Technology as a Tool: Understanding what our students need.

Recently I came across a simple and yet compelling InfoGraphic created and shared by Bill Ferriter through the Centre for Teaching Quality and I am posting a copy of it here as it's worth thinking about its implications. Bill asserts that Technology should be seen as a tool that is used by students as they learn, think, analyse and create. To quote Bill, 'The motivation behind the image was to remind teachers that carefully thinking through just what we want our kids to know and be able to do is the FIRST step that we need to take when making choices about the role that technology plays in our teaching.' 

InfoGraphic by Bill Ferriter

Unfortunately in the area of technology in particular it is easy to get this the wrong way about. We think about the technology we want to be teaching rather than being clear what the purpose of it is or how is it promoting the sort of learning we want. This raises bigger questions that we should all ask before teaching anything 'What do we want our students to understand?' 'Why should our students learn this?' 'How important is each piece as a whole and as separate pieces?' and 'How will we allow our students to demonstrate their learning and to what audiences?'. I believe these questions are applicable to everything we teach, even those pieces that are sometimes labeled essential skills.

Consider the task of writing or more broadly communication. Assuming that the writing has a relevant purpose and an audience, such tasks are worth teaching and worth engaging with from a students perspective. The task of writing has many component parts and summed together have value. But do the parts have value without the whole task of communicating? Does spelling have value if it is not clearly linked to the larger task of communicating ones ideas to an audience? Does a clear and articulate voice in a forest of isolated skills make a sound?

Beyond an unclearly defined point in their development our students become self aware, they ask questions and look for a purpose in what they do. As educators it is our role to provide learning opportunities that will develop the skills we know our students will require but to do so in ways that meet their desire for purpose. What our students do must matter and when it does their engagement levels follow. 

As a team of Year Six teachers we run a unit on Climate Change. We could teach the students the facts as presented by each viewpoint and test their recall at the end. What purpose this would serve? I don't know; by next week the science may have changed. Instead we empower our students by having them develop solutions that they believe in based on the evidence that they agree with and then present this to an audience of their parents and peers. Ask the students what they are doing and you would receive responses such as; 'I am finding a solution to climate change' or 'we are investigating cloud making ships to keep the planet cool'. As teachers we know there is much more going on here as our students develop the skills they require to manage and share large scale projects. We have the opportunity to focus our teaching on the little bits that we know are important while the students experience the big picture and engage with a project that matters.

This unit was developed as a result of us taking the time to deeply consider the Understanding Goals and Learning Objectives we held important and ensuring our students would be able to play significant roles in the learning process that resulted. Asking the right questions about what your students will be learning across the curriculum can make a real difference to the quality of the learning that occurs.

By Nigel Coutts