In my previous blog entry, Low Hanging Fruit, I challenged Dr. Scott Mcleod’s assertion in 60 Apps in 60 Seconds that app focused workshops at conferences are a waste of time. In a follow-up comment on his blog entry, Scott asks the question:

I wonder how many of these types of sessions we have to go to – with concurrent lack of implementation and impact in our classrooms – before we realize they’re not really worth attending because there’s no depth of substance in which to root our learning and teaching…

The point is that no one is required to go to these sessions. They serve as entry points, doorways to greater learning possibilities. That’s not to say one can’t jump to higher-level blending of technology in the classroom, but that some educators find the use of app-centric workshops an easy way. So often we imagine that we, as human beings, may upon birth, stand up and run a marathon. Or, having learned to mix ingredients, become chefs.

The fact is, our understanding of how we learn, how we interact with a technology evolves over time. Learning to learn, to teach, to lead with technology becomes a conversation between ourselves and the technology. App-centric workshops are opportunities for “play.” Even the Apostle Paul didn’t imagine that young followers would be able to eat the meat of faith; instead, he advocated starting them out with milk (1 Corinthians 3:2).

I’d much rather have the conversation of what those reframes mean with my colleagues and administrators than talk about cool tools. It’s actually the reason I stopped doing Tech Tuesday midway through last year. It’s the reason I’m not on our Technology Leadership Team anymore. It’s why my principal has sent teachers in my building to see how I’m using Evernote. Not because Evernote is cool. Because my principal was having conversations with other teachers who were lamenting the fact that they are having trouble documenting the learning process their students are going through in their classrooms. My principal said, “I think I know someone who can help.” Learning needs lead to technology use. Source: Russ Goerend’s comment on Educators Need Learning Advocacy, Not Technology Advocacy 

In my early years as a teacher, I disagreed vigorously with the idea that students must first accomplish lower order thinking–knowledge, application–before moving onto synthesis, evaluation and creation. My bilingual/ESL students, while acquiring a second language, could still think, even if their cognitive academic language proficiency was still developing. Students might speak English on the playground quite well, but have trouble understanding a textbook.

What app-centric workshops allow is a playground of sorts, a way for folks to begin and allow their own learning to evolve. Some may immediately eschew the app-centric workshops as being light fare compared to a problem-based learning activity that embed technology when appropriate for learning, for tracking student work.

In the real world, conversations with sympathetic native speakers who are willing to help the acquirer understand are very helpful. Source:Stephen Krashen as cited online

In the real world, technology use with sympathetic learners who regularly use technology and are willing to help are more helpful than ivory tower academics proclaiming from their perches atop well-respected blogs. Source: Miguel Guhlin, Low Hanging Fruit

Finally, I recently experienced the same frustration Scott exhibits in his post. After a summer of app-centric workshops for an iPad initiative, I had to stop and ask, “Why are we introducing so many apps? Let’s focus on 3-4 apps and really use those at the top level of SAMR.” That realization pushed me towards App-Smashing as aligned to the Classroom Learning Activity Rubric.  That said, as I evolved from this approach to another, I realized that others might still be in “app-searching” mode. It is natural to find the best tools that fit your hand before you begin the real work.

Image Source: http://goo.gl/xBS2ep

I am reminded of Dr. Judi Harris’ work, where she views teachers as instructional designers and artisans. As she points out, as teachers, we want to accomplish our own “reinvention” of an idea rather than just adapt someone else’s. This means that we want start at the ground level–like an app-centric workshop–and then wend our way through to reinvention.

…most teachers don’t really believe that learning to apply a new tool educationally is just a matter of “plug and play.” Most of us know to “tweak” an idea to fit the unique nature of the context (learning styles and preferences, teaching styles and preferences, past experience, resource availability, etc.) in which they work. We expect to learn from mistakes and unexpected reactions when an idea is first implemented. 

Yet we know from both experience and research (e.g., Rogers, 1995) thattweaking someone elseís idea isn’t nearly as satisfying, or as effective, as designing an activity that fits the unique combination of factors that present themselves in any particular classroom at any particular point in time.  

Reinvention; the process of taking something like a new tool or idea and making it our own in its application, is very important to both teachers and students. Feelings of ownership are crucial if new tools are to continue to be employed in ways that will benefit users. This is what is known as true adoption of the innovation (Rogers, 1995). Think about it: which is more satisfying – watching an original idea that you created succeed, or observing someone elseís idea that you borrowed and tweaked get a good reception? 

When we are asked to wade through large collections of lesson plans, replicate projects from other classrooms, or follow overly-prescriptive directions for educational activities written by folks who canít possibly know our students as we do, we are asked to ignore much of what experience and reflection have taught us. Using Internet tools and resources in our classrooms in ways that will benefit students and teachers – in ways that are truly worth the time, effort, energy, and expense – call upon us to function more as instructional designers than direction-followers. Creating and implementing learning activities as a designer is an artisan’s endeavor. I speak to you as that artisan; analogously, as chef rather than cook; conductor rather than metronome; educator rather than automatron.

We complain that today’s education system is a top-down effort to strip away the opportunities of teachers and learners to be autonomous. That is akin to being forced to serve as line cooks rather than chefs of our own classrooms and student learning.


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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

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