Will Richardson recently published an article on ModernLearning.com entitled, If Engagement is the Problem, Technology is Not the Answer. His story is a gripe aimed at an article that cites E-learning as a new phenomenon transforming classrooms. The problem is that it paints the picture that it’s the technology that is motivating students toward engagement.
“Engagement and motivation problems don’t stem from the lack of technology as much as the lack of relevance and agency over learning provided to the learner,” writes Richardson. “Engagement and motivation are products of learning about things that matter to kids, things that they see value in, things they want to learn more about. That’s where culture change happens, not by giving kids iPads.”
Technology absolutely has the potential to transform classrooms, but not as a standalone. Teachers can’t simply hand students a new piece of technology and expect it to intrinsically motivate them to go above and beyond in their learning. The key is to creatively incorporate technology into the classroom as a way to enhance curriculum.
Technology as a Creative Assignment
Malissia Bell, a student technology leadership program coordinator for Brandeis Elementary School in Louisville, Kentucky, came up with a creative project for students in 2010. As a way to familiarize both students and teachers with emerging technologies, she had students record book reviews as Podcasts, setting a goal of 500.
“With the help of computer teacher Meg Wilson, Bell challenged every student in the school to record a podcast about a favorite book,” reads the Education World article. “She called the program Race to 500, with the goal of creating 500 podcasts to be published on the school Web site and allow users to read hundreds of recommendations for great books.”
Bell’s project is an example of using technology as a tool to enhance learning. Her students – many of which were part of an ESL program – were able to record and edit their podcasts using Audacity, a free recording and editing program. The students were excited to communicate their book reviews in a new way, with some students – including one that struggled with speech – thriving through the recording-and-editing process.
“I had one second-grade student who was very quiet and very serious. He always answered in one or two words,” recalled Bell in the article.
“When he recorded his podcasts, the computer teacher and I realized he had a stuttering problem. He was able to edit out his stuttering, and it sounded terrific. That is the power of technology.”
Technology as a Makerspace
The “makerspace movement” encourages the creative and design side of students through technology and other textiles. Instead of students reading directions to solve a problem, they build their own solutions.
“Imagine a class where every student was focused on the task at hand. Some were working in pairs. Some were working on their own. But everyone was engaged,” writes Allison Zmuda in her article, Here’s What Happens when You Let Students Problem Solve.
“(The classroom included a) maker space where students were able to apply geometric construction skills to create models using Kinex blocks, solar panels, and Legos.”
Just as that makerspace was made of physical tools to build and invent, technology is another tool teachers can use to engage students in creation.
“Also known as ‘fab labs,’ makerspaces typically provide an array of digital fabrication tools, electronics equipment and virtual reality technology in a communal area, where engineers, artists, researchers and other campus community members can freely tinker, design and prototype their ideas,” writes Leila Meyer in How to Create a Makerspace.
Technology as a Communication Tool
Another way technology is enhancing education is by allowing students to connect and communicate. Instead of simply reading about life in another country or continent, classrooms can Skype with one another or invite an expert guest speaker to engage with students.
In this digital and social media age, publishing to an online space is another way to use technology as a teaching tool. Emergingtech.com suggests NewsActivist as a way for students to engage in reporting, sharing, and providing feedback to one another.
Teachers can set up free accounts for students to share with their own classroom or with students across the country and around the world.
Blogging is another effective way to teach communication and share information between teachers and parents, students and parents, and teachers with one another. One example is Jessica Craig, a third grade teacher in Colorado, who is blogging her personalized learning journey for parents and other teachers to read and learn from.
As Will Richardson mentions in his article, technology can’t be looked at as a standalone difference-maker in classrooms today. It’s the innovation and creativity with which teachers use that technology that really ignites engagement.
“The only thing that can help (students) adequately ‘adjust to things changing rapidly’ is a love of learning and a curious, creative, connected environment in which to learn,” he writes. “Technology can certainly help that, but it’s not the starting point for a different culture in the classroom.”