Tuesday, February 5, 2013

5 Ways Schools or Districts Can Immediately Use Technology to Engage in Authentic Learning

"Opportunities brought about by the recent developments of technology have been almost completely missed in education," writes Yong Zhao in, World Class Learners; Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students. Take a quick look in schools, and you will see that there are a great deal of "missed opportunities." You are still likely to see students sitting in rows, teachers at the front of the room lecturing, or students flipping pages in a textbook and answering questions at the end of  chapters. This is happening, while across the room sits four or five desktop computers, fully wired to the world. Or, safely tucked away in many of the students' pockets are smartphones with more computing power than the first PCs many of us owned. These missed opportunities exist for lots of reasons. Failure to provide training and support for implementation. Lack of technical support for the devices. Leadership that discourages innovation and experimentation. The list is endless.  Nonetheless, these are missed opportunities for engaging students in authentic, 21st century learning.

What, then, are ways schools and school districts can turn these missed opportunities into the means to engage students in 21st century learning? It simply involves looking at the technologies and using all of their capabilities, not just those that support the ways we've always taught. Here are five ways schools and school districts can immediately use technology to engage their students in 21st century learning.
  • Use the technology as a media creation tool. Desktops, laptops, netbooks, and can do so much more than type research papers. While that is certainly a legitimate educational activity, our technological devices will do so much more. Educators and their leaders need to see them as tools to create media products, such as books, artwork, photos, movies, music, web pages, and blog posts. The list for media creation possibilities is limitless. In the end, you can recognize a school that gets it technologically by the media products students are asked to create.
  • Use the technology as a communication tool that enlarges your school campus. Instead of using our devices to just email parents and communicate with each other in the building,  we can have students email experts, and engage national and international leaders in conversations that constitute real learning. When it comes to communication, you can recognize a school that gets it technologically by the extent of its use of global connections.
  • Use the technology to engage global audiences. Instead of seeing devices as a way for students to publish and share in the classroom, use them to engage students in India, Japan, and Australia as authentic audiences. Use the world as an audience, not just the students in the classroom or the teacher. When it comes to engaging authentic audiences, you can recognize a school that gets it technologically by who their audiences are.
  • Use the technology for global collaboration, not just for in-class cooperative learning. Instead of students only partnering with their peers in desks across from them, have them partner with peers in India, Argentina or Germany. Effectively engaging technology means having students work with other students on the other side of the world, rather than just the other side of the room. When it comes to collaboration, you can recognize a school that get its technologically by where the students with whom they are collaborating are located.
  • Use the technology to forge partnerships with other educators in other parts of the world. Use the devices to make connections with educators and students in areas of the world that are seeing first hand what you want your students to see and what you want your students to learn. Technology offers the opportunities of global partnerships. When it comes to partnerships, you can recognize when a school that gets it technologically by whether it engages in international partnerships for learning.
One only need look around his or her schools and districts to see if there are missed opportunities for engaging in authentic learning through technology. Are there missed opportunities sitting on tables, resting in students' pockets, or sitting in storage carts? Are students still primarily learning through textbooks and chapter questions? Authentic learning can happen when we engage in learning that capitalizes on the capabilities of our technologies rather than simply using those technologies to enhance what we've always done.

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