Concluding Assignment – Responding to the Course’s Essential Questions

Essential Question #1: What do we mean by the “21st century classroom?”

    The best example that demonstrates how I answer this question is my experience with Twitter this semester. I was opposed to the social media site prior to the course because I have an unreasonable distrust and dislike of anything popular. However, after going through this course (EDUC140 Technology in the Classroom at Moravian College), the distrust and dislike have started to fade. Remnants still remain because I’m a beginner, but – like my distrust and dislike of it based on its popularity – they are superficial and will pass away with time. I truly believe that my experiences with Twitter represent my understanding of the “21st century classroom” for this reason and more.

More and more technology is gaining a stronger and more significant stronghold in the classroom. Teachers are using it in more transformational ways than they ever have before. They are taking full advantage of the technological tools available to them in order to redesign, rethink, reorganize, replan, and redo their instruction in the classroom. The 21st century classroom is different from the classrooms prior to it because technology has allowed for an enhancement and transformation of learning. Over the duration of this course, I’ve learned how this can be done utlizing Twitter.

At first I thought learning Twitter in the technical way was less favorable than the “play-for-the-fun-of-it” method, but now I appreciate that the technical way has its advantages too. Many times we as teachers (and pre-service teachers) aren’t familiar with the technological programs or services that we want to use. Sometimes it’s the best way to first look at the tool as something to be learned in order to be used. Sometimes that’s the only way we will be able to use it in order to learn. Play also doesn’t allow you to see all the ins and outs of the tool, and it certainly doesn’t allow you to do so in a timely fashion. In my experience with Twitter, this is where the Twitter Handbook For Teachers comes into play. Reading this source allowed me to bipass the time required by “playing” with the tool and showed me features of the tool that I wouldn’t have discovered on my own. I would have spent an exorbant amount of time “playing” and only learning a few things, and I would have become complacent with my self-guided understanding and not tried to use Twitter in transformational ways with different features. For these two reasons alone, I am convinced that technical understandings of tools are a part of the 21st century classroom. After all, teachers will mostly likely have to teach their students how to use the tools introduced in their class in order to use the tools effectively for learning.

The aspect I most enjoy about Twitter as an educational tool is the connectedness it provides. I was both amazed and scared by the idea that random strangers, yet experts or well-informed sources, could both see and respond to your comments. I was even further astounded by the fact that they would want to read and comment on them. This opens up the classroom in transformational ways because it brings a larger resource and many more voices into the classroom from which the students can benefit from. The personal connection should also not be ignored. Twitter provides the opportunity for the worldwide community to take an interest in and supoort the learning going on inside the classroom. However, when tools like Twitter are used it’s almost as if there is no notion of “inside the classroom.” Tools like Twitter break down the walls of the classroom by bringing these other voices inside it, and they make the classroom a space for learning instead of a box for it. This underscores the true nature of learning – that it doesn’t happen in contained ways; it’s interconnected, omnipresent, and free. 21st century technology allows this to happen. However, the technology itself can’t accomplish this. It’s all in the way you use it. That’s where the second essential question comes into play.

Essential Question #2: How do we apply technology tools in ways so that we can more easily achieve meaningful teaching and learning in the 21st century?

     Where the first question is theoretical, the second is practical; “that’s great and all, but how do we do it?” We as teachers always need to be thinking about the theory but brainstorming and planning on how to put that theory into practice. This is how we can apply technology tools in ways that achieve more meaningful teaching and learning. Along those lines, the best example that I can provide as a response to this question is the two main content points of the class and my work with them.

The two main content points discussed over the course of the class were SAMR and DOK. SAMR stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition, and it is a model used to measure how technology is being used in the instruction in a lesson or classroom. DOK stands for Depths of Knowledge, and it is similar to Bloom’s Taxonomy in that it is a standard for levels of critical thinking, progressing from basic to advanced thought. (For more information and resources regarding SAMR and DOK as they relate to classroom instruction, see my earlier blog post “[Some of] The Networked Teacher’s Resources”.)

SAMR encourages teachers to think of ways to use technology in ways that both enhance and transform instruction. Often times technology is used as a substitute for “manual” instruction. For example, instead of using a verbal lecture to educate students on a particular topic, a teacher might utlize the Microsoft PowerPoint program or the online Prezi program in order to provide the same lecture. Since this often saves instructional time, it can be an appropriate or valuable use of technology. However, no one would disagree that there are other ways to use technology in more beneficial ways. For example, using PowerPoint’s features like embeding video, pasting graphics, linking URLs, and creating titles, headings, and subheadings would be a way to enhance the lesson or lecture in order to further support the learning. This would be an example of how to Augment the lesson using technology. However, to really achieve more meaningful teaching and learning, technology should be used in transformational ways.

We call this “going above the line” since Substitution and Augmentation enhance (“below the line”) the lesson and Modification and Redefinition transform it. In order to transform the lesson using the principles of Modification and Redefinition, teachers must take full advantage of 21st century technology and break down the walls of their classroom (so to speak). Instead of a lecture, this might mean the teacher connects with other experts outside of the classroom (via Skype or Twitter for example) in order for them to contribute to the students’ learning – depending on the lesson. When technology is used in such a way that instruction and learning occur which the teacher didn’t plan for and never before thought possible, the technology has been used to transform the lesson. A truly Transformational lesson is not possible without the use of technology.

Webb’s Depths of Knowledge does not inherently involve technology, but it’s a model that should be kept in mind when planning on how to effectively use technology to ehance and transform instruction. The DOK clearly identifies what critical thinking should look like. The four levels progress from recall (Level 1) to advanced, created deliberation over time (Level 4). This understanding of the different levels of thought and how to encourage upper-level, critical thinking can guide teachers in how they plan their use of technology. When they consider the different levels, they will be better able to use the technology to inspire, encourage, direct, and initiate deeper thought. For example, a teacher with the DOK in mind might chose a certain video over another or a certain ‘expert’ over another because of its or his/her ability to inspire deeper thought. Technology can also be used to engage students in deeper thought by means of discussions and questions as exemplified by the Ted-Ed lessons (an example can be found here).

I believe the entire course was focused on answering these two essential questions and the work we did proves that. I learned more about what we mean by the “21st century classroom” and how to apply 21st century technology in ways that more easily achieve meaningful teaching and learning, and I did so in transformational ways. I will take these ideas with me into my pre-service experiences and my future classroom.

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