Getting the Most from Classroom Technology

Guest Contributor Celine Perea is the Instructional Technology Coach at Horizon Middle School in Aurora, Colo.

Q. What is the greatest example of instructional technology used for teaching and learning?

There are a lot great instructional technology models out there — and even more that are not. For the purposes of this article, I’ll focus on three delivery modes recently featured in the news. I’ll attempt to make a distinction between each, but often they can blend together . . . not only with each other, but with other modes as well.

Too often policy makers (or administrators) believe that merely by providing students with access to technology, student achievement will rise, as if through magic. Although at first glance this may seem a bit obtuse, an experiment by Sugata Mitra in 1999, known as Hole in the Wall, may actually confirm this.  His experiments have shown that the unsupervised use of computers can lead to accelerated learning of skills in children. This methodology in now known as Minimally Invasive Education. His successful formula: broadband + encouragement + collaboration = success.

In February of this year, Sugata Mitra won the first-ever $1 million dollar TED Prize to build his School in the Cloud.

Another mode of delivery that has been made possible by technology is the Flipped Classroom.  Jerry Overmyer, creator and facilitator for the Flipped Class Network, describes it as a flipped paradigm in which what used to be classwork (the lecture) is done at home via teacher-created videos, and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is now done in class.

Sal Khan’s Khan Academy uses this approach and early pilots have shown promising success.  Thanks to nearly $1.5 million dollars in grants from the J. A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, Idaho will participate in the first statewide pilot of Khan Academy for the 2013-2014 school year. The money will be distributed to 47 Idaho schools for technology, professional development, and research. This endeavor will impact 10,000 students in nearly four dozen schools across Idaho.

A one-to-one initiative — whether with computers, tablets or BYOD — can pave the way for many delivery modes, including the ‘game-ification’ of education. Albert Einstein said, “Games are the most elevated form of investigation.” Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari & Chuck E Cheese (what a combination!) will soon be entering the educational gaming market with his newest endeavor: BrainRush. His beta software purports to be teaching academic subjects at over 10 times the speed in classrooms, with over 90% retention. He uses video game metrics to hook learners on academic subjects. In a speech given last month he claims to be able to have students max out on Common Core assessments with only one hour a day of training on his software.

When researching all three of these delivery modes, I found examples where each was successful, and where each was not. This mirrors Project RED’s findings on their Revolutionizing Education through Technology in regard to one-to-one implementation: “Proper implementation appears to be more important than the student-computer ratio for improving test scores.” In other words, good teaching is good teaching, and it’s not the tool that makes the difference, but rather the pedagogy.  A four-to-one school with solid pedagogy can out outperform a one-to-one school that does not.

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Looking at the three most successful examples of these three delivery modes, what jumps out at me the most are the commonalities that led to their success. In all three environments, students take responsibility for their own learning and are highly engaged. Sudents also are allowed to achieve mastery at their own pace regardless of age or grade and are therefore able to retain what they learned. The focus is on inquiry, collaboration, and creativity. Contrary to what opponents think, none are designed to take the place of a teacher, but rather to increase interaction and personalized contact time between students and teachers, allowing them to participate in project-based and inquiry-based learning. In these modes teachers function as mentors or guides. In the case of Mitra’s Minimally Invasive Education model there is not a formal teacher but rather a mentor, usually a retired teacher, from what he calls the “Granny Cloud”.

All three modes allow for the personalization of education, with both Khan’s and Bushnell’s applications containing data collecting software that allows the teacher to immediately clarify misconceptions that would otherwise go undetected. Most importantly, all three achieve the ultimate goal of student as learner, creator, and producer, while achieving almost all six NETS standards. Of the three, I find Mitra’s mode to be the weakest, but in places where the alternative is nothing, he has had great success. The remaining two are not great examples of technology on their own, but they provide the tools so that teachers can spend more time working with students individually or facilitating true interactivity – labs, simulations, projects.

The bottom line: Good Pedagogy needs to drive the technology, not the other way around. That is when the true learning really happens.

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Read Celine’s previous article: Why We Should Be Teaching Kids to Code

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