Thursday, January 5, 2012

Digital Discernment

Photo provided by Pacific Northwest National Laboratories
LinkedIn, Edweb, NCTM . . . every online community of teachers seems to be having the same conversation about technology. Mostly people ask, "What's out there and how can I get my hands on it? And, by the way, is it free?"

We know that technology is engaging to students, and capturing student interest is half the battle. So, if technology engages, ANY techno-tool should improve on what we have....right?

If you spend a few minutes with students using technology, you'll see very quickly that just any digital product isn't the answer. They may be engaged in the first few minutes, but does the product sustain engagement or crash into boredom.

A study conducted in 1990 involving learning disabled students using a software program to practice basic facts. They found that the software program actually reduced a students performance on basic facts due to attention difficulties.

That was 22 years ago. Think about how flashy computer programs have become since then.

Yes, that's just one program in a sea of programs now available. But how do you know when the program you choose will have adverse effects? That's the worst case, and, we can only hope, that there are few products that will decrease student learning. But if programs exist that decrease student learning, there are definitely programs that have no effect on student learning.

The more important question I think educators should ask is, "What technology is proven or is looking highly likely to help students get a better education?"

The author of the article, "Digital Classrooms: Is the Investment Paying Off?" discusses the need for being more discerning and how we can evaluate the effectiveness of digital programs. Mr. Dietrich recommends using resources provided by The Partnership for 21st Century Skills as a guide. They recommend the 4Cs -- Critical thinking and problem solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and innovation. When you think about how we, as adults, use technology best, it is in these 4 areas. Students feel engaged when they are creatively solving problems that are real to their world in collaboration with others.

Technology can definitely improve education; there's no argument there. But we won't see the improvement until we become more discerning when choosing digital products. Technology should not replace what we already do right. Technology should enhance and expand education. One way to do that is with the 4Cs.

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