Prompt: Why is electronically mediated teaching/learning important for the desired skills and knowledge of the future?
Based on my 20 years of experience as a tech-savvy teacher, I could probably write an entire book about how I think electronic learning is important for the future. However, I don’t really have enough time to actually write that book, and I doubt very many people would actually want to read it, anyway. So I’ll share just three of my ideas here…
First, I think it’s essential to recognize that traditional, lecture-based teaching methods have done a pretty lousy job of addressing the diversity of students that exists in most classrooms. As Robinson (2013) stated in his Ted Education Talk, children have very different personalities and learning styles. Standardized tests and assembly-line learning methods aren’t very effective when students in the same classroom have widely disparate interests and ability levels. Robinson further speculated that we over-diagnose such conditions as ADHD because we expect students to sit quietly in school for prolonged periods of time. When properly implemented, I think computer technology gives each student a unique opportunity to find his or her own relevance in each lesson. This helps make the formal learning process less boring for students.
For example, I recently met a high-school English teacher who developed an electronic storyboarding assignment for her students when they read Romeo and Juliet (M. Guerini, personal communication, October 14, 2016). She asked each student to prepare a comic-strip style storyboard for each act of the play by using the StoryboardThat webtool. As an added twist, she asked her students to use Twitter-style dialogue, including witty handles, 140-character limits, and the liberal use of hashtags. Students were free to choose which scenes and characters to portray, as well as which graphical elements to incorporate into their comic strips. I know some teachers think we shouldn’t worry so much about making learning interesting or entertaining. Teachers are sometimes scared that creative projects may take too much time from the curriculum. In spite of these concerns, motivation is a very potent factor in student achievement, and we should embrace any tech tool that helps motivate our students, as long as it motivates them to learn.
Second, I think technology offers teachers a greatly improved way of assessing student learning. Traditional paper-and-pencil, multiple-choice tests created a situation in which low-level knowledge and factual recall were assigned top priority by both teachers and students. New educational technologies, on the other hand, allow students to be assessed with more high-order critical thinking tasks like placing items in a sequence, drawing graphs, and even typing sentence answers that can be quickly and automatically graded. Instead of spending several hours each evening grading stacks of papers, teachers now have access to technologies that automate much of the grading process. I already wrote about student motivation, but imagine how much more teachers might be motivated if the time-consuming task of correcting papers could be more automated. Finally, teachers might have time for more valuable work, like crafting extra remediation and enrichment lessons for their students, or possibly for catching up on some long-neglected sleep!
3. Student Learning
Finally, I think technology has the exciting possibility of leveling the playing field for students who come from socioeconomic disadvantage and/or English-language learners. These populations of students in particular have always struggled to overcome achievement gaps for a wealth of reasons, including the fact that teachers never had enough time to adequately assess the individual progress of each student. Technology may help close this gap, in part, by allowing teachers to quickly pinpoint which students need extra help.
President Obama recently visited Mooresville, North Carolina, a community which, according to him, had used blended learning to foster one of the highest records of student achievement in that state, even though the district received below-average funding (Mackey, 2013). I think the success of blended learning depends on something more important than money. I don’t think Cadillac tech plans are necessarily more effective than those done on a shoestring. The most important factor, I think, is whether teachers already have a focus on student learning.
Traditional American education, of course, was focused too much on teaching and not as much on learning. Lecture-based and rote learning models encouraged teachers merely to cover a concept or curriculum unit, and then throw up their hands and shrug if they later discovered that half or more of their students failed to demonstrate understanding. A focus on student learning, of course, was more challenging and time-consuming, because it required teachers to design different learning activities for students with different learning needs. By allowing students to work at their own pace, on their own time schedule, and along their own path, blended learning offers a great opportunity to make the learning experience much more individualized for each student. Future teachers won’t be content to design a one-size-fits-all approach for all students, and then hope for the best. We are moving into a future in which students will increasingly take learning into their own hands, whether we want them to or not.
Mackey, K. (2013, June 14). The disruption of blended learning. American RadioWorks. Podcast retrieved from http://www.christenseninstitute.org/?multimedia=how-online-tools-may-change-classrooms-today-and-forever
Robinson, K. (2013, May 10). How to escape education’s death valley [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wX78iKhInsc