I have four questions for you. Your answers to these questions could determine if you're wasting a lot of money and resources, or not.
Why do businesses use technology?
I have asked audiences this question many times during my seminars, and mostly get the same answers: It helps them cut costs. It makes them more efficient. It helps differentiate them. It enables them to reach a wider market. The answers can basically be summarised in a single word - efficiency. By using technology businesses are able to make more money with lower costs.
Why do schools/universities use technology?
Once again the answers I receive are much the same. It saves time. It makes it easier to distribute content. It allows for easier scaling of content and wider reach of students. It saves costs. It makes registration and admin processes easier. So, the reasons businesses and education institutes use technology are essentially the same - efficiency.
To see why the answers above are an issue we need to answer two more important questions.
What is the primary goal of a business?
It's to make profit.
What is the primary goal of an education institute?
It's to educate students. Yes, some may have profit goals, but the primary measure of success is not profit but the performance of the students. And this is where the issues arise.
Using technology to improve efficiencies is aligned with the business goal of maximising profit. Using technology to improve efficiencies is not aligned with the education goal of maximising student performance. Student performance is not improved by efficient use of technology but by effective use of technology. It's here that we are witnessing a major problem when we consider the role of technology in education.
To further complicate the situation, education institutions often do have two goals. On the one hand they have a financial goal - even schools that are not for profit are focused on minimising costs. It is important to save money on printing by going digital. It is important to save time on student registration but moving this online. It is important to enable teachers to manage marks digitally to save time. As such schools do have an efficiency imperative. However, having an I.T. system that achieves this does nothing more than set the school up to focus on its main goal - education. However, achieving the first goal is often seen as the only and primary goal, and herein lies the problem.
Using technology for learning management is not that same as using technology for learning. It is not using technology that is key to the success of schools, it is teaching with technology that is important. It is only when we realise this difference that we will begin to see why our implementations of technology are yielding such disappointing results.
As long as we allow our education agenda to be driven by IT departments we will not see the gains we were hoping for. It's not the IT departments that are to blame. Their skillset and objective is using technology to improve processes - efficiency. Their skillset is not education.
I recently received an email from a company offering their IT services to universities:
“Hi Team, Hope this mail finds you well. I am <name>, Head Client Engagement at <Company>. <Company> is a leading EdTech consultant and Moodle Partner. We specialize in enabling Universities / Corporates in effective adoption of Education Technology.”
Sounds promising. They have used the word “effective”. So I read on...in hope.
“<Company> has 360 degree experience in implementing and optimizing Learning Management Systems, leading to efficient as well as scalable learning delivery. In the process our clients have seen shift from traditional methods to automated workflows for curriculum management, enrollments, scheduling and assessments" (emphasis added).
And there we have it. They are offering to help education institutes use technology so they can be optimized, efficient, scalable, and automated. They may well do a great job at this, however, this is not the primary goal of education institutes, and as such should not be the primary goal of our use of technology. Yet, increasingly this is how technology is being used in schools and universities.
There are two reasons education institutes are using technology just like businesses. The first is that technology companies are simply transferring their same offerings from business (one client) to schools (another client). The second is that the decision makers in education institutes are normally either management or the IT department. If it is management, then their measure is efficiency. If it is the IT department, then the email above resonates with them too, because their mandate is also around efficiencies and improved service delivery.
So, what do we need to do?
Firstly, educators need to step forward. We can't outsource the decisions as to how technology will be used at our schools to anyone who is not an educator. Secondly, we need a fundamental mind shift. We need to shift from thinking about how we will use technology to how we will teach with technology. Only when we do this will we start asking the right questions, and identifying the correct approaches. Only once we focus on teaching with technology will be shift from efficiency to effectiveness, from management to learning, from systems to students. Only once we focus on pedagogy before technology will we begin to see what technology can do for education.
So, the next time you receive an offer from a technology vendor, ask yourself (and them) the question - will this make us more efficient or more effective at teaching? And if it will make us more effective, how will it do this? How will it change how I teach?
The Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) approach is the first research backed, cohesive, digital-age set of pedagogies that empowers teachers to teach effectively with technology. Find out more about this unique approach that is transforming schools and universities around the world by focusing on pedagogy then technology. Contact email@example.com or visit www.act.click.
We live in a distracted world. Our ability to focus on a single task or activity is dwindling, even though many people insist they’re good multi-taskers. Neuroscientist Earl Miller says these people are “deluding themselves”. All we are really doing is dividing our brain’s processing power between tasks as we switch from one to another. We are actually increasing the cognitive load on our brain.
Despite knowing all of this, I have checked my email at least ten times while writing this article. I’ve Googled references and then followed links down “interesting” rabbit holes. I’ve felt my phone buzz and checked to see what the message was.
Even though we are aware of how distractions affect our productivity, we still find it hard to resist them. One of the reasons is our addiction to dopamine, a chemical that functions as a neurotransmitter and makes us feel good when it is released. Every time we receive new information we are rewarded with a rush of dopamine to the brain.
But if the innovations of our digital age are largely to blame for our decreasing attention spans, don’t they also hold possible solutions? There are thousands of apps that suggest this is the case. Apple’s app store has an entire category dedicated to “productivity” apps.
But simply creating a digital version of a traditional tool is often not effective. What is needed are ways to encourage people to use the productivity tools and enjoy being focused and productive.
One of the areas I have been involved in researching is gamification. Gamification is applying game principles and mechanics, such as earning badges and using leaderboards, to encourage participation. A popular example of this is Kahoot! which gamifies quizzes through leaderboards, music and countdown timers.
Combining gamification with a focus routine is one potentially promising way of improving focus in our modern world. The principle has been built into a range of approaches (as well as apps) that help people break the cycle. I’ve used some, and my students have used some. They work.
The Pomodoro technique
Take the Pomodoro technique: named after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer, is based on the principle that even the largest building is constructed a brick at a time. Rather than being overawed by huge tasks, the idea is to commit to single small tasks which are achievable. It has significantly improved the productivity of my students, as well as my own.
The Pomodoro technique is based on what’s called a pomodoro: a 25-minute work period followed by a 5-minute break. After three or four “pomodoros” you take a longer break. The one essential element is that during a pomodoro you commit to focus entirely on the task at hand. That means no checking email or Whatsapp, and even resisting the urge to watch an ant walking across your desk. It takes a little bit of getting used to and the first few pomodoros are often littered with errant wandering thoughts demanding a dopamine fix.
However, you quickly learn that it’s actually easy to do this for just 25 minutes and before you know it you’ve done some really productive work which itself generates dopamine, reinforcing a new habit of focus. And of course, there are digital versions. Pomodoro timers can be downloaded from several app stores.
Trees, tricks and risks
Research on gamification has shown that it can encourage learning. For example, I use gamified Kahoot! quizzes during my lessons to gauge student understanding. Students are excited to participate as they attempt to climb the leaderboard.
Gamification can also encourage increased levels of commitment and performance. For this reason more and more organisations are using it. In South Africa Discovery Health has successfully used it to encourage its members to exercise regularly and drive carefully in order to earn points and get rewards.
Discovery Health gamifies exercise and driving. Google has also gamified the submission of employee expense claims, reportedly resulting in 100% compliance.
Gamification can also be used to help you focus. There’s Forest, an app that gamifies the Pomodoro approach by encouraging you to plant virtual trees. If you use your phone while the app is working, though, your tree dies. Seeing trees growing helps users to visualise their time and effort.
There’s even a group mode where multiple people commit to “focus” times. If any person in the group uses their phone, everyone’s trees die.
Elsewhere, in an attempt to address these issues, Apple’s soon to be released iOS 12 will include new distraction assisting tools and settings. These new features allow users to view phone usage activity reports, set time limits on app usage and schedule Do Not Disturb times when all notifications are muted.
My favourite high risk, high return focus app is The Most Dangerous Writing App. This app asks you to choose a time period – 3 or 5 minutes, or longer if you’re brave, and then click “Start Writing”. You’re presented with a blank screen and you begin writing. However, if you stop for just a couple of seconds you lose everything. Even my most distracted students are totally focused.
So, go ahead, plant your trees. Challenge yourself. Challenge your friends. Use whatever tools you can to make focusing a little easier. It’s a survival skill we all desperately need to sharpen in this digital age.
//Well done if you read this entire article. You’ve just concentrated for approximately five minutes.
Summary: In this article I will discuss how our attempt to fix our education crisis has staggered from one approach to another. First we threw lots of tech at the problem, and this resulted in billion dollar failures. Then we threw lots of money at training teachers to use tech, and still we are seeing failures. It is only when we realise what is really wrong that we can effectively change how we teach.
“Hi Craig, I wonder if you could come and talk to our teachers about using technology for teaching?” reads the email I've just opened. I receive many emails like this and so I'm fairly sure what I will find when I get to this school.
I arrive and am soon set up in the school auditorium. Typically, the session is scheduled after school - often on a Friday afternoon. As the room slowly fills with teachers I can already read their expressions - “Why do they force us to attend these sessions?” - “Not another presentation on using computers”.
As I stand up I can see most people are looking at their devices. I suppose that's what I'd be doing at an after school session like this. I lean forward and speak into the microphone. “The worst thing we can do is train teachers to use technology.” I pause. Heads pop up. I can see them replaying what I just said in their minds, wondering if they heard correctly. I can see the questions forming. “Wasn't this guy meant to be telling us how to use computers?” I wait for the confusion to take hold and then I continue.
The worst thing we can do is train teachers to use technology...
That hasn't helped. If anything they are now even more confused. Excellent! Now that I have everyone's attention I have a precious moment - a teachable moment. That moment that every teacher desires - when our students are attentive, enquiring, wanting to hear more
Who's to blame?
I keep coming across articles that attempt to explain how we can fix the modern education crisis. Yes, there is a crisis. It doesn't take studies to tell us that our world has changed dramatically and our teaching hasn't kept up.
Our students have a daily digital diet of approx. 9 hours of tech consumption. The impact is attention spans are reported to have dropped to 8 seconds - apparently below that of a goldfish. Whether this is true or not, what is true is that most teachers are struggling to keep students engaged.
So how do we reconnect with our students? How do we make our teaching relevant in the digital age? The solution seems obvious. If technology is what engages the modern generation outside the classroom, then let's use it in the classroom. After all technology has revolutionized all other aspects of life - business, entertainment, communication, sports. It only makes sense that education needs the same revolution.
And so our first attempt to fix our classrooms saw us investing billions in technology - iPads, Chrome Books, smartboards flooded into schools. And the result? At the best we could call it a mixed success. However, many would call it a failure. Headlines telling the costly story of the failed Los Angles iPad program or research proclaiming that technology in the classroom is reducing students' grades.
Something's just not right. Surely technology should have solved our education issues, not exacerbated them. What's going wrong? Is it the technology to blame or is it the teachers? It seems unlikely it's the tech - it has proven itself in so many other areas - so maybe it is the teachers. And so now we are seeing headlines like:
That makes sense. Edtech is failing because teachers haven't been trained to use the technology. And that's why I find myself standing before this audience. This is our second attempt at addressing our modern education issues - throw money at training teachers to use technology. And once again vendors have been quick to respond to this by eagerly offering courses on how to use the plethora of tools that exist.
But we have lost sight of something fundamental in our headlong rush to modernise education.
It's not training teachers to use technology that we need, it's training teachers to teach with technology.
The difference between “use” and “teach” has profound implications. The best way to understand what's going wrong, and why I began my presentation by saying “The worst thing we can do is train teachers to use technology” is to think about cakes.
A lesson from Master Chef
Imagine some children enthused to bake their own cake after watching endless seasons of Master Chef. They're in the kitchen surrounded by everything they need - ingredients, equipment, and dollops of enthusiasm.
After hours of mixing and beating, laughing and chatting, delicious smells are wafting from the kitchen. Finally, the moment arrives. The cake is ready. The oven is opened. You reach in to extract the delicious smelling masterpiece as the children look on fibrillating in anticipation. The cake is perf....flat! It is splayed across the baking tray inelegantly like a beginner skier on a ski slope. How could all their passion, ingredients, and tools result in this disaster? Quite simple - there was no recipe. And the same applies to education.
Even the best technology mixed with enthused teachers and sprinkled liberally with the latest tech won't ensure success.
My Epic Fail
I look back at my countless forays into using technology for teaching and how often it fell flat - despite my passion and belief that it would work.
I recall one ambitious attempt in particular. I was so excited about the potential of 3D virtual worlds that I got my students to build a replica of our university - everything from the library to the lecture theatres. The detail was amazing. And so it was with great excitement that I stood at the front of a virtual lecture theatre prepared to deliver my first lesson. It took a while to settle them down as a flood of text streamed across my screen as the students “talked”. Finally, I managed to instil some order by SHOUTING (typing in uppercase) to make myself “heard”.
Behind me the first slide of my presentation was displayed. “GOOD MORNING CLASS,” I typed. “TODAY WE WILL...” and so I began explaining what was on the slide. While the talking had eased off, students were still morphing into animals, flying, walking...I pushed on. I clicked “Next” to move to the next slide. Nothing happened. I clicked again. Nothing. Again. Suddenly the presentation jumped three slides. “Oh no,” I groaned hunched over my computer.
Finally I got to the right slide. “IN THIS SLIDE WE SEE,” I slowly typed as I explained the slide. Half my time was up and we had only completed two slides. It's then that it hit me - “What am I doing? This is a poor substitute for a real lecture. In fact I would have been better off emailing the slides to the students than doing this. This just hasn't worked. Is it the tech, or is it me?”
Using or Teaching
It's not the tech. It's not the teachers. It's the missing recipe. In teacher talk the recipe is called pedagogy, but somehow we seem to have forgotten all about pedagogy.
Somewhere in our enthusiasm to fix our education challenges technology has become a proxy for pedagogy .
Herein lies our problem - where training teachers to use technology is assumed to be the same as training teachers to teach with technology. It's akin to assuming that because you know how to use a drill and nail gun you know how to build a house.
Just because a teacher has been trained to use Google Docs, or YouTube, or Edmodo, does not mean they know how to teach with these tools. This begs the question. Why have we ignored pedagogy - something all student teachers learn about, something all teachers know is vital? Could it be that our digital education agenda is now driven by technology companies? In fact, why are technology companies telling teachers how to teach? Or maybe pedagogy has been forgotten because we are mesmerised by all the tools, or maybe it's our lack of understanding of how modern students learn.
Education's Missing Recipe
What we need, if we are going to realize the opportunities that technology can bring to education, is an easy-to-apply, effective, and appropriate set of digital-age pedagogies.
What is required is not just digital age pedagogies but a Taxonomy Of Teaching And Learning (TOTAL) digital age pedagogies.
Designing a TOTAL digital-age approach requires an understanding of how modern students use technology, as well as the intentional and unintentional affordances provided by technology. It was extensive research into this that gave rise to the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) model - the first cohesive taxonomy of digital age pedagogies.
The ACT model provides educators with an arrangement of five active learning pedagogies for teaching in the digital age. These pedagogies allow teachers to focus on teaching then technology.
The ACT approach empowers teachers to view technology through a pedagogic lens opening up a raft of exciting possibilities. Rather than simply seeing how to use technology, teachers are now able to see how they can teach with technology
The best thing we can do
So, why is training teachers to use technology the worst thing we can do? Quite simply because as our education issues continue and it's not the teachers to blame - as they have now been trained - it must be the technology to blame. And this is exactly what we are seeing in a new wave of reports proclaiming the failure of technology in the classroom. However the issue lies not with the technology or with our teachers, but with our training.
The auditorium is quiet. Everyone is waiting to hear what I say next. A moment of attention, so rare in our modern world. I grasp this teachable moment and say,
“The worst thing we can do is train teachers to use technology...The best thing we can do is train teachers to teach with technology.
Perspectives make all the difference in life, and this is also true when it comes to using technology for teaching and learning. A simple change in perspective can cause a radical change in outlook. See it in action below!
It is not enough to simply use technology into our classrooms, we need to teach with technology. The difference between "using" and "teaching" is important, and will make the difference between whether tech is an expensive version of what we have had for years, or an empowering tool to reactivate our students learning. The difference comes down to one thing - no pedagogy or pedagogy. Having an easy-to-apply set of digital-age pedagogies in place enables us to see our use of technology in the classroom in a whole new way. The fun, short video below illustrates the power of seeing things in a different way. Enjoy!
Facebook turned 14 on February 4, 2018. And the controversies continue unabated. But there’s one aspect of Facebook that should not be lost in all the noise: the extraordinary change it has brought about in how we connect, communicate, consume and share content – in the classroom, as well as in other spaces.
Putting the words “Facebook” and “learning” together may seem like an oxymoron. But my research has delved into the role Facebook has played in shaping how the new generation consumes and shares content. Understanding this is pivotal to understanding how we should be using technology to teach in the digital age. Quite simply, Facebook has changed the way that children learn.
How students learn
That’s what I’ve discovered through my research, which used a cyber-ethnography approach to try and determine how students are learning in our modern digital age. This involved essentially “living” with students while they connected, communicated, and learned in a Facebook space.
I spent an entire semester watching and interacting with students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa as they used a Facebook page as their primary learning portal. The students were given admin access to the space. This meant they could determine how the space was used: who had access to it, how it was designed, what was posted on the page, and even the level of anonymity of their posts.
This provided me with an opportunity to watch the students learn, unfettered from traditional learning constraints. However, it would take a while for the students to fully explore their learning within this new space. Initially the students would often attempt to defer to me and my guidance. Only after I repeatedly refused to control their learning experience did they begin to behave in a self-oraganising way and allow me to observe their “natural” learning patterns.
The research revealed that Facebook provided students with a series of learning affordances. Affordances are “can do” oppportunies, some intentional and others unintentional, that technology spaces provide. In this instance the research revealed that the affordances at play were accessibility, connection, communication, control and construction. These affordances provide valuable insights into how students learn in digital spaces.
Once I understood this, I could turn my attention to the key need: developing ways of teaching, called pedagogies, that are appropriate for the digital age. Currently the focus on technology – the what, has distracted us from pedagogy: the how. Without understanding how best to apply these new technologies’ affordances, educators will not be able to effectively impact teaching in the modern classroom.
However, providing educators with a list of “how tos” isn’t much use without a system that makes the list easy to implement. As Dan Schwartz, dean of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, says:
Activating the classroom
That’s where the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) model comes in. I developed this model in a bid to create a taxonomy of teaching and learning for 21st century classrooms. A taxonomy is an ordered arrangement of items. One of the most famous of these is Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking. The ACT model attempts to provide a taxonomy of digital-age teaching approaches.
The ACT model consists of five digital-age pedagogies that seek to maximise the affordances of technology, modern students’ approaches to learning and the development of key 21st century skills such as creativity, problem solving, curiosity, critical thinking, etc.
The focus is a shift from passive ways of teaching (consumption) to active approaches (curation, conversation, correction, creation and chaos). This aligns with research that shows children are spending more than half their online time actively engaging: creating content, getting involved in “interactive consumption” and communicating.
Ignoring the tectonic shifts taking place in our classrooms is not the solution. Simply dropping technology into our classrooms is not the solution. Simply training teachers to use computers is not the solution. As British author and education expert Sir Ken Robinson has said, we need a paradigm shift, but it’s more than that - we need a pedagogy shift.
The young teen, Facebook, has changed how we connect and learn. But, as the OECD pointed out in its global study about educational technology: “If we want students to become smarter than a smartphone, we need to think harder about the pedagogies we are using to teach them. Technology can amplify great teaching but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.”
Last year I was privileged to speak to over 20,000 delegates from around the world at EdmodoCon 2016. I was somewhat concerned as my presentation was scheduled near the end of the day - a slot any teacher knows is the "graveyard session". A combo of lunch, content fatigue and anticipation of the end conspire together to cause low levels of attention and possibly even sleep.
However, the silver lining on this somnolent cloud was that I had been able to listen to all the amazing talks before mine. Teacher after teacher from schools all around the world presented the incredible things they were doing with technology in their classroom. While this in itself would be reward, it was not just this alone that was the silver lining. I was able to see something astounding about how these world-leading teachers (and I mean this literally - some having won world top-teacher awards) were using technology. Unknowingly, they were applying one or more of the ACT pedagogies in their classroom. I was blown away by seeing this, and so standing up last, I was able to not only share the power of the ACT pedagogies to transform how we teach with tech, but also highlight how each and everyone of these amazing teachers was already doing it. However, now the benefit was they understood the pedagogy that lies beneath their success - and understanding this makes it easier to replicate these amazing success stories. In addition, they were exposed to other digital age pedagogies that can also be used with equal success.
Below is a video of the EdmodoCon 2016 presentation. It provides a brief overview of the issues we are facing in our modern classroom and how we can implement 5 digital-age pedagogies to revolutionize how we are teaching.
“Speak your mind” and “post your mind” are not the same thing. A study that investigated how messages containing different emotions spread across social networks found that “anger is more influential than other emotions like joy, which indicates that angry tweets can spread quickly and broadly in the network”.
So why do such posts persist? My research suggests that the answer lies with three issues: the accessibility of technology, the spaces it provides for communication that isn’t face to face, and how this is skewing our ideas of connection.
But all is not lost: there are some basic rules you can apply that make sure you stay out of trouble and that you get the most out of social media.
The Facebook factor
With 1.8 billion users, Facebook has had a huge impact on how people connect, communicate and consume content. It was recently blamed for influencing the outcome of the US elections by facilitating the spread of fake news.
Facebook wasn’t designed to spread fake news – but this is an unintentional consequence of the environment. Understanding such consequences – what are known as “affordances” – is key to helping us better leverage technology for learning and to mitigate its risks.
In my research I explored the affordances of Facebook on student interaction and learning. An affordance is a “can do” opportunity of something, whether intentionally designed or unintentionally possible.
From this I developed the Actant-Activity Affordance model. It identifies five key affordances that interact in a competing set of tensions in online spaces: accessibility, communication, connection, control and construction.
Accessibility, communication and connection are especially relevant when it comes to understanding why so many people vent their spleen on social media.
Accessibility, in my model, is the ability to access online spaces through multiple devices, in multiple places, at any time. This often results in “spur-of-the-moment” posts.
In the pre-technology era a person wanting to vent their anger would have to find the local newspaper’s address, write the letter, and then post it. This cooling down gap does not exist with technology.
New technologies with their ubiquitous access have changed us, largely without us realising it, from passive content consumers to active content producers. Many people have readily assimilated the benefits of permanent access to a publishing platform but haven’t been as quick to realise the responsibilities that come with our new role as content publishers.
Communication: no warm bodies
Technology now offers innumerable opportunities to both express ourselves and get exposure for our opinions. However, there are important differences between fireside chats and online posts.
Social presence theory teaches that “text based messages deprive computer mediated communication users of the sense that other warm bodies are jointly involved in the interaction”. Physical presence often tempers what people say, while the existence of a spatial gap between the poster and their online audience emboldens people to express themselves.
It’s natural to want to talk about how we feel. While some people may talk to friends, others resort to writing a private journal. However, the danger comes when online channels are falsely believed to be the “modern equivalent of writing a journal”.
Online channels are a convenient space for expression. But they come with another aspect of the communication affordance: exposure. A journal is private and can be discarded. Online posts are both permanent and public. Posting online is not the modern equivalent of writing a journal. It’s the modern equivalent of writing a letter to the editor.
Conflating the real world and online
The connection affordance, described in my model, relates to the opportunities that technology affords to develop connections between members of online spaces. In my experiment, students were given administrator status on a Facebook page. An unintentional affordance of this was that they could mask their identity when posting, which emboldened some to become more positively engaged in online class discussions.
However, a more subtle danger of connecting online, is the avatar syndrome; the conflation of real and online personas. People assume their online identities to a greater or lesser extent. This can be consciously, as in the case of role playing games, or subconsciously through our choice of profile pictures, photos and the content we choose to share about ourselves in social media spaces.
This avatar syndrome inevitably results in people making comments and sharing content that can have serious real world consequences.
How to stay out of the news and jail
Technology provides exciting opportunities to enhance how we teach and learn. In the coming years it’ll be important to keep educating school kids about the dangers of these new technologies. Here are some simple guidelines to remember when using social media, whatever your age.
Before you post it online, use the SPACE to THINK approach.
SPACE – Take these steps:
THINK – Ask yourself these questions:
Being a little more thoughtful and circumspect about your social media presence will improve the experience for everyone. Think like a publisher – because in this brave new world, that’s exactly what we’ve all become.
As the summer holidays draw near in many parts of the world, parents shouldn’t be surprised if kids choose to fill their days with technology. After all, teens and tweens are now spending more hours on their devices – iPads, phones and computers – than they are asleep.
In the same way that some food is healthy and some has no nutritional benefits, some apps are low in mental fibre. Based on my own research into how students learn with technology, here’s a guide to getting rid of “junk” apps and ensuring your tweens and teens develop healthy tech habits both in term time and during the school holidays.
From passive to active
The key lies in shifting kids from using apps that make them passive content consumers to those where they are active content producers. Encouraging the use of activating apps can help children to develop a wide range of 21st century skills like collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving.
Before I look at apps that will actively engage kids during school holidays, here are the “apps” you should immediately delete from their lives.
Once these “apps” are deleted, here’s a selection of apps that will not only engage your kids, but help them develop important skills. I’ve selected a few iOS, Android, and Web-based apps (accessible through a browser on any device). The full list is available here. I’ve grouped these according to the skills they will develop.
Curation: Curation apps help kids to develop key skills such as reading, categorising and organising.
Conversation: There’s a shift from learning through content consumption to learning through conversation around content in online spaces. Conversation-based apps provide opportunities to debate, discuss and enrich relationships.
Correction: Research shows that one of the most effective ways to learn is through mistakes. Technology allows us to easily experiment, make mistakes and learn through correction.
Creation: Creating content develops key skills such as logic, creative thinking and problem solving.
Chaos: Learning to make sense of too much information, missing information, and conflicting information is a skill children increasingly need to develop in our content-excessive world.
No matter which apps your kids choose, it’s important to keep track of their use. Research suggests that screen time should be limited, whether young users are consuming “junk” apps or learning while they swipe. OurPact is a great tool to automate this process. It allows parents to set usage schedules or turn off a device at any time.
Myth 2 – We need to use technology to make our teaching more efficient
We continue our myth series that explores dangerous education technology myths. You can read Myth 1 here. Each of these myths are commonly held beliefs that have huge implications on how we approach teaching with technology.
Like all myths, this myth also seems, on face value, to be both true and innocuous. However, this is exactly why the myth is so dangerous.
I often come across teachers and school management who extol the benefits of their edtech tools using words like - “Time is freed up”, “convenience”, “ease of handling”, “efficient way of collecting and storing information” and “immediate access”.
In fact, these are the same benefits you will find touted by LMS vendors. Take a look at the following list of features of the popular LMS, Blackboard. The vast majority of the features are around management and efficiencies.
These "features" point to an underlying perspective that many teachers and software vendors have about the goal of technology in the classroom - improving efficiency. In fact this same perspective also pervades students' perceptions. A research project just completed by one of my students, found that 92% of students listed technology providing “improved access to information” as a key reason for using it for learning.
And so it is no surprise that we readily believe the statement - We need to use technology to make our teaching more efficient. After all, who doesn't want to save time and make things more efficient?
Ditching Industrial Era Objectives
Efficiencies are great for business and industry, but is this what we are seeking when it comes to education? British educationist and author Sir Ken Robinson has famously called on schools to abandon the efficiency-driven, industrial paradigm and move to a new approach to education.
Increasingly we are seeing teachers advocating a new era in education that celebrates diversity, opportunities and innovation. However, most of us are simply using technology to reinforce the old industrial approaches rather than revolutionising the classroom.
Pursuing efficiencies to get students through more content, faster and with less effort, is the wrong objective. Our focus should be on effective rather than efficient teaching. Technology is not just about computerising existing processes – it is about rethinking ways to teach and learn.
The Danger of the Myth
By pursuing efficiency objectives we simply reinforce our old, outdated, industrial approaches to teaching. We are simply attempting to speed up and automate these old processes. This dangerous agenda is pushed by many vendors because it makes for a good sell. "We can make your job easier", "We can save you time", etc. However, education is more than this. It needs us to reinvent, redesign, and reimagine how we are teaching the modern generation.
Technology brings with it many exciting opportunities. The most successful modern businesses, who are driven by efficiency agendas, have also realised this. They've realised the need to move beyond simple efficiencies to reinventing how they do business. This has given rise to innovative businesses like Uber who have disrupted the transport industry, Twitter who have disrupted the news industry, and Whatsapp who have disrupted the communication industry.
It is only when we begin to let go of our outdated, industrial paradigms and see technology, not simply as a tool for improving efficiencies, but as a tool to open up new way of teaching and learning, that we will truly begin to realise the benefits of technology in the classroom. It's then that we will start to see the Uber Classrooms appear - and that will be very exciting.
Dr. Craig Blewett is the author and founder of the Activated Classroom Teaching (ACT) approach. He helps schools and universities around the world towards the effective use of educational technology.
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