Making Good Technology Choices

One of the questions that I’m asked all the time is, “Bill, how do you decide what technology you’re going to integrate into your classroom?”

My first reaction to this question is always to breathe a sigh of relief simply because far, far too many educators—teachers, principals, school leaders—make haphazard choices about technology integration, wasting our already limited time and money in the process. 

To know that audiences are starting to think more systematically about the tools and the technologies that they embrace is a relief!

Then, I give the same answer that Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach—my digital mentor and TLN colleague—gave me nearly a decade ago: 

Good technology choices start with a firm understanding of the skills that you want your students to master.

Once you understand just what those skills are—and why they’re important to the kids in your classroom—you can start to find digital tools that make the work around those skills more efficient.

The good news is that choosing skills is a heck of a lot easier than choosing tools. 

After all, some of the brightest minds in education reform—Bob Marzano, Rick and Becky DuFour, Rick Stiggins, Larry Ainsworth—have been writing about “essential outcomes,” “I Can Statements,” and “power standards” for years.

Their keys to identifying skills that matter involve asking questions about endurance, leverage and readiness:

Endurance:  Are students expected to retain the skills or knowledge you are considering long after the test is completed?

Leverage:  Is this skill or knowledge you are considering applicable to many academic disciplines?

Readiness for the next level of learning:  Is this skill or knowledge you are considering going to prepare the student for success in the next grade/course?

When I think about the kinds of knowledge and skills that meet the endurance-leverage-readiness test by crossing disciplines, preparing students for success in the next grade and remaining important long after the test, I think of information management, collaborative dialogue, and persuasion.

And now that I’ve narrowed my focus down to three important skills, making instructional technology choices is easy. 

Here are some examples:

Information Management

It would be pretty darn near impossible to argue that learning to manage information—to identify sources worth trusting, to organize collections of shared resources on topics of interest, to create customized streams of content—is an essential skill for everyone in today’s digitally driven world.

Not only will managing information become more important in the future (endurance), it is essential regardless of academic discipline (leverage) and it can help students to learn efficiently throughout their school careers (readiness).

As a result, I try to introduce my students to search tools like the Google Wonder Wheel.  We also discuss the anatomy of hoax websites and we begin to explore the value in social bookmarking and shared annotation of content.

 

Collaborative Dialogue

Anyone who has spent any time reading the Radical knows that I’m completely frustrated by the kill-em-all nature of important conversations in our country.  Competitive dialogue—the kind of “I’m smarter than you” rhetoric we hear from politicians and pundits all the time—leaves us divided.

That’s why I’m a big believer in collaborative dialogue—“Let’s think together”—as an essential skill.  Collaborative thinking is a characteristic of the best innovators (endurance) regardless of discipline (leverage).  It is also a characteristic of the most efficient learners in our schools (readiness).

As a result, I work hard to give my students opportunities to practice collaborative dialogue.  Usually that work happens with an approachable tool called VoiceThread.

 

Persuasion

Persuasion is perhaps the most interesting skill on my essentials list simply because it often runs contrary to my passion for collaborative dialogue.  When you’re persuading, you’re not always working from a collaborative mindset.

But understanding persuasion is incredibly important to being a literate citizen in the 21st Century (endurance) simply because EVERYONE with an opinion is using the Web to shape public thinking around the issues that they care about.

If our students don’t understand the tricks of the persuasion trade, they’re going to spend their entire adult lives being bamboozled. 

And perhaps more importantly, if they don’t understand the tricks of the persuasion trade, they’ll never be able to organize significant action around the ideas that THEY care about.

That makes persuasion an important skill in many domains (leverage and readiness), doesn’t it? 

As social studies classes explore the global implications of poverty, science classes study the potential solutions to our world-wide energy crisis and health classes study the role that governments should play in regulating healthy living habits, students will form content-specific positions that they’ll want to advocate for. 

As a result, I try to engage my kids in projects that require them to be persuasive.  Specifically, we use the Kiva microlending website as a starting point for persuasive conversations and experiences. 

We also use Animoto to create persuasive videos and talk about the role that images play in today’s persuasion landscape. 

 

What’s interesting is that just about every time that I finish explaining the thinking about  my technology choices, someone gets flustered. 

“You’re not using wikis?” they’ll argue.  “How can that be?  And for any teacher to ignore Skype as a tool in the classroom is simply ridiculous!  It’s fantastic.”

My reply—delivered as gently as possible—is always the same: 
“Wikis and Skype aren’t skills.  Instead, they’re tools that can be used to make working with individual skills easier.” 

And I have used wikis with students—as a part of a persuasive effort to shape thinking in North Carolina around alternative energy sources.  Skype becomes a tool for exploring positions and ideas that are outside of our own, supporting the collaborative dialogue and persuasive efforts that I believe in.

Does any of this make sense? 

I guess what I’m trying to argue is that we need to start looking at the characteristics of good teaching before we ever start to think about good tools.

Technology cannot help children learn when it is divorced from the knowledge, skills and expert choices of their teachers.

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11 thoughts on “Making Good Technology Choices

  1. Brandi Caldwell

    Great post! I am going to repost it in my my blog and share some of this with our district. I think that many teachers utilize me as the Technology Integration Specialist for “hooking up stuff” and showing them “cool tools”. When an administrator wants me to show their teachers some more great resources, my question is always, “First, tell me what they want their students to learn. Now I can get you some resources to facilitate that skill and to make it more engaging.” Thank you thank you for verbalizing this!!! Also, special props to Sheryl as she is also one of my idols and friends from the Alabama Best Practices Center.

  2. Steven Weber

    Great post! This is thought provoking. Thank you for sharing your experiences and challenging educators through your blog, articles, and books. Rick DuFour and Tom Many have written articles saying that Professional Learning Communities appear in several different forms, but calling a meeting a PLC does not mean that educators are operating as a PLC. The same could be said about technology integration. Thank you for these resources and ideas.

  3. Alee Cotton

    Your thoughts here convinced me to finally finish a blog post I’ve had drafted for a while. Thanks for helping a new teacher sort out her ideas on such a vast and important topic!

  4. ProjectCRISS

    I love how you’ve framed this. I’ve been presenting at conferences for a few years now about THOUGHTFUL integration of technology into instruction. I’ll be sharing this!

  5. Bill Ferriter

    Cool, Eric…
    Glad that the post looked useful to you! I think the idea of framing conversations around the enduring-leverage-readiness test is an approachable framework—-checklist even—for school leaders and teachers trying to make any choice, including the type of technology to use in their classrooms.
    Rock right on,
    Bill

  6. Eric Juli

    Bill,
    This is great and you’ve framed the issues so clearly. I’ll be sharing this post with my teacher and administrator colleagues in my district. Thanks so much.
    Eric

  7. crazedmummy

    >>Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
    The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to
    Alice: I don’t much care where.
    The Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
    Alice: …so long as I get somewhere.
    The Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.<< Thank you for not only planning where to go, but sharing with the rest of us what the planning process can look like. Lately I feel a lot like Alice.

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