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Conference Lesson: Using Technology Effectively

Working from home can be isolating at times, and it's always a treat when I can get out of the house and talk with real, live people about ed-tech issues, which is what I spent all day Friday doing at the Northwest Council for Computer Education's "Navigating the New World With Technology" conference here in Portland.

The conference opened with a keynote address from Debra Pickering, author of several books about teaching and learning that she's co-authored with Robert Marzano. Pickering addressed a couple of issues that I hear about over and over as I talk to teachers who are trying to effectively implement technology into the classroom—how do you create meaningful lessons for students that achieve the learning goals you set, and where does technology fit into the equation?

To keep yourself on track, Pickering suggested asking yourself some tough questions, such as "what is the learning goal?" and "is this assignment really the best way to reach that goal?" As well as, "is this assignment worth the time it will take the student to complete?"

At the root of those questions was something I hear over and over again from the ed-tech community—don't use technology for technology's sake. Just because you can use technology doesn't always mean you should, Pickering stressed. Without a clear purpose and effective integration, technology doesn't add anything to the lesson and could even be more distracting, she said.

One interesting part of Pickering's presentation, I thought, was when she polled audience members to find out what aspect of teaching and learning technology could have the biggest and quickest impact on. Out of a list of nine choices (learning goals and feedback, introducing new knowledge, practicing and deepening, meaningful use of knowledge, student engagement, establishing rules and procedures, adherence to rules and procedures, teacher-student relationships, and high expectations), the overwhelming majority chose student engagement. Which, for the record, was my choice as well. The poll then prompted a discussion of how important it is to both capture students' attention as well as sustain their interest. Although technology can initially capture students' interest and lead to higher engagement, students really need to be engaged in the lesson or subject matter—not the technology.

Stay tuned to hear about a couple of really fantastic sessions I attended at the conference—one about open content resources for teachers and the other about standards for IT administrators.

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