6 Truths About Technology in Education

I recently had the opportunity to Keynote the University of Pennsylvania Literacy Network’s Winter Symposium. Penn Literacy Network founder Mort Botel (who was also a former President of the International Reading Association) wrote one of the most influential works in my teaching career, “The Plainer Truths of Teaching/Learning/Assessing Across the Curriculum“; and with his passing this past year, I hoped to honor him in this address by framing my talk around the Truths of Technology in Education.

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Truth #1 is the reason we educate students. It’s for their benefit. But, it only matters to our students when they own the learning. When we give students choice, allow for inquiry, and foster creativity–then we see the amazing things they can do. Technology plays an interesting role in student ownership. That device in their pocket has all the information in the world. It can connect them to anyone, allow for collaboration, and be used for a variety of innovative purposes. As teachers, we have to embrace the notion that technology can open up a world of learning opportunities, and then give our students the chance to own those opportunities.

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Truth #2 comes from a quote I first heard Tom Murray say on stage, “Every child in your class is someone else’s whole world.” [footnote] I’m not actually sure if Tom coined this term, but I love it. If you know who did, please let me know so I could give proper attribution. For now, I’m giving it to Tom! [/footnote] As a parent who now has a child in school, this really hit home for me watching my daughter leave the house every day. Technology brings us closer together through communication tools, real-time collaboration, and sharing apps that bring video/pictures/audio to life. But it also does more than that. It transforms our social/human connections with little moments that can make a kid’s day, or make a parent proud.

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Truth #3 is all about the story. I’ve written before about the power of stories in education. It’s one of the best ways to teach and a favorite way of mine to learn. Stories have passed the test of time, and continue to enlighten and motivate people every day to learn and grow. Technology has transformed storytelling. Watch a Pixar movie and try to tell me differently… Technology expands our depth of story and allows us to share stories wider and farther than ever before. When something goes “viral” it means a story has struck a chord and reached millions of people unlike any other time in history. As teachers and students we can use technology to transform our storytelling, and how we learn.

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Truth #4 is something I firmly believe and try to say in every conference and school I speak to: Our job is to help students prepare themselves for anything. We are the guides and our students are the heroes of the story. When we don’t know what the future holds for our students, our job changes. [footnote] Let’s face it. None of us have any idea what the next five years are going to look like. Let’s not pretend we know what our students will be doing with their lives and in their careers. [/footnote] Technology can empower us as guides, because we don’t have to fear not being a content expert (especially as content continually changes). Instead we can rely on the fact that we are master learners ourselves, and technology is a resource we can share with our students to help them learn anything.

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Truth #5 is based around the Alvin Toffler quote: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those that cannot read and write, but those that cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Technology create a learning environment where unlearning and relearning is the norm. Where we can get new information, analyze it, apply it, and use it to create or evaluate. If Toffler is right (and I think he is onto something) then we should adopt a mindset that praises unlearning and relearning, and treats learning as a continuum.

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Truth #6 is something all of us know who work in education. We have an impact. We make a difference. It’s why we got into this profession in the first place, and it’s what keeps us here and moving even on the hardest days. Technology let’s our connections and impact move beyond the classroom walls, and continue to be powerful long after our students are out of sight.

I’d love to hear your thoughts below, and what is your “technology truth” in your school or classroom?

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