Sunday, January 26, 2014

Devices Need to Support Learning

So yesterday as I was scanning the #NJED hash tag on TweetDeck I came across this intriguing image shared by Mike Marotta.  It really puts into perspective why we make many of the decisions that we do at New Milford High School as to why we decided to implement a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiative and don't mandate the use of one specific tool to support learning.

His tweet contained this message, "Don't let the device drive instruction. Let it support learning."  When it comes to educational technology I often get the feeling that the learning is often secondary.  Using technology just for the sake of using it equates to a huge waste of instructional time that could be dedicated to deep, meaningful learning. It also equates into a huge wast of money.  All to often I have seen schools put interactive whiteboards (IWB's) in every classroom or go 1:1 with very little focus on learning. 

The key is to determine what we want our students to know and let them have a choice as to how they will demonstrate and/or apply their learning.  At NMHS we place a great deal of emphasis on creating artifacts to demonstrate conceptual mastery. Technology can become a nice pedagogical fit when viewed this way.  Our motto is pedagogy first, technology second if appropriate when integrating mobile learning devices.  Another image created by my friend Bill Ferriter puts into perspective the importance of establishing learning outcomes when integrating technology as part of the teaching and learning process.

Image credit: Bill Ferriter

When it comes to technology we must always ask ourselves how will this tool support learning and allow students to demonstrate conceptual mastery. There must be more of a concerted focus on learning outcomes, construction of new knowledge leading to authentic application, and the development/enhancement of essential skills (creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, digital citizenship, entrepreneurship, media literacy, technological proficiency, communication, collaboration).  The assessment and feedback pieces are also critical. Now let me attempt to tie this back to the first image contained in this post. Technology can be a powerful learning tool if we don't focus on the one marker, but instead what we want our students to be able to do with their choice of makers to support and demonstrate learning. I welcome your thoughts on this.


  1. I totally agree. I love the fact that technology is in our classrooms but we need to use it to assist in learning. I recently observed a business teacher’s class, and in business classes we often use technology. However, in this accounting class the teacher spent several minutes teaching how to create an Excel worksheet – but the students had to apply what they learned from a previous lesson to develop an actual chart of accounts for a business created with a partner. This teacher used the technology to reinforce critical thinking, collaboration and how to apply what they learned to a real life situation. It’s like the commercial that was running during the holidays. A young man was “playing “with his phone... his family thought he was tuning out. It turns out that he was creating a video capturing precious family time. When he showed the film to his family they were moved to tears. He used technology to make a difference and put together moments that matter…I digress. Technology can be a great tool to accomplish all of the “right answers” noted in the graphic. The challenge is, how we do this across all disciplines?

  2. My take is all we can do is start small, share our successes and how we overcame challenges, and point people towards those who are consistently making it work. This has been our approach and it has worked out great. We started with just 5 teachers and about 4 years later all disciplines have embraced this shift to some extent. The real change has been the teachers and students driving the process that has lead to transformation.

    1. That is definitely the best way to start. Thank you for sharing this valuable information.

  3. Well said! When I train teams supporting students with special needs who can’t use their speech to communicate everything they want or need, I’m frequently asked how they can use a communication device in the classroom. My first response is always to have them identify what is happening in the class—what the learning expectations are, what the teacher is doing, and how the other students are interacting. Then, we can brainstorm about how to use the communication device—their personal technology—to “support and demonstrate learning.” Indeed, learning comes first!

    Disclosure: I work for DynaVox, a manufacturer of communication devices and software.

  4. I use technology every day in my class across many devices and in many different ways. This is such an important tool for kids today. We can't teach kids the same way we did 20 years ago because they don't learn the same. I love everything you said!!!

  5. I agree with you wholeheartedly, Eric. But I think one point that you're missing and that is this - teachers have been focused on "one" tool for a long time. How many teachers do you know that require all work to be completed in pencil ... or pen ... but only a black pen. And to be graded work must be completed on college-ruled (or wide-ruled) paper with the spiral edges torn off with your name prominently written in the upper right (except 2nd period where it must be in the upper left).

    Teachers get hung up on this kind of minutia. So really they discussion needs to go beyond discussions about technology to a broader discussion of acceptable ways to demonstrate learning both with and without technology.

  6. Scott - Well for this specific post I was zeroed in on technology. However, you make a great point about the education profession's obsession with "tools" and a lack of attention to a pedagogical framework focusing on learning outcomes. Your thoughts in the first paragraph point to another systemic issue in education - the need for control. I just blogged about it here and on the Huffington Post