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ISTE Excellence Cafe — Characteristics of Formal Learning

One of the best times that I had a ISTE this year was facilitating one of the ISTE Excellence Cafes.  They took place on Sunday, and each cafe was devoted to a conversation about one of the ISTE NET-S and what excellence looks like in that context.  Weeks before, I’d missed the initial conference call for facilitators, and when I was finally able to connect, there were only two NET-S standards left to choose from.  This was good.  I chose Technology Operations and Concepts, which is the standard that I am least interested in.  I chose it for two reasons.  One, I was more likely to keep my own mouth shut, making it easier to facilitate the conversation.  Secondly, I felt that I might learn more by leading a conversation about something, to which I do not pay a lot of attention.

Technology Operation & Concepts

Students demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems, and operations. Students:

  1. understand and use technology systems.
  2. select and use applications effectively and productively.
  3. troubleshoot systems and applications.
  4. transfer current knowledge to learning of new technologies.

ISTE was about conversations

I was worried when the conversation was about to start.  It seemed that Tech and Concepts were not terribly interesting to anyone, except for an enthusiastic educator from Vietnam, and two venders — both of which shared valuable perspectives, but not broad enough to even begin the conversation.  But, when the time finally came, folks started coming in, and we had wonderful input from teachers, administrators, technology educators and directors, international educators and vendors — and it was one of the most exhilarating conversations, of which I have been a part.

We had almost no guidance on where we should steer the conversations except for the goal of excellence.  We wanted the cafes to take the discussions in their own directions.  It was my job to keep it productive.

We looked at each of the goals of the Technology Operations and Concepts standard, and our conversations broke down into what does the learning of the items look like, and what kind of teacher/learning environment would nurture that learning.  There was an enormous amount of overlap.

Here is my own condensing of the ideas down to an almost manageable list of teaching/learning characteristics that I think extends way beyond technology operation and concepts.

Minor additional editing July 23, 2010

The learning & the learner
  • Student-centered
    • Student Choice
    • Personalized (not individualized)
    • Building expertise more than meeting standards
    • Working toward a meaningful product
  • Technology is personal — It is not handed out.  It comes in with the learners
  • Assessment
    • Not “right” or “wrong” but “did it work?”
    • Permission to get it wrong, and then describe what was learned
    • Self-reflection and peer-evaluation (critiquing)
  • Regular exposure to and conversation about
    • Current events
    • New ideas
    • New (emerging) technologies
  • Learning is…
    • problem-based
    • project-based
    • product-based
    • with external goals and audiences that extend beyond standards
  • Technology literacy is not platform or application based.  It is saying, “This tool should be able to do this.  Let me figure out how to make it work.”
The Teacher and Learning Experience
  • Open minded and open ended
  • Comfortable with authority that is fluid and porous.
  • Willing to take risks and make mistakes, and say, “Here’s what I just learned.”
  • Willing to grant students permission to make mistakes and say, “Here’s what I just learned.”
  • Publicly learning as professional practice
  • High expectations for students — higher than the status quo
  • A vision or philosophy of ICT in formal learning that is purposeful, rigorous, and product oriented and that ICT is THE literacy tool of our time.
  • Engaged in learning conversations within a cultivated network of colleagues
  • Willing to say, “You figure it out!”
  • Willing to learn from students
  • Willing to give students space to be learners, but hold them accountable for their learning and make them defend their learning, “How do you know that’s true?”
  • Be willing to share classroom learning experiences with the community, to invite the community in.
  • Respect and utilize the knowledge and skills that students gain outside the formal learning environment
  • Be involved in selecting new ICTs, developing curriculum, and setting information and communication policies for the school/district
Aspects of Classroom Culture:
  • Reflection
  • Peer Review
  • Confidence
  • Computer application not computer applications. (the difference is one “s”)
  • Multidimensional Conversations about context, values, and leveraging change, potentials, and opportunities
  • Information as raw material to be mixed and shaped into new valuable information products
  • Student learning affects other people





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  • Katie

    Willing to give students space to be learners but making them accountable for their learning, Amazing!! It sounds as though this conference was attended by people who where thinking of the students needs first and this is how we get the results that we are all looking for when it comes to technology and education. Allowing them to make mistakes and then asking what they learned from it is an invaluable lesson.

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  • http://www.springbranchisd.com Clara

    Making students reflect about their learning and behavior is the best way to make them see inside themselves.I agree with you about respecting the students learning and knowledge outside the classroom. We, educators, can learn from them, too! Wonderful website!

  • http://butlerlauraashleyedm310.blogspot.com/ Laura Ashley

    Thanks for sharing your Characteristics of Formal Learning with us. I think the map of your ideas is a great tool for any beginning teacher. In order to get to where we’re going, we need to have a good map to follow, and I feel that you have provided that for us here.

    -Laura Ashley

  • http://trailmeme.com/info/overview Todd

    I’m not a teacher, but I have been learning that many teachers are embracing and learning to incorporate technology into the classroom. The post presents an excellent top level guideline for teachers, I think (I base that off of comments on the page and my limited understanding of the classroom).

    I’m interested in learning what specific technologies pose a challenge. Do teachers harness social media? Do students seem to learn differently today?

    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

      Todd, I would say that there are three brand new conditions that are challenging educators today.

      1. We are preparing a new generation of learners, who learn differently because of the information experiences they are growing up with.
      2. We are preparing our children within a new information environment that is networked, digital, and abundant (overwhelming)
      3. We are preparing our children for a future we can not clearly describe — for the first time in history

      I think that more than any particular technology, it is the changing roles of student and teacher. There are many terms that describe it, but I like to think of learning as becoming more “active” and teaching becoming more “passive.” The job of the teacher is to craft and maintain learning experiences within which the learners gain new and vital knowledge and skills — to cultivate an “on-the-job” style of learning. That is not to say that lecture and textbooks (or what they evolve into) are dead. But learning is becoming much more rich and much more interesting…

  • http://www.thebabymarketplace.com/ Andy

    Thanks for the guidelines you provided here. I quite agree with Laura that the “map of your ideas is a great tool for any beginning teacher”. The way you divided all the characteristics of Learning experience and technology operation was really good. Thanks for sharing these informations.

  • Susan

    Thank you for getting the word out that teachers have to learn along with students in order to navigate this digital maze. In fact, many of us who are “of a certain age” need to get over ourselves and allow students to lead the way in some instances. 21st century kids DO learn differently than previous generations — I see this with my own grandchildren. They are so much more open to new ideas and new ways of problem-solving. My professional goal for this school year is to move the focus away from me as the dispenser of all knowledge to my students as explorers and producers.

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