'Learn, Share, Change-How we Think Just Like Raj Dhingra (on a smaller scale)' - Originally posted in Effective Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age on October 14th, 2015
After watching Raj Dhingra I was a little disappointed: He totally beat me to the punch and did it in a powerful way - a Tedtalk no less! - well before our project for learning, sharing and changing the way we use technology in our school (and hopefully far beyond) had been hatched, he was striving for change on a global scale.
Of course I wasn't really disappointed; the truth is I was inspired and excited! Some great thinking has been done on this topic - go ahead and search on YouTube or type in "educational technology" in your google search bar...bam! More content than you could possible go through. To be fair, there is a lot that you wouldn't want to go through because, in the age of social media, everyone has a voice whether you want to hear it or not - but there is a lot of great content (like the HCTLLP!).
In any case, I couldn't help but record my thoughts and connections as I watched. Here's the video, my thoughts follow:
Raj Dhingra points us to a change in how we actually think about teaching. Educators who have been raised in a global, "collaborate from miles away", culture have no excuse but to embrace technology in our teaching. Many of us have lived in times where technology and its advancement has been ubiquitous, so it makes sense that we'd find ways to implement the technology that we use in our day to day lives in our classrooms (we might even learn a few new ones that make sense to the students we are teaching!). If we are trying to prepare students for "the real world", we need to use tools that are from "the real world". Even though many of our traditional methods still work for "getting answers", are they still helping us to teach our students how to think - if they ever did?
Dhingra focuses on the reality that more fancy and expensive tools do not equal more learning; in some cases they simply make it LOOK like a school is doing what is necessary in terms of digital learning; the effective use of the tools and teacher capacity to implement and apply the tools to their specific classroom needs is what matters. Our project has a strong focus on building teacher capacity in using tools that fit their classroom needs - that is why team members choose their own area of focus. Ideally, this would create a habit of finding tools that suit your class on an ongoing basis (though you'd find overlap too, of course) and learning by experimenting with the tools and collaborating with colleagues.
Dhingra, like anyone worth listening to, reminds us that innovation is key and he points to the Firefly project in Turkey as a powerful example of this. The Firefly project shows us that big ideas with big implementation are far more effective and empowering than outfitting schools with the latest Apple gadgetry or Google Chrome books, etc (not that these tools aren't excellent, because they certainly are). The "hunger for tech candy" that Dhingra mentions is all too visible in all of our school boards or at least at the individual teacher or school level. We really must remember that technology itself isn't what matters, using it well and having broad implementation is what matters!
His story about Richmond City in Virginia highlights the fact that many communities in North America have very real socio-economic concerns. Systemically, we cannot let socio-economic differences impact access to high quality education for our students This kind of thinking is what leaves me uncomfortable with the "flipped" classroom; what if you teach in a place where the latest laptop, tablet, or even smartphone is just not on the priority list for the families you serve? If that's the case in the community where you teach, then a flipped classroom could further limit access to opportunity. There are neighbourhoods in Toronto and the GTA where 1 in 4 or 1 in 5 families are living below the poverty line - that's 5 or 6 students in an "average sized" classroom. While we are implementing technology for our learners, we have to be sure that we aren't widening the gaps that already exist in our society when it comes to genuine access to opportunity - our focus should be on providing access to technology within our schools.
We need to focus on access to technology within our schools
Dhingra drives home the idea that technology can change how we educate and he is most certainly correct. But even though his Tedtalk happened more than three years ago, how many of us have actually "torn down the walls" as he suggests? Coaching students and teaching them how to learn is the role of the teacher - but somewhere along the line we have forgotten that the best teachers have always taught their students how to learn. Effectively using technology really does shift our focus onto teaching learners how to think for themselves and removes the necessity for us to be the only "go to" person for content and information. More often than not, we can learn with our students as we explore amounts of information that we can't possible know - this isn't to say that we can suddenly become ICT experts and ignore the fact that we need to know the content we are teaching because we certainly need to be knowledgeable about the subjects we teach (I hesitate to say "masters" of the content because some of us are uncomfortable calling ourselves "masters" of what we teach). Technology facilitates a co-learning stance; the fact that "my teacher is learning with me" also further develops rapport between student and teacher and can build engagement while enhancing well-being.
Our project is truly an effort in learning, sharing and changing. We're providing our students with useful digital tools AND guiding them through the effective use of these tools. Our team members are learning from their learners and determining what tools best suit their classroom needs. As we implement our tools we share our learning (successes and failures!) through our group here and through our tweets @HCTLLP . Ultimately, we're hoping to inspire and influence positive change in an area where, as we learned from the video, improvement and change is possible and necessary.