Faculty Blog

 

Technology in Learning, Teaching, and School Community

It would be a near impossible challenge in our technology-intensive environment to find a school these days that is not integrating technology in meaningful ways (and, possibly, in some instances, not so meaningful ways) in teaching and learning. As is the case in just about all professions, the digital age has accelerated change in the profession of education. Technology has provided ever-evolving and powerful means for schools and teachers to engage students in and beyond the classroom through simulations, blogging, research, project collaboration, distance learning, and the creation and dissemination of knowledge, all with seamless access to the virtually limitless world of knowledge and creativity beyond the walls of the school. The pace of the infusion of technology in our schools has been varied the past three decades with some schools proceeding carefully and others boldly, but we are long past a tipping point in the digital age. Technology is a powerful—perhaps the leading—force in defining how students learn, think, and develop. Predictably, this force requires us as educators to engage significant questions as we move forward on the air stream of technology-infused learning and teaching. 

At the fall meeting of the Parents Independent School Network (PIN) held at Fenn School in early October, heads of school Rob Gustavson of Fay, Danielle Heard of Nashoba Brooks, and Dan Scheibe of Lawrence Academy and Fenn School’s Director of the Academic Program Steve Farley discussed the topic of Nurturing Character, Fostering Innovative Learning, and Preserving School Community in a Digital Age. Given the wealth of experience and wisdom of the educators involved, their comments and their dialog with the parents in attendance were fascinating.

Considered in the discussion were such questions as: How does the use of technology in students’ lives affect their moral development? Are the charge and means of shaping character different for schools in these technology-infused times? To what degree and in what ways has technology redefined the nature of learning and teaching in and outside the classroom?  How intensive should technology integration be in a school curriculum? In what ways can digital connection enhance and diminish connection among the members of a school community? Are we more or less humanly connected in schools with the presence and influence of technology? Do all effective teachers integrate technology to some degree in their classrooms? How can schools best support teachers in their professional development to be effective with technology-enhanced instruction?

What follows are some of the wisdom, convictions, experience, and observations that surfaced in the rich discussion among the educators and parents. Given the topic and questions, a book--perhaps available on your e-reader or iPad-- could easily be written about the thoughts and additional questions generated by this discussion. Here are a few of the salient points that were shared:

  • The omnipresence of social media and its ease of access demands that schools educate students about the nature, power, and consequences of instantaneous communications with limitless broadcast.
  • Schools and parents must establish clear expectations about appropriate use of social media in order to guide students in its proper use.
  • It’s impossible to educate students about all of the rules for and means of accessing technology given its ever-evolving nature. Instead, schools must teach critical thinking and judgment skills that transcend the present moment in technology’s development and employment.
  • Schools must always employ as their pedagogical standard the “Why?” question for employing technology, i.e. what is the purpose of technology’s use in a given circumstance of teaching and learning? How is technology advancing and deepening a student’s understanding?
  • The myth of controlling information is dead as virtually unlimited information flows to students through a fire hydrant of technological connection; thus the formerly directive mode of teaching has changed to the collaborative and facilitative.
  • For the first time in history, students can create and share their own work broadly, actually limitlessly, and are no longer in controlled, teacher-dependent settings and environments. 
  • As with students, teachers are equally empowered as learners by the open-ended nature of information access and technological connection. Their professional development is no longer school-centric as educators can connect on-line anytime and anywhere to collaborate professionally.
  • The almost limitless power of technology that defies centralized control demands that schools train but then trust students and teachers in their employment of technology in teaching and learning.
  • School communities in their own right can be regarded as a network of connected human beings.
  • The profit motive that pervades the Internet must be critically understood and never overlooked by educators and students.
  • Technology uses such as “tweeting” at meetings can sometimes deepen community connection and sometimes distract and diminish.
  • The “flipped classroom “ in which students engage much of their own instruction at home, often on- line, can enhance the face to face engagement in the classroom of teacher and students.

Such rich and informed discussions about technology’s place and impact in teaching, learning, and character development allow educators and parents to be informed, considered, and discriminating rather than ignorant, fearful, and reactive in a technologically driven age.  To be true to the charge of raising and educating children and young adults well demands that we stay connected with each other as adults. As we navigate this world of promise and peril and press into the future of the technological age, our compass can be found through thoughtful, human connection with each other as parents and teachers.

Posted by in Jerry Ward on Friday November, 15, 2013
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