Sunday, December 19, 2010

Technology is a Game Changer for Learning

I know, it’s not about the technology.  We all say it.  But, I think we may be kidding ourselves.  Look around and you’ll see technology changing and challenging almost everything.  It makes things possible that weren’t necessarily even a thought before.  Think about the iPhone – did the millions upon millions of people “know” they needed it before it was?  Our modern tools, conveniences, and inventions today would not be possible to design, engineer, or produce without sophisticated technology.

For schools and classrooms there is often a debate about technology as a tool, technology as a skill, or even that there is no need for it.  We often suggest that technology is a nice to have but real teaching and learning can continue on without it as it always has.  In light of all the writing and discussion about 21st century learning, personalized learning, etc., is this really still the case?

“Technology can provide new options for assessment and improving learning outcomes.”, BC Premier’s Technology Council (PTC) – A Vision for 21st Century Education, p. 3, December 2010

New options for education are made possible through technology. 

“Today’s technology can provide instant feedback to students on their progress and students can use that feedback to adapt and improve outcomes”, PTC, p. 16

Instant formative assessment supports learning

This student would agree with that statement.

Many of us use the term “Digital Native” to refer to young people that have grown up with technology.  Some people believe that these kids have an innate ability to use technology.  I suggest they have a fearless approach to learning technology to meet their needs, needs that are often more social or entertainment oriented than about learning and work.  Later in the PTC’s paper we find this statement

It is believed that the “confluence of information and technology directly reflects the ‘new illiteracy’ concerns of educators: students quickly adopt new technology, but do not similarly acquire skills for being critical consumers and ethical producers of information.”, PTC, p. 35

This student suggests the same… 

Teachers have very important role to play
More now than ever, educators need to be incorporating and modeling the effective use of technology in their teaching.  They need to guide students in their use for learning and ensure they gain the 21st century skills necessary to be fully literate.

A friend of mine shared the following remarkable video via twitter a few weeks ago. 

I was blown away at the power of this visualization technology.  At our last middle school design group meeting with the architects we were reviewing classroom design characteristics.  We are including a lot of glazing (windows) to create an open and transparent learning space.  I asked about the cost and technical difficulty of replacing the windows with digital multi-touch material once such options were available and affordable – it may not actually be that difficult...  Imagine being able to, on demand, have these windows be transparent (like a window) or a scene from history or some other place on earth to match the current lesson.  Also, the window could be a multi-touch interactive video surface – students could speak and interact with other students around the world, relevant to their current lessons.  I see the above video as being a feature of these windows, perhaps well before 2020…

Google just made available a database of books from 1800 to 2000 and a tool to compare word frequency.  This allows students to study historical uses and frequency of words in ways never possible before technology.  This example compares the use of “peace” with “war” in books from 1800 to 2000.  Try it yourself here.


Or how about this free interactive visual demographics tool from Gapminder.  Students can choose various indicators and countries and “play” out the statistics over time since the 1500’s.  It will also forecast into the future. Check out imagethe prepared lessons and activities Gapminder has for teachers to use.  Note that this is the same tool and dataset that was used to create Hans Rosling’s video that I included earlier.  The power of data visualization is available today for students and teachers.

If we are not making these types of technologies available to our students and teachers, we are missing the boat so to speak.  I believe that we have a moral imperative to change the game for learning using technology.  In Hans Rosling’s video there is a pretty compelling story about financial well being and health.  We know that education directly correlates to financial and healthy well being.  I believe that technology used effectively will provide the fullest and richest educational experience possible.  I believe that 21st century learning requires that effective technologies and robust access be made ubiquitously available to our students and teachers.

I’m sure there are those that will disagree with my perspective and I encourage you to share your perspective here.  Or perhaps you could share other innovative technologies that support learning.