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Technology in Education and Opportunity Cost

During a regional principal’s meeting today, our conversation steered toward the integration of technology within instruction. Smartphones were a frequent topic, especially from the secondary school leaders. Distractions and inappropriate use seemed to be the common reason for some of the administrators’ disdain for students’ mobile devices.

I empathized, as a former junior high school assistant principal. My administrative career began in 2011 which is around the time that iPhones started to come into prominence. From the beginning of my secondary tenure until my shift to an elementary principal role four years later, smartphones grew in frequency and in use in school. I always had a few of them on my desk or in a drawer. Many of them were more advanced than my district-issued smartphone.

Today, every educator seems to have a different perspective on the use of technology during classroom instruction. Each one of us seems to have a nuanced point of view about digital tool integration. This perspective can change based on the content, the task, the students’ developmental level, and the technology itself.  For example, one administrator today stated that she does not know the best approach for managing smartphones in schools, yet she did believe that high school students needed more than a Chromebook for engaging in creative, original work.

We will not get to a point of consensus in the near future regarding “best practices” when it comes to technology in education. So how do we address these types of challenges with more intent? One approach when preparing a lesson or unit of study for our students is to consider the opportunity costs of the inclusion or exclusion of technology within our instruction.

The concept of opportunity costs comes from the financial world. Whether you spend money on something or you decide not to, there is a cost. Say you are saving up for a family vacation. Every purchase you make from the moment you create this goal to the moment you go on vacation has a cost. Should we go out to eat? Yes means you can enjoy a meal out with family, but you are not saving that money toward the vacation. No means you are saving that money, and the cost is not enjoying a night out at a restaurant. 

I think the same principle of opportunity cost can apply when considering whether or not to integrate technology with instruction. Next is a process as an example:

  1. What is the goal of the lesson/unit of study? These are the essential learning outcomes, usually aligned with a standard, a competency, or a larger understanding, i.e. “conflict” within a study of U.S. history. Really not a lot of opportunities to incorporate technology into the lesson (unless the instruction is focused on learning how to use the technology itself).
  2. How will I know that my students have learned? We are looking for ways to evaluate understanding with the best tools available. Deciding how to assess student learning might be a better opportunity to incorporate technology. For example, if we want to know if students truly understand the concept of conflict through the lens of U.S. history, a multiple choice test or a written essay may not cut it. What if we designed a performance task such as creating a podcast in which two students debated in a respectful manner over a decision made in our country’s past? We could hear whether or not students used the strategies for a persuasive argument, both the language they use and in the way they used that language. They could also self-assess their work.

So what’s the opportunity cost? The benefits of incorporating technology within the assessment may include but are not limited to:

  • a better representation of student’s understanding of conflict,
  • a more engaging activity for students to create a podcast vs. taking a traditional test,
  • an opportunity to publish work for a wide audience, further increasing engagement, and
  • the integration of 21st-century skills into instruction.

The cost of this opportunity to integrate technology into assessment may include:

  • possible implementation challenges for the teacher to do the work well,
  • potential lack of access to the appropriate number of devices needed, and
  • more time spent working on this project, which can impact future instructional plans.

So should we integrate podcasting into our performance task? Here’s the thing: there’s no clear answer. We cannot say “four to three” in favor of the inclusion of technology. Every school and every teacher are unique. Maybe one teacher doesn’t feel comfortable introducing podcasting as an assessment tool by herself, but she has a library media specialist who is more savvy about these tools and happy to co-teach this part of the unit. 

Educators have to use their professional judgment when it comes to classroom technology integration. This requires both an open and a discerning mind, a mix of strong pedagogical knowledge along with enough social imagination to understand that teaching and learning are in a constant process of change. If you try out this process, of analyzing the opportunity cost of technology implementation within your instruction, let me know how it goes. 

In my book 5 Myths About Classroom Technology, I tackle five misconceptions regarding the integration of digital tools in schools. You can purchase my book through ASCD here.

