Saturday, February 28, 2015

Modelling a Mindset: An essential element of technology literacy

"Whether you think you can, or think you can't - you're right." ~ Henry Ford
Technology provides new opportunities for teaching and learning that were previously not possible and are just downright 'cool'. I love exploring possibilities and seeing how my students might utilise new technologies to enhance their learning. I've come to realise however that my own enthusiasm can, at times, be a double-edged sword.

Image: Ideas, Forte Comunicacio by Magnoroi on Deviant Art 
CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0
In my previous blog post I was thinking about what it means to be technologically literate. One of my big 'take aways' was the notion that we must have a growth mindset, one that embraces design thinking where testing, failing and perseverance are critical components of learning and achieving the goals we set for ourselves. I believe that it is important to model this mindset for our students, ensuring that the learning environment we foster encourages this type of exploration and problem solving. I believe this, I say it, I want it, but in the harsh light of day, do I really do it.

I came to this rather startling realisation at about two in the morning one school night as I was learning how to use a new virtual space that I wanted to use with a particular class. Earlier that day, during a collaborative planning session, a teaching team was discussing how students might hold an art exhibit as a part of the summative assessment for an inquiry into how we express ourselves. Of course, I piped up and thought out loud, "Wouldn't it be cool if we could have a virtual exhibit for the students to share their digital creations as well? We could also film or photograph their other pieces (dance, music, paintings, sculptures, etc) and share them in this space so family and friends in other places could view their work!" Very keen to see what might be available and how it might work, I set about my explorations as soon as I got home from work. When I finally looked up and saw the time, I had to seriously ask myself, why am I doing this?

Image: No Frustration by SFoerster on Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0
Time. In a traditional classroom time can be quite rigid - you may have a 40 minute class once or twice a week. Perhaps you are fortunate to find yourself in a more flexible environment that allows for the 'dropping of a timetable' occasionally, or even in a school that embraces flexible block scheduling. As a single subject teacher I often feel I do not have enough time to spend with all of the classes. I was so concerned that my students would not have time to prepare a virtual gallery that I solved the problem myself. I spent hours trying to figure it out so my students wouldn't have any difficulty sharing their work. While I may have modelled design thinking in solving this problem, there was no one there to see it. But worse than that, I feel I have robbed my students of an authentic opportunity to tackle a real problem, one that was important and open to being solved in a variety of creative ways.

So often I hear teachers say things like, 'I'd like to use technology, but so often it doesn't work and I end up wasting a whole lesson. We just don't have that kind of time.' Or, during a lesson when something doesn't work, throwing up their hands in frustration and abandoning the lesson. I've balked at this in the past, becoming frustrated myself with the attitude of helplessness that is being demonstrated, often in front of students. And yet, when I look in the mirror, I've just done the same thing myself. While I might have a growth mindset when it comes to integrating technology in teaching and learning, I don't think I am doing a very good job in sharing this with others. Or more importantly, talking about why it is such a critical element of being a technologically literate person.

If we want students to be creative and critical thinkers, capable of solving complex and challenging problems, we need to actually provide them opportunities to do this. We need to shift our perspective when things do not work as we had planned and seize these moments as opportunities for learning - real learning, not only for ourselves, but for our students. The next time I feel compelled to solve a technology 'problem' I am going to stop myself and hand it over to the students.

At the end of the day, it is true we might not cover all of the material we intended to with our students, but we need to value what they will learn instead. I'm quite confident that the content of the lesson I had planned is not nearly as important to my students as having them understand they are capable problem solvers and with perseverance can solve the challenges they encounter. It's those times when the technology doesn't work that you have the greatest opportunity for learning. Yes, it was super cool to have our art displayed in a virtual gallery, but at what cost.

1 comment:

Naini Singh said...

A great post Jenny! I absolutely agree with you.