Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Designing Student-Centered Learning Experiences With Technolgy

This content below is written as a reflection on what I learned in week four of the Teaching with Technology course I am taking as I pursue a master's degree in educational technology leadership.

The two themes that stood out the most for me during Week 4 of Teaching With Technology were "cooperative/collaborative learning" and "contextual/situational learning".

After working together to design an action plan for helping a teacher teach with technology, the project group I belong to started creating and uploading lesson plans and resources like crazy! It has been stressful trying to get everything in place in time to meet deadlines, but extremely rewarding as well. Something that became evident to me as I was working with my team was the fact that I was experiencing cooperative/collaborative learning at the same time that I was reading about it. As a teacher I have asked students to cooperatively complete assignments and projects over the years, and I have been on many collaborative teams. I have not ever, that I can recall, worked on a team that was somewhat separated by distance, however. I worked with three very dedicated people, so it was a rewarding experience for me. I found that I love learning "across space"! I also reached out to my "extended cooperative network" for ideas via Twitter. At one point I was at a loss for how to approach loading our files to our Google website, so I sent a message via Twitter, and within minutes, five people had sent me suggestions. The power of cooperative learning, or as Pitler et. al. (2007) quotes Wong and Wong (1998) on page 143 of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works, "cooperating to learn", was demonstrated for me in a real and immediately applicable way. I was then able to turn around the knoweldge I gained for the benefit of my project group. This is an experience I could not have had even six months ago, before I came to know the usefulness of Twitter as a networking for learning tool. This transitions me nicely to my second learning theme for this week.

In Web 2.0: New Tools, New Schools, Solomon and Schrum (2007) write on page 103: "Lave (1998) suggests that most learning occurs naturally through activities, contexts, and cultures, but schools too often abstract learning, 'unsituate' it, and teach concepts removed from natural contexts and applications." They go on to say a little further down the page: "We often provide 'just in case' training rather than 'just in time' training, which provides educators with the information they need just as they need it." These words literally jumped off the page at me. The authors reference several times in this chapter the fact that even after years of investment in training and infrastructure, educational technology has not lived up to its potential in the majority of schools. I find these observations echoed in many of the educational technology blogs I read, such as this one. Although I don't entirely agree with the blog author's take on his colleagues and their lack of technology savvy, I do understand his frustration. After all of the professional development reading I've done in my coursework, I would argue, however, that the failure of educational technology to reach the heights we should have expected by now lies not with teachers for the most part, but with the way we've tried to train them, in hour-long or even day-long workshops using traditional "chalk and talk" or "spray and pray" methods (Solomon & Schrum, 2007, p. 101). I am now beginning to make connections to the need to use connective Web 2.0 technologies in staff development to stay in touch with and continuously support educators and their growth in the use of educational technology. The support will work on two levels; educators can ask for help when they need it and receive consistent feedback, and they can become proficient in the use of the tools because they'll be using them in context. My own experience of becoming more of a participant in blogging and personal learning networks (PLNs) is evidence of the benefits of contextual/situational learning. I became a blogger because my graduate classes asked me to blog and reflect, and I became a PLN participant because someone in a workshop gave me an opportunity to participate immediately in a PLN. I am excited by these personal discoveries, reinforced by our professional readings this week, and look forward to hopefully creating similarly meaningful opportunities and experiences for the teachers in my district.