Day Five at the MA New Lit Institute – Digital Texts and Tools are a toybox, but what if we want a sandbox?

Day Five at the MA New Lit Institute – Digital Texts and Tools are a toybox, but what if we want a sandbox?

On the final day at the MA New Literacies Institute we’re usually in full spin as participants feverishly work on the final elements of their work product. The sessions end with an incredible showcase of all of the different units and projects people developed over the week. As is the usual, I was once again amazed and inspired by the work of participants. I saw many ideas and sessions that I will most certainly add into my own work process and materials I share with other educators.

The morning began with an inspired talk from Tom Daccord on the challenges and opportunities associated with use of mobile devices in our schools. I’ve often worked with, advocated for, and helped implement mobile learning technology initiatives in schools and higher education. Many of the ideas Tom shared helped to solidify my thinking…and motivate these questions in participants. There was one common theme that did inspire me across Tom’s talk, the questions of participants…and the work shared in the showcase.

Learning is Messy. Is it still messy as we move to online, digital, and/or mobile devices?

While viewing videos of students working, collaborating, and creating on iPads we watched a typical, psuedo-inspirational movie about elementary students that were able to unlock new potential by using tablets.

The question that many participants had from this video focused on what is missing as we move this focus from print to pixel. One of the participants specifically mentioned that learning is messy, and creation is messy. Cognitively, there is much to learn in the experience as we push and pull paint on paper. There is a certain kinesthetic experience as we move experiences like painting, or multimodal creation to the screen. If learning is messy, what is the equivalent of “getting paint all over our hands and clothes” when we create on mobile devices?

Get the technology out of the hands of the teachers, and into our students hands

Tom also shared a video of the “classroom of the future” in which the teacher shows off an incredible array of mobile and display devices in which formative and summative assessments are boiled down to a click on a screen.

In the discussion after the two videos, participants commented on the juxtaposition of the roles of the students and teachers. The first video had the students leading most of the learning in the video. The teacher came in at the end…and for the most part remained in the background. The second video focused on the teacher and the use of technology to monitor and report back out to students. Across the two videos we all agreed that we’d far more prefer the learning experience in the first video. The key question remains – How can we effectively and authentically use technology in our classrooms to develop inquiry based learning?

“These Digital Texts and Tools are a toybox…but what if we want a sandbox”

There are a multitude of educational technologies available as we work with digital texts and tools in our classrooms. The challenge is that usually our decisions about technology resolve down to how we can adapt to technology. There is a mindset that “we are an iPad school”…or “we have a Chromebook initiative”…as opposed to, “we use technology authentically and effectively in instruction.” I advise teachers and administrators to focus on student learning objectives, building ubiquitous access to teaching materials…and focusing on a device agnostic policy. This means that it doesn’t matter what device or tool we find money to buy.

The key is remaining flexible as future events warrant. This also means that we move away from a constant search for the perfect app for a teaching solution. I often work with schools or individual educators that are looking for that perfect app for a unit. As Tom commented in his talk, “We can’t use the iPad in our history class because there isn’t a decent Oregon Trail app, or Renaissance History app.” The key is empowering and enabling our teachers to create, curate, and share on their own teaching materials that they know will work based on their expertise in their content area and grade level.

 

 

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