Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What I Learned From ACTEM 13

A couple weeks ago I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the MainED conference in Augusta.  MainED is put on by ACTEM, the Association of Computer Technology Educators of Maine, which does wonderful work supporting the state's teachers in their use of available technology.  Over the course of two days, I learned about a number of great technology resources that we can bring into the classroom, but I also had a lot of opportunity to reflect on learning and working with children that has impacted my philosophy of teaching.  Here is what I learned from ACTEM 2013:

1. Integrating technology effectively means asking, what can we have students create?

A common theme of MainED 2013 was that using technology effectively is not about the device itself, but what you do with it.  Simply using the technology in the classroom does nothing to guarantee that it adds anything to students' learning experiences.  It just means that they get practice using technology, which our students are immersed in already.  The real question should be about what the students are created with that technology.  This all lends itself to a discussion on digital literacy, a discussion I hope to be having more of in the district this year.  I like to outline two distinctive forms of digital literacy:  consumptive and creative.  Consumptive digital literacy is the ability for people to read, watch, listen to, and shop, safely and securely, with technology.  Most children and many adults are doing these kinds of activities on a daily basis (safely and securely is another thing), so we need not worry too much about this level of digital literacy other than to encourage digital citizenship and online safety.  Creative digital literacy, on the other hand, is the ability for people to, well, create, using technology.  This includes making websites, video, audio, other types of multimedia, all the way up to programming computers and robots, and creating new inventions that make people's lives easier.  This is the level of digital literacy that we need to focus on the most in schools, as students will increasingly need these skills and literacies to compete in the job market they will be thrust into as adults.

The socioeconomic divide between the middle class and the working poor will be increasingly defined as the difference in peoples' ability to create with technology.

Here's a great example of this.  The US is experiencing a resurgence of manufacturing after a prolonged period of outsourcing coupled with the 2008 recession.  However, very few manufacturing jobs are being created as a result.  The reason has to do with technology.  Technology allows for the production of goods in the U.S. without incurring much of the labor costs that incentivized outsourcing in the first place.  60 Minutes did a great piece on this growing trend.

The moral of the story here is that the middle class manufacturing job of the future is not going to be on an assembly line pulling levers.  The middle class manufacturing job of the future is going to be designing a robot or computer to do the things that used to require people pulling levers to do.  How well are we preparing students for this type of future?

The good news is that effective technology integration can be streamlined into what teachers are doing already.  I am a big proponent of the Backward Design model because it starts by having teachers think about the big picture.  Backward Design asks two big questions:  What will students learn/know; and What will students be able to do?  I've found that effective technology integration in the BD model asks a third, related question:  What will students be able to create?  By thinking about the expectations for the learning experiences and the product that will encompass those experiences, we can see how technology can be integrated into a unit or lesson and then begin to think about the smaller parts and pieces that lead into that product.

This is the first of four posts that I will do on the ACTEM conference.  The second post will be about using technology to share learning.

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