Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tech toys or tools (?) and their uses is described on its home page as a "toy". Using it to create a tag cloud of this blog, though, it is a tool to summarize and discover the primary informational focus or keywords being discussed. Is this cheating? Is using a calculator to do math cheating? The answer is a resounding "no". The answer is that we need to embrace technology and the new tools and methods available to us as a society and as teachers and learners.

A school librarian I met recently boasted how much fun she had doing her job - playing with kids and technology every day. Past generations maintained a strict division between technology toys and technology tools but the more I learn about the technology available and the pedagogy of learning, the more difficult it becomes to label tech toys as valueless. Tool or toy, matching the application to the curriculum, the need, and particular learning style is far more important than the preconceived perception of the application's value.

Presenters at the K-12 Online Conference (live this month and archived for perpetuity) with the theme “Amplifying Possibilities” are using many different communication technologies to share and teach us some of the Web 2.0 possibilities and challenge us to reach for the next level. In their presentation "How Can I Become Part of this ReadWriteWeb Revolution?" Alice Barr, Bob Sprankle, and Cheryl Oakes remind us that once we immerse ourselves and accept our roles as learners along with our students, they will develop and show us ways to use technology that we cannot even imagine.
Keynote speaker Stephen Heppell (designer of physical and virtual learning environments of the future) started the conference (link to his presentation moved. will add when I find.) by describing the crossroads in our educational environment today from the old "factory style" classrooms to the new community classrooms defined by "us-ness". He spoke of teachers provoking learning instead of providing learning and pushing students to take ownership of their learning. While I don't see the majority of our students accepting that role, I think he hit the nail on the head regarding the social nature of learning today and the value of "audience" as a tool in the equation. Perhaps the failure of students to take more ownership or at least be more interested and engaged may be a result of our failure to trust them with the tools of their generation.

Instead of prohibiting headphones, for instance, we should be providing them to all students along with books on tape, podcasts, vodcasts, and text message reminders of class assignments. Instead of disjointed and meaningless deliverable assignments during the course of a semester, perhaps each assignment should add toward a greater, high quality, publishable whole to be displayed on the web. Examples could include articles, tables, photos and even video or podcasts blended into a student created website, or perhaps a professionally designed magazine, well maintained blog, or carefully edited video news program. The key factor may not be the format, but the freedom to choose the format and the reality that, upon completion, it will be available for the full world to see (including important peers and family members).

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