Saturday, April 23, 2011

Teaching comes before Technology even in the dictionary

I have had a long email conversation with a student who is creating online technology integration training for teachers. I realized this is a conversation which should be shared...

The conversation began when I put this comment on a recent assignment.

Teaching comes before technology even in the dictionary
(quoted from Making the Move to eLearning). I would propose that you teach teachers how students can learn more effectively when using technology and not teach them about specific tools. If you look at the NETS-T standards from ISTE you will see the emphasis is not on tools and technology tips/tricks but on what technology can bring to learning. My little soapbox, I will get off it now but I couldn’t let this pass without asking for the focus to be curricular, not on tools.

My student replied... Whoa! Thank you. That expression is closer to what I was hoping to accomplish with Technology training for teachers. If teachers can use various multimedia to excite, peak interest and curiosity then the end result is more internalization of knowledge and skills for the students.

This has been my quandary since I started thinking about technology training for teachers a couple of years ago - do I present information on the 'how to' side of technology tools so teachers can become proficient using them? The expectation is once they know how to use technology, they will incorporate it in their lessons because they will understand its impact on their students. The other side is do I present the information of technology tools and their impact and leave teachers to their own devices on acquiring the 'how to' skills?

What I proposed in an earlier class was combining them by teaching the 'how to' side and requiring that the teachers use reality (project based) lessons to demonstrate an understanding of technology's use in the classroom. Am I on the right track with this?

Quite honestly, if I had my way in the classroom, those that have smart phones or notebooks would be able to use them in the class to do research. After Japan's tsunami, I used my iphone and document reader to show YouTube' videos on tsunamis and earthquakes to answer questions from a group of very nervous 5th graders who thought Alameda was going to be underwater - I had to use my iphone because the district's filter prevents access to YouTube and social sites but that's a whole other issue.

And I responded... The biggest fallacy is that if teachers know how to use a tool they will know how to integrate it into the curriculum. Really forward thinking creative teachers might, maybe. The vast majority need to see examples. If they see some examples they then can make the leap into new ways of using the tech in their curriculum area.

The way I was taught in the most intense but most valuable educational experience of my life was to be given a curricular task (just like we would give the students) be shown a few just-in-time tech skills to use with one or two tool choices, provided with or reminded of resources for figuring out other things with the tools (remember to use the Help menu... for example) and then given time and opportunity to struggle. Adults do not like to struggle but they learn from it.

Children tolerate struggling a little better, they seem more used to having to figure things out. We slowly train them out of that ability to figure things out on their own. By the time they are in high school they just wait for us to give them the answer because they know we will. If we let them create, let them find more than one answer, and if we accepted multiple forms of the answer, and we refused to step in and help them, they would keep that characteristic, but we don't. Think of how a child figures out a video game. They try, they lose, they try again and learn a new trick and make it a little farther. They share tips with friends and get a little farther. There is no manual, no help menu, they struggle and they love it. Schools train all this out of them, we teach them there is one right answer, the teachers knows the right answer, and if you wait long enough the teacher will help you get the answer they wanted all along. We might say we do something different in education, a few of us do, but the majority of education is exactly that for students... no wonder they prefer video games.

Bottom line is all the teachers are used to a world where there is one right way to do something, someone knows what that right way to do it is, and if you wait they will help you get it... Making them do something with multiple avenues to be right and letting them struggle on their own somewhat is good for them but uncomfortable.

The intermediate step is to give them the curricular task, give them a few skills to get them going, provide them with scaffolded resources in case they need them and a support network of other learners, and then help them before the frustration level is so great that they quit. The real trick in online ed is knowing when their frustration level is getting too high and it really is an art in online ed and I freely admit I have screwed up more than once and let someone get too frustrated.

This is a really long answer to tell you that I would suggest you design curricular tasks and projects and embed the necessary skill-building and resources into the support for the tasks. And keep the lines of communication open between them and other students, and between them and you.