Unlocking the Power of Educational Technology
Educational technology has played an important role in my classroom for several years. However, before completing the coursework towards the Master of Educational Technology at Boise State University, I never fully understood the theory behind incorporating and integrating technology. Classroom technology use was important, to be sure, but to what end? All of the courses I took have helped to provide answers to that question.
I have learned many ways to enhance education through technology over the last two years. My colleagues are also beginning to better understand educational technology as a result of my work on the M.E.T. through the professional development sessions I lead each year.
There are five primary keys I have learned that help unlock the power of educational technology through the M.E.T. program. These keys will continue to help transform my classroom and professional development sessions into the twenty-first century model that will meet the needs of today’s students and teachers.
Key 1: Build a Strong Foundation
Building a strong learning environment requires a solid foundation. Constructivism and the Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge (TPACK) framework have provided that foundation for me. I am now able to build upon that foundation, creating a learning environment that will be effective and efficient.
The Constructivist theory and the TPACK framework have become very important to me as a result of the M.E.T. program. I have heard of constructivism before, though I didn’t understand the theory before researching it as part of EDTECH 504. TPACK was completely new to me.
Constructivism is not new, but it fits well with the twenty-first century classroom model. Simply put, Constructivism is “the approach that learners construct their own knowledge from interpreting their experiences” (Doolittle, 2014, p. 485). Constructivism is focused on the belief that people are social beings who learn more efficiently by doing and experiencing learning. The first major principle of Constructivism refers to children constructing their own knowledge through activities and experiences (Clements & Battista, 1990). This provides for a learner-centric environment that allows students to have ownership in their learning. This active learning also helps students to make sense of the content they are learning, which, in turn, helps to increase retention. Now that I understand the Constructivist theory I can more easily apply it in my work. I have used this knowledge in each of the professional development sessions I have designed over the last two years. This new approach has produced positive results in the way participants understand, retain, and apply the materials presented.
TPACK is a framework that explains the relationships among three components of instructional design. Technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge are combined into seven constructs to help provide for efficient learning (Kohler & Mishra, 2005). Learning about these seven elements has made a difference in my approach to designing training for educators. Before completing the work towards the M.E.T., I approached professional development with a strong focus on technological knowledge. I believed that teachers would bring the pedagogical and content knowledge with them, so they only needed to learn from me how to use the technology. The M.E.T. coursework has helped me to see the flaw in that approach and helped me to better address the needs of teachers.
Teaching with technology is a “complex, ill-structured task” that “requires educators to develop new ways of comprehending and accommodating this complexity” (Koehler & Mishra, 2009, para. 6). I have learned in my work at BSU that the new ways that Koehler and Mishra refer to include the TPACK framework. Teachers must understand all three cognitive areas and the inter-workings among the three areas to transform their classrooms into the twenty-first century model of education. Understanding the TPACK framework has helped me to develop training sessions that are helpful particularly to teachers who are having difficulty integrating technology to make education more effective and efficient for learners.
Angeli & Valanides (2009) note that simply integrating technology is not enough. It is also not enough for the teacher to possess computer skills and technological literacy. We teachers need to change our approach to teaching with technology. That change will happen when we learn technological pedagogy as it relates specifically to the content we teach.
Now that I have a solid theoretical foundation, changing educational paradigms will be easily incorporated into my classroom and training approach. For example, in the classical view, knowledge was achieved when one knew the one right answer for each question (Dede, 2008). With the interactivity of Web 2.0 tools, such as wikis, knowledge is morphing into a collective agreement combining facts and opinions. The twentieth century classroom adheres to the classical approach to knowledge, with the teacher disseminating all of the information that is to be memorized for the test. In contrast, society today is leaning towards the collaborative, evolving view of knowledge. Twenty-first century classrooms need to provide students with opportunities for active and collaborative learning. Working towards the M.E.T. has helped me to see the major difference between the twentieth and twenty-first century classrooms and it has prepared me to design and present training that will help move participants into the twenty-first century classroom model.
Key 2: PIER (Plan-Implement-Evaluate-Repeat) Support
The M.E.T. coursework has taught me a great deal about designing quality instructional materials. The first step – planning – is much more involved than I previously thought. Research, needs assessment, and analysis all play a part in the planning phase of any educational technology project. The ADDIE model (Davis, 2013) is an excellent framework for instructional design, yet I had not heard of the model before taking EDTECH 503. Now I use the ADDIE model when preparing lessons for my band and music students, and when preparing professional development sessions. Designing a complete plan using PIER Support (based on the ADDIE model) consistently provides positive results in attaining educational goals.
The ADDIE model describes “a systematic approach to instructional development” that refers to a process involving “analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation” (Molenda, 2003, p. 35). These processes are the basis of the second key to unlocking technology – PIER Support. The processes are both sequential and iterative, a concept that fits well with the model of education that I have learned throughout the M.E.T. program. A program must be planned thoroughly and comprehensively before it is implemented. There must be continuous evaluation during and after implementation. But the evaluation must lead to further planning and implementation in order to keep the education current and viable. This iteration is part of every EDTECH course, and it is now part of every class I teach and training session I lead.
I believe the first and last steps in ADDIE – analysis and evaluation – are the steps that I left out most often prior to learning about ADDIE. Instead of performing a needs analysis to determine what learners truly needed, I based instructional design on informal observations. The same can be said for the summative evaluations. Previously I would simply observe random teachers at random times and make training decisions based on those observations. Truly analyzing my audience and their needs requires a more deliberate plan. Training sessions that I have designed and presented since beginning the M.E.T. program have been much more deliberate, and more effective.
Together with my administrator, I am also working to include PIER Support in school policies and procedures as they relate to educational technologies. We are in the process of implementing a GAFE program among our third – eighth grade students and staff. We followed the ADDIE model in analyzing, designing, and developing the program. This fall we will be implementing the program. The administration is on board with continued analysis, design, and evaluation throughout the next several years as we work to introduce students to GAFE.
Key 3: We Are in This Together
Collaboration is a key ingredient in the M.E.T. program. Each class afforded opportunities for students to work together to enhance learning and improve our artifacts. The Constructivist theory supports collaboration as an effective educational tool, as shown by Doolittle’s statement, “knowledge construction is an individually and socially active process” (Doolittle, 2014, p. 486). Connectivism also promotes collaboration for successful teaching and learning. “In Connectivism, the starting point for learning occurs when knowledge is actuated through the process of a learner connecting to and feeding information into a learning community” (Kop & Hill, 2008, p. 2). I have always encouraged collaborative learning, but my commitment to collaboration is renewed and rejuvenated as a result of my research regarding educational theories during my classwork towards the M.E.T.
During the past two years I have led several professional development sessions that utilized teacher collaboration to reach the learning goals. The administrator observed that teachers were excited about the opportunity to learn with and from one another. Their level of engagement was noticeably higher than it has traditionally been during lecture-style sessions.
I also developed a digital learning experience (DLE) that incorporates collaboration among teachers, students, and schools around the world. This DLE requires students to collaborate with each other in small group work. It also brings together schools from Texas and from Bethlehem, West Bank to complete the DLE. Cooperating teachers also have the option to include other schools around the world, as well as other classrooms and subject areas from their own campuses to further enrich the learner experience. I look forward to using this DLE with students.
Collaborative learning emphasizes the social context of the classroom to encourage full cognitive development. In collaboration with adults or more-advanced students, younger student can master concepts that they would otherwise not be able to understand (Neo, 2003). To achieve positive results through collaboration, however, “requires affective, cognitive, and social trust” (Lawson, 2004, p. 232). Boise State University has worked to secure that trust in its courses, and it inspires me to work towards the same goal in my current position as technology coordinator. Students, teachers, and administrators must trust each other to realize the benefits of a strong, collaborative education. In such an environment, educational technology can be used effectively in support of collaborative learning.
Key 4: Integration
John Donne wrote in 1624 that “no man is an island” (Donne, para. 3). This is certainly true when it comes to educational technology. As I wrote above, collaboration and team work provide immense value to many educational technology products. For the fourth key, I would like to add that no subject is an island, either. Educational technology is most effective when it is integrated into other classes as a tool to help students learn the class content. Integration helps students to synthesize what they learn throughout the school day, which helps prepare them for future schooling and the work place.
