As 2017 comes to a close, I find myself reflecting more and more on this question. What is the true purpose of technology in education? It’s a question that I have personally contemplated for many years. It is also something that our Learning Technology team in our district continues to have many discussions around as we deepen our understanding of the role of technology in our schools.
Our thinking continues to evolve with every conversation, but currently my thinking has been circling around 2 particular key roles that technology plays in education (with the first role being the most important, and the second role ultimately serving this first role).
Key Role #1: Technology should enhance the learning experience for each student.
This key role requires that we always think pedagogy first, technology second. This lens has helped our team become more strategic and purposeful when supporting educators and students in leveraging technology for deeper learning.
It’s the difference between…
- “what apps should I download?” vs. “what technology would support my students in making their thinking visible in this activity?”
- “should I buy Chromebooks?” vs. “which devices would best meet the learning I am designing for my students?”
- “how can I plan a lesson with this web tool?” vs. “which web tools could support my learners given the learning intentions that we’ve identified here?”
Too often we have a tendency to “lead with the tool”. We hear about a new technology or web tool and dive in head first. When we take this approach of considering how technology can enhance the learning experience for our students, it can often lead to the strategic choice of NOT using technology at all. A great example of this would be exclusively using Google Classroom for class discussions and not having any dialogue face-to-face. While meaningful conversation can occur online, I believe balance is key and the social nature of learning requires real interaction between individuals.
Now I have argued in the past that at times our first step when it comes to technology integration is often substitutive in nature (Read: Don’t Underestimate the Importance of the “S” in the “SAMR” journey). That being said, it’s important to remember this is only the first step. Our long term goal must always be to embed technology in a way that truly enhances and redefines the learning experience for our students.
When we embrace this key role of technology (i.e. to enhance learning), we are more likely to layer in technology that:
- promotes our students in being creators and not consumers,
- empowers all students with voice and choice on how they synthesize and share their learning,
- … and supports each and every student in accessing the curriculum (ex. assistive technologies)
This leads me to my current thinking on the second key role of technology in education.
Key Role #2: Technology should help all educators and students in creating the time and space to focus on learning (i.e. key role #1).
Technology by its very definition is meant to make our lives easier and allow us to do things we couldn’t do without it. Many educators in our district leverage technology on a daily basis to work more efficiently and effectively.
Technology can help us in…
- gathering information from parents and students by sharing a single link,
- creating helpful videos to explain concepts to others,
- collaborating and sharing information and resources with others using the cloud,
- … and learning how to better search the web to find what we’re looking for.
In all these examples, you can no doubt think of a way to complete the task at hand without technology. The real power that technology brings is that it greatly streamlines the process. With an adaptive skill set around technology use, we can do things that may have not been feasible/possible without the technology and in a fraction of the time. The extra time and space this provides us can allow us to focus on what matters most: our students and their learning.
It’s no secret that I’m deeply passionate about technology in education. Rarely does a day go by that I don’t learn something new, and the investment in my learning continues to be worth its weight in gold. It never ceases to amaze me how much smarter and more efficiently I can work when I leverage my technology learning in both my work and my personal life. That being said, the time and space that this affords me is not what really matters here. What really matters is that this created space allows me to focus much more time and effort on supporting others in leveraging technology to enhance student learning.