You have to read the topic of this blog post out loud using your best impression of a Kiwi accent. Ok you don’t have to, but that’s what I do every time! Why? It’s because this quotation comes from one of our LTT facilitators who is a big guy from New Zealand. He said these four words while giving us an introduction to the technology we would be using at school. To put things into context, I had just moved to Hong Kong a few days earlier and was handed a MacBook for the very first time. I had never used an Apple computer before  so it was stimulation overload that day! Pages, Numbers, iMovie, Garage Band etc…I was sufficiently overwhelmed. I could barely understand the photocopiers let alone these bouncing icons on the bottom of my screen. Maybe it was because he could sense our trepidation or perhaps it came about naturally, but this slightly intimidating individual looked at us all with wide eyes and using his powerful voice uttered “It’s about the PEDAGOGY!” The words came out slowly and purposefully as if to reassure us that we should not feel scared. As if to remind us that we were hired because we were good teachers, regardless of our technological savvy. At the time I didn’t really think about what the words meant so much as the interesting way they sounded. Mostly I repeated the statement to colleagues or students in jest – i.e. when I was affectionately making fun of his accent (say pen not pin..pEn!). It has only been in the past few months that I have truly realized what a powerful message these four words contain. Though it might seem like a hyperbole, they have truly changed my practice for the better. Here is what I mean:

PEDAGOGY FIRST, TECHNOLOGY SECOND 

ipad_students_01I’ll admit it – sometimes I’m like a magpie. I see something flashy and I want it. I want it and I want to use it right away. The Learning 2.0 conference was a good reminder that when new technology comes our way, we have to take a step back and ask ourselves will this tool support and enhance student learning? Or do we want to use it because it looks cool and the students will be entertained? Is there a reason why you are making a flipchart vs. a keynote? Is a SMART board a dumb idea? There is, in my opinion, a fine line between education and edu-tainment. Being engaged because you are using technology, doesn’t necessarily equate to effective learning. Using technology to update an outdated method is not best practice. This idea came up on the first day of the conference when a student presented a piece about how his teacher had asked him to do a completely useless assignment using technology. He was asked to choose some key words that represented Lady Macbeth and make a visual representation of the words using Wordle. Then he was asked to create a Word document that explained each word and why he chose it. What exactly was the point of the Wordle bit? How did it enhance the student’s understanding of the character? Did it provide evidence that the student had learned? Or was it just pretty! While the teacher had good intentions of course, to the student it appeared to be complete busy work.

In another example, I helped to facilitate a MOODLE “unconference” session on Saturday. We started by going around the room and saying what we wanted to get out of the session. Some people wanted technical advice, but the most common question was “how can I use MOODLE to its full potential?” I think the question needs to be rephrased slightly. If you want to use MOODLE to its full potential, you need to use it in a way that supports student learning. Which means what you really need to ask yourself is:

How am I helping students reach their full potential? Can MOODLE support this?

You need a clear vision of what you want your classroom to look like and then you can decide what features of MOODLE can support that model. For example, if you are creating a mastery class – how can you use MOODLE to track student progress? It simply does not work the other way around. Instead of thinking “I want my students to make an infographic because it seems more fun than an essay!” you have to decide “I want my students to visually communicate what they have learned” and THEN find a tool that is appropriate for the assignment. Instead of tailoring your classroom activities around the technology, you need to find something that fits with what you know is best practice. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype, but extremely important to take a step back and as yourself “why?”

It can feel overwhelming given the sheer volume of purported educational technology out there. Unless it’s your full time job, it is absolutely impossible to be aware of all the tools all the time. I think if you are trying to incorporate technology into your teaching, you might want to set yourself some specific and achievable goals. For example, one of my objectives this year was to have my students set daily goals for themselves at the start of each class. Next I thought about whether technology could help me achieve that objective. Or perhaps I should simply have students keep a pen and paper notebook? I decided to use the Journal module on MOODLE. Using this feature, the students have a personal and private space on the site that only they and I can see. They can continuously update that journal and I can go in and give them feedback whenever I want. I don’t have to lug home journals to read, and they won’t risk losing theirs. On days when I’m away (such as at the conference) I can go into their journals from all the way in Beijing and see what they did that day. I can give them suggestions on which activities to try next and recommendations to help them better pace themselves. I feel like this is a strong example of how it can be better to use technology than not. In the end my students are benefitting. And that’s the whole point.

Image URL: http://www.tablets.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/ipad_students_01.jpg

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