Can Technology Make Us Better Learners and Teachers? 

Blog Image

 It's a very human trait to invent tools to help achieve a goal; the same goes for learning and education.     

I’ve had a lucky career as an educator in that I’ve always enjoyed a certain amount of liberty in what and how I teach. Because there aren’t a lot of French teachers in the area, there usually aren’t a lot at any particular school. Some campuses may have more, but usually there’s just one of us running the show. I’m not a lone-wolf and I’m absolutely a team-player--I still share duties within my department-- but when it comes to French, everything in my program is self-contained. My course is my baby from concept to completion. Although it can be a handful without someone to share the workload, this is an appealing position for someone like me who is drawn more towards creative solutions than established procedures or routines. Though I may teach the same courses from year to year, there is always a process of refinement and creation that keeps it interesting and customized to specific student needs and populations. If I didn’t have the creative control that I enjoy, I don’t think I would have lasted as long as I have. It’s what keeps my interest up when my motivation wanes. Because of this, I’ve also developed a kind of agnosticism towards teaching methods and strategies in that I don’t take anything on faith until I see successful results. I think that kind of “academic skepticism” is a big part of what keeps pushing innovation, especially in education. It’s also a large part of what draws me to the Learning Technologies Program at UNT.

The appeal of creativity and “solution oriented” thinking touches on everything I do as an educator. From how my content is chosen and sequenced to what methods are applied to instruction, practicum, and evaluation, the question I’m always asking myself is “how can I make this better, faster, or more efficient?” With the Learning Technologies Masters in the Dept of Information, I want to learn new strategies and develop new avenues to grow my passion for innovation and education.

What I don’t want is to inject technology into learning for the sake of seeming modern or cutting edge. I’ve never appreciated the “technology for technology’s sake” attitude. It’s always an initiative in the school districts to appear modern and up-to-date, requiring X amount of technology use and implementation, even 100% adopting etextbooks. However, the truth is that a one-to-one technology adoption and a mountain of apps doesn’t improve performance on its own. Like any tool, it requires a proper application in a proper context and setting. As this past year has shown us, a successful program, be it on-line school, hybrid learning, professional development, or job training, will not be successful based on technological availability alone. What we’ll see in the next few years is that the schools and work from home programs that were the most successful were the ones where technological strategies were thoughtfully adapted to changing needs and based on fundamental understandings concerning human growth and development. Those that anticipated their student’s/worker’s/client’s needs and expectations and structured their technology use around them will have fared better than those that offered a hodge-podge of hardware and apps and turned them loose. What the past year has really shown us is that technology use in education, across the whole spectrum of education, is still in its infancy, lacking in real results, and prone to cheating.

Along those lines, I don’t want to be the app guy--the one who’s enamored with the latest and greatest thing, the let-the-app-takeover type. I’m not old-school or a Luddite; I have plenty of technological and computer skills. I’ve had a computer in my class since kindergarten. I’ve fixed them, fried them, programmed them, debugged them, you name it, my whole life. However, in my courses I’ve been careful to make use of them. I will only implement technology in strategic ways to augment an already thoughtfully designed curriculum. At the start of the school year, when I was doing virtual learning and face to face at the same time, the advice that I got was “You’re lucky, just use the etext and workbook and sit back and relax.” I didn’t. I knew it wasn’t going to be that easy. With all that technological advancement has to offer, from computing, to media, to interconnectedness, there is so much potential for greatness, but there is also so much potential for disaster. Consider how social media has changed the nature of our relationships and ask yourself whether that kind of adoption is appropriate and healthy for education. Technology has to strengthen the bond between educator and learner, not become something wedged between them or just another distraction. I’ve created apps and programs in the past that custom fit my courses. They offer instant feedback, shave hours off of tedious study time, etc, but they don’t work outside of the carefully crafted framework they were intended for. They don’t work on their own; they fill a need. I don’t want to be the app guy; I want to learn how to apply my experience and creativity to build the technology that makes education better, something that harmonizes the curriculum, the content, and the workflow into one.

Lastly, I want to say something about my own growth. I’ve done what I have done in the classroom for over ten years now. I’ve set goals and met them and I continue to push myself and my students to new levels. Even so, I’ve reached a point where I want to do more, go further, and build higher than I can as a classroom teacher. I want to find new challenges beyond the classroom and this program offers the best tools to accomplish that. I’m eager to learn new things that play to my strengths. I want to learn new ways to be creative and find solutions--even to problems that haven’t been realized yet. Also, I’m always learning and growing. I’ve always got hobbies and projects going on. However, I don’t want to work alone. I can learn anything and I can build anything, but you can only do so much without others to share ideas with. I want to be involved with people