Monday, 3 March 2014

EdTech: it isn't optional. It's essential.


Ed Tech Is Poised to Go Mainstream

By Sari Factor

Six hours a day. That’s how much time the average teenager spends online, according to a June 2013 study by McAfee. These are “digital natives,” a generation that has grown up online and connected.

Just think about it: students born in 2007, the year the iPhone was launched, are already in first grade. Students born during the dot-com boom of the late ’90s are in high school.  These students have never known a world without the Internet. They’re communicating 140 characters at a time, establishing completely new ways of consuming news and information.

Clearly, dictating to digital natives that they “power down” in school is a huge turn-off. Yet many adults express concern that students won’t be able to learn as effectively in classrooms that are fundamentally different from their own experiences. Educators are increasingly breaking through that resistance to create a learning experience using technology to engage today’s learners and improve outcomes, with benefits that include:

Personalizing the learning experience –Digital natives have grown up surrounded and stimulated by media, and they consume information very differently from the previous generation of students. Netflix NFLX -0.04%, playlists and DVRs have fueled their personalized entertainment, and technology makes personalized learning possible too. Any teacher can tell you how difficult it is to customize instruction for every student. Inevitably, they end up “teaching to the middle,” leaving some learners behind and failing to challenge those who have already mastered a concept. Technology allows teachers to tailor instruction to meet individual student needs, making learning more accessible and enabling all students to maximize their potential.

Learning how to learn – Being a lifelong learner is the most important attribute for success, and will grow in importance in our dynamic and competitive world. Today’s students will change careers multiple times throughout their lives – many studies suggest Americans will hold between fifteen and twenty jobs over the course of their careers – and the jobs these graduates will hold may not even exist yet. Knowing one’s own learning style and developing the self-discipline and grit to grasp new skills throughout a lifetime will be critical for digital natives – especially in the fast-paced, distracting information landscape that is their natural habitat. Using technology to conduct research and acquire new skills can help these students develop the most essential capability in the information economy: how to learn.

Putting students in charge –Technology-based platforms and tools can provide students constant feedback so they understand how they’re progressing relative to their own goals, their peers, and their teachers’ and parents’ expectations. A clear road map of progress can be motivating for the student and immensely valuable for the teacher, who can intervene early or help a student advance more quickly. By empowering students and making them directly responsible for their progress, online learning encourages habits of resourcefulness that will serve students well once they leave the classroom.

Helping students disconnect from the Twitter-verse and spend more time on task – The more time students spend focused on their course work, the better their academic performance. With online learning, no one can hide in the back of the classroom, so every student is accountable. Rich multimedia content and interactive activities in many of today’s technology-based curricula offer familiar, friendly terrain for digital natives and can keep students more engaged and focused on their work. Over time, students get better at shutting out distractions and staying on task, even when they’re not in school – an extremely valuable skill in this media-saturated age.

Encouraging constructive communication – Digital natives are growing up in a social media landscape where multi-directional dialogue is commonplace. Yet the classroom too often remains a one-way street where the teacher imparts knowledge and students are expected to absorb it. Technology can help broaden the discussion by connecting students and teachers, and by opening the doors to outside voices that can lend additional knowledge and expertise to the classroom.

The Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation forecasts that 50% of high school classes will be online by 2019. For some, this may sound worrisome, but resistance to education technology will begin to break down as people see how eagerly today’s digital natives embrace learning online. The use of technology presents an undeniably radical shift in the business of education, but skeptical and concerned adults alike should take comfort in the fact that in many ways, ed tech also embodies a return to the basics. The skills that technology-based instruction can impart to today’s digital natives – self-reliance, perseverance and resourcefulness among them – have a distinctly retro feel. In an increasingly distracted, text and tweet-addled, short attention span world, these skills will be indispensable for the students of today and tomorrow.

Technology tools for educators

Video: implementing the flipped classroom

Implementing the Flipped Classroom, with Dr. Jennifer Ebbeler from Baylor ATL on Vimeo.

A few ideas on 21st century teaching and learning

A few ideas on 21st century teaching and learning

Project based learning activities: a presentation created by my students using Wideo

Online dangers

Project based learning activities: a PowToon animation created by my students

The main parts of a computer

Reflections on my first year experimenting with the "Flipped Model"

I teach at a technical school in Verona, Italy.   Last year I started converting my ESL/ESP

classes to  "flipped" courses, as I have found that this new methodology allows teachers

to use their time and resources in the best possible way.  The flipped approach has changed

the way teaching and learning occur in my classes.  Perhaps the most appealing aspect of

this teaching technique is that it allows students to review lessons anytime, anywhere on

their digital devices.   They can watch educational videos at home, reserving class time for

in-depth discussions or class projects. 


Flipped learning is more about "how" students  learn, as opposed to "when" they learn.  Using

Google Drive or Dropbox, Facebook and Vimeo, they can collaborate and stay connected with me. 

What they used to do in the classroom (listening to me explain a concept) is done instead

in a video format that the students watch at home for homework.   Similarly, what used to be

done at home (namely studying) is done in the classroom, where students can talk to me and

learn with each other in collaborative activities.


One of the biggest changes that has  resulted from the flip teaching method I adopted is that

now my teaching style is more dynamic and motivational than traditional teaching.  Last year I

asked myself: " What's the best use of my face-to-face time with my students?"  Flipped learning

means lower level thinking skills, such as lectures, are relegated to outside the classroom, while

the higher order skills of applying, evaluating and creating are done during class with the me. I

usually begin by introducing an idea; then after a brainstorming session, I explain the concept and

let the students research further on their computers.  Students work in small groups and help each

other, coaching those that are slower to catch on.   Together they create multimedia lessons that

they present to the class and then publish in a digital portfolio.


Another change I have noted is that these days when I walk around the classroom, I see my

students fully engaged on a regular basis - much more so more than would otherwise be the

case using traditional teaching.    The manner in which my students are interacting with each other

and with me is quite remarkable, ie. they feel that they are in control of their learning in a 

student-centered classroom.   Using the available technology to maximize class time for discussion

and other social aspects of teaching has given me more time to connect with individuals in the class.