When I began coursework towards the M.E.T. I was surprised at how often professors asked us to define educational technology. The number of different answers was equally surprising to me. Each EDTECH class required its own definition of educational technology as it applied to the content of the course. Once this definition was established, my classmates and I were able to better understand the course content. This exercise in defining educational technology helped me understand why true technology integration is harder than it sounds, particularly for teachers who are unfamiliar with today’s digital technologies. Teachers need a clear definition of educational technology as it applies in their own classrooms before they will be able to integrate technologies in a way that will make learning more effective and efficient for their students. This realization has already impacted the way that I work with students and colleagues. Instead of assuming that we all enter class or training sessions with the same preconceived notions about the technology, I now design learning that introduces the material in a way that ensures we all begin on the same page.
True integration requires an immersive environment. Jonassen (2000) writes that “Computer technology integration is likely to occur in learning environments that are supported by active, constructive, collaborative, intentional, conversational, contextualized, and reflective learning” (as cited in Keengwe, Onchwari & Wachira, 2008, p. 562). My administrator and I are working towards reaching that level of integration for students and staff. Integration occurs when students learn with computers and devices and not simply about computers. This is most effective when the technologies are integrated in the general content areas allowing “students to learn how to apply computer skills in a meaningful way” (Keengwe, Onchwari & Wachira, 2008, p. 562). Keengwe, Onchwari, and Wachira (2008) also add that it is good to have “the curriculum drive the technology as opposed to technology driving the curriculum” (p. 562).
Key 5: New Tools – New Look
Designing instruction for the twenty-first century learner is different than it was for learners in the last century primarily due to the tools that are available to teachers and students. Rapidly evolving educational technologies have provided schools with Internet access, social networking, and Web 2.0 tools that can be optimized for learning. There are so many new tools that the difficulty comes in selecting the right tool rather than simply in finding a tool. Learners also need to learn adaptability when it comes to educational technology. This adaptability is what affords teachers and students the opportunity to continue learning and thriving, no matter what developments the future may bring.
Effective learning design in this age of Web 2.0 tools is even more important due to the ever-evolving nature of the tools available. Web 2.0 tools are open and allow for sophisticated user interfaces. They also provide for social networking and posting micro-content (Bower, Hedberg, & Kuswara, 2010). Many students today use these Web 2.0 tools regularly, though not often for educational purposes. It is up to the learning designer to provide ways for teachers to incorporate Web 2.0 tools and assist students in developing life skills using the tools to better prepare them to adapt as new tools are developed.
One major difference in the twenty-first century classroom is apparent in the way that students learn and retain information. This change is addressed in the revised version of Bloom’s Taxonomy where “synthesize” was changed to “create”. “Create goes beyond merely making new knowledge fit with existing knowledge as Synthesize suggests…Create describes the active processes of constructing meaning and, subsequently, plans of action that need to be carried out” (Krathwohl & Anderson, 2010, p 64). I developed several lessons in EDTECH 554 that utilize Web 2.0 tools. I have already shared them with teachers and administrators, and I look forward to working through them with students.
Learning designers must also take into account the aesthetic quality of the design. My work in EDTECH 506 helped me to understand how important it is to consider all aspects of the lesson aesthetics, from the simplest graphic to the most complex chart or diagram. Parrish (2007) makes the point that “any transformative learning experience will have significant aesthetic qualities, and all instructional situations can benefit from attention to these qualities” (abstract). Paying attention to aesthetic qualities means that when designing learning I need to attend to more than the traditional components of subject matter, pedagogies, and the learner. I also need to be deliberate in providing for an appropriate learning experience. The “learning experience includes the way that the learner feels about, engages with, responds to, influences, and draws from the instructional situation” (Parrish, 2007, para. 4). After having completed my work in EDTECH 503 and 506, I am prepared to design quality learning experiences for my students and colleagues.
The online program at Boise State University made it possible for me to continue my formal education without requiring a change in my current teaching position. This was accomplished through the efficient use of educational technology. Today’s educational technologies allow people to become lifelong learners because of widely-available courses and degree programs that can fit the needs of most learners. For example, if I had been limited by geography, I wouldn’t have been able to pursue a M.E.T. degree. “Lifelong learning is primarily self-directed and has been described as a process in which learners take the initiative, with the support and collaboration of others, for increasing self and social awareness” (Carlson, 2016, para. 5). This ability to design my own learning experience and class schedules is what made the M.E.T. program work for me.
All of my professors and classmates contributed to the success of this program, as well. With their help I was able to draw a lot of information and knowledge from each class that I would have missed had the program been wholly self-guided. I feel much more prepared now to lead students and colleagues into the new world of educational technologies that will no doubt appear in the very near future.
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