As we work on proposals to the state, to foundations, and the federal government for funds to learn about building our collective capabilities and assessing outcomes, thinking often turns toward employing new technologies. The ubiquitous nature of information technologies actually pervades any thinking about how to address educational issues, such as performance in mathematics and stark differences in achievement among various subgroups of students. Within the setting of our common work, I have been reflecting on how employing new technologies would benefit from the partnership approach discussed in my previous blog entry.
Investing in new technologies (hardware and software) needs to be followed by learning how to best employ the new tools for meaningful learning. When we think about employing information technologies in classrooms, teachers are well aware that there is an overhead expense in teaching students the how-to’s in getting the technology to function. It is also quite common for educators (and people in general) to think that when dealing with youth, it is not necessary to teach them about information technologies, they grew up with these gadgets. But data suggests otherwise.
Researchers in the Netherlands* reviewed studies of how youth use information and communication technologies (ICT). Their summary with citations removed:
“A growing number of empirical studies show that young people have intermediate rather than high information and communication technologies (ICT) skills…, that their Internet use is characterized by ‘relatively mundane forms of communication and information retrieval’ rather than ‘spectacular forms of innovation and creativity’…, and although they use interactive media intensively…, there is a diversity in the kinds of media being used… Because these results do not point in the direction of a Net generation as one skillful and homogeneous group, the assumptions underlying the Net Generation debate should be seriously questioned” (pp. 103-104).
Today’s school age youth may be “comfortable” with operating various technologies but that does not easily translate into effective learning environments ICT is present.
The same is true for teachers. Purchasing “computers on wheels” (COW) and placing it in a classroom does not produce a computer-enriched environment. The argument that the teacher only needs to learn the software and the students will be able to follow and benefit from these high-tech tools is an argument that needs rebooting. Along with the expanded capabilities of putting a computer in the hands of students comes the resulting consequence of learning how to shape instruction to turn these general-purpose machines into tools for learning.
Investing in technologies comes with the need to invest in people. Both administrators and teachers require an investment. In turn, they will make an investment in students through new forms of instruction that help them achieve their instructional goals in new ways. Following from the previous blog, engaging some expert is not the only nor likely to be the best way to build teacher capabilities.
Employing new technologies changes the learning context. All contexts imply consequences. Some of the consequences are expected and desired other consequences may be unexpected and not desired.
Employing an outside expert also carries consequences. Expected consequences would be new ideas and new capabilities. Unexpected and undesirable consequences would be difficulties in transferring knowledge from the teacher workshop to the school or out-of-school settings.
Better, at least at the start, would be a local teamwork approach. A team of skilled educators (teachers or visitor center interpreters), local technicians, administrator or resource manager, and clients (students or visiting public) work together to explore the technological capabilities. Money that would have been spent on an outside expert is instead used to leverage additional time for the team to work. Ideas are vetted with others in the educational setting. Specific plans are made for a structured trial of the technology educational work. Educators directly involved with employing the technologies, share experience, and resources (not spent on outside experts) go toward developing relevant materials or additional technology to advance the work. Together they decide what kinds of knowledge and skills they need and the resources they need to get there.
*A. van den Beemt, S. Akkerman & P.R.J. Simons (2011). Patterns of interactive media use among contemporary youth. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27, 103–118.