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Technology Is Critical, and It Doesn't Replace Great Teaching

I fondly remember September, 1989, because that was when I was given three Commodore 64 computers to use in my classroom. No longer did I have to wait for the Apple IIe's on rolling carts to be available from the library; I now had access to an amazing 64KB of RAM right in my own room. Two years later, my capabilities and excitement literally quadrupled when I received my classroom's first Mac LC computer loaded with an astonishing 256 KB of RAM and a 40 MB hard drive I was sure I would never fully need. I loved it so much, I bought one for myself.

Along with the arrival of all this new technology came intense professional development led by our district's technology director. We all gathered in a room full of new computers and heard the amazing ways this technology was going to transform teaching and learning. The early adopters among us shook with excitement as we imagined the newsletters and banners our students would create, the history they would learn traversing a trail to Oregon, the geography they would discover chasing a woman named Carmen Sandiego, and the math skills they would acquire while blasting asteroids. I remember thinking, "Computers are going to change everything about teaching and learning!" I immediately left the professional development session and set up a schedule that put every child in front of a computer as many times a week as possible.

I'm guessing there was similar excitement in schools when the first overhead projectors were introduced. I can imagine someone saying, "You mean I can just write on that piece of plastic, and all the kids will be able to see it on the screen?" And so on, back to mimeograph machines and chalk boards.

You get the point. Technology has always had a place in education, but did the technology alone transform teaching and learning? We all know the answer. Great teachers enable great learning, and technology has the potential to deepen, scale, and sustain that learning. I would argue this is true for both student and adult learning.

Last month Learning Forward and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation sponsored an event focused on innovation in professional learning. Once again, I had an opportunity to be exposed to some amazing new technology that has the potential to change learning, in this case, for educators. One of my favorite innovations was a virtual classroom of avatars developed by researchers from the University of Central Florida. Session attendees had the opportunity to lead the student avatars in a classroom discussion designed to mimic what a typical classroom teacher might face. The beauty of the system is that an aspiring teacher could practice her craft without the concern of making mistakes with real students. As you would expect, participants in this session left wide-eyed, imagining the possibilities of this new technology.

As I reflect back on my 20-plus years in education, I'd like to offer a reminder to those responsible for creating learning environments for both children and adults. Definitely infuse technology into your learning designs where it makes sense... your students will certainly appreciate it, and there is so much potential for developing amazing learning experiences.

However, please don't forget your obligation to be thoughtful in designing effective and engaging opportunities for your learners. Although developed for adult professional learning, the recently revised Standards for Professional Learning offer sound advice in this area. The Learning Designs standard suggests those responsible for facilitating learning:

  • Apply learning theories, research, and models of human learning that offer promise for effective learning;
  • Draw from an analysis of relevant data about the learning needs of the students; and
  • Promote active engagement where learners interact with the content and one another.

I encourage you to read more about the Learning Designs standard, along with the Resources standard, which highlights how technology can be leveraged to support educator learning.

Frederick Brown
Director of Strategy and Development, Learning Forward

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The opinions expressed in Learning Forward's PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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