The Impact of Digital Education on Learning and Teaching

These are the slides from my dissertation defense. I will post a recording of the presentation when it becomes available.


Integrating or innovating technology?

One of the most meaningful sessions I attended at ISTE13 was a presentation by 5th grade teacher Julie Ramsay, about the difference between integrating and innovating using technology in the classroom. Ramsay articulated a clear and powerful vision for teaching and learning, based on 21st century skills and encouraging students to engage in higher-order thinking. Ramsay emphasized the different between integration technology into education, which is when a teacher uses technology but keeps teaching with the same goals and pedagogy. Innovating technology recognizes the potential of current technologies to really transform classroom teaching, resulting in different pedagogies, different goals and different leaning outcomes. Technology can be used to get students to engage in higher-order critical thinking.Technology is a tool that opens up possibilities for a smart teacher to have students involved in higher order thinking, but it is still just the tool. The tool can’t define the learning. The teacher always plays a critical role in shaping student learning. If a project is called the ‘PowerPoint project’ that’s missing the point.

 Ramsay shared a number of captivating examples to illustrate her point.

  • Student presentations can be ‘innovated’ using technology, making it easier to assign students engaging and meaningful presentations in a format that appeals to today’s learner. Ramsay demonstrated how a linear PowerPoint slide presentation assignment can be transformed so that students create interactive Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories.
  • Student work can and should be shared online, so that it can have a global audience, rather than the audience of one (the teacher). Wikispaces and LiveBinders are two websites that make it easy.
  • Students can engage in ‘books chats’ on student-blogs on websites such as Kidblog.
  • Another good idea I liked is to have the students do a tech tools scavenger hunt, looking at previous students’ work. This way students get familiar with the wide range of tech tools that are available, and will be able to make choices about the most appropriate tool to use to create each assignment.
  • Kids need time to explore their passion. One way to do this is modeled after the 20% time that Google employees receive to work on projects they are interested in that are not directly related to their specific job responsibilities. Giving students an ‘Innovation Day’ or ‘Genius Hour’ allows them to learn and share about areas they are passionate about that might not be on the school curricula. Most of these projects are not digital, but by documenting the students’ experiences with video, the event becomes ‘amplified’ and receives a larger audience. 

Ramsay’s presentation was a breath a fresh air amid the numerous sales pitches disguised as presentations by corporate sponsors and their fans. While it seemed that many people at ISTE were distracted by the new and shiny, Ramsay articulated a clear, focused and powerful rationale for using technology to innovate teaching and learning. I hope more educators continue to be influenced by her ideas, choosing to prioritize pedagogy over products, and encouraging learners to use technology to become producers not just consumers. 

 < This was also cross-posted on the Avi Chai Educational Technology Blog. >

The Chofetz Chaim 2.0

The Chofetz Chaim, an esteemed rabbinic sage of the early 20th Century, was once asked what could be learned from the technological innovations of his age. The telephone, according to Chaim, taught us that words could be said in one place but heard in another. The telegraph teaches that every word has a price, and the train teaches that you can show up one minute late and miss everything.

These comments strike me as a remarkable insight, extracting profound timeless meaning from the latest newfangled gadgets of the day.

I wonder what the Chofetz Chaim might answer similar questions today.

What lessons can we learn from Facebook, the Internet, or Google?

Here’s what I came up with:

From Google, we learn that the answers to many of our questions are out there, we just need to know what we are really searching for.

From Facebook, where we re-connect with high school classmates and discover our friends’ friends – we learn that all humans are connected and created b’tzelem elohim (in the image of God).

Anyone who has posted, tweeted, blogged or accidentally hit ‘reply all’ on a private message that regretfully ends up being read by the wrong person learns that words once spoken can never be taken back – an important reminder about avoiding lashon harah (evil words, or gossip).

As Netflix and Amazon develop more sophisticated personalization of recommendations and targeted ads, we learn “For me the world was created.”

As of this writing, PSY’s viral hit music video Gangam Style has 1,255,468,235 hits. We are indeed “dust and ashes.”

What else can we come up with?