Reflective Statement: Learn, Unlearn, Relearn


The education landscape is forever changing and evolving. Over the past 100 years we have gone from a society that isn't quite sure how to best educate our youth, to one that dictates what should be learned and when. There are policies in place at the local, state, and federal levels, that tell us what we should teach, and when to teach it, but very frequently what is missing is the how and the why. Technology is one of the fastest rising phenomena in education. Despite the concept of the "digital divide," no longer is it a matter of the rich and poor, but of the haves and have-nots. Today's youth is armed with more knowledge of, and experience with, technology than many of their teachers. That is why it is so important for teachers to remain abreast of the new; not just educational theory, but also educational technology. I know that there is a need to keep myself and my students aware of the changes in, and implications of, technology. Throughout the past few years I have learned much, and unlearned more. I have re-structured my thinking about what it means to incorporate technology into the curriculum.

The most important thing that I have learned is what Educational Technology really is. It isn't just the software; it isn't just the hardware; it's everything that goes into teaching and learning using technology. It is the analysis of what it is you want to teach; the solution you are able to articulate, develop and then implement. It's how you manage the learners as they learn, and how you evaluate not just the student outcomes, but also the effectiveness of the lesson. (Whelan, 2005, p1) Simply pointing a student to a computer and letting them go does not constitute incorporating instructional technology.

Technology as Telecommunications


The foundation to using technology in the classroom is to be sure that both the teachers and the students understand what implications it holds. Technology as telecommunications involves knowing about technology, knowing what it means to be a digital citizen, and knowing how to interpret the myriad of messages we receive from the media everyday. The key to achieving these things is to make sure they are at the forefront of our students' education. Understanding what it means to be a digital bully (Katz, 2005), and what it means to be safe and, more importantly, smart digital citizens (Olsen, 2005; Ribble & Bailey, 2005) is the first step to integrating technology into the curriculum. Students must learn what their own actions, words and ideas mean, and they also must learn to interpret the same from others. I chose to include my Web Site Evaluation Rubric and Justification in my portfolio because I believe that the first step to a responsible digital citizen is knowing how to judge a source of information. Second to that is understanding and implementing ethical use of the information they find on the internet. I created a PowerPoint "How Not to Plagiarize Your Report" with ethical considerations in mind, which I have also included in my portfolio. Evaluation and proper use of information is key to harnessing technology's power. Rather than dictate what a student should or should not learn from, we must teach them how to make their own choices and decisions so that they can become life long learners. As Ribble and Bailey believe, "you cannot legislate appropriate technology behavior - you have to teach appropriate behavior." (Ribble and Bailey, 2005, pg1)

Technology as Tools


Technology as tools, specifically as mindtools, involves harnessing the power of technology to free up the human mind to do what it does best, think. By taking advantage of programs that are specifically designed to store information, we are allowing our students to make connections to the information, not just memorize it. (Shim & Li, 2006) Using technology as mindtools "require[s] students to think about what they know in different, meaningful ways." (Jonassen et. al, 1998, p1) Semantic organization tools are one set of mindtools that I have developed a particular fascination with. These types of tools, like Inspiration, ask student to draw connections between bits on information and their thoughts. One use for this is when students are trying to organize their notes to write a research paper. Sometimes, the connections and order of the information is not easily apparent when writing an outline. Tools like Inspiration allow them to get down all of their ideas, and connect and organize their information in a visual way. I chose to include my example of a research topic map as an example of a meaningful learning experience which asks the student to draw these types of meaningful connections.

PowerPoint presentations are another type of mindtool classified as a hypermedia tools. Hypermedia tools allow student to incorporate many types of media - picture, text, audio and video - to create their own teaching tools. As Jonassen et. al point out, "students are likely to learn more by constructing instructional materials than by studying them" (Jonassen, et.al, 1998, pg11). The reason for this is that they are forced to clarify their own thoughts on a topic and express them in ways that will be easily comprehensible to others. Voicethread's are another hypermedia mindtool that allows students to showcase their knowledge on a topic. They are asked to illustrate their thoughts by putting voice comments on pictures. This speaks to Gardner's verbal/linguistic and visual/spatial intelligences as it asks students to draw connections between visual information and verbal. Hypermedia tools are also important in that they give students a public voice. They allow students to present their thoughts and ideas to a wider audience than just their teachers.

The same can be said for activities like blogging and online discussions. Knowing that you have an audience forces you to think harder about what you say and how you say it. Educational blogging is a particular tool that asks students to, in essence, rationalize their thoughts and ideas. Blogs can be used in many ways in education. As a tool for students, and also as a tool for teachers, blogs can be used as a way to create a community of discourse, which draws together individuals with similar backgrounds, interests or goals. Blogs allow individuals "to demonstrate their acquired academic knowledge." (Nash & Johnson-Taylor, 2006, p2). They are distinctly in-tune with many educational theories on learning, in particular, Vygotsky's theory that learning takes place most when it is socially mediated. When you share your learning with others, you are not only forced to think deeply about your own knowledge, but you are able to draw from that of others. You are also using the interpersonal intelligence of Gardner's theory of multiple intelligence when you interact with others in your blogs.  As Nash and Johnson-Talyor point out, "blogs are a vehicle for making thinking visible and public" (Nash & Johnson-Taylor, 2006, p3).

Technology as Tutor


Technology as tutor focuses learning from technology rather than with technology. This can be done with stand alone drill-and-practice tutors, or with things like simulations and WebQuests. In fact, WebQuests can be seen as a type of simulation in that they put the learner in a situation that involves solving a problem of some sort. However you look at it, it involves learning being guided by technology. This does not, however, give teachers a free ride as they still need to look at the learning objectives they wish to reach using the technology.

