Facebook. Twitter. Texting. They’re on the tip of every educator’s tongue, often because they are seen as impediments to classroom learning. We’ve heard it all — technology can be blamed for everything from shortened attention spans to poor spelling and grammar to a culture of instant gratification and isolation.

However, we’re also reading the research that tells us this is one trend we cannot ignore. According to Eric Klopfer, Scot Osterweil, Jennifer Groff, and Jason Haas, researchers at MIT’s Education Arcade, technologies such as social media, digital gaming, and simulations “shape the new ways in which people are communicating, collaborating, operating, and forming social constructs” and make us “think, work, and live” differently.  

How do we overcome the barriers that new technology may pose and harness it to enhance, not detract from, students’ intellectual growth?

Photo credit: http://davidjakes.me

1) Open up to change. Digital Learning Strategist and experienced educator David Jakes (@djakes) suggests that most educators approach new technology by asking how it can support what they’re already doing. He thinks we should begin with a different question. “This is my first question if I know every kid has a device: ‘What should the student learning experience be?'” He starts with the human need (learning), not the capabilities of the device or software or app. He urges educators to use design thinking and ask “what if?” to imagine possibilities rather than barriers. Check him out here and here. Perhaps the best way to figure out how to utilize technology is just to think about it in a new way.

2) Start small and build community. Although many educators believe that social media detract from the school community, Carrie Kamm shows us that tools like Twitter can be used effectively to build unity and investment in school. At National Teachers’ Academy, students Tweet their responses to community-building questions like, “What do you like about being an NTA student?” She reports that, “Our younger students began to feel they had a voice in the school, a way to share their learning and ideas. We frequently heard students saying, “Should we tweet this out?” when they made a discovery.” This also gave teachers a chance to teach students about responsible use of technology. Something as simple as a monthly poll is a great way to get started!

3) Use games and simulations to build concepts and higher order thinking. According to MIT’s Education Arcade, “new technologies afford us the ability to convey concepts in new ways that would otherwise not be possible, efficient, or effective, with other instructional methods. In other words, these technologies don’t just help us teach the old stuff in new ways – they can also help us teach new stuff in new ways.” Consider the game “Civilization,” for example. In this game students attempt to build a sustainable empire by deciding how to utilize new technologies, where to build cities, and how to handle competition from other societies. “Civilization” helps students understand trade and commerce, geography, how knowledge advances, and how systems interact to produce historical phenomena.

In addition, this report from MIT explains that:

Researchers such as Patricia Marks Greenfield also argue that habitual playing of video games
results in the development of new cognitive abilities that translate into the key skills for our transformed world
(Facer, 2003):

• The ability to process information very quickly;
• The ability to determine what is and is not of relevance to them;
• The ability to process information in parallel, at the same time and from a range of different sources;
• Familiarity with exploring information in a non-linear fashion;
• A tendency to access information in the first instance through imagery and then use text to clarify, expand, and explore;
• Familiarity with non-geographically bounded networks of communication; and
• A relaxed approach to ‘play,’—the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problemsolving (Jenkins, Purushotma, Clinton, Weigel & Robison, 2006).

To see this type of learning in full-effect, check out Quest to Learn Schools (pictured above). These schools engage students naturally through games and technology. Check out this description from their website:

Quest to Learn’s unique standards-based integrated curriculum mimics the action and design principles of games by generating a compelling “need to know” in the classroom. Each trimester students encounter a series of increasingly complex, narrative challenges, games or quests, where learning, knowledge sharing, feedback, reflection and next steps emerge as a natural function of play.

For instance, in the integrated science and math learning domain, “The Way Things Work,” over the course of one trimester, sixth graders help a shrunken mad scientist, lost inside the human body, navigate the systems he encounters and report back to his research lab.

Interesting, right? Maybe you’re not ready for a full-blown technology integration like this, but we’ll bet you can increase the joy and efficiency of your classroom by incorporating social media or other technologies that students enjoy using outside of school. Leave a post to let us know what has worked for you!