Okay, let’s be honest from one educator to another. When it comes to technology, have you ever felt like once you learn something new the educational world is already moving on to the next and greatest? Or have you ever just shrugged off the current technology trend and chosen to stick with what is familiar and comfortable when it comes to teaching? Perhaps you are trying to use different forms of technology, but feel like the technology is more of an expensive toy than actually enhancing and redefining the learning experiences?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you are not alone. “New, often more effective technology is created so quickly that teachers don’t feel like they can keep up with the onslaught” (Foltos, 2013, p. 134). Teachers also confess to having “stepped to the side” to avoid the steamroller of education and technology. A study was done by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers that concluded only half of teachers felt adequately prepared to integrate technology into instruction and 1/3 of teachers asked students to use technology in problem-solving and research a few times a week (National Education Association, 2008, p. 17-18). And for those who are attempting to integrate technology, sometimes we end up doing basic substitution for other tools. The technology is not actually transforming learning, merely supporting traditional teaching methods.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Let’s start by redefining the term technology integration. Les Foltos (2013) proposes a new definition for technology integration in his book Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration: “Technology supports and enhances 21st-century pedagogy and content” (p. 146). So what should our focus really be on? Pedagogy, content, and student learning. The teacher’s first job is to design learning activities that feature solid content and effective pedagogy (Foltos, 2013, p. 146). After the learning activity is created THEN teacher and/or students can help choose the technology that will best help them accomplish the task. “Too often, teachers still plan their lessons around technology instead of putting learning first” (Foltos, 2013, p. 136). Annie Tremonte, a digital learning coach in Renton, Washington uses this analogy when working with teachers to highlight how we can become overly focused on technology: “No one ever said ‘Wow, Elmer’s glue is amazing. How can I design a whole lesson just around Elmer’s glue?’ Yet oftentimes we start with the technology we want to use and try to build a lesson around that. Why?” Coaches can help teachers focus first on student learning, and then choose the technology that helps students achieve those goals. A key question to consider is how can technology enhance or accelerate learning?
Another way we can push for meaningful tech integration is by collaborating with coaches to develop relevant techno-fluency skills. Coaches can assist teachers in choosing the right type of technology by first asking them to define the task students will be doing, or the 21st-century skills the students will be working on, such as communication or collaboration. This will help you narrow your search for different types of technology to use. Coaches can then help research, model, or collaborate with the teacher to learn the new piece of technology. Teachers can also involve students when choosing appropriate technology (Foltos, 2013, p. 135). By having more proverbial “tech tools” in their toolbox, teachers can integrate tech in a more meaningful way.
There are various tools and resources educators can use to keep technology-integration conversations focused on pedagogy and content when redesigning lessons.
Technology is not this magic fix-all. If you employ technology, but are still teaching traditionally, nothing will change. As Foltos (2013) put it: “Adding technology hasn’t changed traditional teaching and learning, but it has made poor pedagogy more expensive” (p. 143). Here’s how the SAMR continuum can help teachers avoid this pitfall.
The SAMR model was created in 2010 by Ruben Puentedura and outlines four levels of technology integration.
Substitution – replacing traditional activities and materials with digital versions. In other words, there is no change to the content, just the way it is delivered.
Augmentation – substitution with some functional improvement. So the content stays the same, but teachers can enhance the lesson with various forms of technology like comments, hyperlinks, and embedded multimedia. Other examples of augmentation are gamifying your quizzes with Socrative and Kahoot or using virtual bulletin boards, like Padlet, for student collaboration (Terada, 2020).
Modification – the technology significantly alters the task.
Redefinition – learning is transformed by offering students opportunities that were impossible before. Some examples include global pen-pals, virtual field trips, or connecting with an expert for an interview, or getting feedback on your work.
Teachers often focus on the first two levels, especially now during distance learning. Teachers replace traditional materials with digital ones: converting lessons and worksheets to PDFs and posting online, or recording lectures and videos for asynchronous learning (Terada, 2020). And this is good practice. We cannot be at the Redefinition level all the time. “It’s tempting to think of SAMR as a mountain to be summited. But good technology integration isn’t about living at the top of the SAMR model; it’s about being aware of the range of options and picking the right strategy—or strategies—for the lesson at hand” (Terada, 2020).
The TPACK model focuses on three forms of knowledge: Content (CK), Pedagogy (PK), and Technology (TK). All three are essential in teaching. A highly effective teacher has a deep understanding of the subject matter being taught, is well versed in various methods of teaching and learning, and also has experience working with technology and knows how to apply it in order to enrich students’ learning. These three types of knowledge should be interwoven in the 21st-Century Classroom. While there is a natural overlap between the different types of knowledge, the goal is to be in the middle, where a teacher is effectively employing content, pedagogical, and technology knowledge all at once. This video does a great job explaining TPACK more in-depth and provides some real-world examples.
Lesson Design Matrix
If your school hasn’t gone through the process of establishing norms of effective instruction, check out the Learning Design Matrix. It was created by Les Foltos with the help of various educational leaders, coaches, and teachers. The goal is to create a mutual understanding between staff on what effective instruction looks like. The Learning Design Matrix can be used as a checklist that coaches and teachers can refer to when designing lessons. The bottom right box outlines the qualities of effective instruction when it comes to technology integration. I appreciate this resource because it can be a helpful tool and doesn’t focus on the technology itself, but how the technology can be used to collaborate, create, and empower students. Coaches can use this resource when working with teachers to design new curriculum or improve existing lessons regarding technology.
ISTE Student Standards
Lastly, educators can utilize the ISTE Student standards to keep technology focused on developing 21st-Century Skills. The ISTE standards “are all aimed at integrating technology to help students develop critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and problem-solving skills, as well as developing creativity and innovation” (Foltos, 2013, p. 143). These are exactly the kinds of skills our students need to be successful in the real world and should be at the center of the target when it comes to integrating technology.
While technology can become a powerful part of the learning journey – it should not be the focus. Pedagogy and student learning should always come first. Les Foltos says it beautifully: “Coaches must understand that best practices in technology integration are really best practices in 21st-century learning. Technology integration is all about the interrelationship of pedagogy, content, and technology. And technology is the least important of the three elements in this equation” (2013, p. 151-152). Whether teachers are feeling overwhelmed with keeping up, simply avoiding it, or poorly using technology, coaches can help. By redefining technology integration, collaborating with teachers to build capacity, and then using existing tools and resources, coaches can guide teachers in how to effectively use technology to transform student learning.
Common Sense. (n.d.). Introduction to the TPACK Model [Video]. Common Sense Education. https://www.commonsense.org/education/videos/introduction-to-the-tpack-model
Edutopia. (2007, November 5). What Is Successful Technology Integration? Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/technology-integration-guide-description
Foltos, L. (2013). Peer Coaching: Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Corwin.
Foltos, L. (2018). Learning Design Matrix. Peer-Ed, Mill Creek
Mkoehler. (2012, September 24). TPACK Explained. TPACK.ORG http://www.tpack.org/
Spencer, John. (2015, Nov. 3) What is the SAMR Model and what does it look like in schools? [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SC5ARwUkVQg
Terada, Youki. (2020, May 4). A Powerful Model for Understanding Good Tech Integration. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/powerful-model-understanding-good-tech-integration
Header photo by Good Studio, Adobe Stock