"Technology is nothing. What's important is that you have faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them." ~ Steve Jobs
After interviewing Michelle Cordy (@cordym) and visiting her classroom it's taken me a couple of weeks to reflect on what I saw in Michelle's class and to form my own opinions about the impact of a 1:1 iPad classroom. While not many teachers will have the opportunity to teach in a 1:1 environment there are lessons to be learned that can help support any method of technology use in the classroom. If you read the interview with Michelle you will note that she has experienced challenges with the implementation of a 1:1 program. This should give everyone pause for thought. Regardless of your experience with integrating technology instructional design needs to be purposeful. You can't just handout the technology and expect amazing things to be done. Planning is still important. What I loved about Michelle's approach is that she views iPads as a creation tool. She has tried new things that haven't worked but that hasn't put a damper on the idea that iPads are a powerful learning tool.
Is it realistic to be investigating initiatives such as this when the reality is that most classrooms won't have the opportunity to experience it? We may need to look in other directions such as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), where schools can leverage student owned devices with school purchased devices and infrastructure. I struggled starting to write this until I read a recent blog posting by @royanlee on The Spicy Learning Blog. He wrote about his preference for a mish-mash of technology and how it seems to be meeting the personal learning needs of his students. I encourage you to read the post and the insightful responses it has generated. While a mish-mash of technology is probably what most teachers can aspire to have in their classroom, I'm not sure anyone would say no to a class set of one type of device to support the learning of their students. So whether teachers are integrating technology with a mish-mash of available tools or are fortunate to have a 1:1 initiative the question remains - what is needed to make any technology-rich learning environment a successful one? Below are 3 key areas to be mindful of when creating a technology-rich learning environment.
Learning Outcomes - "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing" ~ Stephen Covey. This applies to integrating technology as well. Most teachers new to integrating technology get bogged down with the technology without realizing that the most important thing is the final product you want students to produce and the outcomes it addresses. Students will figure out the technology or the software, there is no need to worry about that. Classroom teachers need to keep the end in mind. They must plan projects that require students to be creative while giving them opportunities to demonstrate their understanding in multiple ways. Teachers that clearly outline expectations, learning goals and success criteria will find that students will create amazingly sophisticated and deep responses.
Take away point - Keep your focus on what you want your students to demonstrate. Don't worry about the nuances of the technology, the students will have no problem figuring that out.
Management - You can think of management in 2 ways - managing files and classroom management. As Michelle expressed in the interview the biggest challenge she has experienced is establishing a workflow for handing out and collecting digital assignments. There are many examples out there such Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote and Edmodo to help support a digital workflow. Which one works best is still a personal decision, but it will have an effect on any implementation, whether it be 1:1 or BYOD. If teachers find the process too challenging then they will most likely loose interest and move away from the use of technology. Classroom management is a unique challenge in a technology-rich environment, a point Michelle noted in the interview. A student off task is very hard to determine in a technology-rich classroom. In classrooms where technology isn't being used by the majority of students teachers can easily determine who needs to be re-directed to the task at hand. This makes classroom management even more important. Michelle was constantly moving about the room, addressing questions, re-directing students and providing next steps for those that needed it.
Take away point - Find a workflow that works for you. Be prepared to "work the room".
Leadership - Leadership in the classroom is essential. Teachers that provide technology-rich environments for their students are leaders in their schools and can act as powerful mentors for their colleagues. They also provide leadership for their students. They lead by example. They model professional use of technology both in the classroom as well as with their digital footprint. They model by learning new things along with the students. Teachers that make their learning visible provide students with a view that learning is a life-long endeavor. For all the great leadership that the teacher provides for their colleagues and students there also needs to be leadership from administration. It is the Principal that must support leaders like Michelle. Fortunately Michelle has such a leader in her school. Her Principal, Sue Bruyns (@sbruyns), is an excellent example of the servant leader. I have personally known Sue for about 8 years. In that time she has demonstrated the ability to think beyond the day-to-day managerial tasks of the Principal, making technology an essential component in her schools. She has mentored a number of great teachers like Michelle who have developed technology-rich classrooms for their students. Without support and guidance from Principals like Sue it would be difficult, if not impossible to succeed in creating a technology-rich classroom of any type.
Take away point - Teachers - led by example and don't be afraid to fail. Administrators - support teachers that are willing to create technology-rich classrooms, especially when things don't go well.
Regardless of your experience with technology in the classroom it is important to remember that it is just a tool. Teachers are still the most influential factor in student achievement. We need more teachers and administrators like Michelle and Sue providing technology-rich classrooms to meet the needs of today's learners.
I would love to hear your experiences with developing a technology-rich learning environment.