Tuesday, July 1, 2008

It's Not About the Technology

That's probably an odd title from someone blogging a 5 day tech conference, bit I'm happy to say it's an oft-repeated theme here. Yesterday, I attended Bernajean Porter's (of DigiTales fame) H.O.T. Comics workshop, and fully the first half of the workshop focused on content rather than working with Comic Life.

So many teachers get caught up in the gadget aspect. My district requires each faculty member to teach one "technology" lesson per year. I'm encouraging them to re-phrase that, as it creates numerous situations where teachers come to me in a mini-panic saying, "I have to teach a tech lesson. Tell me what I can do in one period!" Worse, some teachers just turn in a plan that shows students a few web sites and call that technology.

Everyone needs to start somewhere, and when you're first making the foray into 21st Century learning, it's natural to focus on the gadgets and gizmos and flashy stuff. Just don't be disappointed when students turn in mediocre projects. My first set of documentaries were AWFUL (except for the one student with a very tech-savvy brother), as both students and I learned the ins-and-outs movie-making.

As I sat and watched them, I realized I had let the students down by not spending nearly enough time in the pre-production stage. I think our planning took a week (two at most), and then I turned them loose and said, "bring back a rough draft in a month." Live and learn.

Students (and teachers) need a clear vision of their message and audience before they even touch a piece of equipment. If you are asking them to work at the upper levels of Bloom's (and if you're not, why aren't you?), they must have a solid understanding of CONTENT, first.

That's why, when teachers complain that technology projects take too long, I point out that
  1. most of that time is spent learning the content area
  2. creating a well-constructed video, podcast or whatever almost guarantees students have made that learning personal, deeply internalizing the information.
Thus, 70% of the time should be spent on learning, and only 30% on the technology. And even then only if the technology enhances the learning.

Don't have students blog if all they're doing is keeping an online journal. What's the point? They need to link to outside sources, incorporating them into their thinking. They need to engage in conversations with each other. For my Film Studies class, students used blogs as their own individualized learning center, choosing a topic of interest to them (e.g. Samurai films), then researching, viewing, exploring and using the blog as a place to "think and link." This is difficult in a journal, without spending time wandering off topic to explain what you've read. In a blog, you just link to it.

This started out as a blog about using comics for graphic novels, but wandered off into my own pet techno-rant.

I also just realized that, as I'm sitting on the floor of the convention center, my entire right leg is now completely asleep to the point I can hardly move it!

More anon.

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