Unpacking Assumptions

To me, good use of digital technology in a math and science classroom should involve technology use that does not merely provide a convenience, but to actually enhance the learning experience and provide opportunities that were not possible without the technology.  Technology can be used on a more superficial level as a presentation tool, as animations and video and sound are much easier to integrate into lessons through a projector and speakers, but can also be used as a deeper level to become a part of the lesson itself.

As an example, there are many apps out there that can now help a teacher assess their students formatively.  Traditional question/answer, think/pair/share, or exit slips have given way to methods such as Plickrs, Kahoot, or Socrative quizzes.  However, for my classes my students make a set of multiple choice answer cards that they keep in their binder.  For formative assessments, I can provide questions that students hold up their cards and by quickly scanning the class, I can check for understanding.  This very nearly replicates what Plickrs can do without the added cost of technology, and my preference leans towards Kahoot as it does something similar but is more student centric by removing the “scanning” component.  Finally, Socrative provides automated score logging which is not possible with traditional pen and paper formative assessment.

By contrast, a learning experience and environment enhanced by technology should provides students the autonomy to work at their own pace, correct small misconceptions by providing a robust fundamental digital simulation of the topic, and reduce the amount set up or logistical difficulties so that the students can focus on the concepts.

For example, I now use the Geogebra app for my circle geometry unit on my math course (an example can be seen here).  By providing students a set of challenges that involve drawing circles, tangents, chords, and inscribed angles, the students both define each of the terms as well as discover the relationships between them.  These challenges are laid out so that students can progress through them at their own pace.  The program itself, being rooted in accurate geometry, allows students the freedom to explore and create any shape or angle, and the fundamental geometric rules will still apply.  There is no concern of an inaccurate circle or angle creating confusion and students are free to test their theories to see if there are exceptions.  Lastly, the app greatly reduces the time required to accomplish these tasks as shapes, lengths, and angles are accurately drawn and measured.

The difficulty with technology integration however is that the majority of the advantages come from the software, rather than the hardware.  Providing schools and classrooms with laptops merely facilitates learning with technology, but is not learning in itself.  The learning comes from the simulations or tasks that the students accomplish with the technology.  Thus a class that fully integrates technology would see things like an active class calendar with notifications, an online depository of all class files the teacher wants to make available, the ability to view student marks online, and lessons and activities that not only integrate technology inside the classroom but also outside in the form of flipped classrooms or (in the future) augmented reality.  Achieving this would require software developed based on teachers’ needs and feedback as well as training and time for teachers to transition into the technology.

4 comments

  1. Hi Lawrence,

    Thanks for your comments, specifically in regards to technology merely replicating traditional classrooms or providing a convenience and not necessarily providing a noticeable difference in actual learning. I think it’s something we easily forget as teachers that a digital projector can be used for so much more than simply presenting a slideshow through a PowerPoint presentation. Videos, audio, and other media are now possible.

    With respect to the apps and programs that you mention, I too typically use multiple choice answer or concept cards in the classroom to review content or concepts. However, while the online apps largely perform the same task, I find that students are generally more interested and motivated when using the online apps even though the similar results to the traditional cards. Under the assumption that students might be more interested with something like Kahoot, perhaps that is warrant enough to use the online program?

    1. I think the term you are alluding to in your opening is transformative technology use. Do something that would not be otherwise possible is certainly one of the most powerful affordances of technology in the learning environment. I would be careful of dismissing the efficiency benefits of technologies though as the gains can make space for better teaching and learning in an indirect way.

      For me, I have found that I could create the same assessments in a paper and pencil format or through google forms. When I use google forms, however, my tests come together much faster and I have the option to program feedback directly in to each question. As a result of auto-scoring, I have actually bought myself time which I can invest on the front end, to create a better assessment, or bank for more planning and design time for my next topic. I could do all these things by hand individually but the time gained from using forms allows me to create development time that I would not otherwise have.

      1. Hi Daniel,

        Thanks for your comment. I fully agree that the use of google forms and the like have greatly simplified much of a teacher’s work; I use it as well in my classes. And I certainly didn’t mean to come across as dismissive of time-saving benefits (I noted that Socrative provides just such a benefit over Kahoot, for example). Instead, I wanted to highlight some of the criteria I look for between apps or programs when I make decisions on which to use. Plickrs, for me, did not provide as many added benefits whether it was in time-savings, student engagement, or presentation variety as did Kahoot or Socrative.

    2. Hi Darren,

      Thank you for your comment. I do agree that the gamification of formative assessment that Kahoot provides does provide an additional benefit, and I do use it occasionally as either a way to start or review class. I supposed my thoughts were more geared towards somehow being able to integrate the automation of many of the teacher’s tasks/duties into apps or programs that, on the surface, would appeal to students as well.

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