In my final week of reflection on ISTE Students Standards for my graduate work in Digital Education Leadership at Seattle Pacific University, I am focused on ISTE 6: Technology operations and concepts. I also encourage you to check out my previous posts from the quarter on ISTE Students Standards 1, 2, 3, and 4. ISTE Standards for Students 6, asks students to demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems, and operations. This sound understanding includes the expectation that students can also troubleshoot encountered technology issues, a skill also included in my own state of Washington’s K-12 Educational Technology Learning Standards below.
Washington State K-12 Educational Technology Learning Standards
Recently, I have been working with students on their development of book trailers, conferencing with them regularly on their progress and technology needs. By design, this assignment is highly individualized, incorporating student choice in both content, digital tools and devices. Students have all read different novels, are using a variety of tools or apps, and are bringing their own devices to class. This personalized approach has led to highly motivated students. As is the case with any project involving technology, troubleshooting needs abound. The use of many different technologies in the classroom only increases the likelihood that I don’t always have the answer myself. As a result, I have been thinking a lot about how to teach my students to troubleshoot with increasing independence. There is a common misconception that today’s students possess a technological expertise beyond that of their teachers (Margaryan, Littlejohn, & Vojt, 2010). Rather, there is research to support that in many ways our students are mislabeled as digital natives. The research of Margaryan et. al (2010) found that students had limited expertise of widely used technologies. In my own classroom, I have seen how frustrated students can become when technology fails them upon the first attempt. We know that technologies will continue to emerge and change into the future, and offering students the ability to bring their personal devices and select their own digital tools will only continue to enhance their 21st century skills. The reality is that educators will never have all of the answers to technology questions. The common denominator will be to teach students to become their own problem solvers.
I am continuing my ongoing look at ISTE Student Standards with my graduate program in Digital Educational Leadership at Seattle Pacific University, and I encourage you to visit my previous posts addressing ISTE 1, ISTE 2, and ISTE 3. This week, my focus is on ISTE Student Standard 4 which addresses using critical thinking skills to problem solve and make informed decisions. These skills are necessary for any content area or age level, and can be learned through game-based learning (Sardone & Devlin-Scherer, 2010). Using games in education has become increasingly popular in recent years, as games reward small successes, while engaging and motivating participants. Games also produce less of a stigma around failure, since gamers simply persist until they beat a level.
The Power of Games in Education: What the Research Says
This investigation led me to bold statements claiming gaming is the future, as it has the ability to save failing educational systems…and even the world. Believing that humans are better at games than they are at real life, McGonigal (2010) claimed that gaming can make the world a better place. Gamer motivation is often tied to personal meaning, inspiring collaboration and cooperation (McGonigal, 2010). In games, individuals stick with a problem for as long as it takes to achieve success, propelled by urgent optimism, otherwise known as the desire to solve a problem immediately if one believes success is possible (McGonigal, 2010). These facts combined suggest that if gamer power is harnessed, real world issues could be solved (McGonigal, 2010). McGonigal’s (2010) latest project, a collaboration with The World Bank called Evoke, is designed to empower players to develop innovative solutions to dire social problems.
While the suggestion that gaming can save the state of education sounds improbable, “neuroscientists are discovering more and more about the ways in which humans react to such interactive design elements. They say such elements can cause feel-good chemical reaction[s], alter human responses to stimuli -increasing reaction times, for instance – and in certain situations can improve learning, participation, and motivation” (Anderson & Rainie, 2012, 2nd para.). A shift away from standard educational models, which rely heavily on direct instruction, would mean that “students have the responsibility for finding, analyzing, evaluating, and sharing knowledge under the direction of a skilled subject expert” (Bates, n.d. p.68).
Choice can have a significant impact on student learning. It maintains engagement and drives a desire for inquiry. O’Connor and Sharkey (2013) shared in “Establishing Twenty-First-Century Information Fluency” that the performance of students is at its peak when learning is individualized (p. 35). However, in offering student choice of technology, one of my challenges as an educator has been challenging students who tend to repeatedly gravitate towards the same digital tools. My direct instruction has encouraged students to use various new tools, however this approach is seemingly unsustainable. Instead, students can be guided to find their own digital tools, as outlined in ISTE 3, which is the focus this week’s post. I also encourage you to check out past two posts, exploring ISTE 1 and 2. ISTE 3 states that students should be able to evaluate and select digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks. This shift towards individualized and student-driven learning is reiterated in 21st century skills, which states that a students should be able to judge the effectiveness and impact of various technologies. The Common Core Standards also outline that students should be able to critically navigate and evaluate media. This type of information fluency is a key component of cultivating early adopters of innovative technologies.
