Can educational technology hinder instruction?

Nearing the end of my second week in a paperlite classroom, I am realizing what a complete game- changer this mode of operation is and just how steep the learning curve is, even for someone someone relatively ed tech savvy. I’ve learned that if I’m not very, very careful and purposeful, sound pedagogy is too easily forgotten for the glitz of taking shiny new tools online.

All of my students are spending the first two weeks of school immersed in a flip/mastery learning environment that requires them to read and understand texts about the curriculum published by the IB. The student learning objectives are Common Core friendly (11-12th grade RI1, 2, 4, 7, 10; W2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10; SL1, 2, 4, 5, 6; L1, 4, 6) and root them in the objectives of the (compulsory) 11th grade IB English Language and Literature or 10th grade Language A course. They also expose students to our technology and allow them to explore which creation tools they prefer while requiring that they work collaboratively with at least one other person of their choosing. The end product is a video that explains either their choice of an IB learner profile trait (10s) or the aims and components of the lang & lit course (11s). Their audience is real and can include you, dear reader, as the very best will be published on our school’s website by the IB Diploma Coordinator in early October.

In IB fashion, I wanted to harness Google Drive to co-create a rubric with my students this week. Having students build the assessment criteria is important to their understanding of it, as it ensures that they understand the purpose of the grade. Rather than my “giving” them a grade, they can see a clear target and evaluate themselves along the way to achieving that target. I had high hopes for our first collaborative experience in a Doc.

Using the new-and-improved Doctopus, I shared with students a Doc asking them to consider some fundamental parts of purposeful content creation: who is the audience? What is the purpose of the work? What kind of evidence is needed? How will one know the product meets the needs of the audience?  I learned during 2nd set that allowing editing access for 25 Drive novices was unnecessarily confusing, so later classes commented their answers, which made management easy. The plan was to give them time to work on the questions, go over the answers together, and then co-create a rubric.

In theory it was collaborative and student-centered; in reality, it was teacher-directed and students were passive. They were engaged while they were commenting on the document, and they seemed to enjoy the conversation happening both in the document and in the classroom as they saw each other’s progress.

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2nd set students work in Google Drive.

Then we switched to my moderating the best comments and editing the document to be a model based on their best answers. This is where I let maintaining the paperlite environment overshadow the purpose of the paperlite environment. Had I instead passed out paper copies, or sent another individually-available electronic copy – or better yet, make both available – I could have then asked students to “make yours look like mine” as I model careful notetaking on day 5.

Making the rubric was a similar experience. I alone had editing rights and they chimed in verbally as I acted as notetaker for the class. It was no different than a teacher not using Google Drive might do on an overhead. While the product was sound, co-created, and truly different for each of 5 sets of students (see 5th and 6th set’s rubrics) , the use of technology was clunky and led to disinterest. In reflection, I realize that creating a rubric was a better opportunity for a think, pair, share activity that merges into a small-group jigsaw. Again, had I not been using Drive on the iPads, I wouldn’t have been sucked into poor pedagogy.

From this experience, I’ve reminded myself that the technology is simply a tool like any other. Privileging student use of iPads and Drive to complete work is no different than dictating the process of student work on paper. Early in my ed tech learning curve, I was conscious to use technology to liberate myself and my students from the procedures too often used in secondary classes – we published e-portfolios at the end of 8th grade in 2004, created student literary analyses in iMovie in 2007, and were wiki-ing and live-Tweeting last year.  This week has taught me educational technology can also suck even the most purposeful teachers into the activity-instead-of-objectives hole: I will need to be on heightened guard.

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