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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26 thoughts on “Technology-Transformed Learning Environments”

  1. I like your premise that we are responsible to our community for our learning. It cuts many ways.

    Values, citizenship,authenticity, maturity, accountability, work readyness, transparency, trust, belonging, service, care, committment.

    And I really like your pointing toward these by pointing away from standardised, one size fits all, there’ s only one right answer, short term memory recall tests.

    As an afterthought just looking at the qualities that are present in the first paragraph compared to the second there’ s something about the digital that’s moving us from a 2 dimensional perception of ourselves and each other and especially our models of learning-paper, books etc to a multi dimensional aspect. So too education must be multidimensional and recognise those aspects within us.

  2. Really good summary of the characteristics of the tech enabled classroom. I like how you didn’t get specifically into technologies involved. It is easy to say “let’s buy this” but it is necessary to step back and see how you want the environment to work, then buy the tech to make it happen.

  3. Provokes conversation and compels a personal investment are so valuable when designing 2-way technology lessons for senior English. I am helping a teacher develop a lit tour via Google earth for the Great Gatsby. To remember to provoke conversation and compel students to personally invest in the tour will demand good writing prompts and directions embedded in the KML files around New York. Have a look at this site that has examples of other projects similar to the one I am assisting on.

  4. Great explanation of the technology-powered learning enviornment. It really made me think about all the “look for’s” as I incoporate technology more in my instruction. As a third year teacher, I’m learning everyday about the power of technology which established the read/write web. It allows our students to become a community of learners in a multidimentional aspect, as Ruth stated above. It takes learning to a whole new level that is appropriate for a new generations of students. This post helped me form my own ideas about what the technology infused classroom and learning should look like. You’ve helped me set expections for myself as a teacher so that I can effectively guide my students through learning with technology. Thanks!

  5. I think that you have brought up some great points in technology in education. It is so important that teachers, like myself, use technology to enhance my lessons. Technology is constantly changes and we must work to update our knowledge, as quick as possible, as the technology changes. Today’s students are up-to-date and we must keep up with our students in order to maintain their attention.

  6. For technology-infused learning environments, please check out to see how children and adolescents can participate in a worldwide event. The Shortie Awards is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is geared towards encouraging the use of technologies, nurturing imagination, and creating a forum for discussion and teamwork between students around the world. We ask youth filmmakers, ages 7-18, and their teachers, to bring their ideas, and messages, and stories to the table through films and news shows. We are still accepting your submissions until April 9th, before we host our annual awards ceremony this May!

    ShorTV – youth filmmaking that is:
    – imaginative
    – outrageous
    – informative
    – ingenious

    **** Please spread the word! ****

  7. I have found that your point, Students are engaged in a way that provokes conversation to be an amazing benefit to student blogs. Ideas students published in posts, and discussed in comments have exceeded all expectations.

  8. My job involves sitting with teachers and coplanning their units of work with an emphasis on infusing technology. I am going to take your 5 points and final comment to ask 7 questions of my teachers as they consider planning a unit:
    1. What questions will your students be asking?
    2. What will their conversations be about? Who could they be conversing with?
    3. How will the assignment/unit talk back?
    4. How will this increase the self-value of the student or develop something of value to someone else?
    5. Where are the opportunities to make mistakes safely?
    6. Where is the opportunity for you to ask your students, “Surprise me!”
    7. What will your students be able to do with what they have learned?

  9. I was thrilled to find your article. It gives me terms to match with the way I have been teaching my classes for years. I now truly feel vindicated for my “different” approach to classroom learning, and I say learning because my classroom is not about teaching!

    I also use popular dvd copy for my tutorials.

    Thanks for your research.

  10. Tool 1:

    I like what you state that technologies are a critical ingredient to learning today. I think that a one to one (computer- student) learning environment is a great achievement of technology because contributes to differentiated instruction. Furthermore, a computer-student environment makes the learning more interesting and allows the students to become responsible of their acquisition of knowledge. Then, students will be eager to apply what they learned.

  11. Hello, I read a couple of your postings on this issue and I’m wondering if I can contact you directly to pick your brain on this issue. I am a lay leader at a school that has been moving in this direction and we are currently looking for a new head of school. It seems like you might be a good resource so I would love to speak with you if you are at all willing,

  12. Hello there, I have been searching the internet for a couple of days now and I find your article very interesting so I thought I’d leave you a short note to say what a terrific resource I believe you have going here, carry on the good work. Visit Tech Edu here

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