HPL II – Chapter 8 – Digital Technology

“…learning technology is most useful when it is designed to meet specific needs and contexts” (p. 164).

I read sentences like this and I sometimes wonder…does that really need to be written? Is this an a-ha moment for anyone? Are we still doing things in classrooms without thinking about why we are doing them?

Unfortunately the answer (as most students would attest) is a loud YES. Informally I’ve spoken to many students of all ages who’ve expressed frustration with an activity that is taking place in their class that they don’t understand the reasoning for. It doesn’t make sense to them why they are doing what they are doing and in too many situations – they don’t feel comfortable asking why.

One of the reasons I really enjoy working at the intersection of education and technology is that technology makes it more difficult to do anything without having a reason for why you are doing it and a methodology for sharing this with students. I think of it as the ‘emperor has no clothes’ moment. These moments happen with traditional teaching methods too, only it’s more challenging for a student to ask “Why are you lecturing this content? How do you expect me to process this material?” because lecturing as a teaching method is normalized within our society. It looks like “good teaching”, it’s familiar, and has been used for decades. However, it’s much easier to question a new methodology because it lacks this normalization – which is actually a really good thing. It forces educators to be more critical of and deliberate with their approaches to learning and teaching because they need to be ready to explain them.

When  students are asked to create a web site to share their papers on – the emperor has no clothes. What’s the purpose of the extra work here? What are you trying to accomplish in this medium – and does it work? If you can’t answer those questions meaningfully – you are missing the why.

Assignment: Create a poster of your research using Illustrator. No additional info given.

Assignment: Create a podcast of your interview. No additional info given.

However, each of these assignment has a potential ‘why’. The key is in the description and assessment of the assignment.

A web site – can be used to strengthen persuasive skills in a multi-modal context. Teach and assess your students on the variety of ways that visual and navigational elements can impact someone’s understanding of a new concept. Added bonus? – Integrating digital and information literacy skills into your curriculum.

A poster – can be used to distill the most salient points of your research into a format that can be consumed by someone with limited knowledge of your academic area. Creators need to consider what is common baseline knowledge in a set population and adjust the description of their work to target that audiences’ pre-existing knowledge.

A podcast – can be used to tell a story using first-hand accounts. Podcasts also lend themselves to helping students examine the power of narrative and specific examples in helping audiences to connect to complex topics. Creators can layer in storytelling and analysis to draw a more nuanced and personal argument.

In each of these examples what is most often missing is a more specific breakdown of what the assignment is trying to accomplish. Often this is hidden under the guise of “engagement”. Using a new mode of communication will allow my students to better engage with the content. While that’s often very true – we still need to explain how and why.

This explanation can help on many levels. The authors point out that

“Whether technology is motivating to people is likely to depend on the learner, the task, and the learning context” (p. 173).

The authors also reference 5 stages that creators often move through: 1. Identify or find a place where creation is happening, 2. Lurk or watch what’s going on, 3. Begin to make small contributions to creations, 4. Create their own material, and finally 5. Begin to lead the creation of materials (p. 175). This is important information for teachers to be aware of. It indicates that taking time to familiarize oneself with the process of creation is not a quick or single-step process. For authentic creation to take place, students must be given time to assimilate to creation environments.

No technology has a defined outcome. In fact, “there is considerable evidence that use of a single instructional technology can lead to different outcomes when used by different learners in different contexts” (p. 194). The “why” is so important and it’s more difficult to avoid explaining why you choose to use a certain technology than why you have chosen to lecture today. We should be asking and answering the ‘why question’ for both actions – but for now technology seems to be the home of “why”.

Sites DOT MiddleburyThe Middlebury site network.