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Creative application of technology is net result of rethinking learning, teaching

By Wendy Drexler
June 27, 2014
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Empowering learners has always been my passion. What does empowerment really mean in the educational setting? I like to think of it as a continuum of control. At one end of the continuum is simple student choice, perhaps options for completing an assignment. At the other end is full student autonomy in which the learner determines what to learn, as well as when and how to learn it. Technology provides increasingly rich opportunities to explore alternatives to our traditional learning and teaching paradigms.

Changing paradigms is never easy. We are challenged by the breadth of our field and, even more so, by nomenclature. Few clear definitions exist for the terms regularly associated with educational technology. Ask anyone to define innovation, blended learning or personalization, and I promise you will get a different definition from each person you ask.

At one end of the personalization continuum, we could find books assigned to students based on reading level. Further along, we encounter technology-assisted formative assessments that collect student achievement data in order to personalize the learning experience for each child. Travel further, and you'll find student-constructed personal learning environments that combine multiple online tools chosen by the student based on his or her interests. Virtually every person who hears the word personalization conjures up a different vision of what that means.

The blended learning continuum is just as diverse and broadly applied. One teacher defines blended learning as the integration of any technology in the classroom. Another teacher thinks of flipped learning. Still another takes the typical school week and replaces two days of class time with online learning. It's easy to understand why so many educators are intimidated and confused.

Relinquishing control in the school setting can be scary for everyone involved. Teachers are expected to control the class. They spend the first few years of their careers honing this skill and pride themselves on effective classroom management. At the same time, successful students have learned how to " "do" "school. They know what it takes to earn a grade and are comforted by a structure in which the steps for success are clearly defined. They are less comfortable with ill-defined problems, even though we know that is precisely what they will face in their future. Assuming control can be just as challenging for students as relinquishing control is for teachers. We may express frustration over the slow rate of change, yet we sometimes fail to acknowledge the journey that takes place from one end of the continuum to the other. Perhaps we can help our colleagues and students with a series of thought-provoking questions that allow for small steps to begin the journey before we even think about the technology.

How might we effectively place more responsibility for learning on the student? How might we do less and encourage our students to do more? How might we create an environment of active learning rather than passive listening? How might we think differently about time, place and space for learning?

Leaders often begin with infrastructure and technology purchases and then move to pedagogy. Perhaps if we begin by rethinking learning and teaching, the creative application of new technologies will come as a more natural result.