I’ve read many articles and blogs and I’ve heard many discussions debating the role and place that technology has in the classroom. Some argue that classrooms should reflect the 21st century world that our students live in which means allowing them to learn with 21st century tools and media. Others argue that these 21st century tools and media serve as distractions in the classrooms and take away from the learning. I thought I would join the conversation and offer my thoughts.
I think it is important to differentiate between right drivers and wrong drivers and where that leaves technology. In Michael Fullan’s article titled, Choosing The Wrong Drivers For Whole System Reform, he states, “A ‘wrong driver’ is a deliberate policy force that has little chance of achieving the desired result, while a ‘right driver’ is one that ends up achieving better measurable results for students”. He argues that focusing on technology as a driver will not achieve the desired goal which according to Fullan is “the moral imperative of raising the bar (for all students) and closing the gap (for lower performing groups) relative to higher order skills and competencies required to be successful world citizens”. Therefore, the right driver should always be good pedagogy and in Ontario, I believe we are focusing on the right driver.
The School Effectiveness Framework (SEF) is a K-12 support document that is aimed to help Ontario educators with school improvement planning with the focus on students achieving success. The SEF highlights six components of effective schools with indicators and evidence that help schools build coherence in their improvement plans. On page 9 of the SEF document, there is a diagram that explains how the province, district, and school support the instructional core. At the classroom level, the instructional core is represented by the triangle in the diagram below. This idea of the instructional core originates from a book titled, Instructional Rounds in Education by Elizabeth A. City, Richard F. Elmore, Sarah E. Fiarman, and Lee Teitel where the instructional core is described as the important relationship that exists between the teacher, the student and the content. The instructional core allows educators to focus on improving student learning by creating rich instructional tasks. However, in order to create rich learning tasks that foster higher order thinking and student engagement, all three vertices of the instructional core (teacher knowledge and skills, the role of the student in the learning, and the curriculum) must be considered. The instructional core is the focus in many schools and classrooms (as it should be) but what is often left out are the conditions that can enable this learning to occur and this is ultimately where technology is often left out of the learning conversation.
So when, where, why and how does technology fit in? Many educators view technology as a great option for the end product, the culminating task that provides students with new and engaging media to create and showcase their learning. However, solely focusing on using technology for culminating tasks is a very narrow application of it and therefore technology is only used and viewed as another medium for assessment of student learning. Technology is bey0nd just a medium for culminating tasks. Technology is part of the conditions for learning in a classroom and a great option for developing 21st century learning skills. Educators need to start thinking about how technology can be effectively blended to the classroom to enhance the learning conditions for students in the following ways:
- make thinking visible
- increase reflection and metacognition
- allow for synchronous and asynchronous participation anytime and anywhere
- increase collaboration and co-learning
- differentiate the communication of ideas
- provide descriptive feedback
- promote on-going learning
If technology is focused on developing 21st century learning skills and the process of learning then it becomes more than just another medium, it becomes an important part of the learning conditions needed for students in today’s classroom. The diagram below illustrates some key components that make up the learning conditions (blended learning, 21st century learning skills, and technology). However, there is often a disconnection between the instructional core/rich learning tasks and technology.
As I stated earlier, technology is often viewed as a distraction to schools focusing on the instructional core and that a rich learning task is engaging enough for students but in my opinion, technology as a learning condition cannot and should not be ignored. Michael Fullan best explains the relationship that should exist between technology and pedagogy, “The essential idea is to get the right learning embedded in the technology”. I made an addition to Elmore’s instructional core diagram below to illustrate that when you combine the learning conditions of technology, 21st century skills, and blended learning with the instructional core, you can increase, enhance, and bump UP any rich learning task.
City, E. A., Elmore, R. F., Fiarman, S. E., & Teitel, L. (2009). Instructional rounds in education: A network approach to improving teaching and learning. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.
Education, Ontario. Ministry of. School Effectiveness Framework K-12: A support for school improvement and student success. 2010. (http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/Framework_english.pdf)
Fullan, M. (2011). Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform. Centre for strategic education, Retrieved from http://www.michaelfullan.ca/home_articles/SeminarPaper204.pdf