How to Focus on Learning Rather Than Tech

I have been working with the so called “technology integration” for the last 16 years, and the biggest debate in the area is around tech skills versus learning. Do we need to teach specific tech skills to students before they are really able to deal with tech projects? Do we as teachers need to acquire technology skills and learn about applications before we are really able to make good choices regarding technology integration projects?  Well, the answer is: this is just too hard with technology changing and developing everyday. Considering the speed of change in technology, the question that really begs and answer is: Should we really focus on tech skills? What is in fact important?

All the innovation that has been brought by technology has had a much bigger impact: it has changed the way we learn, it has changed the way we communicate, it has changed the way we collaborate. Technology innovation has in fact brought a call for change in attitudes. But what about the tech skills you will ask? We need to learn those to navigate and operate the technological world. Yes, you need skills, you are right. But how can you say that, you may ask, if you just stated that tech skills are not important? Because the beauty of the changes brought by technology is that formal classes are no longer essential to acquire those tech skills. They are openly available for learning on the Internet.

So let’s stop here for a minute and take a breath… for most of us reading this blog, independent learning was not on the menu in schools as we grew up, and probably not even on the menu during College. This is why I am saying that technology innovation has brought a change in attitudes. This is why nowadays we hear so much about life-long learning. It is the attitude of being master of your own learning, being independent.

But how can you do that? How can you navigate technology innovation if you still do not feel tech savvy enough? So here are some tips that will allow exploring technology with a focus on learning outcomes, not tech skills. Try to always think in terms of your learning goals for students.  By being focused on learning goals, you can have a better judgement about how to achieve those. Sometimes a “technological” approach will be appropriate, at other times it will be a concrete experience or a mixture of both. The next step is to consider “modern literacies” and see how your learning goal can be “amplified”  or enhanced by any of those literacies. Silvia Tolisano provides a Guide to 21st Century Skills, Literacies, Fluency where you can check the definition for each one. The least step will be to search for applications that can support the desired literacy and learn the tech skills just for what you need. A trick here is that, with time, you will notice that many tech skills are similar no matter which application you are using.

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To make it more concrete for you, here is an example following the suggestions above:

Suppose I have noticed that my students have a real difficulty to make the most of group work. As a teacher, I would like that my students engage in deeper learning, taking advantage of learning with and from others. As I read and learn about modern literacies, I think that my students actually need to improve their ability to “participate intelligently and actively in the information society”: that is Silvia Tolisano’s definition for Information Literacy in the Guide to 21st Century Skills, Literacies, Fluency. I wish each one of my students could take more responsibility for their individual participation and contribution to group work, in this way developing their Information Literacy. As I already know that technology has the power to record everything we do, I wonder if there is a good online application that could help track individual participation in the group’s process of transforming information into knowledge. Or as I already work with Google Docs in my classroom, I can try to explore ways to better use its recording power to track the individual collaboration in the group’s research process. If I need any specific tech skills, I can search for a video tutorial.

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There is no magic bullet for finding a “technology” approach to the learning goal you set for your classroom. Maybe you do not use technology in its full potential in the beginning, but slowly find ways to develop modern literacies in your classroom that really amplify students learning experiences. The key is to be an open-minded learner and enjoy the process of searching for answers. You can talk to other teachers, ask around and do a Google search of course!  We can no longer afford to use technology just because it is shiny. We all need to keep focusing on learning.

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Here are some examples of my sequence of search strategies and results when I try to Google my way around this learning goal:

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Selection from search results:

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Selection from search results:

  • 5 Ways to Use Google Docs in the ClassroomSome of my learning from this reading =
    • “Sharing and commenting provide students with opportunities to receive immediate feedback on their writing from teachers and peers in the 24/7 classroom. The integrated reference tools and smart spell checker provide students with convenient writing support right on the page. The built in research tool expands opportunities for students to engage in real world writing and streamlines the process of creating links and citations with a handy one click feature.  For students using a variety of sources in their writing, Google Docs integrates seamlessly with EasyBib.”
    • “The features available in the drawing component of Google Docs are well-suited for online, collaborative brainstorming  sessions that provide students with opportunities to work together to develop ideas.”

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Selection from search results:

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Selection from search results:

Happy exploring!

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