WebQuests are one of the fundamental ways to incorporate technology into the classroom, if they are created correctly. Through readings by the founders of WebQuests, I unlearned then relearned what a WebQuest is. I learned that they are not what I thought they were, a list of sites to visit to "snag" answers from, but in fact, carefully manufactured learning activities. When structured correctly, a WebQuest has natural appeal to students as it incorporates the ARCS model of teaching (Attention, Relevant, Confidence and Satisfaction). These activates are carefully structured to ensure students are able to do them, providing step by step directions and links to read along the way. They need to be structured in such a way that they don't become a snatch and grab model of learning because isolated bits of information mean nothing if they cannot be applied to something. (Dodge, 1997; March, 2004; March, 2003; March, 2008b) One WebQuest I have built is Using Trigonometry in the Real World which has been implemented for three years in a row at Pawling High School, with success each time. The WebQuest was designed first, by taking into account the New York State Math standards that need to be addressed in Algebra, and then, the Nets standards for 21st century learners. As should be clear, the technology aspect of the lessons need to come after the establishment of learning objectives.

How I use and will use technology


Many teachers remain wary of instructional technology because they don't understand it. I hope to start a trend that will transcend teacher fears about technology. I will continue to share tools and tutors that I find with my colleagues, and encourage them to try them with their classes. The key to creating a curriculum that incorporates instructional technology is to be sure to educate the teachers about all that technology can do to increase student achievement. The next step to increasing teacher participation is to help them include instructional technology in their current curriculum. 

Conclusion

The most important thing that I have learned and reinforced from readings is that technology integration is not a simple task. It is not a matter of having computers available and sending the students to them. Knowing how you will use technology is fundamental to understanding the implications it can have for your teaching. If you do not develop carefully planned and implemented lessons using technology, you are not going to recognize the benefits it can hold. As Oppenheimer, ever the pessimist, points out, too often technology is not implemented in a meaningful or productive way, and often times, the financial commitment in putting technology into schools is astounding. (Oppenheimer, 2004; Delisio, 2004) One of the main concerns, as I see it, is that schools spend so much money on the hardware and software, that they often miss the most important part of implementation, which is teacher training. Without proper training, they may perhaps be able to use tool such as PowerPoint, Blogging and VoiceThreads, but they may not use them in ways that truly enhance learning. Simply creating or having students create PowerPoint Presentations means they may miss out on some of the ways that technology can increase student achievement. Students must go beyond the copy and paste PowerPoint to one that asks them to analyze, synthesize and use information in a meaningful way.

If we choose to remain blind to the implications of technology in our lives, and those of our children, then we are at risk of putting our students behind their peers when they enter the "real" world. As Tom March so eloquently puts it:
If you disagree that these approaches are essential, you can stop reading now and relax. Your students will make all the adjustments; submit essays from schoolsucks.com; 'text-message' one another real-time exam answer; or sit quietly in class, heads bowed over books, listening to Pink Floyd on wireless headphones ("We don't need no…"). (March, 2004, para14) Back to Top

References


Delisio, E. R. (2004). "Author Says Technology Brings False Promises to Schools." Retrieved February 24, 2008 from Education World: http://www.education-world.com/a_issues/chat/chat097.shtml

Dodge, B. (1997). Some Thoughts about WebQuests. Retrieved April 7, 2008 from http://webquest.sdsu.edu/about_webquests.html

Jonassen, D. H., Carr, C. and Yueh, H. (1998). "Computers as Mindtools for Engaging Learners in Critical Thinking." TechTrends 43(2) 24-32.

Katz, L. (2005) "When 'Digital Bullying' goes too far." Retrieved 17 Feb 2008 from CNET News: http://www.news.com/When-digital-bullying-goes-too-far/2100-1025_3-5756297.html?tag=nl

March, T. (2004). The Learning Power of WebQuests. Educational Leadership 61(4) 42-47. Retrieved April 9, 2008 from: http://tommarch.com/writings/wq_power.php

March, T. (c2008). The 7 Red Flags: Warning Signs when Sifting WebQuests. Retrieved April 9, 2008 from Best WebQuests: http://bestwebquests.com/tips/red_flags.asp

March, T. (2003). What WebQuests Are (Really). Retrieved April 9, 2008 from Best WebQuests: http://bestwebquests.com/what_webquests_are.asp

Nash, S. and Johnson-Taylor, S. (2006). "Pedagogically optimizing the use of weblogs and podcasts for maximum effectiveness in online and hybrid learning."

Olsen, S. (2005) "Developing safe and smart internet citizens." Retrieved 17 Feb 2008 from CNET News: http://www.news.com/Developing-safe-and-smart-Internet-citizens/2100-1025_3-6190554.html?tag=item

Oppenheimer, T. (2004). "Point. Click. Duh." Excerpt from The Flickering Mind. Retrieved February 24, 2008 from Booknoise: http://www.booknoise.net/flickeringmind/excerpt/index.html

Ribble, M. S. & Bailey, G. D. (2005, April) "Teaching Digital Citizenship: When will it become a Priority for 21st century schools?" School of Business Affairs Magazine 71(3) Retrieved April 14, 2007 from Digital Citizenship: http://coe.k-state.edu/digitalcitizenship/TeachingDC.pdf

Shim, J. E., & Li, Y. (2006) "Applications of Cognitive Tools in the Classroom." In M. Orey (ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching and technology. Retrieved February 25, 2008 from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/

Whelan, R. (2005, Spring/Summer) "Instructional Technology and Theory: A Look at Past, Present and Future Trends." in Connect: Information Technology at NYU. Retrieved April 15, 2008 from Connect: http://www.nyu.edu/its/pubs/connect/spring05/pdfs/whelan_it_history.pdf