From Dinosaurs to Dolphins: Technological Evolution in Education

Dinosaur by shvmoz, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  shvmoz 
After watching a recent episode of Terra Nova  my son observed “it would be so cool if there were still dinosaurs roaming around!”  Of course, my response was, really, you would like to be spending your days in flight or fight response avoiding man eating dinosaurs? He agreed that would likely be pretty scary, maybe it’s better to leave them to the museums and science fiction shows. This got me thinking, why are we so slow to evolve and discard those dinosaurs in our classrooms, the antiquated audio visual aids which do nothing but get our blood pressure up and are far better left in museums and history books? If biologists only focused on the past, they would never discover new and exciting biological species like the Barrunda Dolphin, discovered this fall off the coast of Australia. Last week in EC&I 831, Stephen Downes  talked about the need to become networked educators and consequently discover new  roles as a teacher. Such new roles as collector, curator, alchemist, need to be considered in the search for this new species of teacher.   Of course all of this is predicated on the discovery and utilization of  new technology tools in and out of the classoom.

Last week I stumbled upon I Love Ed Tech Blog  which is the Blog for the Simple K-12 website. It has some great posts including the June 2011 post “17 Signs Your Classroom is Behind the Times”.  Below are 6 of the 17 which particularly resonated with me:

  • Your students turn in their homework on printed paper…instead of digitally.  It’s hard to believe that I still have English teaching colleagues who are collecting hardcopies and not using digital submission tools such as Turn it In  which educate students on plagiarism, proper referencing, and provide peer editing and revision tips.
  • You still have chalk.  Or a Dry Eraser. It’s exciting for me, who just happens to be allergic to both chalk and the residue from dry erase, that tools like smart boards eliminate any sort of chemical exposure and reduce consumable expenditures in the school budget!
  •  You try to pull up a web resource on your computer to show the class and you receive a “This website has been blocked” message. As an administrator, I know which of my teachers are developing PLN’s – they are the ones coming to me to ask IT to unblock Youtube videos and Blogs – heck, last week I had to phone to get them to unblock the sample Blog I created for an ELA class!
  • You don’t find at least one thing to call the IT department about every week. See previous point!
  • You spend most of your class time lecturing students… rather than getting them collaborating and learning from each other. Arriving in the staffroom for coffebreak with a bad case of laryngitis often is a symptom of nagging educational disease “Sage on the Stageitis.”
  • You create more content than your students do. I often wonder why it is that so many of us as teachers are working harder than our students? No wonder our profession has trouble with teacher retention. We have do less and create more opportunities for our students to take charge of their learning.
  • Your students aren’t teaching you something new (likely about technology) at least once a day. My most connected teachers are the ones who frequently pop by my office to share an exciting technology tidbit just taught to them by a student which invigorates them and supports the learning of their students. Good things are happening in their classrooms.

So , I think maybe I would like another role added to Stephen Downes’ list, that of scientist. I want to discover new species of teachers and learners, my own Barrunda dolphins by encouraging my staff to embrace a blended instructional approach and discover some new habitats of education! It absolutely can happen – and if you need a little inspiration from the biological world, for your viewing enjoyment check out “Cool, Rare, and New Weird Animals/Species 2011.”

Putting “Social” Back Into Learning

Last week in my Blog  I talked about personal learning networks and their potential to create professional learning communities  for teachers by providing 24/7 professional support with the potential to extend the walls of their staffroom by connecting teachers from all over the world.  Of course, personal learning networks are not, nor should they be, restricted to teacher use. When we talk about the  “the connected classroom”  – we are looking at  expanding the communication and  collaboration of our students and their  classmates to include experts, students, and facilitators from all over the world through Web 2.0 and social media. Who can argue with that? And yet, K-12 classrooms and colleges have been slow to embrace the use of social media in the classroom, with many college instructors instituting laptop “lids down” time, and states like Missouri, restricting and banning its use public education. Why? Likely, it is due to the stigma surrounding the phrase “social media.” The notion of “social” conjures up fears of idle gossip, time wasting and distractions, as well as inappropriate contact between teacher and student.  As  Jenn Pedde (May, 2011) blogged in Education 2.0: Why Facebook and Twitter Should Be Part of Your Classroom “being social is inherently human.” Social media are merely the tools that enable the student to be actively social.  Considering schools are the primary “socializing” institute! Shouldn’t learning be social? Why should the social nature of learning through communication and collaboration be restricted to the classroom?

Perhaps the obvious answer is this is the fact that education has been traditionally top down delivery. Teachers have been the gatekeepers of the knowledge, selecting what to pass down to students. Although, pedagogically, education and curricula development now recognizes the student as the centre of the learning and the teacher as a facilitator guiding the inquiry, the bias against “outside” sources of instruction may still exist within the teaching profession. Teachers who have traditionally worked in isolation are not likely to embrace opening the “windows “into the classroom.  For those teachers who have embraced technology, the challenge is to find ways to employ social media without crossing the professional line. Such practices as creating Facebook pages for the classroom where teachers would not have profiles or “friend” students, and sending Twitter messages to parents are  promising uses of social media  outlined in the Heriff Jones WhitePaper: The Educational Promise of Social Media (September 2011)  and the New York Times article Speaking Up in Class, Silently, Using Social Media .  However, the primary obstacle may still be the bias against the phrase “social media” – how do we convince teachers, parents, and school divisions that being  “social” is positive and necessary form of collaboration for our students? What suggestions do you have for overcoming this bias?