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Three Steps for Successful Technology Integration

Consider these three steps for successful integration of technology in the classroom or a school. I’ll be facilitating a workshop on technology integration in West Salem, Wisconsin on Thursday, April 12. If you are in the area, sign up today (click here).

“If math is the aspirin, what is the headache?” A high school teacher posed this question. In her context, she was explaining why she always needs to make a case for mathematics with her students.

Replace “mathematics” with “technology”, and the opposite may be true. Many educators cannot help but adopt more technology in their classrooms and schools. We want to be 1:1, even though we may not be able to provide a good reason why every kid needs a laptop.  Distraction can increase with this digital influx. Are we creating more problems, when we should be giving students the right tools to solve problems they themselves created?

Are we creating more problems, when we should be giving students the right tools to solve problems they themselves create?

The point to make here is that before we start selecting digital tools to integrate into instruction, we have to a) determine why we need the technology, b) discern what resources are needed to be successful, and c) decide how and when to use technology.

1. Determine the why

This step involves examining one’s beliefs and values about teaching and learning. The process involves reflecting on our current practices and being honest with ourselves about what’s working and what is not. School assessment results, student surveys, and peer or administrator feedback can be helpful in getting started.

One process I like for examining beliefs and values in order to determine why we might integrate technology in the classroom is “This I Believe”. Here are the steps suggested for this reflective experience, either independently or with a group.

  • Listen to/read Luis Urrea’s response (“Life is an Act of Literary Creation”) to This I Believe as an example.
  • Write a personal reaction regarding what you believe about assessment and education for today’s students.
  • Post it on your blog or share it with a trusted colleague.

Through this process of examining our beliefs and values and determining why we want to use technology to improve students’ learning experiences, we can make more informed decisions about instruction.

2. Discern the what

When I initially wrote this post, I had this section last. Pedagogy trumps technology, right? Yes…but we also don’t know what we don’t know. It can be hard to decide what technologies and other resources we might need to enhance instruction if we are not aware of them.

That’s why I do like to explore a wide range of digital tools with teachers as we design instruction with technology in mind. Playing with different applications and ideas for how we might use them in the classroom is an act of creation itself. With a broader perspective about our beliefs and practices we find effective, the tools are less likely to drive our instruction and instead enhance it.

Next is a list of ideas shared recently at a workshop I facilitated on implementing digital portfolios for English learners.

Family Engagement

  • Share information about home literacy activities through a notification/announcements function of a digital portfolio (DP) tool. (FreshGrade, Remind, Seesaw)
  • Teachers can take a picture of a book to be sent home and post for those students, accompanied with ideas for families to explore it at home. (FreshGrade, Seesaw, Smore)
  • Encourage parents to use the DP parent app to email teacher (linked) about questions they have regarding their child’s reading progress, words that were tricky for them, etc to be used for future instruction. (FreshGrade, Remind, Seesaw)
  • Post a survey questions, asking parents to share favorite book titles in their home in the comments. (FreshGrade, Remind, Seesaw)
  • Send “interview” questions through DP for parents to ask their child to guide home reading.  (FreshGrade, Remind, Seesaw))
  • Have students reflect in DP about their current reading instead of a formal reading log, using video, audio, and/or text. (FreshGrade, Kidblog, Seesaw)

Scaffolding Literacy Experiences

  • Provide multiple days at the beginning of a unit for students to read and immerse themselves in the focus of the study. (OverDrive, Kidblog, Biblionasium)
  • Offer a choice board in media to explore to build background knowledge around the topic of study. (QR Codes, YouTube, podcasts)
  • Include audio versions of selected texts so students can access literature they are interested in during the study. (Playaways, OverDrive, Audible)
  • Give students choice in a primary text to read during a unit of study, and facilitate a book club with guiding questions and discussions. (Google Classroom, Edmodo)
  • Document student discussions, both in small and whole groups, to prepare for future strategy instruction. (iPad, Apple Pencil, Notability; MacBook, Day One)

