Thursday, July 14, 2011

... or progress for the sake of learning?

Rivky’s July 5 post addresses a concern I had throughout the ISTE conference. For obvious reasons there were many moments at ISTE when the discussion seemed to be about “TECHNOLOGY in education” rather than “technology in EDUCATION.” Ed tech can so quickly become about the gadgets or the process rather than about the educational goals – it’s fun, it’s new, it’s exciting, it’s appealing to applicant families and donors – and distract from what really matters: excellent teaching to support deep learning.

As Rivky points out, though, technology can also be transformative, where the “better way to do things” that Rivky mentions makes such a difference that the educational goals themselves can change. One area where I see this is in supporting learning differences.

The range of tools, from simple to elaborate, now available to support every student’s learning dazzles me sometimes. LMS systems and such free tools (usable by individual teachers or entire institutions) as Google Sites and Blackboard Coursesites easily allow the distribution of electronic versions of everything – class documents, notes, presentations, student work, peer and teacher feedback. All of the “stuff” of coursework can still happen in person but also be available as audio files for the student who benefits from hearing material, as readily and repeatedly downloadable documents for the student who loses track of information, as an archive for a student who for health reasons misses class or the student who loses her notebook or the parent trying to help his child review a confusing unit. And then there are all the tools in class which can support a student – whether it’s a laptop to take notes, a LiveScribe pen or iPad app such as Notability to track audio with notemaking, an interactive whiteboard to archive entire lessons.

What’s significant about this, I think, is how it changes the standard for teachers – how it allows teachers with little or no training in learning differences to support students in a myriad of ways. No training, low or no financial cost, and very little investment of time. Here, as in so many other areas, tools that can support specific learning challenges (auditory processing, executive functioning, reading disabilities) really support all students, whatever their learning strengths and challenges, by allowing educators to reach students in different ways, more flexibly, more creatively. Technology allows us to change what we ask of teachers, and thus what teachers can ask of students. This kind of technology is not a gimmick.

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