Sunday, October 8, 2017

Why Learning and People Should Come First

I was recently working on my slide deck for a three-day workshop that will take participants on an immersive experience into digital leadership and learning.  My primary objective for all multiday workshops is to illustrate the vital role that technology can play in improving teaching, learning, and leadership.  Most of the first day is spent on emphasizing the importance of a pedagogy first, technology second mindset. The bottom line is that if we don’t get the instructional design right first, then the chances of technology improving learning outcomes is slim to none.  

Throughout my slide deck are numerous questions to get participants to reflect on their practice and think strategically about changes that they or their school(s) need to make.  After having attendees discuss in groups their responses to each question I have them report out their thoughts using a variety of tools. For the most part, my integration of technology into workshops is to foster greater collaboration, showcase how to increase engagement authentically, formatively assess, and creatively showcase what they have learned.   In some cases, I will directly train educators on how to use various tools, but learning to use the edtech tools is the easy part.  Integrating them to support high-level learning and having evidence to support this is the challenging work. 

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As I line up my reflective questions, I also determine which tools I am going to have participants use to share out.  My favorite and most reliable tend to be TodaysMeet, Padlet, Mentimeter, and AnswerGarden.  For the first day of this particular workshop, I had also planned to use Tackk and ProConIt, two lesser-known tools that I have been using for the past couple of years.  As I went into both accounts, I was shocked to learn that Tackk had suddenly shut down on September 30 and when trying to access ProConIt an error message notified me that the site was not working.  A few days later I still have not been able to access ProConIt successfully.

Fortunately for me, I was able to swap out both tools for others that are similar.  The lesson learned is valuable for anyone using technology to support professional practice.  How would you manage if one day you walked into your classroom or school to discover that Google Classroom, Seesaw, or any other tool that was thoroughly embraced no longer existed? Technology comes and goes.  Sometimes it doesn’t work the way we want, in some cases, it fails to load, and then there is the chance that the tool ceases to exist.  

In the classroom, we must be mindful of what is most important – the quality of the learning and the interactions between people. Both of these outcomes should never be driven by a tool, device, or program.  It is sometimes hard not to get sucked in by all the potential benefits that come with technology.  Engagement is one of them. Yes, we want kids engaged. However, it is critical that engagement leads to evidence of learning.  This point comes back to my mantra of pedagogy first, technology second. Technology should never drive our work, but instead be used strategically to improve teaching, learning, and leadership. 

Technology is not a replacement for practice supported by research and what has been found to work consistently.  The ultimate failsafe is a well-designed lesson that gets kids to think while applying their learning in a meaningful way.  This is why using a tool like the Rigor Relevance Framework to develop a pedagogically-sound foundation first will help to ensure a quality learning experience with and without technology.  It is also important to understand that technology will not automatically lead to better results. We must be mindful of not only how it will improve the task(s) at hand, but also to not rely on it to the point that we can’t move beyond a tool or program if or when it ceases to exist or work.

The same advice applies to the tools that many of us use to connect, learn, and grow.  The Personal Learning Network (PLN) is fueled by the connections made thanks to a variety of social media tools, most notably Twitter. How would you manage or cope if Twitter tomorrow decided to shut its doors?  To be honest, I think many connected educators wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. My point here is not to place all of our eggs in just one tool or platform. 

Technology has enabled all of us to do some pretty amazing things when it comes to our professional practice and will continue to do so. Just be wary of losing focus on what truly matters. Without people, the tech doesn’t matter when it comes to learning. 


  1. As an Educational Assistant that works in the Computer Labs, this is an important concept. The pedagogy is the framework, technology is only one part of the infrastructure that builds the education of each of our scholars.

  2. This is so true. Kids spend a lot of time on You Tube, social media, gaming, etc. - much more than we ever did or will. So if using tech made you smart - wow would that (learning) be easy!

  3. Also check out this video comment from Bradford Harris posted to Twitter