Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Technology and Prioritizing Relationships

In reading my last two posts, you know I believe that building relationships with your students is paramount for a teacher to maximize the learning of his/her students. I am delighted to have LindseyWright lindswright@gmail.com with a guest post on technology and relationships.

The current climate seems to both embrace technology as an essential element of society and revile it as the death knell of human bonding and relationships. It's sparked debates about how many hours children should spend online, whetheror not social media are actually connecting us to others or isolating us further, and how extensive a role technology should play in education.

While the first two points are perhaps best addressed by parents, the last has become as much the domain of teachers, administrators, and the government. Arguments run the gamut from encouraging high school graduates to take to espousing avoidance of technology in the classroom in favor of traditional learning techniques. However, both of these arguments(admittedly extremes) fail to take into account the role that technology is intended to play in learning relationships. Rather than usurping therelationship between student and teacher, technology should be a tool toenhance that learning connection and develop stronger classroom bonds. Inshort, it is meant to foster a love of learning in students that will continueinto adulthood.

Active vs. Passive Learning

To see the role technology should play in the relationship between student andteacher, it's first essential to understand the difference between passive and active learning. As noted by
Norman Herr, Professor of Science Education at California State University,both types of learning are essential to the classroom, but the depth oflearning varies between them.

A passive learning experience is typically characterized by lectures and note-taking. Rather than exploring new points of inquiry, the passive learner is viewed as an empty vessel to be filled with information presumably to be reproduced on a test. In contrast, the active learning experience is one in which student and teacher engage in a relationship based upon mutual inquiry and discussion. Rather than simply learning information by rote, the active learneris able to restructure that information to create new meaning and understanddeeper relationships between different elements.

Instead of lectures, teachers use brief instructional periods to provide basic information that forms the basis for ongoing active inquiry on the part of the student or class. By the end of a course, active learners should be well-versed in the subject matter, able to understand deeper meanings based upon that information, and build upon the material in future study.

The primary difference between passive and active learning, Herr notes, lies in the relationship dynamic between student, teacher, and material. In passive learning, the relationship between these disparate parts is minimal at best. However, in an active learning experience students and teachers meet over the material. In other words, students and teachers engage in a discussion about the subject matter that builds a relationship based on academic inquiry andmutual respect. Students develop confidence in their abilities to understandand work with the material, and teachers gain new insights into the different learning styles of students, as well as gain from their new perspectives on the material itself. A genuine learning relationship is fostered that will serve students throughout their educational careers.

Technology and the Active Learner
Numerous studies by the US Department of Education on the role technology plays in the classroom have shown repeatedly that the proper use of technology in education fosters active learning. This doesn't mean technology should always be used arbitrarily, but that effective use of educational technology facilitates learning and the relationship that's meant to develop between student, teacher, and material.

The studies suggest technology should be used in an educational context tofoster understanding of topics, promote independent inquiry, and develop peer collaboration. In short, technology should be used in a meaningful way. To suggest one example, students could perform an Internet scavenger hunt (that is, do research) for information about the subject under study. Students could then collaborate in groups to create presentations about particular aspects of the topic, with each presentation to be followed by class discussion of that specific element.

In such an activity, the teacher would monitor the use of technology, discuss findings with students, and provide research guidance as needed. Rather than passively enduring a lecture, students would be engaged in acquiring information themselves and developing a stronger relationship with both the teacher and peers based upon sharing what they've learned. This is active learning in action, facilitated by simple and suitable use of technology.

Many fear technology is creating automatons incapable of interacting withothers, but study after study demonstrates technology actually enhances education and the relationships that exist between students, their peers, and teachers. Rather than harming the educational system and the learning relationships upon which it depends, technology when properly used can enhance these relationships and create engaged learners eager to teach each other and interact with teachers as they discover their own ability to learn for themselves.

Photo: eyebeam's photostream


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