Feb 17

Invisible

[I often say, “Technology must be ubiquitous, necessary and invisible.” I thought I’d take a little time to explore each item in that triptych. My first two posts were Ubiquitous and Necessary. Here is the third. — Chris]

Technology must be invisible.

In most schools, whenever the laptop cart is wheeled into a classroom, we say the kids are doing a “technology project.” But to say that is to miss the point. Just because a student uses a laptop or a tablet or some other piece of equipment that is new-ish to do their work does not mean they are doing a technology project.

It means they are doing their work.

We need to understand that until we stop fetishizing technology by making it the focal point of the work every time we pull it out of the closet, we will never move past the notion of “technology integration” to a place of “modern learning.”

The idea that technology must be invisible in school is simply this: Using technology to inquire, to create, to share, to research, to learn is not and should not be notable anymore. It should simply be a matter of course.

Using technology in school is not the point – learning is.

When technology becomes invisible, students take more ownership of their use of technology. When students use a combination of books, internet research and expert interviews to do a deep dive into a topic, technology is not the focus, research and inquiry are.

When a teacher says, “O.k. let’s get into our groups,” and one student opens up a Google Doc and three other students move their chairs, we can see a moment where the technology is not the focus, collaboration is.

When students are doing presentations, and rather than seeing thirty PowerPoint presentations, students use PowerPoint, Presi, videos and old-fashioned poster-board, but no matter what medium the presentation takes, students have a personal sense of aesthestic value and how to use a visual medium to communicate an idea, then technology is not the focus, presentation is.

That is how technology becomes invisible – when it becomes like the very oxygen we breathe. We don’t think about it every minute, but it is always there and always vital.

This doesn’t mean we never talk about technology, by the way. There are still moments when we learn about the technology itself, and that’s a good thing. Whether it is in a computer science class where students are learning to program, or it is in a technology infusion workshop where we help students to learn how to fully integrate the technology into their sense of themselves as a student and citizen, there are moments where we — student and teachers — make the invisible visible. That’s a good thing. Much like we have to be thoughtful about airflow when we build physical structures and machines, we should be thoughtful about technology when we build learning spaces and learning experiences. And both students and teachers should have moments of reflection of how the tools affect the learning. But there’s a big leap between understanding how the tool both is vital to and transformative to the work and making the work always about the tool.

When technology becomes invisible in a school, learning becomes the focus. That should always be our goal, regardless of the tools we use to get there.

Feb 16

Necessary

WynnAlishaScience[I often say, “Technology must be ubiquitous, necessary and invisible.” I thought I’d take a little time to explore each item in that triptych. My first post was Ubiquitous. Here is my second in the series. — Chris]

Technology must be necessary.

That seems like an easy one. It is hard to think of a part of American life that is not touched by technology today outside of our schools. And yet, most students today do not feel that a laptop or a tablet is absolutely necessary to their success inside of school. This despite over 68% of American households having broadband internet at home. (http://www.esa.doc.gov/Reports/exploring-digital-nation-computer-and-internet-use-home) But for some reason, we continue to expect kids to dutifully take notes in an analog fashion and cut themselves off from the world outside the walls of the classroom while they aren’t.

It is time to admit that technology must be a necessary component to learning in school. Let’s use something as simple as note taking as an example. Why would we make students handwrite notes in a classroom anymore? Today, when students have the ability to use a tool like Evernote or Google Docs, notes can be compiled, reorganized, and shared. The ability to filter and the ability to search means that students can reference and use their notes more quickly and powerfully than before.  That doesn’t mean that every note has to be taken online, in fact I enjoy using the Evernote moleskin to take notes the old-fashioned way and then digitize them, but the idea that students could  create an electronic repository of their notes, their ideas, their work, should not be revolutionary anymore. It should simply be necessary. It should simply be done.

But that is the low-hanging fruit. Technology is necessary for reasons far greater than a better way to take notes or write a paper. Technology is necessary in our schools because it allows our students to see their work is authentic in the world. No longer is student work simply a one-to-one dialogue between teacher and student. Students can publish their work, students can take part in communities of practice both inside and outside of their immediate school community, And students can see their work is adding to the larger dialogue about topics that are of importance to them. The first time a student at SLA received an email from someone asking a follow-up question about a project, his vision of himself as a scholar completely changed. Every time students see their videos make the rounds on twitter, they understand they have created a vision of the world that is shared. When students use social media to reach out to experts in their fields, students develop their ability to inquire deeply and interact with adults who are further along on that path of inquiry. When students use technology in a science classroom to do powerful experiments or in an engineering class to make their idea become real, students no longer are only learning science, learning engineering, they are becoming scientists and engineers.

Technology becomes necessary when students see it as vital to the way they learn, when they cannot imagine doing the work without it. It is necessary when it allows them to do things, learn things, create things and share things like never before. Technology becomes necessary when it makes the work students do more authentic, more empowering and shared to the world. And, as educators, isn’t that how we want our students to view the artifacts of their learning? Technology is necessary not just because it is vital to the lives our students — and our society — leads outside of school. It is necessary because it can be married to progressive pedagogy and used to help students become fully realized scholars of the world.

Feb 15

Ubiquitous

[It’s not a bad idea to force yourself to unpack what you mean from time to time. I often say, “Technology must be ubiquitous, necessary and invisible.” I thought I’d take a little time to explore each item in that triptych. — Chris]

Technology must be ubiquitous.

Gregg Betheil of the New York City Department of Education talks about how we don’t send kids to the “pencil lab,” but that is how we treat technology. It sits in a special room or in a special cart, and we wheel it out when we have a specific task we want the kids to do with it.

That’s not good enough anymore.

SalinnaIt must be everywhere. 1:1 can no longer be optional. Today’s world is both analog and digital and in many moments it is both of those things at the same time. It cannot be seen as a luxury to provide students with  the digital tools of the modern world. And it is not okay to consider giving children a laptop as something that will preclude other profound instruments of learning. As Gary Stager said at the first EduCon, “We are the richest nation in the world we can provide our children with computer and a cello.”

And once we have provided students with the devices, we must make sure they don’t stay in the backpack. Ubiquitous technology means that they are pulled out in the hallways, they are used in lunchrooms, and they are used in classrooms. When technology is only something that is used when the teacher says so, it remains special, different and therefore not intrinsic to the learning that our kids do.

But when it is ubiquitous, it becomes a part of who we are and how we learn. That is the pathway to helping students understand the world in which they live. When it is ubiquitous, students learn how to put it away when they want to or they need to. When it is ubiquitous, it is no longer special. That is the moment when we stop worrying about integrating technology and start concerning ourselves with learning.