complete stranger that extended into the wee hours of the night then you are not alone.  In fact, whether it is on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, or an Edmodo community, these kinds of conversations are commonplace.  Is this you?  You are up in the middle of the night and you grab your phone.  You open up twitter and see that Australia or some other country you could "dig to" is having a chat on something you've been thinking about.  You introduce yourself, and despite the possibility of getting a pillow thrown at you by your partner, you begin to wax on about student voice or digital citizenship.

True: the level of connectivity we have in this day is amazing.  But once again, boundaries need to be in place.  I do believe that the global connections we make are meaningful.  And it is wonderful to collaborate beyond the brick and mortar walls we find ourselves in day after day.  But mantras like: "Family over Facebook" or "Buds over blogs" are crucial to keep.  Next time a late night twitter chat catches your eye, you might want to put your phone down and catch some Zzzzs.  You know you're going to need them.

Digital dependency deepens
It used to be that your tech success was based on how old the overhead bulb was.  Now you need lab time, internet access, wifi, and multiplatform apps.  The success of your spirit assembly rests on the downloading of a certain 50 Cent YouTube video.  Your Air needs to Play; your Google needs to Play.  And perish the thought if someone contracts a virus or your school Wi-Fi is overloaded with Ultimate Fail Video downloads.  Now you have students sent to your class asking for your dongle.  And then they tell you its not the right one.

I'm not too sure a way around this one.  It seems once you leave the land of paper, you're stepping into a tech powder keg.  My tendency is to ride the wave.  Here we need a lot of grace.  Sometimes you just don't have the Prezi reader that the student needs for their presentation; sometimes the internet is down.  Try to be ready with a backup.  But don't get so down if things aren't as smooth as you like them to be.  There will just be those messy days. Typically the students don't mind a little mess here and there.

Differentiation desire
Teachers are now asking the question: how can I use technology to tailor my students' learning experiences.  Whether it comes from within or without, there is a sense that tech can help in the tailoring process.  Now you would never promote a "teaching machine" but you might ask yourself: how can tech in a way clone my efforts? How can it do what I don't have time to do?

EdTech is big business.  And there are a lot of companies out there that would be glad to help you leverage tech for your students' learning.  I would suggest doing your research before you start spending the PAC money, though.  Utilizing tech to aid in the learning process is great.  But even after you get into something, at some point take a step back.  Ask yourself:
- is the tech really helping? or is it creating more problems?
- is the learning genuine? or does it poorly generalize to other situations?
- does it support the connection with the teacher? or does it diminish the relationship with the teacher?
You might find the tech produces amazing results.  Or you might find that it is doing more harm than good.

In the movie Napoleon Dynamite, Kip loved technology.  But he loved Lafawnduh more.  If only we could keep our classroom priorities as straight as Kip's.  I leave you with his moving love ballad.