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Student Choice: An Important Step for Meaningful Technology Integration

Have you used Microsoft Office or some other publishing software in your classroom?

Did it go something like this?

1) Research a topic.
2) Use PowerPoint to make a presentation to display information.
3) Submit PowerPoint to teacher.

Or, maybe you used another program like Microsoft Publisher.

1) Research a topic.
2) Use Publisher to create a poster to display your information.
3) Print.
4) Submit poster to teacher.

Or, maybe you used a slideshow program like Photostory.

1) Research a topic and find pictures.

2) Create a slideshow with text to show your information.

3) Submit slideshow to teacher.

Sometimes students would share their work if there was extra time, but for the most part, there was a familiar pattern to these lessons.

Research and use one program to show what was learned, then submit to teacher.

We've all done these types of lessons to integrate technology.

For teachers nervous about integrating technology, these types of lessons are a good start to get comfortable using technology with students. We learn how to design a lesson using the technology and manage/problem solve all the details with implementing the activity with real kids.

Students using these tools for the first time learn the mechanics of using the program; however, as students start using these tools at younger ages, teachers are challenged to expand the way they integrate technology in the classroom.

So many teachers ask, "What's the next level for technology integration?"

Many educators think the next step up is using fancier technology- maybe creating a product with multimedia authoring tools, a website, animation, or using a cool hardware. These activities could be an option, but more meaningful technology integration isn't always about fancier technology or using the latest shiny device.

It's about using technology in a more meaningful instructional way.

Fancier isn't always better. Sometimes, those who focus on using the latest and greatest complex technology focus too much on the technology, rather than the instructional application or understanding of content. Or, using fancier technology may be out of the teacher's comfort zone resulting in ineffective use of time due to mismanagement or fumbling with a new device or interface.

Or, what happens most of the time, rushed use of new and untested technologies result in lost time due to glitches and problems that haven't been fixed. In the tech world, I think techies refer to this as "beta testing". In education, we refer to ourselves as "piloting" the unproven technology.

Are there other options?

Yes. Choice! Actually, in keeping with technology nomenclature traditions, let's use Choice 2.0, since Choice 1.0 meant having only one option of which technology to use.

In Choice 2.0, we allow students to choose which technology to use to demonstrate their knowledge.

Why Choice 2.0?

Choice 2.0 Leads to Purpose

Giving students the option to choose which technology to use allows the teacher to stay in familiar territory, but ultimately encourages the teacher to examine the purpose of the activity.

How does this happen? Because in giving choice, one actually starts to change how the lesson activity is designed and implemented.

First, the activity will look something like this...

1) Research a topic.
2) Use either Word, PowerPoint, or Publisher to show what you've learned.
3) Submit your work.

But this seems a little strange and disjointed.

The activity lacks purpose and coherence.

As the teacher begins to think about purpose, the teacher starts to ask, "Why are the students researching the topic? Why are they using the technology?"

We begin to incorporate concepts of problem solving and authentic learning experiences in our activity.

Here's where the change starts. One realizes that technology integration becomes more meaningful when there is purpose to using the technology. Perhaps, a real world example is needed? Or, maybe the students need a focus.

Here's the brief summary of a sample project used by colleague, Ms. Goble, a 7th grade English teacher:

The health of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem is deteriorating.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation wants to start an advertising campaign for middle school students to learn about conservation. As future citizens, it's important that you and your friends understand the various conservation issues that affect the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

1) Research a topic on conservation.

2) Use any program from Microsoft Office to create an advertisement or commercial for middle school students encouraging them to become involved with the conservation effort.

3) Panel Presentation: You will present your advertisement or commercial to a panel of experts and explain how your project helps middle schoolers learn about conservation. Your colleagues will be in the audience.

Some students used PowerPoint to create a transcript and slideshow that could be shown at schools or other events and venues. Others created brochures and posters using Publisher. Most importantly, all the students showed their products to their colleagues during a formal presentation.

From a research and technology perspective, is this activity any different from the activities described at the beginning?

Not really. The research is the same. The technology is the same.

But when the activity is enhanced with giving choice and defining purpose, the activity becomes much more meaningful for both the teacher and student.

Students and Teachers Learn

Students begin to think about their use of technology and which tools best meet their needs and goals. Since they know that their colleagues will see their work, they are more enthusiastic and motivated. Since they plan and give a presentation, they develop their voice and presentation skills.

Teachers benefit since they create a more challenging activity that incorporates technology while staying with tools that are familiar. They begin to facilitate individual learning as each student plans their own project. The teacher guides each student as needed.

Compare this process with the initial projects where every student had the same product with information presented almost in an identical manner.

What's Next?

After a successful and fun experience integrating Choice 2.0 into their lessons, some may ask, "What's the next challenge to integrate in their lesson?" For example, some teachers ask about more group oriented projects and how to include other technologies that students may want to use.

More on this next week....

In the meantime, if you want a more challenging lesson with technology, offer Choice 2.0!

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