Living in Beta
by Eric Lawson
Over the past month I have attended several conferences, workshops and the GAFE New England Summit. I'm not sure how much more my brain can take! All of this new information and resources that are continuously becoming available is making my head spin. It can be quite overwhelming and there never feels like there is enough time to implement these new initiatives, ideas or strategies. In fact, just as I start to get comfortable with a program, tool, or strategy, it seems like life throws me a curve ball and things change again.
However, one of the biggest take aways that I got from the GAFE New England Summit in Burlington, MA, was that we as educators have to realize that the world is changing every minute and technology especially is moving faster than any of us can keep up with, but we must embrace living in beta. In other words, we should stop complaining about all of the new things coming out and instead focus on the learning.
We are in fact beta testing all of these new technologies within our classrooms. If not we as educators, certainly our students are the biggest field testers for technology. Big tech companies are watching closely and making changes and tweaks based upon our feedback and the feedback of our students. If you don't believe me, check out Google's forum sometime. Google is constantly updating their products in the background based upon feedback, complaints and suggestions from students and teachers.
So how does this carry over into our learning environment? Let the students help guide the lesson, project or outcome. As an educator with sound knowledge of student learning and curriculum, we should focus on the process of the learning and not focus so much on the tools, resources, or products used to create the end result. The tool that was used in first period just may be replaced with a better tool by 3rd period.
For this reason, open ended projects often yield more student enthusiasm and higher quality work due to the fact that students take more ownership of their learning when they are allowed to use media that best reflects their own personality and their research. These types of classroom activities, whether you call them Project-Based, Service Learning, Real World, or some combination of any of these, are certainly harder to plan and implement, but the learning is far worth all of that effort.
But what about the question, "How do you help students when you yourself have no experience with the tools that they choose?" It's a good question. We have to change our mindset. Instead of teaching, or assisting, students with these tools, we should offer more online resources to assist them with their learning and process. We cannot be expected to stay ahead of students in the world of technology, but we can point students to already created resources for online support.
It's also a good idea to have students plan their projects ahead of time and research not only their content, but how to present their findings and learn the tool they will use to present their information in a meaningful way. This way they can find the online sources for themselves and report it back to you for future assistance.
In this process students will not only learn a great deal from their peers with the content that is shared, but also learn some new tools and products to try out for future assignments. Examples give educators and students a better toolbox to use when deciding which tool fits the assignment the best. A real 21st century skill.
Whether you embrace technology or not, you have to admit that most students like to try out new tools and experiment with what they can do. Adaptation may be one of the greatest skills you can reinforce within your learning environment to assist students in their quest to become life long learners. The tool shouldn't be the sticking point in your lessons despite how frustrating technology can be when it doesn't work or has changed over night. Instead focus on the learning and student outcomes. Let your students choose the best tool for the assignment. It will open up your mind to a new world of possibilities. You may just be glad that you did!
About the Author: Eric Lawson has been in education for 13 years. He spent 7 years in an elementary classroom, 5 years as a technology integrator, 1 year as the Admin Curriculum/Technology Integrator, and is currently the Coordinator of Instructional Media and Technology Services for the York School Department in York, Maine. He has been published in eSchool News, Tech&Learning Magazine and ISTE’s Learning and Leading with Technology Magazine for technology integrated projects and ideas. He was named a member of the Maine Starting 6, and was inducted into the Unum Maine Teacher’s Hall of Fame in January 2012. He lives with his wife, Jennie, two daughters, Elsa and Lily, and golden retriever, Surrey.
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