Because our middle level learners are ready for more independence, age-appropriate challenges, and they crave mastery of skills, we need to teach them differently. Middle level learners need to spend less time memorizing content and more time developing skills. They need to imagine more, choose more, produce more so that they like school more. A skill-centered curriculum, using content as a vehicle for skill development, is the future of middle level education.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

“Educational Technology” and Skills-Part 1: What We Assume When We Think About Educational Technology

If we really want to develop student skills, we must be very deliberate in how we employ our tools. Technology has the potential to be an extremely valuable tool in the facilitation of deep skill development in students, but current trends are promoting one version of educational technology over another. The predominant perception of classroom worthy educational technologies is mobile devices that can be used for information retrieval, web access, and content- movie and presentation- generation.  Such devices should be integral to the student experience, but if they remain the main focus of our idea of technology in the classroom, we will not serve our students’ skill development well.

I worry about the reasons we choose to have such technologies in the classroom and the consequences of that choice. Plenty of schools are beholden to a rather underdeveloped relationship with technology that is driven by social currents implying that such technology is inherently valuable. The casual presence of powerful technologies in daily life make many assume they must to be valuable in the classroom, thus most education stakeholders don't think about options besides them.

Strong schools set the agenda in the classrooms; there, pedagogy pulls the cart, with technology only greasing the axles. But in many settings, the presence of technology is by default, so educators have to figure out how the cart driving the horse (to wear out the metaphor!) will deliver their students to an educationally valuable destination. That’s not an empowering situation for anyone. Usually, when such technologies arrive in the classroom, the burden is on the teacher to learn how to utilize them, regardless of whether or not they support what that teacher values. This creates a palpable tension for educators, and it can undermine their ability to deliver their product with conviction

I feel like we are stuck in some awkward technological adolescence, wherein infatuation with  the slickest and freshest technologies is an enormous distraction to our ability to use technology effectively in our schools. A lot of students are going to get shortchanged on their education until we work out our relationship with technology- and who sets the agenda for its usage in the classroom.

In part 2, I will make the case for new ways we could think about utilizing technology in the classroom. We need to develop a more nuanced understanding of the breadths of the term “educational technology.”

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