Watching #edtech-Using Students

“Just what does ‘good’ technology-rich teaching and learning look like?” This question has focused my attention as I recently returned to the field.

There is little doubt that classroom are now filled with digital devices. For the first decades of digital teaching and learning, we yearned for the funds to make sure every students had a compter. Now, we find so many Chromebooks, tablets, laptops, and desktops in schools that many have reached the one-to-one goal. Combined with the smartphones that students carry into classroom in their pockets, students can use more than one device at a time.

Walking through a school where students are using the digital devices can lead one to observe many practices and these can be very different. Here are the “rules of thumb” I use to evaluate what is happening during a technology-using lesson:

Listen for mouse clicks. If the sound of mouse clicks dominantes in the room, then students are likely answering questions posed by the program. While this type of lesson has a role in education, it is a very minor role. Lessons in which the interaction is mouse clicks should be used only occasionally.

Watch where students are looking. Good technology-based lessons will find students looking away from the screen often. They look at books, notes, posters, sticky notes on the wall, other screens, and people most often. Digital devices are tools for creation as much as they are tools for consumption. Students who are creating cannot spend all of their time staring at a screen. There are exceptions, of course. Programming and multimedia production are examples. In those cases, the most active creators are the students who are moving between windows and using multiple panes within the application.

Listen for questions. Students who are actively using digital tools ask lots of questions. “How do I…?” “What do you think of this?” “Can you help me find…?” are examples of the questions one hears in classrooms where technology is well-used. The questions are designed to help students clarify their thinking, seek feedback, and learn to use unfamiliar parts of the programs they are using. If the

Listen to who answers. Where technology is well-used the individuals who answer students’ questions are most often other students.

Watch the end of interactions between students and teachers. Teachers do answer questions and interact with students in classrooms where technology is being well-used. The interactions often begin with a group of students giving up on solving their problem and calling the teacher over to their space. They will ask for help interpreting information or clarifying expectations or perhaps for some feedback. They may also ask how to accomplish a certain task with the program; this is most common when the students are using complex applications or creating new types of media they have never created. In those lessons where technology is most effective, the students will return to work before the answer is complete.

Screen time is now common for students. We are fortunate to be able to give students experience using digital tools to access, analyze, manipulate, create, and disseminate information. If technology-based lessons find students interacting with each other and other media more than with the contents of their screen, we can be confident technology is leading to valuable learning.