The tool needs to fit the task. This is my mantra, but still — smitten with the novelty of the array of cool new tech tools before them — the teacher candidates in my technology courses are frequently seduced into planning their lessons around these tools. Thus “technology integration” can give rise to the same problems as “activity-based” curriculum planning that is found in brick and mortar classrooms and to which Jay Wiggins and Grant McTighe offer an alternative in Understanding by Design. My response to both groups of well-intentioned teachers is identical: it may be a “fun” activity (or a cool tool), but what learning does it facilitate?
Integrating technology into face-to-face classes can help teachers better obtain their learning objectives by allowing them to extend and augment their instruction and students’ skills. But learning objectives should not be altered just because (or any time) technology is added to the mix. On the contrary: learning objectives should remain the same.
This is an important point for educational technologists to stress in their discussions with faculty learning to integrate ICTs into their courses. But therein lies the problem: as the Technology Integration Matrices developed by the University of South Florida and Northern Arizona University help us see, emergent ICT users are often so focused upon learning new technologies that asking them simultaneously to think through the technology — or to analyze the types of thinking, activity, or interaction it promotes — is quite a tall order indeed.
This is one of the problems with courses like mine: stand-alone “tech courses” reinforce this imbalanced perspective of technologies and the types of learning they promote. Ideally, technology is best integrated across the curriculum. However, the problem then becomes one of ensuring that course instructors across the content areas are well-versed enough in curriculum design and theories of technology integration to collectively absorb responsibility for presenting tech integration in this more integrated and balanced way. Given where most of the contemporary generation of teaching faculty find themselves along the ICT learning curve, however, this is an imbalance we will need to live with for at least one generation, or until teaching faculty are savvy ICT users.
For the time being, then, learning how to integrate new media into one’s teaching — be it in a stand-alone course or across the curriculum — should focus less upon the technologies in question than on the learning that they support and enable. In teacher education or professional development situations where learners are also emergent ICT users, a constant tension must be maintained between learners’ dual learning trajectories: between learning new tech tools and how precisely to integrate these tools into their curricula. Carefully scaffolding emergent users’ thinking through technology may help teacher educators and deliverers of professional development maintain this tension. The flow chart for evaluating classroom technology tools presented by Lisa Dawley in The Tools for Successful Online Teaching (2007) provides a useful framework for scaffolding emergent ICT user’s users’ understanding of how to integrate technology into their curricula:
Oddly, in fully online courses, the task seems somehow simpler. What are the learning goals of the face-to-face classroom and how can I best facilitate them in an online environment? the K-16 online course designer asks herself. Even though such courses frequently end up quite different from their brick and mortar counterparts — largely due to ICT’s affordances for more creatively or engagingly achieving those same pedagogical goals — one significant factor in this apparent difference may be that faculty designing online courses usually have a passing familiarity with ICTs.
This difference between the affordances of traditional classrooms and virtual ones is clearly demonstrated if one considers the way that ICTs can help support small group processes and learning in physical and virtual classes alike. Group members can discuss, share resources, distribute labor, manage their projects, and more — all from anywhere in the world, at any time of the day or night. This presentation on “Web 2.0 for Coordinating Small Groups” emphasizes both the plusses and minuses of using free and widely available collaborative software to coordinate small groups in virtual or hybrid learning environments. Please view the presentation and comment or add, if you like!