As educators we can “innovate pedagogically to help students develop a high level of aptitude to interact fluently with both information and technology” (O’Connor, L., & Sharkey, J., 2013, p. 33). Our ability to innovate might at times be aided by the digital tools we chose to implement. Unfortunately, I have often assumed that quality instruction requires the mastery of digital tools prior to sharing it with my students. While technological aptitude is a necessary part of being an educator, innovation in the classroom comes in the form of allowing student-driven evaluation and choice (Dooley, 1999, p.38). A student’s ability to discriminate between useful and useless resources is also a necessary career skill. And, as Bates (n.d.) writes about in Teaching in the Digital Age, learning by doing allows for reflection, understanding, and experience. We need to give students the opportunity to practice these decision-making skills.
As part of my ongoing exploration of how ISTE Student Standards can be implemented in the classroom, I am focusing this week on ISTE Student Standard 2: Communication and Collaboration, addressing how students will communicate and collaborate in a digital space to construct new meaning. I am specifically looking at the following performance indicators:
a. Interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.
d. Contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems.
Assigning collaborative work in group projects is often a difficult task, especially at the middle school level. Students range in their ability to contribute productively to assignments, and are frequently left frustrated by the inconsistency of contributions. Assessment can also pose a challenge; final products do not necessarily reflect individual productivity. Desanctis (1987) researches the effects of technology on group work in “A foundation for the study of group decision support systems” and confirms our long held assumptions that certain members tend to dominate communication, while other less dominant members exert less effort overall (p. 596-7). Regardless, as educators we know that collaborative learning is important for students because it “fosters the development of critical thinking through discussion, clarification of ideas, and evaluation of others’ ideas” (Gokhlad, 1995). And regardless of the challenges, collaboration is an important 21st century skill to teach. Forbes magazine regards virtual collaboration as one of the top ten workplace skills for the future; so, “Whether you’re a fan of it or not, working and collaborating effectively virtually, whether on a simple task or a very complex challenge is a necessity as the nature of our work is globalized” (Gorscht, 2014, para. 12).
How do we as educators effectively use technology for student collaboration? If we rethink the group project as a means of developing skills alone, we may be guided in the right direction. Bates (n.d.) reinforces in Teaching in a Digital Age, that there has been a shift from teaching content, or academic knowledge to teaching skills, or applied knowledge (p. 37). Therefore, we should focus on fostering the skills of collaborating and communicating effectively, rather than on the final product of the group work.
Currently, I am in the midst of designing a lesson with a silkscreen artist out of Toronto (my sister-in-law) for a lesson art designed for social movements. We developed a project in which small student groups will use their background knowledge of the middle ages to design a visual message. They will collaborate to design a poster that champions a cause from the perspective of a specific, medieval community. This project has emerged as a ripe opportunity to enhance their collaborative design process with the aid of some digital tools.
How can students collaborate creatively in small groups to design a visual product in a digital space?
The next step in my graduate coursework in Digital Education Leadership is to work my way through the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Student Standards in order to implement technology for effective teaching, learning, and assessment. First, I will address ISTE 1 by focusing on how students use technology to apply existing knowledge to new ideas. One of my educational philosophies is that creativity is more effortlessly fostered when students are first equipped with basic tools in their pockets.
Can providing students with helpful tools now foster innovation in the future?
A student in an art class to whom a lump of clay is given can perhaps be innovative and creative in his or her manipulation. However, this same student, if provided with a background knowledge of the clay’s composition, the temperature and method of firing, and the instruments and hand techniques used to manipulate it, can use this information in conjunction with personal ideas to break new ground. In my experience, this same principle applies to educational technology. Unfortunately, I have often found that students who are given free choice often gravitate towards the same tools they have used before. Perhaps, front loading instruction around certain tools can prepare students for experimentation and innovation later. With this as an important consideration in mind, I posed the following question:
“How can students use their knowledge of a recently read book to create a teaser for this novel? What tools would allow students to both engage a potential new reader and share important literary elements of the story (such as tone, theme, characterization, setting, etc.) in a structured but creative way?”
Forever on a quest to engage new readers, I hope to provide opportunities for my middle school language arts students to work with texts in an engaging, yet still structured way. While I have always required outside reading from students, I am averse to traditional book reports, perhaps due to my own hatred of reading as adolescent. I attempt to avoid such a fate for my own students. Student choice in book selection is an easy first step in encouraging reading for pleasure. The second step is implementing technology effectively.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview my principal about the digital readiness of our middle school. The goal was to discover how my institution is ensuring that technology is being used wisely for teaching and learning. The infographic that follows is a visual representation of my findings. The two driving questions at the top of the infographic guided the interview, while Mike Ribble’s nine elements of digital citizenship, the ISTE Digital Citizenship Standard 5, and a number of informal interviews with colleagues guided the construction of the interview questions that follow.
My role as an educator is to both prepare students with the skills and knowledge for an undefined future, and engage them to take ownership of their own learning. The following mission statement aims to excite other secondary educators, as it identifies and addresses crucial areas of need during the secondary years. Educating students for the future is anything but explicit, and there is increasing demand to be technologically literate.