“Is My Classroom Better Because of Tech?”

For many years, I sought to effectively integrate technology into my English classroom. Now, I teach technology applications, and I find that I more and more integrate core content classes into my technology-rich environment in order to facilitate learning. I do wonder sometimes if technology gets in the way of learning or if I am using it in a way that enhances learning for my students.

How are classrooms better today because of technology?

Computerized-brain-made-of-GPUs-864x480I was recently invited to consider an article titled “How People Learn (and What Technology Might Have to Do With it)” and evaluate my own conceptions of how technology contributes to the learning process in my classroom. While my first reaction to the article was colored somewhat by the author’s use of an illustration involving a student who brought his father’s Palm Pilot to school (the article was first published in 2002), the primary assumptions by the author are more timeless and deserve closer consideration.

The author, Dr. Marcy P. Driscoll, now dean of the College of Education at Florida State University and author of Psychology of Learning for Instruction, writes that51qWpQLB8oL._SX386_BO1,204,203,200_

  • Learning occurs in context
  • Learning is active
  • Learning is social
  • Learning is reflective

Without merely summarizing Driscoll’s work, it is helpful to react to it in light of current theory and practice. Context is important to the learning process. When a student asks, “Why do I have to learn that?” they are more than merely questioning the teacher’s strategy, and it is likely that said instructor is not taking the depth of knowledge (DOK) high enough for there to be a context in which the student can learn. I often read that if a concept or question can be resolved by “googling” the question, then why not Google it and move on to a task with a higher level of thinking. Because of technology, students can learn anywhere, anytime and from anyone and that they are much less reliant on the teacher for that learning. It may be that it is the teacher’s role more than ever before to create the context that allows learning to take place, rather than merely enforce rote memorization. Newer technology such as augmented and virtual reality has the power to help provide context in ways not possible previously.

Proponents of student “voice and choice” and personalized learning are often criticized for an unrealistic view of what really should be happening in the classroom. Driscoll’s contention that “learning is active” could be interpreted as a precursor of a more student-focused learning model that we are seeing in more classrooms today. “Active” means more than movement (Although brain science is now teaching us that frequent “brain breaks” are a positive influence on the learning process.). If Driscoll were writing today, she might well use the term “engaged” instead of active. Engagement happens more easily when there is “buy-in” and “ownership” of the learning process by students. Technology helps me with the task of personalizing my learning, and providing more immediate and meaningful feedback. Both of these increase engagement and ownership of the process and make learning more “active”.

Learning is social, if by that we mean that learning flourishes in a collaborative and communication-rich environment. A little more than a year ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “How is My Classroom Becoming Glocalized? In it I shared a revelation that I had recently realized I was “growing more and more passionate about providing my students with opportunities to connect with students and campuses around the country and around the world.” Technology has brought the world to my classroom and provides my students with an opportunity to share their creativity with the world. The presence of a relevant and authentic audience is a total game changer for learning today and technology makes that possible as never before.

Driscoll’s comments about learning being reflective reminded me of an article I read recently “The Cognitive Science Behind Learning” by Clark Quinn. Among many important points Quinn references the importance of slowing the learning process down to allow for metacognition and reflection so that the brain has a chance to take advantage of its plasticity. How does technology facilitate the process of metacognition? The primary way that I have experienced this is in that technology makes it easier to employ multiple iterations and and allow multiple attempts at success. Driscoll cites the feedback – reflection – revision loop, and technology makes it easier for me to build in multiple “loops”, slowing the process and working more effectively toward mastery. I especially appreciate having access to Canvas as a learning management system because it makes this enjoyable and easy process for me as an educator.

In the end, our role as teachers is changing. As is often pointed out, we can no longer be the “sage on the stage”, but should strive to be a facilitator of great learning experiences. Learning happens for any of us when we discover we have a need to know. As a facilitator in my classroom, I can “salt” the environment to help stimulate my students’ thirst by establishing relevant connections to their world and to The World. Their thirst helps them engage at a level that makes learning more likely. Technology – although ever changing – enables that process for both me and my students.   
“How People Learn (and What Technology Might Have To Do with It).” PsycEXTRA Dataset. Print.

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