Where Can Tech Take Your Students?

I provide professional development on technology to teachers who are at varying levels of comfort engaging with technology. For some, it can be a struggle to wrap their minds around new tools and processes. One trick I always find helpful is to frame a new technology in terms of its analog ancestor. A digital version of something that’s already well-understood.

 Most of an LMS is just some classroom activity abstracted into the digital realm. Handouts? PDFs can be posted online. Discussions? Those can happen in a forum. Writing essays? They can be created in a word processor and uploaded to a digital dropbox or shared through the cloud. Multiple choice tests? No need to change the formula. Just put them online, and the grading happens even more automatically than when using a Scantron! Today I helped a nursing instructor set-up a Quizlet so her students could practice with digital flashcards. A huge time-saver and money-saver and students are just as happy using their iPhones and laptops as they would be with index cards.

Using technology to create efficiencies is great. Teachers have more on their plates now than ever before and offloading some of that demand on time and concentration can be a huge help in allowing teachers to be more present, and to find some balance with work and home life. But I’ve had this feeling lately that we’re not doing enough to explore the new possibilities afforded by technology, rather than just finding quicker or easier ways to do what we’ve always done.

Lee Skallerup Bessette’s recent post on Hybrid Pedagogy, “Are Apps Becoming the New Worksheets?,” set my thoughts back into motion. In the post, Lee remembers making stuff in school; developing photographs, printing newspapers, learning to write HTML and CSS code; even making paper at one point. In the new age of drag and drop authoring tools that handhold or in some cases literally won’t let you make a mistake, she worries that students are missing out on the authentic experience of making.

“We have students “make” PowerPoint presentations, websites, videos, GIFs, and other digital baubles, but are we really teaching them to make, or are we just teaching them to drag and drop or to effectively follow a set of rigid instructions in order to achieve a static goal? Are we providing too inflexible a template to have their “building” be anything more than the illusion of choice, the illusion of making?” – Lee Skallerup Bessette

I can certainly see Lee’s point. She goes on to suggest that teachers ask their students to get their hands a bit dirtier in creating the “stuff” of the internet age – make something out of a Raspberry Pi, learn to manipulate the HTML and CSS that hides behind every beautiful website. “How do we break from this?”, he asks, “teachers and students and parents and principals alike treating new ed tech like shinier, electronic versions of lectures and worksheets”?

Here’s my small idea: Let’s think about things that we could never have students make in the past, that were too expensive, too time-consuming; that just seemed plain impossible before and are trivially obtainable now. Here’s a short list of the top of my head:

Then: When I was in high school, I was one of the few who got to travel across town one period per day and participate in my districts radio program. We had a 10-watt transmitter (yup, you read that right) that broadcast our signal upwards of a ½ mile on a clear day.\

Now: There are many tools that can be used to start a podcast for a class or for individual students. You can publish online using an RSS feed, and even use popular platforms like SoundCloud and iTunes for free to reach anyone in the world. That would take a lot of gigawatts using terrestrial radio! Students can be creative and make a program relevant to class topics, or it can be a more open-ended opportunity for expression.

Then: I never knew how to make a video in school. Computers that could process video were expensive and video editing applications byzantine and complex.

Now: Video can be captured and edited entirely on mobile devices or Chromebooks. If you have the resources, you can step up the production value and use digital camcorders and Mac/PC based video editing tools, but it’s not necessary. Why focus on the tools used when so much of the making is in the production process? It’s all about students coming up with a message or narrative, storyboarding, scouting locations, directing actors, capturing and editing.

Then: I never left the U.S., other than a few trips across the Canadian border, until I was an adult.

Now: Any classroom teacher can sign-up for Mystery Skype and connect with others from anywhere else in the world with an internet connection.

Featured Image by Andrey Larin via Unsplash