Converting Theory into Practice: Organic Technological Integration

We've all thought this at one point in time: "Please, for the love of all that's holy, just give me some practical things to do in my classroom."

We don't want to hear about all the specifical statistical theory that goes into the infrastructure of the framework of the ideological paradigm--we just want the nuts and bolts that we can immediately begin adjusting in our classroom.

I used to think that, too. Then, I had one of those "ah-hah" moments.

If you can understand the principle or theory, you can do anything.

It's kind of like what we try to do with students. We strive to teach them skills: how to think, how to learn, how to collaborate, how to read.

Because those skills transfer to a host of other things, smaller things. Now, we just need to remember that for ourselves! We need to embrace theory. I'm not saying that practical things have no purpose, but IF we have the theory down, we can then approach anything on solid footing. 

For technology integration, especially, a lot of teachers just want to learn the program or the application. They want the practical side of things because that, they feel, is where their potential weakness lies. That's what they're afraid of: not knowing how to work the technology. 

For a minute, let's see how working from a theoretical foundation might actually improve their practical application and help them overcome this fear. Consider:

The best integration of technology comes from an understanding of theory, not how well you can use the app or the program.

Teachers wanting to learn practical things first are potentially at risk of working from the technology tool as the foundation. This approach, though it does meet the basics of integrating technology, fails to reflect purposeful integration.

What teachers need to understand is not how to use Program A or Application B or even that the programs exist, necessarily, at first. They need to know what their objectives are for their lesson, first.

Let's say one of those objectives is collaboration.

Then, they need to know that IF and only IF they have determined that collaboration will enhance their students' learning, then they need to figure out HOW they want the  students to collaborate. Then, and only then, are they ready to even think about a particular program or application:

Do they want students to work together on single page or document or separately on a single page or document? Do they want students to simply discuss in a forum?  (There are certainly more ways that students can interact and collaborate with technology, but we'll stick with these general ways.)

Then, they also have to decide whether the choice to use technology is the BEST choice, given that they can do any of those three of these without it.

Why might it be better to use Padlet or Wikispaces than say, a posterboard in the classroom? Why might the use of an online discussion be more effective for student learning than an in-class discussion?  Why would I want them to collaborate on a google doc instead of working together on a physical paper?  Why is the use of any online tool warranted in this instance for this lesson?

All of these WHYS must be answered. Here are some potential answers:
  •       I want a paperless classroom.
  •      The technology saves money and resources (markers, etc.)
  •      I'm required to integrate technology.
  •      It's a really cool app!!!
If any of these answers are "Yes," then the use of technology is potentially superficial. You have to be honest with yourself, here. Consider that technology may not be the best choice, and using technology for the sake of using technology is a misuse of it.

However, if the technology tool enhances student learning in some way towards the objective, then we've got something. Some possibilities might be:
  • This topic is controversial and may be uncomfortable for some students to discuss in person.
  • Students would benefit from having the opportunity to publicly express their ideas with forethought.
  • Part of the objective for the lesson is that students work on their visual aesthetic abilities, which is made readily available with the tool.
  • For those students who are uncomfortable with creating original artwork or lettering, the use of the web tools puts them on more equal footing, thus increasing the likelihood that they will take academic and creative risks.
If your thinking takes you down one of these kinds of paths, then you can do a quick search for a program or app that helps students collaborate. Now, you have a program or application that is clearly and purposefully, and dare I say, "organically" integrated. It makes more sense.

(Consider the difference in student response to these reasons, too. More than likely, if the reasons for the technology are theoretically and/or pedagogically sound, then you will experience less student resistance.)

But this is just theory...

                                           with which you can do anything.

What's my objective?
How do I want students to work towards the objective?
Ask "Why technology?"
What tool will match what I'm trying to do and why I'm doing it?

Mindy and some of her former students wrote Transparent Teaching of Adolescents: Creating the Ideal Class for Students and Teachers--a philosophy, method, and timely application of strategies that span the school year. A collaborative effort from all over the globe, the dialogue between this teacher and her former students presents both the wholeness of teaching and a model of how to build rapport, engage high school students in their experience, and enrich learning at the secondary level of education.

1 comment:

  1. Thoughts from John S.:

    I liked the position of starting with the end in mind. I love it when an administration sends an email that says something like, "we just purchased this great app subscription so everybody use it in their classes". Or worse, uses it as a point on an observation form. I do think, however, that it isn't necessarily bad to have a "superficial" reason for using technology as long as it doesn't take away from the quality of instruction or use resources. Is it bad for a teacher to want to go paperless in an English classroom simply because they don't want to waste paper if they have a free app or can use something in the corporation that allows them to do that for free? If they are going to type and submit hard copies anyway, there really isn't any change to the instruction by having them submit the same thing electronically.

    I have thought for a long time that we (those of us involved with technology) have to be careful not to fall into the "get it because it's available" mentality. More than once I have used something only to find out that the lower tech way of doing it is more flexible. And, watching a video of something being done isn't nearly as powerful as doing it! If you can't do it though, watching a video is better than reading about it.