Technology, Engagement, and Learning

I am at one of those spots in time where several of my experiences and readings are aligning. I continue to be amazed every time that happens, no matter that it often occurs.

In the past few weeks I was asked to join a team of teachers, administrators, and coaches who were doing classroom observations in recently implemented 1:1 classrooms. The goal was to identify how student learning behaviors were the same and different from other classrooms. I am also consulting with a district technology staff, who is examining the role they play in reaching the district’s vision of success and my schedule includes a fall keynote to statewide superintendents around the impact of technology on teaching and learning.

Two connected readings caught my attention:

The Myths of Technology Series“Technology Equals Engagement a blog  by George Couros and an Education Week blog,   Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning, by Tom Vander Ark.

Couros explores labeling student behaviors as:

Compliance – Do this because I told you.

 Engagement – Do this because you are excited.

 Empowerment – Do this because you have the power to do something meaningful for yourself.

 These terms fit well when looking at student behaviors in classrooms and for coaching conversations with teachers. “What do you want the task you’re providing students to generate?  How do you see gaining compliance impacting student learning? Does changing compliance to engagement dramatically change the learning outcomes? What relationship do you feel exist between empowerment and learning?”

When debriefing classroom observations I have found instances where technology was being used to get students to “comply more willingly” or to engage in activities where I questioned the value of the produced learning.  At times I’ve found administrators pleased with the engagement which had them stop short of considering the value of the time invested and the learning gained.

Couros describes the teacher’s role as “architects of meaningful learning opportunities”.

Vander Ark’s blog describes a white paper, Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning: Competency-Based Teacher Preparation and Development,”  that outlines the attributes of next-generation teacher preparation and makes recommendations to support teacher preparation and ongoing professional development.

I saw the changes in Couros’s terms from compliance to engagement to empowerment as I read the suggested approach to teacher preparation and professional development:

imagine that every teacher has access to their own professional map–reflecting common expectations differentiated by speciality, subject, level, and school type–that offers a clear description of what teachers should know and be able to do. Imagine the teacher is offered multiple ways to learn, differentiated pathways with opportunities to specialize, individual, and cohort models, interactive communities, and aligned learning opportunities. Imagine a series of ways for teachers to demonstrate competence through peer and/or expert review, automated assessments, and observations, interviews and demonstrations.

*Some element of teacher control over time, place, path and/or pace;

*Balance between teacher-defined goals, goals as defined by administration through teacher evaluation efforts, and school and district educational goals;

*Job-embedded and meaningful integration into classroom practice; and

*Competency-based progression.

 Couros concludes, “With the world now literally at our fingertips, “engagement” should not be the highest bar we set for our students.  If we can develop meaningful learning opportunities that empower our students to make a difference, our impact will go beyond their time they spent in our classrooms.”

 School leaders need to be examining how to create an environment where teachers find and develop meaningful learning opportunities for themselves. Instructional coaches should be considering how they are architects of meaningful learning opportunities for teachers.

Increasing empowerment for teacher learning will bring empowerment to student learning.

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