Friday, June 19, 2015

TED Advice for Navigating Educational Technology

We love TED, both the talk series and the blog, and were so impressed by one of their recent education blog posts we had to share it. Called “There’s No App for Good Teaching,” it provides ideas for helping parents and teachers navigate the ever-expanding array of learning technology. Although many apps, online learning opportunities, and tech-y tools can be helpful, educational technology is a very lucrative industry, meaning that lots of programmers are producing content in the hopes of cashing in. The upshot is that there’s a lot of chaff to be separated from the wheat. TED shares this list, based on research, of eight factors to keep in mind when assessing learning technology:

1. Keep learning goals ahead of the technology.

2. Opt for the open-ended.

3. Don’t let tech making learning easy.

4. Take feedback seriously. (This refers to feedback the technology gives to students.)

5. Stay skeptical of individualized learning – for now.

6. Bring in student interests, authentically.

7. Start conversations (i.e. look for tools that get kids talking).

8. Make it open, make it better. (This one, which applies to teachers, suggests that teachers can all benefit from sharing their lessons plans with each other to enhance student learning.)

We enthusiastically recommend reading their post in full for more details on the list.

Our thoughts? Number three caught our attention in particular. We agree that real learning takes time and effort. Young people, and all people, often need to wrestle with new concepts, laboriously considering all angles and trying and failing a few times to truly understand complex material.

But remember to make a distinction between learning and accessing/expressing. Students with disabilities need the opportunity to wrestle with new material just as much as anyone else, but some may need to rely on technology to access that material. A dyslexic child who uses audiobooks is not taking the easy way out; he is using a tool to help him do what other kids can do easily. He still needs to comprehend and interrogate the ideas in the text, which audiobooks certainly won’t help with. Similarly, a child with dysgraphia may need to dictate what she has learned to speech-to-text software to show her teacher the complexity of her thoughts. When other students can transcribe their ideas easily, such software allows her the same opportunities as peers to show what she knows. Our colleagues at CAST do a great job explaining this concept of universal design for learning, or UDL. A visit to their website provides excellent resources, including explanatory videos.

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