Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Beginning At The End...

We have a problem in realm of edtech. I am guilty of it and chances are you have been too at some point. You and I are not guilty of it all the time and truthfully, it may have only happened once or twice but it is a constant problem and it is time we deal with it.

There are so many cool tools out there. This blog looks at just a handful available. My Twitter stream provides more, but still, it is just the tip of the iceberg when we are talking about the tools available to teachers. However, much too often do I witness ill-planned professional development centered around tools, when really, they should be centered around student learning.

Last night on #edchat the discussion was about Tech Tools and Student Learning Goals. Specifically, how do we ensure specific technology tools match student learning goals? What needs to be in place for this to happen successfully?

Full Disclosure-Normally I am a moderator and active participant in the weekly #edchat. However over the next 4 months I will be taking a Leadership class that meets on Tuesday nights. So the reflections here are a combination of reading the archive and my personal thoughts, for what thats worth...

Most teachers have experienced a Professional Development session centered around a piece of technology. Some of these sessions we might describe as amazing; they truly had an impact on your teaching and your classroom and really made a difference.

Some of these sessions, however, we might describe as forgettable. Either we were not interested or, moreover, they were not interesting. One of my most forgettable workshops was on Excel. As a science teacher Excel fits in perfect with data capture and analysis. The mathematical functions and graphing features make it perfect for most types of scientific research. I am by no means an Excel expert but I know just enough to keep me out of trouble. In essence I am not an Excel newbie. So I signed up for a class that I thought would show me more power moves I could use with kids and really extend their learning. What I got was how to open a new spreadsheet. What is a cell. What is a row. What is a column. The true basics.

It was obvious this workshop was not going to meet my learning needs so I left. Kids, don't really have that choice. I suppose they could choose to leave but there are other know that's a whole other post all together. The point is we have to be mindful of what the needs of our kids are when designing instruction.

So there are two parts to that design when we are talking about incorporating technology. First, those of us who have made a career out of teaching educators how to use technology effectively in the classroom have to do our research. We have to understand curriculum and what exactly our teachers are teaching. We have to present our ideas and tools in the form of learning goals. Meaning, we have to present them in such a way that they always relate back to what we want our students to ultimately learn. Very rarely do we want our students to learn how to just use a particular tool. So we should not present them to our teachers that way.

Second, those of us who have made a career out of educating kids need to make sure we are designing our lessons with a goal in mind. I am not talking about silly state or national standards, because in the long run, in my opinion, they are useless (but that is for another conversation.) I mean, you need to understand what your kids don't and design effective lessons to meet their needs. That lesson may or may not involve tech. If it does, great. Then spend the time on the learning objective, not the tool. Remember, a pencil is a tool and we don't spend a great deal of time teaching how to use it. But we use the tool to accomplish some learning. (Hopefully)

Bottom line. When dealing with tech, learning how to use the tool is important. But we need to make sure we are learning and using the tools in the context of real goals. It does no good to conduct/sit in workshop after workshop learning how to use tools with no, clear learning goals in mind. The conversations must start with the end in mind. Where do we want to be when this is all over? Only after we decide that can we even begin to discuss how we will get there.


  1. I appreciate this conversation very much! With my work schedule I only get to read the string of edchat messages, but I often wonder if much of what educators get caught up in is the "teaching/imparting" of something and miss the student process. We need to be continuously reflecting on where we are going and how we are getting there. Sometimes a horse can take us there just as well as a ferrari..not as flashy, but we might get to learn more along the way. It's so easy to forget our own learning goals with so many goals thrust upon us from above. Thanks so much for helping me reflect.

  2. I have to say, I have been to more forgettable professional development days than those I would remember as useful. It would be nice if concrete objectives were defined and faculty allowed to pick activities. We have many faculty that need the basics.....too many in fact.

    However, they innovators, have to sit and waste time in many of the development activities. I have presented at some and that eliminates my problem with attending but I can not present all the time. Innovation is not accepted where I work and it is not important.

    So, even if the end is in mind, we still have to sit, mindless, in many presentations.

  3. Steve I think often the technology tool becomes the focus instead of the means to an educational objective. I did a workshop on Digital Storytelling where I did give time for the participants to brainstorm about how they could incorporate this project into the learning objectives for their classes. I actually got caught up in the DST fun and started off thinking only in terms of creating DST's and NOT about the learning objectives. Luckily I had met Jon Orech, who is the Instructional Tech Coordinator in a district outside of Chicago, at a workshop. He got me to focus on the learning objectives and not so much on the tool. But you are right, often the focus is simply on using the tool.

    Luckily our district has moved to having PD days where teachers and admins present and we get to sign up for PD that is of interest to us. This is a model that I think should be followed by more schools. The positive comments that came about because of this change were an indicator that this was the way to go for future PD.

  4. Thank you for your posting, great reflection! I'm sorry that you will not be able to join us #edchat!

    What has worked at our school has been to make the sessions meaningful to the teachers. Or tech sessions are hands-on so teachers leave with a completed project that they can update/modify on their own. For example, early in January we introduced alternatives to PPT so a couple of Spanish teachers are assigning projects using Glogster and Prezi and another teacher has allowed the student to select their own tool.
    I work with the teachers individually if needed and then I just stop by the computer lab when they introduce the topic. More often than not they are gladly surprised when they see the students taking over!

    Another approach has been to tap our Department Chairs and have them select the topics. For example our MS Social Studies team wanted to do a Civil War project. We suggested Google Earth and now we have all 8th graders building their maps!

    This is the model that we presented to our faculty:

    Thank you again for all the resources you provide!

  5. Yes, yes and yes! Let this be the uppermost thought- student learning is THE central concern.

  6. Thanks for this post. It is so important to keep learning at the front of what we do with technology. I have a slightly different perspective in that I think we need to teach students about the tools available to them but, in the end, students should have the choice of tools that work for them based on what they are trying to accomplish. It's like developing a toolbox that is within the learner's reach.

    Even our youngest children can do this. We teach our youngest kids a variety of reading strategies that they can use to make sense of text. But in the end, they choose the strategies that work best for them and support comprehension of a variety of texts.

    Can we think about technology in that way? We shouldn't be the ones deciding. The child is the learner. Choice is critical. How else can they learn to become independent?

  7. Karen,
    You and I are not as different as you think. It is so important to remember, not every kid learns the same way or is even creative in the same ways. When I was in the classroom, student choice was a big part of my philosophy (and really still is). I believe sometimes we should direct students but never stifle creativity by having one method of presentation or demonstration of skills. The wonderful thing about tech is that there are so many wonderful tools that allow all students the opportunity to feel success.

    The whole point here is that too many times teachers and Instructional Technologists get wrapped up in the tools and forget about the kids. There are learning goals we need to keep in mind. We can't let the tools drive the goals. The goals need to drive the tech.

  8. Steve and Karen you both make great points. Students do need to learn how to use the tools but then it opens up many choices for them to present their understanding of a concept.

  9. So true, we so often focus on the tool in PD that the learning gets completely lost. What we end up with is teachers who teach students how to use a tool. Often the students are bored (they can figure most tools out if given time to explore) and the real learning that needs to be done is completely lost. We don't always need technology to teach, sometimes it is the best option. The key is engagement in learning and ownership of learning by students. Without that, knowing how to use a tool is of little consequence.