Ensuring Technology is Used to Enhance Student Learning

May 2012 • Sue Jackson

Because of the rapid expansion of the information universe, we know that wise use of technology in a 21st century classroom is imperative. Today's students have the potential to interact with a global audience; dissolving boundaries between the classroom and the outside world and creating larger learning communities. Our question for this month's tip: How do we ensure technology is used to enhance student learning?

As you prepare for inquiry-based or project-based learning, think about how students will use technology to enhance their learning. Examine the essential learning functions provided by technology rather than the actual tools or Web applications students will use. Essential learning functions are stable, unlike the tools which may change quickly. Your focus should be on the pedagogy involved and your students' needs, not on the technology itself. In fact, findings from a recent report prepared by the Media Awareness Network, show that teachers who used technology competently in their classrooms "spent little to no time teaching students how to use a particular piece of software or hardware; instead, they focused on teaching them why the technology would be useful to their learning. This was a highly effective strategy for students from Junior Kindergarten through Grade 12 (Young Canadians in a Wired World, Phase III: Teachers' Perspectives, 2012). The report also mentions that successful integration of technology proved enriching to students' learning; especially in the areas of communication, collaboration, and individualized learning.

Below you will find several examples of learning functions appropriate during project-based learning. Each example includes a brief explanation of how the function relates to 21st century skills. In the third column, there are several tools that deliver this function. Of course, the list is not exhaustive in any way, but it provides suggestions that might be helpful when selecting a tool to suit the needs of your students and the context for learning.

Essential Learning Functions

Function Explanation Tools
1. Ubiquity: Learning Inside and Outside the Classroom and All the Time Help students be mobile and learn wherever they are, whenever they want and with whomever they want - smart phone, MP3 players, GPS, Web mail, Google Docs, Flickr photos,
2. Deep Learning Help students use primary sources of information on the Web -video-on-demand, primary source archives, real-time data sets
3. Making Things Visible and Discussable Help students to begin discussion by making ideas visible and sharable -Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus (www.visualthesaurus.com)
- Google Earth, Flickr, FreeMind Mindmapper
- Web-based applications that allow simultaneous contributions: (www.bubbl.us, www.mindomo.com, www.mindmeister.com)
4. Expressing Ourselves, Sharing Ideas, Building Communities Help students socially interact, express their ideas, and build society around shared interests -blogs, social software, tagging, and virtual meetings with webinars
5. Collaboration: Teaching and Learning with Others Help students learn together (e.g., plan and write, find experts or fellow learners, survey the community) -wikis, web-based "office" applications, webinars, survey tools (Survey Monkey), expert and learning exchanges, computer phone calls with voice-over
6. Research Help students make sense of and organize what they need from the ever-expanding Web - Ask for Kids - K-12 www.askforkids.com
- delicious.com bookmarking
- Citation Machine (citationmachine.net)
- Expert Space, grades 4-12 (education.scholastic.ca)
- Bookflix, grades K-5 (education.scholastic.ca/category/BOOKFLIX)
7. Project Management, Planning and Organization Help students manage time, work, sources, feedback from others, drafts and products -Desire 2 Learn, Moodle, iGoogle, My Yahoo, Protopage
-Expert Space (education.scholastic.ca)
-Zoho Creator (creator.zoho.com)
8. Reflection and Iteration Help students to examine ideas from all sides and viewpoints -Edublogs, Blogger, Blogmeister
-Wikispaces, PBworks

*adapted from Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age, Boss, Suzie and Krauss, Jane. Washington, DC: International Society for Technology in Education, 2007, Appendix 2.

Keep in mind the following questions as you incorporate technology into your 21st century classroom: