New != Good

I’ll cut to the chase: my integration of technology is fairly middle-of-the-road, but just because my teaching isn’t revolutionary doesn’t mean it isn’t good.

I started by brainstorming a list of all the technology integration examples I could think of from my ancient & modern world history classes:

Most of these are described on my Showcase page.

Not trying to do everything at once

I hit a fairly broad range of the SAMR components, and as Jeff says, not every example of technology use needs to be a reimagination or completely new way of doing things. Edutopia tells us that tech integration needs to foster “active engagement, participation in groups, frequent interaction and feedback, and connection to real-world experts,” and most of my activities hit the first three criteria. However, connection to real-world experts is not something I’ve managed to integrate. What would this look like in the real world? It should go beyond just research expert resources – that would fall in the “Substitution” component. My understanding is that kids need to interact with expert in order to move up to the Redifinition component. I don’t imagine too many history professors and think-tank members are going to want to interact with all six of my history classes. But what about armchair experts? Having kids add to Wikipedia entries or comment about current events on a site like the New York Times would expose them to authentic, content-related conversation.

What I could change now

One example of a way I could improve my use of technology now is in my implementation of iClickers (a student response system). I currently use them for multiple choice practice – I project a question and the kids discuss what the correct answer is and why. If I wanted to redefine the way I do lecture, though, I could use iClickers to give the kids some processing time, ala Jeff Utecht, and ask them to answer one or two multiple choice questions every 5 or 10 minutes. This would give them time to reflect, discuss, and practice an essential test-taking skill.

What I could change in a perfect world

My technology integration examples have been cobbled on to my teaching over the past two years as I’ve progressively been given access to a document camera, iClicker system, Starboard, and just this year, reliable internet! As such, the tech skills my kids use aren’t scaffolding very neatly. It would be great to start from scratch, but I’m hesitant to do this since the curriculum at our school isn’t vertically aligned between grades or horizontally aligned between subjects. Like I said – in a more perfect world.

…and something to think about

SAMR and TIM share the unwritten assumption that new = good. This is necessary to get teachers and students to push the envelope, to dare, to dream, to challenge the status quo. I recognize it’s important to battle inertia in education. But we should recognize that these framework do not offer a way to evaluate the efficacy of these new tasks – for that, we’re still going to fall back on traditional criteria for evaluating learning. Making a video, for example, is awesome and can let more creative, less academic types demonstrate their learning. But for others, a video might “take an inordinate amount of time to complete but yield little “bang for the buck.”” (ASCD, Five Hallmarks of Good Homework). When I made my workout video, I spent about two hours planning and thinking about content and five just assembling the nuts and bolts. It was fun, but it spent 70% of the time working on skills and only 30% on the content. This is not absolutely BAD – it’s just something to be aware of when we’re deciding what assessments to use.

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2 thoughts on “New != Good”

  1. “It was fun, but it spent 70% of the time working on skills and only 30% on the content. This is not absolutely BAD – it’s just something to be aware of when we’re deciding what assessments to use.”

    Heck I would say that’s AWESOME. You spent more time developing a skill that you will be able to use again and again and less time on the actual content that, let’s face it, you’re probably not going to remember anyway unless you are really passionate about it. Or through the process and the focus being on creating something new with the content that you learned, do you understand the content better?

    I’ve been coming back to this blog post a lot lately in my thinking:

    Your idea that new isn’t always good is a good one and we do need to evaluate it, but we can only evaluate it if we’ve done it. I like the idea of “Beta” where were constantly just trying things out. I look at Google and they try this (Wave, Buzz) and they assess it, they evaluate it, and they they say that new thing didn’t equal better and they kill it.

    We have to be willing to say, yes I put a lot of work into this and it’s not the right thing. It needs to die. We learn through failure, yet failure is something we don’t allow ourself (or our students) to do nearly enough.

    Heck I have failures all over the web. This blog was a failure and is dead. I’ve got 3 dead podcasting sites, as well as a dead cooking show (that was a lot of fun ). Those are my public failures….but they’re there, they are dead and I’ve moved on. I allowed myself to move on and along the way I learned what worked and what didn’t work and was able to apply that learning to this program, to my own blog, and to my school.

    I agree New does not have equal Good. But we’ll only know if it’s good if we try something new. 🙂

    1. I think we’re actually on the same page here; what I wanted to emphasize is that we teachers need to ask ourselves:

      What is the best use of our time, and that of our students?

      While my post gives an impression to the contrary, I don’t think we want to be emphasizing content, but I do think we want to be emphasizing the RIGHT skills. The example I referred to was making a video and how long the editing process took. If I assigned a five-minute video project to my students that took them seven hours to make, would they be getting the most bang for their buck from that assignment? They’d need to think about how to represent an idea across multiple mediums (text, music, still images, video), use their organization skills to outline and storyboard, use interpersonal skills to collaborate with teammates, and then leverage their technical skills to make the thing. They’d also need to use perseverance and independence to figure out technical skills along the way. But technical skills – editing the video itself – are taking up a huge chunk of that time. Is there another assignment that would hit the same goals without requiring such a heavy emphasis on tech skills? In seven hours, the kids could do seven DBQs, write seven essays, make two or three infographics, or find a research paper’s worth of sources. I have 180 days to teach my kids the skills they need, and if I’m spending time on one then I’m making a conscious choice not to spend time on others. And philosophically, I just disagree with George Lucas. I think that plain old reading and writing are still more fundamental to success than new media literacies because they are necessary in far more personal and professional contexts.

      I think you’re arguing that if we don’t experiment and push ourselves, we’ll never find the next great thing; if we aren’t willing to learn from failure, we won’t experience true success. I had the above insights because I’ve assigned my kids to do a video and have produced a video myself; I can apply my reflection to future assignments. And I’ve learned that doing a video might not be efficient but it could also give students the motivation to produce something great – this has actually been my experience in the past. I’d just like to…remix… your thoughts and stress that we don’t just want to shoot first and ask questions later. Experimentation still needs to have a purpose and a clearly defined outcome because in a school setting we don’t have the luxury of time. In the hardware and software development cycle, choices are made to drop features because they’re not ready in time for the next show or the holiday shopping season. At college prep schools we have a very real, fairly unforgiving deadline that is the college admissions process.

      Incidentally, this is why schools must have a clear scope and sequence for technology skills, and they need to make a philosophical decision about what kind of graduates they want to produce. This would make experimentation more purposeful, since teachers could evaluate assignments for potential efficacy against an explicit framework before assigning them. It would also allow them to spend more time with students dreaming in the clouds than stuck in the nuts and bolts: to go back to the video example, if my 9th graders had been exposed to video editing in middle school, they would get more bang for the buck from it because they could spend a greater proportion of their time developing transferable skills like perseverance and independence and less on the very specific skills of video editing.

      Personal note: I’m realizing more and more that I probably fall on the conservative side in the spectrum of educators. It makes me especially glad to be taking such a progressive course; despite my conservatism, my Showcase still shows that I’m experimenting and pushing myself!

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