Monday, December 14, 2009

How Much Tech Should I Teach?

Alison Kline-Kator is a talented young teacher in our school's Religious Studies Department. She also happens to be a former student of mine and a proud Northwestern University alumna. So besides collaborating on educational technology, we support each other during the Big Ten football season -- unless her Wildcats are playing my Wolverines.

At an inservice a couple of months ago, one of my colleagues (let’s call him Larry) was showing off a pretty awesome project his Government students had done on the subject of civil liberties. It used Google Sites. It had audio and video. And then, Larry mentioned that he didn’t really spend time teaching students to use the technology they’d need to use to complete the project.

That struck me, and got me thinking. When one is trying to integrate technology, do you have to teach the technology? If so, how much tech do you teach?

I use a lot of technology tools in my teaching. To me, they’re never the end goal, they’re a means to an end – the tools I use with my students to build learning about our subject matter. For many of my students, my class might be the first time they’re posting something on a wiki or using the interactive Dyknow software or Moodle extensively. Students need a basic understanding of how these tools work if they’re going to use them effectively to learn. Tossing students into a project with no direction can create opportunity for problem-solving, but it can also lead to frustrated students who shut down and refuse to seize that opportunity. I enjoy figuring out how to get a program to do what I need, or finding the right tool for an activity. Providing a little guidance can help instill that same enjoyment in my students.

So, I’d say yes, if you’re going to use technology, you do need to teach it, but not as much as you might think. Here’s how I practice that with my students:

· I get students on the same page. In the first week of my classes, I have students complete practice exercises in Moodle, and simple group activities in Dyknow. Experienced students help their classmates and novices get a basic understanding of tools we’ll be using throughout the semester. I don’t teach the ins and outs of every program or tool I use (I don’t even know all of them!), but I do present enough to get my students to a basic level of understanding and use. This doesn’t take days or hours out of other instructional time – 5 or 10 minutes here and there as we begin or move through a project.

· I teach students to use resources. I’d love for all of my students to be completely invested in creating their own personal learning networks when it comes to my subject or technology, but I recognize that some are more on their way than others. So, I draw on other students’ knowledge whenever possible. When students ask a question in class, I like to see if others can solve the problem before I step in. I provide video tutorials that I’ve found or created for students. I encourage use of our unscheduled time to solve tech issues and questions.

· I know how to do what I ask my students to do. As I wrote earlier, I don’t know every nuance or feature of every tool I use, but I do know how to create what I ask my students to create. When appropriate, I provide samples for students – my work if it’s the first time around, or work from previous semester’s students. If students run into an issue, we turn to our resources.

· I let my students see that I don’t know everything. I’ve come to view technology glitches in class as opportunities to model effective problem solving for my students. Looking at it any other way would push me to give up entirely. I let my students in on how I’m going to problem solve – who I’ll ask, or tweet, or where I’ll look for a solution.

· I discuss with my students why I think the tool/s we’re using are the best things to help them learn for that particular project or task.

Thanks to Larry for the opportunity to guest-post! If you’re interested in seeing some of the video tutorials I’ve created for students or my sophomore wiki projects (in progress), check out my wiki or follow my further adventures on Twitter @aklinekator …

"Olafur Eliasson: I only see things when they move" -- Flickr CC Photo by Dom Dada

No comments:

Blog Archive