Educause recently published a comprehensive examination of technology ownership by collegiate students. In the study of 3,000 students in 1,179 American institutions, Educause reported that almost 87% of undergraduate students owned laptops. They also reported that 55% of students owned web-enabled “smartphones” that allowed connection to the Internet. As a professor who teaches instructional technology courses and studies student use of technology, I see these statistics as a blessing and as a curse. While these devices can provide tremendous opportunities for educators and their students, they also can create distractions in classrooms and have the ability to undermine assessment integrity. Faced with these concerns, I understand when my colleagues ban the devices from their classrooms and teach in technology-free zones. But also I hope (and work) for better. One of the reasons I started this blog over two years ago was to help educators develop skills to utilize technology in meaningful ways in their classes. In this blog, I try to highlight instructional strategies that are pedagogically sound and incorporate technology to engage students and foster new means of collaboration and learning. While I feature a lot of different websites and tools on this blog, my focus is always on education and learning. I came across this quote by Diana Laurillard recently that captures my philosophy of technology integration and the motivation behind my work:
“We have to be careful not to focus simply on what the technology offers, but rather on what the pedagogy requires.”
While I agree completely with Ms. Laurillard, before educators can effectively integrate technology, they need to have a grasp of what technology can offer and how it can support any pedagogical requirements. This involves educators having more than a passing knowledge of the digital terrain. They need to know how technology can support collaboration and communication and how it can help to form learning communities. I don’t take a “technology first” approach when planning lessons for my students. I don’t squeeze blogging artificially into some lesson just to have my students blog. This is like having a hammer and treating every lesson like a nail. I start with my instructional objectives and choose instructional strategies based on these objectives. At times, this might mean utilizing no technology at all for a lesson. Other times, it might involve developing a fully online lesson where students communicate via a chat room. The important component, however, is that we as educators need to a have a variety of pedagogical strategies to draw upon when we plan and teach lessons. We wouldn’t want to artificially squeeze blogging into a lesson any more than we would want to lecture to students every day. We absolutely need to focus on what the pedagogy requires. But we also need to have a strong understanding of what technology can offer in order to make informed pedagogical decisions.