The role of technology in our classrooms is to support the new teaching paradigm– support students teaching themselves (with teacher guidance)….
Source: Marc Prensky, The Role of Technology

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to conduct a two day workshop. It was the first time in awhile I’d stepped onto–forgive the metaphor–the “field of battle.” Of course, I LOVED it. I relished the close connections with teachers, the challenge of sharing technology-based instructional strategies and tools that pushed them to move outside their comfort zone.

I couldn’t help but smile, the kind of smile that comes to one’s lips when you encounter a fierce challenge that, rather than knock you flat, spurs you to greater lengths. “This has to be the most irrelevant two days of workshops I’ve had!” proclaimed one teacher. At the end of the session, though, she was smiling and offering thanks. I joked with her about her remark as she heaped praise, claiming it wasn’t even close to making up for her painting all technology workshops offered during the 2 days, including mine, as “irrelevant.”

Yet, irrelevance is not so bad a thing. I was reminded of a quote I prominently displayed–my own creation without attribution–in several of my presentations:

If technology is irrelevant to how you communicate and collaborate, then your classroom is irrelevant to your students.

In the case of these classrooms and lack of approaches to technology use in teachers’ rooms, I’m not surprised to hear that workshops on using Read/Write Web tools, digital storytelling, GoogleDocs are irrelevant…it’s not a surprising reaction from teachers who work without technology, preparing children in a way that David Warlick has characterized as the 1950s:

Without contemporary tools and contemporary information environments — all we can do is continue to prepare our children for the 1950s — no matter how many hours they’re in school every day…

[our focus should be on] . . .crafting learning experiences, within networked, digital, and information-abundant learning environments, where students are learning to teach themselves, and begin to cultivate a mutually common cultural and environmental context for for their lives.

This idea of students teaching themselves, a paradigm shift as Marc Prensky calls it at the start of this blog entry…well, it’s completely foreign to what many teachers are doing now. As I chatted with a colleague this morning on the phone, as I drove into work, school districts are CURRICULUM-FOCUSED, rather than learner-centered. Our work as educators is wrapped up in mandating the curriculum, marching lock-step in line with what must be taught.

Where teachers are doing well without technology, asking them to embed technology in ways that disrupt their work might be perceived as well…bold, if not rash.

I ran across an old comment I left on Dean Shareski’s blog:

…change happens one person at a time, outside the control and in spite of the school culture that tries to maintain control over everything (a futile effort but ignorance blinds their awareness of that).

[then, I quoted this old parable I’d found on the wall of a portable in a small district in Texas I had occasion to present in when in my mid 20s one hot summer day….]

There’s an old proverb: ” You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” But around this ranch, I keep getting told it’s my fault when the horse won’t drink. “Make the water bluer,” someone says, “Make it colder. Try adding sugar to sweeten it a bit. Make it shallower; maybe the horse is afraid of deep water. Put the water in a smaller container so the horse isn’t overwhelmed by so much water.”

I get told maybe I should consider the poor horse’s background. Maybe it wasn’t taught to drink properly–it needs a course in remedial drinking. Some idiot says I don’t recognize a horse when I see one…Says I really have a camel and shouldn’t expect it to drink like the other horses.

The boss says I’m not providing enough motivation to make the horse drink. He says I should give the horse an enthusiastic pat and keep telling it what a great horse it is. I should reward it with sugar when it drinks. Or build a waterfall and decorate it with rocks so it looks like a fun place to drink at this spot. When all fails, I should hold the horse’s head under the water until it is forced to swallow some.

And I faithfully try all these ideas. And the horse still won’t drink. So I have another solution. I think it’s time to give water only to the horses that want to drink. Any horse that doesn’t want to drink water should be worked harder. Make it work up a sweat so it gets thirsty. Make it haul a load or run faster until it appreciated a drink of water. Put the pressure back on the horse instead of me…because I’m getting mighty tired of trying to drown horses.

Put the pressure back on the horse…learner centered approach? I have to remind myself of the following:

  1. To achieve higher order thinking, student learning and questioning needs to be at the synthesis/evaluation/creation levels.
  2. To be engaged, students need to help define the task, the process, and the solution…collaboration with others extends beyond the classroom.
  3. To be authentic, the learning experience is directly relevant to students and involves creating a product that has a purpose beyond the classroom that directly impacts the students.
  4. Technology use is directly connected to and required for task completion involving one or more applications, and students determine which application(s) would best address their needs.

This can take the form of work that IS being done. Consider this work shared by Robin Ellis some time ago:

We are a team of 8th grade students who are learning how to use technology to improve our understanding of Alternate Energy.
On this wiki space we will be keeping track of the things we learn and compiling information about the topics that we study. Join us on our journey to save the world!

Some people hesitate to take action because they are waiting to become “good enough” to make a difference. In fact, we never will have all the answers. It is impossible to be correct all of the time. So take a new attitude this year and join the discussion!

Self-directed learning…back in February, 2009, Robin wrote this short entry on the subject. At the end, she asked:

When decisions are made for students and they are given little voice they are unlikely to develop a sense of responsibility. If they believe their opinions and preferences don’t matter they are unlikely to take ownership of their learning. Without ownership what is their motivation to succeed?

How do we begin to involve students in their education? What are we doing to prepare them to be self directed learners, what is taking place in your district to move students and forward in this area?

Simply, self-directed learning means that students want their work to be perceived as authentic, purposeful, valuable to the society and culture in which they live.

Working with a group of teachers over a two day period, my goal wasn’t to highlight the irrelevance of what I had to share, but to use technology to spotlight how relevant their work could be among a global community of educators. If such work is irrelevant, then I like it just fine.

Image Citation:
Tired horse.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure