by Philip Vinogradov, Director of Innovation, Teaching and Learning
For over a decade, those connected with education, parents, students, teachers, administrators, businesses, and universities have discussed and debated the relative value of instructional technology in schools. On the one hand emerging technologies have unlocked opportunities including virtual field trips, powerful simulations, empowerment through accessibility features, global collaboration, adaptive instructional programs, and the ability for learners to publish to authentic audiences. Certainly instructional technologies have been essential in maintaining the continuity of connection and instruction throughout a global pandemic, and in the coming years educators will be reflecting on what approaches were particularly effective that they want to incorporate into their practice as we enter a new normal. On the other hand, both in schools and the workplace, technologies can undermine focus, overwhelming us with notifications, tempting distractions, and the pressure to constantly attend to email. As with any transformative set of tools, intentionality in how and why we use specific technologies is essential in supporting successful outcomes. Below we share our philosophy of technology integration and examples of transformative intentional use.
The creation of new knowledge through technology is integral not only in how today’s students learn, but also in preparing students for the careers of tomorrow. For education to keep pace with the rapid technological advances in our society, we must continually develop, evaluate, and refine approaches to education that leverage emerging technologies, support collaborative learning, bridge the physical/digital realms, engage all stakeholders, and prepare learners for the dynamic world they are entering.
While technology alone cannot transform the learning experience, it can enable and facilitate
transformative practices, especially as part of a holistic cultural shift from learners being information consumers or spectators, to being information users and knowledge creators. Within this context instructional technologies ideally, support engagement and higher-order thinking through authenticity; Inform instruction through continual formative and summative assessment; Develop learner independence through differentiation; Facilitate the development of 21st century skills including collaboration, communication, creativity, and digital citizenship. The following describes what some of these shifts look like.
Making Thinking Visible and Effective Feedback
Research shows that the shorter the interval between action and feedback, the more impactful and useful the feedback is for the learner. We see this manifest in spaces like athletic practice, music lessons, and theatrical performances, where the learner is able to make immediate adjustments in response to feedback from a coach, instructor, or audience. Yet for many of us, especially those of us who went to school in the 20th century, the interval between action and feedback with school work was often one of days or weeks. Many of us remember spending days composing a research paper, submitting it to a teacher, and then receiving a grade and feedback (often written in red pen in the margins), weeks after the paper was submitted, often with no opportunity to revisit and refine the work based on feedback. This type of delayed transactional workflow undermines the value of feedback.
I remember the epiphany I had a decade ago, when my students first began to compose their work in a shared google doc, and I saw their ideas unfolding in real time. Immediately I was able to provide comments and feedback as their work unfolded, providing differentiated support, encouragement, and challenge to meet students' needs. In response to timely and actionable feedback, student work shifts from a series of isolated completion tasks, to conversations about evolving ideas.
Over the past decade a plethora of tools have emerged for making thinking visible and providing both the teacher and students feedback on learner understandings. Some of the most effective include presentation tools like Nearpod and Peardeck, that embed interactive questions and polls, engage all students in sharing their ideas, opinions, and solutions, while providing an immediate opportunity for teachers to clarify misconceptions while including all student voices.
Personalization of Learning
As educators we know that not all learners are ready to learn the same thing, the same way, at the same pace. Learning is most effective when students have some agency over how and what they are learning, with guidance and scaffolding from a teacher. Tools for presenting content allow for differentiation in how students engage with content (video, flipped lecture, reading, simulations) and the pace at which they progress, often providing the teacher with feedback on student understanding, through embedded checks for understanding, allowing for more targeted interventions and support. Additionally, when teachers front-load digital resources and “direct-instruction” (flipped classroom model) to allow learners to progress at a personalized pace, they free class time for collaborative and higher-order application tasks. Most importantly, learners develop digital literacy proficiency as they become continually reflective in evaluating and selecting tools and ways of learning that are effective for their task and goal.
A modern definition of literacy is “the ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one's goals, and to develop one's knowledge and potential.” A more expansive definition would include the ability to create and communicate in all media, including written and spoken word, video, infographics, the modern web, and understanding the role of AI and algorithms in what information is presented to us.
In the 20th century information and curriculum was curated for learners. At the beginning of that century, human knowledge was doubling every 100 years. By the middle of that century it was doubling every 25 years. Today it is estimated that human knowledge doubles every 12 hours.In a time when access to information is ubiquitous, the essential skill we can provide for learners is how to construct and communicate knowledge in a sea of information. This includes skills for evaluating the veracity of information, understanding sources of bias in those sources, understanding their own potential for confirmation bias (seeking out information to support your opinions rather than seeking to uncover the truth), and acknowledging the authorship and ideas of others.
Coupled with the cultivation of contemporary literacy is the importance of developing digital balance, and skills for interpersonal collaboration and discussion absent devices. At Merion this includes explicit discussion of our relationship with technology, and how we can use these tools intentionally and responsibly, while also establishing norms and habits for being present in the moment with peers, friends, and family.