Digital Tools As The Gateway Drug To Real Pedagogy?

Jose VilsonJose7 Comments

On Sunday, I spent some time with the good folks at SMART Technologies (yeah, I can’t believe I’m saying that either, but more on that later) for the annual ISTE conference, a mega-large education conference hosted this year in Atlanta, GA. SMART Technologies asked me to give some words of wisdom to their partners around student collaboration, one of my personal passions. They neither asked me to restructure my remarks nor ignore social justice issues, which if folks invite me somewhere, they should know that’s also where my heart is.

At some point, I got the chance to go to exhibit hall, and I should have taken a motion sickness pill. The dizzying array of tech tools and labels made my eyes cross. As I walked quickly through the halls, dodging salespeople left and right, I stopped every so often when I heard a company give a presentation about their particular product.

It got me thinking, as I always do, whether educators have made any real progress when it comes to thinking about pedagogy in the 21st century. Is it really the tool that’s the driver or the teacher? If, for a second, districts think that a product ought to be the focus of the pedagogy, then we again concede that a teacher’s expertise is only second to the dazzle and pizzazz of an attractive thing when it comes to student learning.

If, on the other hand, we put these tools in the hands of expert educators with supportive school systems, then that might make the shift more real. Any tool that we put in a classroom ought to center around actual student learning, and not the tool. I often find that many so-called 21st century schools spend far more time on training students and teachers on how to use the technology than trying to integrate the tool into a well-planned school system.

Central to that system is whether the teacher can teach, and if the tool can fit with the ebb and flow of a teacher’s day. Are teachers willing to learn something if it engages more students? I’m sure. But if, after trying the tool, neither the students nor the teachers adapt well to the tech, then that’s something to consider too.

Yet, if the pedagogy is there, then teachers can keep making mistakes without … a glitch. Err, a hitch.

Comments 7

  1. I love the post.
    I agree fully with the “central to that system is whether the teacher can teach” line. But… I think the process might be a little more complex than you’ve made it out to be.
    Teachers, like students, need time to play with new tools. They need to really wrap their heads around what they can/can’t do. I’ve tried various pieces of new equipment out over the last few years (solo and with my students). Some things stick around, others are never used again. If we wait for teachers to be experts in the use of a particular piece of equipment before it gets used with students, then we’re missing a few opportunities:
    1) The opportunity to co-learn with our students.
    2) The chance to frame something new and interesting as a learning opportunity.
    3) Surprise bits of learning. (The kind that emerges out of a little bit of chaos/mess)
    I think it’s great to reflect on the learning that a tool will enable before purchasing said tool. Having said that, sometimes playing with new toys leads to learning that we could never have imagined.

  2. I am a retired teacher of the deaf in RI. I have been active in groups working against the corporate ed reform model primarily because it represents a stultification of teaching and learning, and disdains the necessary human rapport between teachers and students. This is not to say that I reject the new technologies, just the bells and whistles/dazzling aspects. My last year teaching I was fortunate enough to have a smart board in my classroom. This is a fabulous invention, as long as I was able to choose what to put on the screen and how to encourage my students to interact with it. I had a class of high school students who were non-readers for a variety of reasons. I was able to use a chat program and have them write to each other and then stand at the smart board and read their own words. This was a major breakthrough for several of these students. I had a 14 year old who was reading at the first grade level. I have never seen a student so proud as when he stood at the smart board during open house and read some of a class story for his mother–a story he had illustrated on the board and could share with his mother. I could also put news articles up on the screen and click on the accompanying videos. For deaf students in particular, who are so visual, this was terrific. To have the internet at the fingertips of the entire class is a tremendous advantage. All of this is great, and I’m sure there are tremendous improvements in the works. What is vital is that the classroom teacher choose to use specific materials with particular students in mind, and not be coerced into scripted materials that leave students floundering and feeling like failures.

  3. I love this post. It really makes me think because I teach a technology course for pre-service math teachers. This post makes me wonder if I spend too much time worrying about the pre-service teachers learning how to use the technology rather than how to use the technology EFFECTIVELY to enhance a math concept. I am glad that my course isn’t until next spring semester so I can think about this more and figure out how to improve the course to stress using technology effectively rather than using technology because it is there.

  4. As many digital tools are designed for factory hen education as there are for liberating learners. The situation gets more wrong-sided when it comes to digital content. That can be a gateway drug to 19th Century education dressed up in html and with Java. If you put digital devices in combination with the dizzy content, whoah, you can hear those hens clucking loud for miles, flexing in anticipation of Mr. SAT. I have observed that teachers looking for greater learner involvement, soft skill acquisition and discovery on the part of their students (and themselves) adopt tools (and more importantly their students adopt tools) that lift learning up the sides of the taxonomic pyramid, rather than adopting those that drill around the base, like IWB’s often do. There you go, I said it! The pyramid climbing teacher are the same teachers that set up spaces and strategies, with and without technology, where students can’t guess the shape of any spoon to feed them other than the one they are holding. Web tools that focus on the students doing, creating, rethinking and co-constructing are a wonderful for the teacher that has already entered the pedagogical realm that respects those use cases. It is terrific that large numbers of teachers have discovered and embraced more powerful pedagogical frontiers, which have been milked by many but not necessarily most since Socrates, through Web 2.0 – in a way that was less self-evident in Web 1.0. The more important questions are being asked more loudly, and it’s a global thing. It will get probably become more political.

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