Monday, October 15, 2018

Pedagogy in the Driver's Seat

By: Rabbi Avi Bloom, Director of Technology and Dr. Gillian Steinberg and Ms. Shira Schiowitz, Professional Development Coordinators

One of the biggest questions in educational technology today is whether the education or the technology drives our decisions. As educators committed to integrating technology into our pedagogy, we sometimes fear that technology will be the driver, usurping or distracting from our educational goals. During this past summer’s ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in Chicago, we were inspired to see most tools presented with a primary focus on pedagogy. In fact, many speakers and sessions only mentioned technology tangentially, in service of educational goals.

Why, then, is technology so important in education in 2018? Beyond efficiency, how does it open educational opportunities? Technology affords us the ability to make students more active, hands-on, and generative. Students can be creators instead of simply responders. David Eagleman, neuroscientist and author and a keynote speaker at ISTE, encouraged the audience to embrace the realities and opportunities of technology instead of fearing or resisting change. Instead of becoming repositories of information, our students have more opportunities than ever to analyze, synthesize, and deepen their understanding with information available at their fingertips.

Students feel empowered by seeing connections among their disparate
classes and recognizing how they can share their learning. Students today can consider not only how they absorb information but also how they share it with their classmates and their teachers. We’ve begun thinking, for example, about how to include genres like podcasting and video production in the study of literature, not just to maintain students’ interest but also to recognize that literary interpretation can meaningfully include visual and auditory media as well. By recognizing the ways that certain skills translate across fields, we can offer students a more comprehensive education for the modern world while also demonstrating for them the synergies across various disciplines.

We can also reframe our assignments so we aren’t just thinking about the location of information -- how students “do research” -- but also about the quality of the information. Doing so allows students to be more active in their learning. In every class, we can redirect students from merely locating information to evaluating its reliability, bias, and comprehensiveness. Teaching students to be critical consumers of information is essential to their skills in every field, from their study of the history of slavery in America to the effects of clinical depression to contemporary theologians’ views on this week’s parasha.

As students transition from passive listeners to active learners, and teachers shift from information presenters to learning facilitators, students feel empowered and motivated by the collaborative opportunities that technology affords them. Students work together, both in person and remotely, to solve problems, share ideas and demonstrate mastery creatively. Whether writing on a shared Google doc, crafting interactive presentations, building a website, editing a movie, programming a robot, drafting a digital music score, exploring virtual reality and augmented reality environments, shared creative expression deepens student understanding, creates meaningful connections to knowledge and to their learning communities, and prepares them for life beyond school.

When used well, technology can widen the scope of our students’ knowledge, provide more opportunities to collaborate, and enhance their ability to share ideas. As educators, our challenge is to capitalize on these opportunities by encouraging our students to be discerning, analytical and thoughtful with all of the tools and information around them.