Representing and Celebrating Diversity

  • Have parents video record or write and share a story from their earlier lives. (Google Drive)
  • Record students reading a text aloud in both English and Spanish. (FreshGrade, Seesaw)
  • Read and record discussions of diverse literature in book clubs/literature circles. (FreshGrade, Seesaw)
  • Examine and organize your classroom library with students, focusing on the amount and quality of the culturally-representative text.
  • Maintain a wish list of culturally diverse books and share it with families regularly to purchase for the classroom. (Amazon, Google Site)
  • Develop a digital pen pal relationship with classrooms in other parts of the world. (Kidblog, ePals)
  • Create a bilingual book with audio, images, and text and share it online for a public audience. (Book Creator, Little Bird Tales)

Community Partnerships

    • Create original content where students teach others life skills, such as how to speak Spanish or how to use a computer. (YouTube, Vimeo, Book Creator)
    • Bring in a local family from another country to speak about their culture and values to kickstart a geography or storytelling unit. (Smore, Remind)
    • Develop a community room for visitors to sit in and learn about the school’s mission, vision, and beliefs, offering bilingual resources. (Google Translate, Smore)
    • Design advertisements for local businesses in both English and Spanish as a performance task for a unit on persuasive writing + economics. (Canva, Google Docs, MS Word, Pages)
    • Create a public service announcement (PSA) about a local problem, such as hunger or an environmental/safety issue. (iMovie, YouTube)
    • Assign volunteers to record themselves reading aloud selected literature via audio or video (Google Drive, Evernote, Vimeo)

 

3. Explore the how and the when

Integrating technology with instruction is both a technical and cultural change. It’s technical in that teachers are now tasked with including tablets or laptops as part of their lesson planning and delivery. “How should I model this application for the students – mirror it to the whiteboard, or gather the kids around?” might be one question a teacher would ask. I’ve encouraged teachers in the starting stages of integrating technology in instruction to avoid focusing on both pedagogy and technology during a lesson. Teach one or the other. This helps build comfort with using the digital tools while 20-30 students are watching you.

This process is also a cultural change. At least it should be. Some teachers only reach a technical change. For example, they may only use Kahoot! or Quizziz to assess basic student understanding of a prepared lesson. Instead, what about letting kids design lessons for peers and using these same tools to evaluate each other? They can be taught how to craft higher order questions to evaluate deeper understanding of the content. It’s still a teacher-directed classroom when the learning experience lacks at least some student ownership. Successful technology integration will only reach its potential when we position students as lead designers, learners and assessors.

To shift the learning culture, a place to start is by rethinking our classroom design. The spaces we ask kids to learn in should foster collaboration and creativity. Here are a few suggestions:

      • Replace most desks with tables and flexible chairs.
      • Let kids provide input in what furniture to purchase and how they might be arranged.
      • Reduce the lecture area to free up more space for collaborative work.
      • Arrange seating to allow for student movement and a variety of alignments, i.e. independent work, small group, whole group.
      • Release responsibility for bulletin boards, the classroom library and wall space to the students; let them decide what should be showcased with clear criteria for excellence in mind.
      • Put students in charge of classroom communications, such as the class website and social media accounts.
      • Expect students to maintain and troubleshoot most technology challenges. For example, assign students jobs such as “tech support” and “device storage”.

The how and when this happens is up to the teacher. It can happen tomorrow, next week, or next year. (Please note that the students are ready now.)

Disagree with what is shared here? What process have you found effective for technology integration? Please share in the comments!

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Digital Student Portfolios: A Process, not a Product

I wrote an article for the AWSA (Association of Wisconsin School Administrators) Update related to my new book on digital portfolios. Below is the intro to this piece; follow the link to read the rest.

Thank you,

Matt

A disposition toward lifelong learning is something we all want for our students to develop during their PK-12 careers. Kids should have an increased desire to explore new ideas and skills after their school experience. Yet our current practices often don’t reflect these beliefs. We continue to drag students through mountains of curriculum to chase the ever-distant goal of meeting all of the standards. It’s an impossible task that leaves both students and teachers exhausted. Students should not be asking us, “Is school over yet?”, and teachers shouldn’t be wondering the same thing.

