This unit was all about goal analysis. Over the years, I have had a number of interests ranging from golf to triathlon to working on a Masters. One of the characteristics that has been a uniting factor in all of them is having focus. On many occasions, I have noticed that my progress towards any any desired result has been directly proportional to how clearly I had laid out the goal. When I have a plan with distinct and measurable benchmarks, I get to where I want to go more times than not. Without such a plan, where I end up is anybody’s guess. I guess Yogi Berra was right when he said “if you don’t know where you are going, you might end up someplace else”.
When it comes to designing instruction, it is hard to overstate the need for clear goals. As a teacher, I have always had an idea of what i wanted my students to get out of a given lesson. The lessons have been designed around conveying some information or just general ideas. As I worked through this unit, it finally became clear that the hit-or-miss success of these lesson is likely due to a lack of focus on the goals of the lesson. That is my take away: when it comes to figuring out the path to a destination, I must become more diligent about specifically defining the destination itself.
Now, I have known that setting goals or learning objectives is important for some time (even if I haven’t always been great about sitting down and doing it formally), but I have also realized that there is a great deal of importance in making sure you know that you have arrived. Again, as a teacher, i have relied on grades. if students are getting A’s, clearly my objectives have been reached. Viewing objectives through the lens of ID has made me realized that the grade may not be a clear indicator of reaching the goal. Specificity is important, but so is the ability to recognize when a goal has been reached. “The students will understand…” has started many objectives in my planning. The problem is that ‘understanding is very subjective and may be very difficult to measure.
Just as has been the case in my many other goal setting experiences, setting clear and measurable goals for my students is critical to their success.
At the end of each school year, once I take a breath and have a chance to catch up with my family, I get truly excited about the coming year. The plans seem to blossom in my head. Ideas pop up
constantly about how I can change my class to what I truly want: a student-centered, experiential classroom. As I learn more about epistemology and the application of different learning theories in education, I realize that I lean towards the constructivist way of thinking. In my ideal classroom, students would engage daily in learning experiences that gave them core pieces of knowledge in Biology. They would then run with their passions to explore their own individual areas of Biology. I would be at hand for guidance and explanation as needed. Technology would be integral to what we were doing. Students would blog to help further ingrain their understanding and share their ideas with the world. They would connect with scientists in the areas they find most interesting. They would use various forms of multimedia to create projects that enhance their learning and help teach their classmates.
That’s my vision at a time of the year when anything goes.
When fall rolls around once again, the pressures of the real world being to weigh on me. How do I build such a curriculum? How do I deal with unmotivated students? How can I break students out of the mold that has them creating such poorly designed and shallow projects? How do I grade anything they do? How do I explain my vision to doubtful parents who are wondering if the grades will be good enough to get their child into college? The questions go on and on. The path to my goal seems like a very challenging one.
Sadly, this tends to lead me back to where I have been for a decade and a half. Lecturing, assigning classic homework and testing knowledge that the majority of students will lose within months if not sooner.
This year has been different. We are a few weeks in and I have yet to lecture. While we are moving along at a slower pace, the students have been allowed to be active in their own learning. They aren’t off exploring the world every period, but they seem to appreciate the fact that they are in control. Technology is creeping in, but slowly. I am working towards a class blog, but find myself so busy that it is hard to feel that it is ready for launch.
The good, no great news is that I still believe. I am plowing ahead. looking back, it was just two years ago that my idea of technology in my classroom was a digital thermometer. I have changed as a teacher in the past two years. At least in how I look at my classes. The shift to a discovery learning model has been slow, but I have worked towards that end and will continue to do so. Technology is becoming an everyday component in my class. Students collaborate and share notes and their first multimedia “test” is on the horizon.
So, while I am gaining a better and better appreciation for the philosophy and psychology of education, the road to my dream becomes a bit clearer. As long as I keep moving, someday the road will seem less unsure and my vision will be realized.
Like any good Biology teacher, I am going to get to my definition of educational technology through dissection of the term itself.
As far as I am concerned, “education” refers to any experience that leads to learning. Whether that learning comes in the form of personal experience (“I never lick steak knives…anymore”) or experiences communicated from another person or source, knowledge that wasn’t present, is now there. This is a very broad definition, but is a brief, but decent view is education.
The term “technology” will almost always evoke images of computers, smartphones, or other hardware with all the wonderful software that allows us to communicate with one another (or shoot birds at pigs). Though not as exciting perhaps, the vast array of technologies from which our modern devices evolved, would have to be included as well. But what about the microscope in my classroom. Not a single wire or circuit in it. Just glass, metal and some empty space. It is however, an application of human knowledge that has allowed people to see aspects of the world that were not seen before. So does that count as “technology” or is that a tool? If it is the latter, what about a telescope? Same principle, just turned around. What about the Hubble telescope? Clearly, I make a jump from the type of telescope you see under a pirate’s arm to one that sits in space and peers into galaxies light years away, but somewhere along the way, we go from tool to technology.
Taking an approach in the reverse direction, it seems clear that a RSS feed that sends great articles that I read would count as technology. That same job used to be done by newspapers exclusively. As the output of a printing press, is the newspaper technology? Same for a book?
The themes that seem to run through the quasi-definitions are communication and extension of the senses.
It is no wonder a definition is hard to pin down. Educational seems too broad a term, so I am going to reduce it to “formalized instruction in a given field or fields”. For the part of technology, I think that “devices or tools developed to enhance human senses, communication or experiences, real or virtual” will do for now.
That leaves me with a definition of educational technology that is : “The application of any device or tool developed to enhance human senses, communication or experiences, real or virtual, to formalized instruction in a given field or fields.”
Hmmm. Leaves me wanting more. I look forward to reading some of the other definitions.
Heading into this discussion, I felt fairly confident that i would pin down a definition of Educational Technology that i was happy with. To be honest, the second I started typing, that feeling faded away. Given the fact that digital technology evolves so rapidly, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the vast array of tools and lump them as “educational technology”. There is little doubt in my mind that tools such as the computer sitting in front of me with the various software on it and the connections to an array of learning experiences-ranging from Khan Academy to MIT Open Courseware to the multitude of blogs and web-based communities-it connects to are, in fact educational technology.
The problem for me appears when I start to expand my view to the science classroom around me (I am a Biology teacher and my class/lab is the quietest place I have to work). The interactive whiteboard behind certainly fits the bill. The digital microscopes, computer -based lab equipment and the like are obvious choices as well. Heck, I’d even make an argument for my coffee maker! I can pull back to my past and draw up images of less-than-modern technology such as overhead projectors, film projectors and cassette recorders. Educational technologies all.
To be honest, I would love to say that educational technology is the application of any human-made device towards the end of goal learning. Unfortunately, that comes up short of what I see as a decent definition. Learning is my first problem. While learning can take many forms, I see a distinction between training and learning. Technological devices that perhaps extend our senses or capacity for retaining information might be an alteration I would make to that.