At ISTE 2014 in Atlanta, I attended Alan November’s session on “Learn to Learn: First 5 Days of School”. Alan spoke about the opportunities within the first five days of the school year, and the range of activities and pedagogies that could be “invested in” during that time and carried into each term.
Alan showed a set of questions that he had been working on, named “Six questions to ask for transformed learning”. Alan’s point was that the we ought to consider more frequently how much of our use of technology IS in fact transforming classrooms. His questions could be used to “test” or analyse assignments, as one can easily get carried away in the urgency to use technology but not consider how in fact it is improving (or hindering) the learning process or opportunities.
Here are Alan’s questions in full:
1) Did the assignment create capacity for critical thinking on the web?
2) Did the assignment reach new areas of teaching students to develop new lines of enquiry?
3) Are there opportunities to broaden the perspective of the conversation with authentic audiences from around the world?
4) Is there an opportunity for students to publish (across various media) with an opportunity for continuous feedback?
5) Is there an option or focus for students to create a contribution (purposeful work?)
6) Were students introduced to “best in the world” examples of content and skill?
— Anthony Speranza (@anthsperanza) July 1, 2014
Upon reflecting on Alan’s questions I thought that they ring true; in that if the answer is no to all of the above, then there is a danger that technology has merely substituted the task and not transformed it in any way. Educators often talk about how apps or software are “transformational” because they are engaging or motivating, or personal devices that are in the hands of students hands lead to transformational “approaches”. For me, the transformative opportunities in today’s digital age with technology are when the technologies are used to connect, share and widen classrooms, which in my opinion, are scarcely met in a genuine sense.
According to the SAMR model above (Dr Ruben Puentedura), transformation occurs when the technology has allowed for significant modification of the task and / or created new opportunities which were previously inconceivable. For more on SAMR, see Kathy Schrock’s awesome guide.
So you think you are using technology to “Transform” learning?
Taking Alan’s questions, I have modified them slightly and improved the wording of them for teachers to use more succinctly to get to the heart of the question; so that they could be used to think about whether technology is indeed transforming learning and teaching in classrooms.
The first change you might notice is that I have modified the word “assignment” to task. Assignment to me brings connotations of a moment in time, a “project”, and often used as an assessment piece. To me the word task is a lot more applicable yet still suitable to learning opportunities in the classroom.
1) Does the task create capacity for critical thinking on the web? – The extent to which critical thinking and higher order cognitive skills are utilised WITH the web. The word “web” here is particularly important as it offers the opportunity to broaden perspectives, break down the barriers of place and time, and share and connect across communities.
2) Does the task enrich the possibilities for students to develop new lines of inquiry? – The extent to which the technology is used in a way that sparks curiosity and provides the avenues for students to develop and seek questions.
3) Does the task broaden the conversation via authentic audiences? – The extent to which the technology is used to flatten classroom walls and open dialogue and interaction between other students, teachers, parents, and the wider community.
4) Does the task allow opportunities for students to publish with the possibility of continuous feedback? – The extent to which the technology is used to publish student knowledge and synthesis with the opportunity of viewership and feedback from others without the restrictions of place and time.
5) Does the task allow opportunities for students to create contributions? – The extent to which the technology is used for questioning, moderating, collaborating and co-creating with others.
6) Does the task expose students to “best in the world” examples of content and/or skill? – The extent to which the technology is used to demonstrate high quality examples of the learning objective’s content and/or skills.
Educators, what do you think? I would welcome you to “test” these questions to analyse tasks or curriculum against the SAMR model. Do you agree with Alan November? Would you include anything else in this set of questions?
As part of my Google Teacher Academy application, I have made a provocation that can be used for critical and creative thinking about the opportunities of transformational learning with technology. This might be useful to view when planning for deliberate tasks, or consider when delivering of lessons, or for post evaluations and analysis of tasks or curriculum.