Instead of a push toward completion, what if we slowed things down a bit and took a moment to appreciate this experience? How could we create the conditions in which learning is something to revel in, a process to reflect upon and enjoy instead of a product to evaluate?

img_0256Click here to read the rest of the article. You can purchase my new book through ASCD, Amazon, and other book sellers. 

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Living Through a Lens

I was out of town, having lunch at a local cafe when I noticed a young mom taking a picture of her toddler while eating. “Come on, look at the camera!” she pleaded. The toddler said “no”, shook her head. Mom took the picture anyway and probably posted it on Facebook and/or Instagram. The little girl just wanted to have lunch with her mom.

It was yet another example of how so many of us, this writer included, are enjoying important moments through a lens. As the mom was taking her toddler’s picture, she might have been thinking about what filter to use, or whether or not to tag someone else in the photo to get more visibility, likes, comments, whatever. I’ve done that, plenty of times.

What I do know is that I have stopped doing a few things I used to do regarding my own children. For example, and maybe it is the fact that they are older now… I have stopped curating their photos and videos to make digital presentations of their lives. They enjoyed watching themselves when they were toddlers. They never said “no” when I wanted to video record their birthday party using my totally 20th-Century camcorder.

Author Amy K Rosenthal suggested parents take a picture of their child every year on a couch to hallmark their annual growth. My parents have recorded my kids’ heights by the back door in their house. Since I have been uploading all of these images and videos to Facebook and other social media, what have I lost? I think we lose ownership of our documented lives. Not that the social media sites own them (although Instagram makes it hard to download your content). It’s that we aren’t doing anything with our documented memories. We aren’t putting pictures into scrapbooks or making home movies with our video recordings anymore. At least I haven’t.

Maybe that is what is lost when we live through a lens; time to contemplate our shared histories, to pore over our artifacts from life and think about what made them special. These reflections, as well as the process for organizing them into a coherent timeline, brings me joy. I cannot wait to share what we developed, although who we share them with is mostly immediate family. Do people beyond our inner circle really care that much about our life details? Should they? They have their own lives to live.

I’ve used the excuse that I post on Facebook because that is a great way to let family and friends know how our kids are doing. But why not use text message? Or email? Or an online photo print provider? It’s just as easy. I suspect it is because social media such as Facebook and Snapchat are set up to keep us coming back for more sharing and attention. We are trained to rely on the likes and comments for validation of what we shared. (I won’t even get into the whole Russia thing.) If treated with light-heartedness and basic info sharing, social media should be fine. But once our emotions and habits are manipulated, the line between what is personal and what is public starts to get blurry.

I’m deleting my Facebook account for a variety of reasons: my data is used by Facebook to profit from advertisers; Facebook appears to have been a part of the misinformation campaign from the 2016 elections; it is built to keep me and others using it for hours on end. I do hear at times, “Don’t blame the technology; it’s only a tool.” Yes, but it’s a powerful tool, designed to distract us from everything else. If Facebook were only a tool, I would be more cognizant of when and when not to use it, like a hammer or a saw. I’ve caught myself many times flipping through my feed when I had originally planned to write or do something more important, such as having lunch with my kids.

No worries about my photos and videos: I’ve downloaded them all from Facebook and saved them to a cloud storage account and on an external hard drive. I would like to get back into documenting our experiences, maybe even do some photo journaling that highlights our family’s visits to libraries. I feel at least a little redeemed in that I haven’t loss the content of our lives, just as long as I do something about it now.

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If you are waiting for me to say, “I’m not here to tell you what to do with Facebook,” I won’t. I think you should also evaluate your use of Facebook. Is it keeping you from enjoying the moment and being mindful of the present? Are you finding that you are no longer engaging in a few hobbies or family experiences like you used to? It’s not the only social media platform with issues, but it might be the worst. I am going to continue using Instagram and Twitter. I find the former to be lighter and less addictive. For the latter, I believe I have tamed the beast a bit by using lists and specific apps that restrict advertising and unwanted posts on my feed.

