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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

2 Reasons Connected Education Needs to Focus on Learning

By Peter DeWitt — June 25, 2015 4 min read
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It’s not like this conversation has never come up before. Over the years we have seen school districts spend thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars on technology. They purchase iPads, laptops for students, Smartboards, and countless other tools, but sometimes the implementation goes in a negative direction.

According to this article, 93% of teachers surveyed encourage students to utilize technology in the classroom. It’s strange because just by seeing technology in a classroom, some parents and observers believe the school must be connected and innovative. However, if they scratch the surface and really look, has the way they taught really changed?

Jump into any social networking conversation about being connected or the use of technology, and educators on Twitter, Facebook and Voxer are having dialogue or one-sided monologue, around the reasons why every single person in the country...no...the WORLD should be connected. And many of the reasons are vitally important.

Personally, it seems as though when I’m with an audience or participants in a workshop, there are huge numbers of educators who stand up when I ask them if they are on Twitter, and about ½ of the crowd sits down when I ask the people to remain standing if they actively use Twitter. We use it, but do we use it to deeply benefit our students?

Others, who never stood up in the first place, are weary of technology and being connected.

Technology and social media certainly have critics. There are people who are afraid to get on and share their voice. After all, they tell students that once their words are in cyberspace they cannot take their words back, so the teachers and principals are merely heeding their own warning. Other times when we turn on the news media we hear about security breaches and how crooks steal out identities...or we have seen Tweets go wrong, so there is a deep fear around using social media.

Reason #1 - The Wrong Drivers

In education circles there have been a few thought leaders and researchers who have warned us that we need to use technology appropriately. For years, Michael Fullan has been talking about the wrong and right drivers that have a positive or negative impact on education. Technology has been, what Fullan considers to be, one of the wrong drivers. Not because he doesn’t see the benefits, but because of how it is used.

For full disclosure, I created the Connected Educators Series for Corwin Press, and then with my partners Ariel Price (Associate Editor) and Arnis Burvikovs (Senior Editor) we found authors, created additional ideas focusing on connecting, and edited the book series from what was supposed to be 6 books to the what has become 21 books. I understand the importance of social media and technology.

However, we didn’t believe in the Connected Educators Series because we wanted people to randomly use tools. We believed in the series, and wanted to see it become successful, because we were pushed by Fullan’s message that it should be about learning and not about tools. It’s just that we knew there were educators and leaders around the country who were using tools in creative and engaging ways.

Reason # 2 - The Magic Bullet

School districts spend a great deal of money on technology. In this very popular blog on Education Week, Benjamin Herold writes, Public schools now provide at least one computer for every five students. They spend more than $3 billion per year on digital content.”

In The Politics of Distraction, John Hattie, someone I work with as a Visble Learning Trainer, wrote,

Another distraction is the demand for teachers to adopt new technologies. We have been hearing that 'the technology revolution is coming' for the past thirty years or more and how the advent of desktop computers, iPads, smartphones, the Cloud and so on will radically change classrooms. We are told that WiFi is fast, available, cheap and will transform education; that there are terabytes of information available and that schools need access to the web to find it; that kids are now digital natives, wired and on social media and that classrooms need to run to catch up. So why has a transformation in teaching not yet occurred?

Hattie goes on to write,

Larry Cuban (2003) asked this 'why not' question and concluded that technologies will never be used in any transformative sense until we change our teaching methods. At best we will use technology to consume more facts and knowledge, and we will use the Internet instead of the encyclopedia, PowerPoint and Word instead of slate and paper, and complete practice tasks online instead of on worksheets. As before technology, we prioritise knowledge consumption.

And Hattie ends his criticism of how technology is used in schools by stating,

Once again, the grammar of schooling privileges 'knowing much' rather than encouraging faster, more efficient and socially wired connections. It will only be when we move from using technology as a newer form of knowledge consumption to seeing technology as an aid to teaching for enhanced knowledge production that there will be an effect.

Focus on Learning

So the survey suggests that 93% of teachers use it, but as you read down the percentage of how it is used effectively to engage students goes down. For example,

  • Thirty-six percent have allowed students to use tools to produce their own video content.
  • Twenty percent have used have used wikis, blogs or social media to spur student dialogue.

Cuban, Hattie and Fullan are not saying that technology doesn’t matter, but they are saying that how we use technology and social media in the classroom does matter. Dropping iPads in a classroom will have little effect on the learning taking place if they are not used correctly. This should not be difficult to comprehend.

If school districts want to get a bigger bang for their technology buck, they have to offer the following:

  • Professional Development that focuses on how to engage students with technology
  • Create an edcamp for their school district or in their region
  • Stop looking at technology as the silver bullet but as a viable way to engage students in learning when used correctly
  • Understand that technology should be used to encourage students to create something that will benefit our society or the world at large
  • Stop focusing on surface level distractions and begin digging deeper by allowing more teacher voice, because they are the experts who can connect with students.
  • Join the Future Ready Movement to learn how to use technology correctly

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Creative Commons photo courtesy of the US Department of Education.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.