Trainers, bloggers and education pundits tend to use lots of catch phrases and buzz words to talk about the power of technology in education.
You’ll hear things like this:
Technology is a game changer.
Technology can do so much for education.
The Internet is full of resources we can use.
Technology is the future of education.
The same people who throw out all of those generalities and prognostications are often the ones that don’t provide concrete examples. It’s easy to talk about the possibilities in theory, drop the microphone and walk away.
That leaves us as educators with our heads spinning, feeling even more overwhelmed than before, thinking, “Where do I even start? How do I take advantage of that?”
Let’s step out of generalities and into practice.
How can technology help us kick teaching and learning up a notch?
Here are five ways I think technology can truly improve learning — with examples to support them:
1. Technology can shorten the feedback loop. Think about your typical, traditional homework assignment. It goes kind of like this:
- Teacher assigns homework.
- Student takes homework home and works on it (hopefully).
- Student turns homework in to the teacher the next day (hopefully).
- Teacher grades homework that night (in an ideal situation, assuming other responsibilities don’t delay it).
- Teacher hands graded homework back — roughly 48 hours after it’s assigned.
Where does that homework end up? Often, in the trash, on the floor in the hallway, or worse — sticking out of the bottom of a student’s locker!
In a world where we have instant purchases, instant messaging and instant gratification, we have the potential to create a much more meaningful, responsive feedback loop than that. If we can catch students at the point where they’re still cognitively wrestling with a new concept and provide them with the feedback they need, I’ve found that they’re more likely to use it and internalize it.
Here are some ways we can shorten the feedback loop:
2. Technology can make great connections. We have the ability to communicate face-to-face with practically anyone around the world with an Internet connection via video call (Skype, Google Hangout, FaceTime, etc.). Many of us have done a Skype or FaceTime call in our own lives, but so few educators have done video calls in the classroom with students.
Here are some ways we can make great connections:
3. Technology can help kids make a difference. Kids are often trying to make meaning with what they’re learning, trying to connect it to their lives. If they feel like their learning is meaningful and makes a difference, they’re going to be more invested. We’re in a position to take what kids learn in our classrooms and use it to benefit others, which makes learning much more worthwhile.
Here are some ways we can help kids make a difference:
- Help out others we meet through the connections above. One of my favorite stories about the power of Skype in the classroom comes from teacher Mike Soskil (an inspiring educator and top 10 finalist for the Global Teacher Prize). His students Skyped with a class in Nairobi, Kenya. After learning of their living conditions and the poor drinking water there, they teamed up with other schools and raised $12,000 to buy water filters for that community in the Kibera slum. Mike said the class said, “We’ve got to help,” and they went with it. When students’ hearts are touched, they’re full of energy and drive to make a difference. Often, we just have to empower them — or get out of their way!
- Donate food to the hungry with Free Rice. If you’re looking for a quick, easy way to empower students to help others, Free Rice (freerice.com) is a great choice. Students answer questions on Free Rice and earn donations of rice to starving people around the world through the U.N. World Food Programme. If students have some free time after an assignment, project or test, they can help others in this simple way. Check out this post with other meaningful things students can do when they have free time on their hands.
4. Technology can take students there. Field trips — especially the big ones that require charter buses or airplanes — can be expensive, time consuming and very detail-heavy. Even the aforementioned virtual field via Skype take some setting up and scheduling. But there are great ways that we give students the experience of being at a place instantly, on demand.
Here are some ways we can take students there:
- Give them a panoramic view of the world with Google Maps Street View. Google has created a whole side of Google Maps that many people don’t know about. Use the little yellow “peg man” in the bottom right corner of Google Maps (or the Street View app if using a mobile device) and drag him onto the map. You’ll see a panoramic view of the world from the street. It’s fun to see your neighborhood — even your house! — with Street View. It’s even better when you take students all over the world with it. Check out this post with great indoor and outdoor tours you can take virtually with Google Maps Street View (including the White House and Alcatraz prison!).
- Go further with Street View Treks. Google has taken the Street View concept to a whole new level with Street View Treks. These take us to spectacular places all around the world, like Venice, Italy; the Great Barrier Reef; and Yosemite National Park. They let us tour them in full panoramic beauty and teach us along the way. Check out these Street View Treks, and if one of them coincides with something your students learn, use them!
5. Technology can help us find ideas. The single most important move I’ve ever made to improve my practice as an educator was to start using Twitter professionally.
- I’ve met educators like me — or very different from me! — and have benefitted from their expertise and perspective.
- I’ve found new tools, apps and sites I can use in the classroom and share with others.
- I’ve been exposed to new ideas and philosophies in education that I never would have found otherwise.
- I’ve been able to ask questions, answer questions and engage in dialogue at any time.
I think Twitter’s the best free professional development that exists:
- It’s personalized: you follow only the people you want and search only the ideas you want. I
- t’s up to date: people are posting at all hours of the day.
- It’s on-demand: you can benefit from it whenever you want for as long as you want.
Interested in checking it out? Check out my Twitter for teachers guide at DitchThatTextbook.com/twitter.
[reminder]What are other practical ways that technology can kick teaching and learning up a notch? Do you have some examples or experiences from your own life?[/reminder]
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