Using technology for the sake of using technology wasn’t a good idea pre-COVID and it isn’t a good idea now. Supporters of the unconditional use of technology, and there are many out there in EdTech positions like mine, typically argue that multiplying the use of technology will develop “21st century” domain-general skills like critical thinking and problem-solving, with the implicit suggestion that these are best fostered through discovery and trial and error in digital spaces. Whether domain-general skills are best learned this way, or can even be learned at all, goes unaddressed.
In an effort to be more specific about what the technologies are used for at my school, I created a diagram. I started by identifying six multimedia learning strategies from the research literature that have strong evidence of effectiveness. These were Feedback, Interactive Modeling (aka explicit, guided, and/or example-based instruction), Questioning and Discussion, Dual Coding, Formative Assessment, and Retrieval Practice. There’s more to teaching than this, but I thought it’d be good to start with that which we can reliably count on, and naming these strategies allowed us to outline and initiate a professional development agenda for our teachers.
For the technology, I included tools that I’ve observed in use during my visits to teachers’ classes, some of which we opted for the free version and others which are paid subscriptions. I connected each of the strategies with our technologies by an arrow and a verb in an attempt to tell most of the story of what the technology could be used for. There are other technologies in use that I didn’t include, either because they were subject-specific, not fully adopted or evaluated, or their use is obvious (e.g., e-mail). It’s not perfect, and even as I write this I’m making little tweaks here and there on my school copy based on the feedback my teachers are giving me in Microsoft Teams.
What the diagram does a good job of showing is how these teaching strategies can be supported by the LMS (in our case, Canvas) without requiring an external tool. As a general rule, I encourage teachers to use the LMS (in service of learning) whenever possible because when a student has 9 teachers who all use their own set of 5 or 6 favorite tools, as well as the LMS, the amount of tools becomes overwhelming for the student, and I suspect content learning will be impacted. Evidence from other “two for the price of one” schemes tells me that whenever a student has to learn to use a technology tool at the same time as they are supposed to be learning academic content, both areas of learning will probably be negatively impacted. When teachers use the LMS to it’s full potential, there are simply way fewer technology tools in total for the student to learn, and, as a student’s teachers share joint responsibility of teaching the LMS, there is less time wasted per teacher teaching new technologies.
In times of remote learning, teachers are looking to add more variety to their classes. One form of variety that is admittedly tempting is to simply introduce a new, flashy tool to spice things up a bit. But at what cost? Are the school-adopted tools that the students already know how to use insufficient to achieve the learning goal? Does the new tool really support evidence-based teaching strategies, or is it just something you’re comfortable with? And when the students churn out visually appealing, but ultimately knowledge-poor, shallow products do we just shrug our shoulders and say, “well, at least they learned 21st century skills?” All important questions to ask.
– Zach Groshell