Where to next..? Goal setting and the meaningful use of Technology.

It that crazy time of the year, when we as a school begin pondering our goals for next year, whilst still trying to make progress on our ambitious plans from a year ago. It is also a landmark for me and the end of our ‘iLearn project’ which introduced the use of technology to our teachers and students and has lead to significant changes in student learning. iLearn is now operationalised and a part of our school culture.

This week an interesting critique on Educational Technologies by Alfie Kohn grabbed my attention and made me question the types of goals we are setting. The Overselling of Ed Tech questions if the promises of technologies disruptive and innovative power to change education have ever been borne out. The most poignant remark below resonated with me as someone who has always worked in excellent, yet largely traditional academic schools.

The rationale (for use of educational technologies) that I find most disturbing — despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that it’s rarely made explicit — is the idea that it will increase our efficiency . . . at teaching in the same way that’s persisted for a very long time.

Perhaps it hasn’t escaped your notice that ed tech is passionately embraced by very traditional schools:  Their institutional pulse quickens over whatever is cutting-edge: instruction that’s blended, flipped, digitally personalized.

This apparent paradox should give us pause.  Despite corporate-style declarations about the benefits of “innovation” and “disruption,” new forms of technology in the classroom mesh quite comfortably with an old-school model of teaching that consists of pouring a bunch o’ facts into empty receptacles.

Which makes me think, what has really changed at our school over the last five years? Has technology provided opportunities for student’s flexible progression, unhindered innovation, critical thinking and collaborative learning as we initially envisaged in our planning?  Or as Alfie Kohn mentions has our technology use “perpetuated, traditional teacher-centered instruction that consists mostly of memorizing facts and practicing skills”

I think we have to be very cautious of pandering to individuals and the use certain apps and tools which do little more than enhance teacher-centered instruction. For instance does the conversation about a quiz tool Kahoot focus on revising facts and keeping the kids engaged, or does it also provide data to cleverly inform differentiated groupings in the next lesson? Does the use of an online learning platform just deluge students in greater flow of resources and bring the teacher-centric paradigm online, or does it empower student to ask questions, resolve each other’s concerns, progress at their own pace and make connections.

Essentially, I think we need to be consistently raising the rigour and relevance of the technology related goals that our schools, departments and teachers set so that technology is used to support or even transform student-centred, inquiry based models, not just seen as tool to bring greater efficiency to linear, exam focused, teacher centred approaches as illustrated by Kohn below.

We can’t answer the question “Is tech useful in schools?” until we’ve grappled with a deeper question: “What kinds of learning should be taking place in those schools?”  If we favor an approach by which students actively construct meaning, an interactive process that involves a deep understanding of ideas and emerges from the interests and questions of the learners themselves, well, then we’d be open to kinds of technology that truly support this kind of inquiry.

Show me something that helps kids create, design, produce, construct — and I’m on board.  Show me something that helps them make things collaboratively (rather than just on their own), and I’m even more interested — although it’s important to keep in mind that meaningful learning never requires technology, so even here we should object whenever we’re told that software (or a device with a screen) is essential.

I think our school has a firm grasp of that we mean by effective learning in the form of our ten learning principles. Other recent developments from the International Baccalaureate and the development of the Approaches to Teaching and Learning philosophy further illustrate that we as educators know the conditions under which student learning flourishes. Technology goals should therefore be written and pursued to enhance, or amplify these ideas and provide students with even more beneficial learning experiences. This therefore provides teachers with a framework to determine the relevancy of different software and tools. For example should we buy more Document Cameras so kids can see a textbook via the projector, or can we use it to record mini-lessons or to unpack success criteria and allow students to access these at their own pace.

Lots to think about, but would be interested in other school who have mature use of technology and how them look to raise the bar through goal setting processes.

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