Friday, February 27, 2009

Challenging Teaching and Learning Paradigms with Technology

Yesterday afternoon I taught an Introduction to MAGPI and Internet2 seminar via videoconference; it’s a seminar I teach often and although I try to update the content as frequently as possible to keep it fresh, I am constantly reminded how much I can’t squeeze into a 90 minute introductory session without watching everyone’s eyes glaze over. Just my own process of determining what information may be relevant to a particular crowd and weeding through old and new resources can be daunting. So I’ve decided to start this blog - - as a means of organizing my own understanding and information about teaching, leading and learning through technology while sharing those resources and thoughts with others who are interested. Not a holy grail of how to integrate technology successful into the classroom, but maybe the beginnings of a helpful roadmap.

I started my Intro to MAGPI session by asking the educators at each connecting site (there were four) to describe what the ideal classroom looks like. I asked them to think about not only the physical space, but what teaching and learning might look like in this classroom as well. I anticipated the typical answers I get every time I ask this question - - small classes, well-behaved students, involved parents, whiteboards/Smartboards, a computer for every student, collaboration, inquiry-based learning, etc. Imagine my surprise when they collectively came up with a list that not only included these things, but also included expanding resources and communication beyond the four walls of a classroom. EXACTLY what technology can do when harnessed in the context of teaching and learning (as opposed to using it just to use it).

Now, I’ve given this seminar 100 times over the past two years and I’ve never gotten this answer before. Actually, it ruined my usual presentation lead-in which says “now imagine your classroom has no walls… that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about doing today.” But it ruined it in a good way! Perhaps we’re finally starting to see a shift in teaching attitudes toward using technology seamlessly in the classroom. (YES! Validation for coming to work every day!)

Earlier yesterday morning, I ran MAGPI’s bi-monthly K20 User Group Meeting and one of the issues that came up was how to affect change in international education using technology. One technology director expressed frustration at trying to get educators to adopt technology - - and concern over getting educators to change how they teach. To which others suggested he just plain grovel until someone caved... Another tech integrator/facilitator expressed concern that until we change what we hold students accountable for (i.e. content standards), teachers may not be interested in using technology to do so. Others were concerned that new teachers, just out of college, are not prepared to teach 21st century skills. And finally a higher ed administrator announced that in a recent study of 40 countries, the US came in last in terms of innovation in education. Ouch. (I’m curious to read the study though – aren’t you? I’ll link to it when I get my hands on it.)

So while I left that meeting feeling a little defeated, I was heartened during the afternoon seminar when those very educators we were concerned about during the morning suggested that we use technology resources to break down geographic barriers and expand classroom resources. Perhaps adoption of such philosophies is not as wide-spread or as rampant as we’d like - - but the adoption IS happening.

For example, before meetings and seminars yesterday , I co-facilitated the first videoconference in a multi-month project called “Youth and Violence: A Global Perspective.” Six classrooms across the US and Canada are working together to investigate risk factors that lead to youth violence in different areas of the world, assess those risk factors and create multimedia projects to combat such issues. Students are investigating issues in their own communities and schools, but also placing those risk factors in a global context, sharing information and working together. An inner city school in Kentucky talking about the youth violence they experience with a rural school in Canada and then comparing those issues to violence experienced by Iraqi youth? Amazingly powerful.

When we start the conversation from a place where all agree technology can help students and teachers transcend classroom walls, the possibilities for teaching, learning and organizing understanding become very exciting. I look forward to exploring such ‘possibilities’ through this blog. Happy reading!