What Should We Measure?
Over the last two years my board has conducted detailed reviews of many of our programs, from divisional review to specific areas such as French and Library. These reviews take a random sampling of classrooms and essentially run an environmental scan to see the strengths and areas of growth in the programs we offer. The effective integration of technology in the classroom is a component of these reviews, and consistently comes out with the highest level of “no opportunity to observe” ratings.
There are reasons for this return, however the main one is that we provide schools with a ratio of technology based on enrolment – one laptop or iPad per seven students in the school. This would suggest that in any random sampling of classrooms the probability is that you won’t see much technology, other than that belonging to the students.
This has been part of the impetus to develop a technology review. We know the equipment is out there, several thousand devices in total throughout the system, and that it is being used all day and every day in the vast majority of our schools, but what exactly are we doing with it and is it making a difference? We have long held focus groups meetings and gathered anecdotal observations and evidence that the use of technology is deeply impactful on student learning, but we have never comprehensively tracked the what, why, and how of that equation.
As I worked today to begin to develop the observation tool that we will use, and the process we will follow (it should be said that this is an extensive undertaking with a large number of internal and external audits and drafts before we administer anything, rather than one person deciding, “OK, this is what we will do”!), the question of what specifically we would like to know, and why that is important, kept coming up. It led to some deep reflection on what is truly important when it comes to integrating technology and the belief system we have around student learning.
My own person beliefs, which won’t show through in any of the review as we draft and re-draft to remove bias, includes a number of realizations that I have garnered over time and through experience. I believe that a 1:1 ratio is not something to aspire to if it means the students have more of a relationship with a device than one another. Conversation and face-to-face collaboration are essential components to learning. These can easily precede online relationships and collaborations, but in my view cannot be skipped over. I believe that our use of technology in the classroom needs to be transformative, rather than just replicating or replacing old methods. The SAMR model (see below) is a great guide to me for this. Not all technology use is effective, a worksheet downloaded from the internet and annotated on an iPad before being handed in is still a worksheet and misses all of the components mentioned that I believe underpin learning, despite requiring an element of technological understanding and skill. Students using the technology to be creative and innovative is where it is at for me. They must be using it for things that are unattainable without it.
I believe students learn best through inquiry and experiential learning. Technology can help support this but is not the driver for it. Google and Wikipedia are both great, but if our children don’t know how to discern truth from fiction, or relevant from irrelevant, their inquiry is heading toward a dead-end. I agree deeply with students having a voice, and sharing it with the world, but if their blog is driven by assignment rather than personal interest and curiosities, it is not reaching its potential, nor is it genuinely their voice.
I hope the review, when we have it complete and can conduct it, will help me and everyone in our system to learn more about effective technology use in the classroom. I hope it confirms or contradicts the things I believe to be true, so that I can grow as an educator. But the question still remains – what do we measure?! My initial thoughts led me to a few areas that I think we need to understand more about to grow our effective use of technology:
– How are the students using technology in the classroom? Research? Productivity? Creativity? Publishing? Social Media? Gaming?
– Which devices are students using and does it make a difference?
– Are the activities we are asking the students to do transformative? Again, see SAMR!
– Do we see evidence of critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, communication, and collaboration in the students digital work? Is this important?
– How does technology allow us to learn and demonstrate understanding of curriculum more readily than traditional methods? Is this more true in some curriculum areas than others? Why?
– Is the ratio of computers:students sufficient? What can be done to enhance it if not?
– What is the level and type of support necessary for teachers to feel comfortable and competent with their use of technology?
What are your beliefs? What do you think we should ‘measure’? What do you think school systems need to grow the effective use of technology (beyond being given sufficient funds to do it!)? Leave a comment and suggest some ideas – the first draft is the best time to give input!