From Personal Mantra to Global Trends: An Educator’s Reflection on EdTech, Learning, and Teaching in 2017

As the end of 2017 draws near, I am taking this time to reflect on and to look back at the wonderful things that have helped me make learning and teaching more fun and engaging, which hopefully led to improved student engagement and learning.

 

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Personal Mantra: Student-Centered Pedagogy Over Technology Tools

This has been my battle cry for years and it doesn’t hurt to remind one’s self every often to keep ourselves from diving into so many apps and gadgets that we want to use in the classroom without thinking thoroughly about the decision and its consequences. This mantra, however, also ensures that we do not just consider any kind of pedagogy, but one that focuses on the learners and their contexts. At the heart of every successful innovative work in the classroom is student-empowerment as students thrive in an environment where they make thoughtful and independent choices and their voices heard and acknowledged. In the end, this mantra hopefully becomes the philosophy of every innovative teacher who wishes to integrate technology tools in learning and teaching.

Personal Criteria in Making “Ed Tech Choices”

So, what’s the good, the bad, and the best in ed tech integration? The answer really depends on every teacher’s or student’s contexts and needs. I, for one, would like to use share some criteria that I use to say that an ed tech tool is great for learning. Here are a few:

    • supports active, creative, and collaborative learning, as well as critical-thinking,
    • promotes independent and self-directed learning,
    • intuitive and user-friendly interface,
    • provides accessibility to all learners,
    • developmentally appropriate, and
    • evaluated and recommended by other educators.

The criteria banks on the non-negotiables in a 21st century learning environment. Hence, for every decision made, these non-negotiables should always be supported or developed by the tools being used.

Amazing Ed Tech Tools

In terms of hardware, I personally would still recommend the iPad. The usual challenge, though, is still on its steep price when compared to other tablets. However, given the great apps in its ecosystem, the range of educational activities and works that students can do, the support that Apple Education gives, and the studies done with it, I believe that this would be a great investment. I have used other tablets, but at some point, they really cannot match the durability and security that I have experienced with the iPad. However, depending on the goal of using a computer or tablet in learning, other options are Chromebooks, hybrid tablet-laptop devices, or simply laptops.

A few gadgets that I simply love and can be integrated for teaching or working on STEAM projects are iQube (for circuitry), Littlebits, Sphero, Parrot Drones, and Makey Makey among others.

In terms of apps, I have always used the following classic, tried and tested apps:

  1. Book Creator – for creating digital books and portfolios, supports differentiated approach to learning
  2. Explain Everything – for anotating digital materials such as videos, images, and putting everything together into one file
  3. Google Suite for Education – free apps for collaborative activitites, Internet-dependent
  4. Seesaw – for digital journal and student interaction, suitable for young learners
  5. Adobe Spark Video – for creating digital presentations, with templates that promote better creation of presentations
  6. Core iPad apps (Keynote, Pages, Notes, iMovie, Garagebend) – these are built apps in the iPad and are great tools for productivity in class
  7. Tickle, Tynker, Scratch Jr – for basic coding for young learners
  8. Padlet or Flipgrid – for more collaborative learning and sharing of ideas

There are still other apps that I use in class but it may help to always have a set of core apps that would be used regularly. These core apps should have been evaluated well by a set of teachers in your school or maybe by others. With a set of core apps, students will not also have the hard time to learn and learn new apps every year or very term, or worst, for every teacher that they have. Organize a working committee to set the core apps. This would save time in the classroom as there would be no need to always introduce the apps to students.

Avoid causing app-chaos, which simply points to introducing so many apps that students are overwhelmed and are confused to which apps should be used. Never assume that students are always immediately good at getting how apps work. Sometimes, introducing a new app in class might even break the momentum of learning. So, focus on the core apps that would lead to efficient and effective learning.

Trending

The following have been trending for a while and will continue to be discussed and worked on by developers and education stakeholders. Some have been applied in education contexts. For example, I have been using augmented reality apps in teaching Science, virtual reality apps for Geography, and coding apps for young learners among others. So, this holiday maybe, it would be a good time to leisurely explore these ideas, apps, or approaches. That’s just an invitation. Make sure, though, that you spend taking care of yourselves during the break. Teachers need to relax, rest, and rejuvenate.

  1. Makerspace/ Maker movement
  2. Augmented and Virtual Realilty apps
  3. Coding and robotics
  4. Cloud computing
  5. Gamification and game-based learning
  6. Learning spaces
  7. Online and personalized learning
  8. Digital Intelligence Quotient
  9. Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine learning
  10. Personalized Professional Learning

 

Happy holidays, teachers! You did an awesome job this year!

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Shifting from Ed Tech Professional Development to Professional Learning

Ed Tech integration in education has been a major factor or catalyst in driving 21st century learning forward. When done meaningfully, student learning is propelled into greater heights, adding the needed rocket boost to engage all kinds of learners and to enable learning environments that welcome risk-taking, innovation, and creativity. However, tech integration can also be a source disappointment or frustration to both learners and teachers if tech tools are used in class for technology’s sake, out of fad, or worst, disconnected from the pedagogy. As I often remind teachers in my talks, tech tools, alone, cannot create magic in class.

