Technology-Transformed Learning Environments

Photo of Students Making a Presentation

"Students & faculty gave presentations on technology used for sustainability. ((Wilburn, Jeremy. "Technology Day at UIS 2009." Flickr. N.p., 19 Feb 2009. Web. 12 Mar 2010. .))
It isn’t about technology. It’s about becoming responsible for learning…

It was six years ago that I was asked by Linworth Publishing to write a book about technology for teachers — and, in mapping out the book, concluded that advances in technology was not nearly as disruptive for teaching and learn as how ICT has changed how we use information.  So the book (Redefining Literacy 2.0) turned into an exploration of contemporary literacy — reflecting today’s prevailing networked, digital, and abundant information environment.

However technology has advanced and it is becoming increasingly prevalent in our classrooms.  The achievement of one to one (computer to student) learning environments is now close to being a universal desire, while pocket and under the arm technologies have become a prevailing and almost indispensable part of how we work, play and connect to each other.  It should no longer be in questions that personal information and communication technologies are a critical ingredient to learning today. 

But what does a learning environment,

Defined by ubiquitous access to personal ICT,

Look Like?

How does it behave?

How does it transform how we teach?


..and how schools operate?

I got started down this path when a friend asked if I would be willing to work with their district’s school principals regarding technology. My immediate response was to suggest others, whom I felt were more qualified, because they were currently or had more recently been school administrators. But then he said that they wanted principals to understand what technology-infused learning looks like — what to look for.  Well, this got my noggin going.

Tech-infused learning certainly involves the effective and appropriate use of information (contemporary literacy), which includes accessing, working, expressing knowledge — through the networks, digitally, compellingly, and with consideration of others. But what do you look for to see that?  What does the learning experience look like.

  1. You see learning that is fueled by questions.  I’m not talking about teacher-suggested or textbook-sponsored essential questions, though they would certainly not be inappropriate.  What I would look for is a learning experience where the learner is propelled by continually encountering barriers, asking questions, coming to understand the barriers, and solving his or her way through them.
  2. Students are engaged in a way that provokes conversation.  As students are formulating and asking questions, they are engaged in conversations.  They may be conversing with classmates, students in other classes, other experts, the teacher, or other teachers.  However, these conversations are not limited to exchanges with people.  They might more frequently be exchanges with  print references or with a digital constructs, such as an online reference sources, spreadsheets, data visualization, tinkering, or programmed experimentation.
  3. The learning situation is responsive to the learner’s actions — the assignment talks back, so to speak.  Students are working their learning in such a way that their decisions, actions, and conclusions are responded to.  It might be a smiley face.  Or it might be that a digital bridge (or model bridge of tooth picks) works — or falls down.  The responses might be immediate, as when working with digital constructs.  However, the responses can be delayed, as with blog comments or product critiques.  The key is that the responses are authentic and relevant to the product or action — not just symbolic grades or measures based on standards with meaning only to bureaucrats and politicians.
  4. The learning experience compels a personal investment by the learner and contributes to the learner’s identity.  The learning work should result in value, either value to the learner (increased self-value) or in an end product that is of value to others.  It might be a new skill that the learner can apply today.  It might be a report and recommendation to the school board.  It might be a report, presentation, or collaborative reference entry that classmates will rely on for their continued learning.  The possibilities are to numerous and varied to mention.  But the tech infused learning experience, because of the multidimensional connections that it promotes may — and should — serve to embellish the learner’s identity, even if it is through the learner’s avatar.
  5. The learning results from significant opportunities to safely make mistakes.  The experience of learning in tech-rich environments should be playful.  Many video games are about playful work or hard learning.  The learner should be free to explore wrong answers — and good wrong answers should be celebrated for the learning opportunities they enable. ((This evolving list of qualities originated with a discussion I had with teachers in Irving, Texas, who had been working in 1:1 classrooms for several years. I was impressed by their sense of the qualities of their students ‘native’ information experiences and I have continued to find applications for their shared ideas.))

In a sense, the "student-centered learning" side of differentiated instruction is "personalized learning" — a learning experience that is free to surprise the student and even the teacher.  In fact, in the tech-infused learning environment, the teacher should regularly be saying, "Surprise me!"

Bottom line is that we will see learners becoming responsible to their peers, audiences, and communities for their learning.  ..and that responsibility will not be based on a measure of their learning (how much or how well), but on what they have learned and what they can do with what they’ve learned.

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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.