Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Module 4: Technology in the classroom

How can technology be used most effectively to support and assess student learning?

Using technology in the classroom goes beyond showing a power Point Presentation or a video on the Smart Board. Technology is an incredible tool for expanding the classroom, reaching different types of learners, and giving students opportunities to learn real world skills.

We are in the information age. The internet brings the world in to classrooms and homes. Live webcams allow students to watch things as they actually happen. Webcams are incredibly popular, even outside of schools. Video conferencing in the classroom allows students to connect with professionals and speakers any where in the world. Students don't just have to find an article about a person or topic, they can actually ask the question themselves. This personal connection to learning is key in keeping students engaged in the process. I've managed to make many interesting contacts (authors, advocates, media personalities, journalists)  via my time in social media and I look forward to inviting them to "speak" to my students via Skype.

Students learn in different ways. Technology offers opportunities for all different types of learners to develop their strengths. Putting students in groups to create a large project can allow them to play to their strengths and gain confidence.

One of my favorite new tech tools for the classroom is the use of QR codes. QR codes, or quick response codes, are those pixelated squares popping up everywhere. On the most practical level, teachers can create QR codes with their contact information for parents and students to scan. Students can also scan codes to be placed in to groups or scan codes to receive different versions of tests. Codes can direct students wherever the teacher wants, from scavenger hunts where students must answer questions to find the next code to allowing students to put the codes on their projects linking classmates and parents to more information or a digital slide show.

When it comes to supporting student learning, QR codes can point students exactly in the right direction when they need help. For example, students stuck on a math problem can scan a QR code and find a tutorial on how to solve that type of problem. Or it can direct students to a video or other information about a topic. It allows the students to be more self directed and take responsibility for the learning process.

Students today are much more tech savvy than their parents. They are familiar and comfortable with using technology to find answers and share what they know. It is important for teachers to recognize this shift in communication and use it to prepare students for the real world. While research papers show students one way to present information, it's not the only way. Research papers  show students' knowledge but they do not necessarily show students have learned what to do with that information. Technology can be used to apply the information in real, practical and meaningful ways. When a student learns about persuasion, it isn't enough to learn pathos, ethos and logos. Students need to be able to identify it in their lives. It is also important to see that they have the power to persuade. Technology can allow them to create their own persuasive argument in terms they understand: viral video, meme, vine, or other social media campaign.

Letting students use technology in the classroom is more in depth than just letting the students create something on the computer. It involves planning, time management and collaboration skills. It is not just spitting information back out with a pretty background. It requires much more thinking and work on the part of the student. However, if they are engaged and connected to the process, they are less likely to feel like it is work. It also allows for much more cross discipline learning, which leads to more collaboration among teachers, and for students it allows for making more connections in learning.

Some schools are slow to make changes and it can be frustrating to parents. For example, my daughter just finished Alabama history. For her project, she had to create a massive binder of information, including  field trips and journal entries. It took an incredibly long time and it was something she needed parental supervision and assistance to complete. I don't want to think how many trees were killed in the process, but the final project was nearing 100 pages. I do not believe this was an effective way to present the information she learned. She was not allowed to use technology at all on the project.

Contrast this to another of my children at another school for the same project. It was done as a Power Point presentation. Students still went on as many field trips and kept a journal, but it was done in class using technology, letting the students learn practical 21st century skills.

This example illustrates how technology can be used within the same standards, within the same district and students still meet the same goals, yet with vastly different projects a the end. You can imagine which student had the happier experience with the project.

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