Saturday, November 9, 2013

Supporting the Tool without Teaching the Tool

In a recent blog, +Vicki Davis shared about the idea of having an 'App of the Week', where she has a focus each week on a particular application. As she suggests:
I want my students to be productive geniuses. They are a human being not a human doing but they carry around a full blown secretary in their pockets, if they’ll learn how to hire it. If you are a BYOD school, you should do everything in your power to help students really “Bring it” using their mobile device and an app of the week is just one way to do it.
Using Dragon Dictation as her example, she shows how she introduces a new program and gets the students using it in five short minutes. This is a great example of how to manage 1-to-1 programs.

One of the biggest challenges I have had in being a part of the group implementing a 1-to-1 program is how to get the most out of the devices. I have found one of two things happen, either the devices are rarely used, only when they fit a particular need in the lesson, such as research, or students simply use the programs and applications that they feel comfortable with, rather than the programs that would best address the purpose and audience. Associated with both of these issues is how we see the devices in and out of the the classroom.

If you follow Ruben R. Puentedura's SAMR model, 'tools for working' that many teachers have in the classroom should not only support learning, which they often do, but also add to learning, with the aim of redefining education and providing possibilities which were previously unavailable. The big question is how do we help this move from enhancement to transformation happen?

Having had the experience of being a Lead User for the now defunct Ultranet, one of the problems that occurred was actually developing the habit of use amongst both staff and students. A part of this was finding authentic purposes and having the confidence with the system, but I feel that the biggest challenge was associated with people actually overcoming the hurdle of how to use this. I could list a range of systems and programs where the lack of time and opportunity to experiment and understand them has hindered their take-up. Take for example ActivInspire, Photoshop Elements, student email, Edmodo etc ... At some point 1-to-1 programs needs move the focus away from the device and to the learning.

In addition to Vicki Davis' idea of an app a week, another example of a program that I found, which provides students with opportunity to be immersed within digital technologies, not just use them, is Ben Gallagher's idea of a 'Digital Sandpit'. Developed as a way to improve some poor Attitudes to School Survey results relating to motivation and connectedness, Ben incorporated a set time each day where students would engage with a range of different devices set up as rotations.
With the support of my Principal and Staff I decided to start the Digital Sandpit at 8:50, 10 minutes before the schools start time and run it to 9:10, a 20 minute activity that only takes 10 minutes out of the regular school day. The sessions originally consisted of 4 rotations, Nintendo DSi, iPod, Nintendo Wii and Laptops. All of the activities were carefully selected and had educational underpinnings, such as the Brain Training and Math Training games on the DSi, Racing on Mario Kart and ordering each other’s times from fastest to slowest and many more.
I think what is significant about the idea of the 'Digital Sandpit' is that it is both structured and done on a regular basis.

Finding time within an already busy curriculum to incorporate such opportunities is often the biggest challenge. The Western Metropolitan Region set out a few years ago to increase levels of reading across all levels. One of the initiatives that were introduced was a set reading time each day supported by regular conferencing. Although the initiative hasn't been smooth sailing, with its speed humps along the way, one of the reasons for its success is its regularity. At my school, the students read from 2:15 til 2:30 each day. Like Ben's 'Digital Sandpit', this could not be possible without the support of the whole staff. Coincidently, as soon as a few staff stop supporting an initiative like the reading program, then cracks begin the appear. 

On the flip side, if an initative like the 1-to-1 devices is left to too few, then nothing seems to be ever achieved. One of the challenges for 21st century learning is the integration of ICT within the classroom. Often, however, the responsibility for this change, for the upskilling of students, is left to the 'ICT' teacher. Interestingly, when you look at AusVELS, ICT is a form of interdisciplinary learning, yet it is so often spoken about as a 'subject' to be taught. One of the negatives to this, other than the fact that it expects too much from too few, is that students often enter such classes expecting to simply learn programs or how to code. Sadly, this is more akin to computer science. Engaging with the various tools for learning is bigger than exploring computer science. Personally, I recently changed the focus of my 'elective' subjects from 'ICT' to 'Media Studies' as too many of my students were caught up in what they did rather than why and how. In reality, whether it is English, Humanities, Media Studies, everyone of my classes is an 'ICT' class. Although it may not be the focus, it is often how learning is facilitated and coordinated.

One of the other claims that is often made about laptops and technology is that students are digitally native and that they already know how to use it. The problem with this is that they may be immersed in different technology within their day to day lives, this does not necessarily mean that they always know how to get the most out of it. Associated with this, many students lack the ability to find the most appropriate application or program to use, let alone how to get the most out of these them. +Rebecca Davies sums this dilemma up in a blog 'The Digital Native Myth: Why we still need to teach kids HOW to use the iPad' suggesting that:
Students need to be taught how to use the iPad. They need to be taught how they can use it to create amazing things, to share their learning and connect it with the real word, to deepen their thinking.
What is important is that they need to be given the opportunity to explore and experiment. In my view, for such an approach to work it needs to be integrated across the board. Just as we encourage students to share, we also need to provide staff with more informal opportunities to share.

+Tom Whitby sums up the whole problem in his recent post '20th vs. 21st Century Teaching' where he suggests that, "What we learn should take a back seat to how we learn." And how we learn is something that we all have a stake hold in. 

I would love to here of any other ways that people are introducing different tools, programs and applications into the classroom. Please feel free to leave a comment below.