More than anything, I want to be a little more present in my life and take control of the things I can control. My phone is not the answer, and Facebook isn’t fitting into the equation.

Recommended books to read more about this topic:

  • Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers
  • Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

Related books I want to read on the topic:

  • Magic and Loss by Virginia Heffernan
  • The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
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Top Ten Reasons Why Should Implement Digital Student Portfolios

We should not judge people by their peak of excellence, but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.

― Henry Ward Beecher (via Thoughtful Mind)

As both a father and a building principal, education is a personal endeavor as well as a professional one. My two children have always attended the school in which I have served as a leader. So for me to recommend anything to teachers and leaders, it has to pass muster as a dad as well as an educator.

One of the few technology initiatives I do promote is digital student portfolios. They are defined as online collections of learning artifacts intentionally curated to showcase a student’s accomplishments and growth over time. With the availability and ease of use of digital tools today, there is little reason why students should not be able to experience this authentic process of assessment. Here are ten reasons why every student should have a digital portfolio…

Click here to read the rest of this ASCD Inservice article!

 

 

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Promising Distractions

It’s Saturday night, which means I start to wind down my connectivity. I try to take a 24-hour sabbatical from almost all things technology. Typically I would let the phone die and not recharge it. However, lately I have been using an app called Streaks. You can track your daily habits in order to develop a better, more healthy lifestyle. You can track your progress over time and customize your goals for how frequently you want to accomplish something. During the day, the app will push out notifications on your phone to remind you to drink enough water and get 30 minutes of exercise.

While the dilemma is now whether or not to have my phone on Sundays, these notifications are the type of distractions that I appreciate. I feel a little more mindful of my actions, even if I don’t always meet my goals. This example relates to an article I wrote for EdTech Digest, titled Promising Distractions. Educators are bombarded with so many options for integrating technology into instruction. Which ones are worth our time? I offer three possibilities: gaming, digital storytelling, and citizen science. Each of these modern concepts holds a lot of promise for teaching and learning.

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Digital Portfolios in the Classroom: Interview with Rod Berger @Scholastic

I recently responded to a series of questions regarding my new book, Digital Portfolios in the Classroom: Showcasing and Assessing Student Work (ASCD, 2017). This Q & A was with Dr. Rod Berger for his blog with Scholastic, titled Down the Hall. You can click here to read the entire interview.

Below is an excerpt from the interview.

I hope the start of your school year has been successful! -Matt

(P.S. My book is now available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as through ASCD directly.)

RB: The subtitle of your book is “Showcasing and Assessing Student Work.” We often focus on the assessment part and overlook the showcase element. What are some of the ways digital portfolios create a good showcase for student work and why is this important?

MR: Students, and really everyone, want to be recognized for their accomplishments and best efforts. Our society has little problem with handing out trophies and medals for success in sports and extracurricular activities. Celebrating academic work should not be a significant shift for anyone when we consider this context.

Digital portfolios can facilitate showcasing student work in a variety of ways.

  • Post pictures of students’ final products. These images should be shared with an accompanying text caption in which students describe what they created, how they did it, why it’s important, and what they want to work on for next time. This explanation, self-reflection, and goal setting provides context for student work and their future goals.
  • Upload video of student performances. Our families cannot attend every play, concert, and demonstration of learning, nor should they be expected to. Digital portfolios can bring families into the classroom by documenting their performances via video and then uploading this media for families to watch and enjoy at a later time.
  • Record audio of students’ current skills and understanding. Showcasing our students’ best efforts should not be limited to only final projects and performance tasks. There are reasons to celebrate every day. Maybe a student achieved the next level on a reading benchmark assessment or was finally able to pronounce a specific sound during their speech and language intervention. Parents can experience this success with their kids by hearing evidence of their accomplishments.

DigitalPorfolio