 

Keeping up with Tech Changes

Where is the magic then? It is with the teacher inside the classroom. However, in order for students to meaningfully used technology tools in class, teachers must be trained to design effective and relevant learning activities that would allow for better learning with tech tools. So, teachers attend workshops, trainings, and conferences, learning new apps and skills that can help change the way they teach various minds in the classroom.

Yet, tech tools often change fast. App update notifications flood our mobile devices. New features our added to devices. With these changes come the obvious need to always make sure that teachers are updated with the skills (or app features) needed in the classroom.

How do we then sustain relevant learning or growth in our teachers, who may realistically reach that saturation point where they just realize that there is too much to learn about tech integration?

Changing Perspectives: Professional Development to Professional Learning

Teachers attend numerous Ed Tech related PDs, whether in-school or in large-scale conferences. In these PD opportunities, the attendees join mostly one-shot workshops or seminars, often depending on the expertise or topics that will be discussed or shared by the speaker. All the attendees are seen as a single homogenous group, putting  and squeezing them into a one-size-fits-all experience.

With the usual PDs, there is this traditional setup that is often experienced, such as when the seminars or workshops are too much speaker-centered and the participants are out there feeling bored or just listening to the “updates” or theories. More often, professional development sessions are often created by experts or other people that hope to “develop” teachers.

To be fair, however, professional development for Ed Tech integration has seen some major changes. For one, an Ed Tech PD should never just be about ideas or theories. A big chunk of it should involve hands on, practical, and experiential learning. Yet, without careful planning or considerations, PD trainings can be reduced into plain skills training that may often be disconnected from the needed skills in the classroom.

So, what is the missing piece in this great puzzle of professional growth?

It’s ownership of learning. This is where professional learning comes in. Today, professional learning experts and school leaders have recognized the importance of making Ed Tech trainings or workshops meaningful and relevant to the teachers. As adult learners, teachers find satisfaction and purpose if what they are learning is relevant to their context.

Professional learning recognizes the individual contexts of each teacher – the needs, challenges, and goals. In short, teacher’s VOICE must be heard. Moreover, professional learning activities must be something authentic or applicable to their present situations because it is only when a teacher sees how a tech tool can work or improve instruction, assessment, or classroom management can he or she truly realize the importance of that professional learning activity.

Six Tips in Designing Meaningful  Ed Tech Professional Learning

Let me share some of the practices or tips that I do as a professional development/ learning consultant and leader in our school.

1. Involve the participants in designing professional learning activities through getting pre-workshop data from the teachers.

Pre-workshop surveys can help gather the needed data such as Ed Tech integration skills or tools that participants consider to be of top priority to be learned, practiced, or developed. The collected data can help decide which skills or apps should be included in the workshop sessions or trainings. A professional learning leaders can also dig for more info such as technology skills level (basic or advanced) or teacher confidence that can further personalized the professional learning experiences.

2. Design various opportunities for professional learning to happen.

Skills training is essential, but sometimes, some teachers may just need some realistic hands-on workshop where they can already practice and apply what they are currently learning. Some educators would seek for closer guidance through individual coaching. Some would just simply look for inspirations or assurance or validation to what they are doing. Avoid fitting all teachers into a single kind or format of learning activity. Consider their contexts and provide experiential, active, and collaborative learning.

3. Empower and involve the resident experts in the school.

Ed Tech champions or experts are living proofs of how meaningful technology integration can improve teaching and learning. So, tap those who have experienced and improved much in their classrooms.

4. Consider giving dedicated and enough amount of time for professional learning.

Most of the grumblings or complains of teachers about professional learning is not solely about how the workshops sessions or training were run themselves. Sometimes, it is simply because there is not enough time to acquire, reflect, and plan on how to apply those newly-learned skills. Hence, it is important that teachers may be given the needed space and time to incorporate and embed the newly learned tech tools and skills in their unit or lesson plans.

5. Tap the power of technology tools.

Tight schedule, meetings, parent-teacher conferences, family life, and other commitments are already filling up the schedules of each teacher. Professional learning can happen even if the teacher is not going through a workshop or training. So why not take advantage of tech tools that can deliver bite-sized learnings or just-in-time kind of learning? Why not go beyond the school and connect with other experts via professional learning networks in social media such as Twitter or Google+ communities.

6. Sustain the professional learning of the teachers through providing support or individual coaching.

Put in place a mentoring system so that expert teachers may continue to impart their expertise to those who may need their help or coaching. Create a culture of learning and collaboration through allowing teachers to share their learnings, mistakes, challenges, and solutions to each other.

Just as much as our students deserve the best education, teachers, too, deserve high-quality professional learning. Remember, we, as teachers, can only impart what we have. Tech may change quickly, but our role as teachers still matter! Teachers, still, matter. So, keep on learning.