Avoiding the pitfall of ignoring the ways students learn from each other

Not too long ago I had a conversation with an older instructor about technology in the classroom (iPads and smartphones specifically). Defying certain stereotypes of age and technology use, he supported the use of technology in class, while I opposed it. At the time, I thought the use of technology distracted from the learning experience and impeded students’ language acquisition. For these reasons, I avoided the use of technology in my classes. But something the older instructor said resonated with me, and still does. He posited that the students were going to use these technologies regardless of our classroom policy. So, was I going to hold tight to my rules in the class, and choose to ignore the blatant relevance of these technologies in students’ lives? Or, was I going to figure out meaningful and authentic ways to these for students to develop their language proficiency using such tools?

While I still believe technology can distract students from achieving certain learning goals, I have toned down my absolutist mentality. My colleague was right, ignoring the relevance and importance of technology in my students’ life would be to project my own beliefs and values on them, rather than acknowledge, embrace and utilize theirs. I would be ignoring the fact that most of my students communicate through social networks such Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And that it represents an important part of their lives.

While certain aspects of educational theory remain relatively static, like Bloom’s taxonomy, I think it is important to remember that a learner’s cultural, generational, and technological distinctions create an ever-changing learning environment, and that it is part of the educator’s responsibility to be aware of these distinctions. Awareness of such distinctions allows us to strengthen our connections with students, broaden our teaching and learning skills, and provide students with the most effective learning experience.

Since our chat a couple of years ago, I have watched students share wonderful pictures, stories, and opinions through familiar technological devices and applications I would have otherwise dismissed as irrelevant to their learning experience. I have also watched them learn using these tools–and teach. I had remember that true learning occurs when the learner is motivated and feels what they’re learning is personally relevant. I had to remember too that education is not separate from life.

Lastly, when reflecting on my changing thoughts about how students learn, especially from each other, I also think about humbling my desire to be the sage on stage is also critical. When I quiet my sage on stage qualities, albeit difficult, the stage light broadens to encompass everyone. Again, the vast and varying personalities and experience of the students are able to flourish, becoming the details of our ongoing learning story.

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