Technology can transform education, but not without people #ISTE2015

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It’s been five years since I joined Twitter. To be honest, I didn’t know what Twitter was all about when I joined. I knew that I wanted to share what I was writing with the world, and besides my Mom, my friends, and my wife (sometimes) there was no one out there who seemed particularly interested in what I was writing about: teaching and learning.

At the time I didn’t know many other people who were educators, and I sure didn’t know many people who wanted to talk about education (much less transform education). There was almost no one in my school who was connected online with other teachers and leaders.

Five years ago finding another teacher online to connect and collaborate with was like finding a flower in the middle of a desert. Today, finding teachers to connect and collaborate with feels more like finding a flower in the middle of a rainforest.

Technology – Twitter and blogging in large part – has transformed my thinking on education, my perspective on teaching and learning, and my view on how we can best empower our students.

But I didn’t see this coming five years ago.¬†

I didn’t see how technology could do all of this, because I wasn’t able to see the people. Five years ago I was trying every new tech tool to come out. I was glogging with glogster. I was threading with voice thread. And I sure was writing and editing in real-time with Google Docs! But the technology was not transforming me. It was not transforming my classroom, because it was just technology.

As ISTE 2015 descends upon Philadelphia it’s so important to remember the people. The technology is awesome (and I will always be a geek for a new product or tool), but the 18,000 educators filling up the Convention Center are the real reason I’m excited about education’s continual transformation. Here are three simple reminders about tech’s role in education:

1. Tech can be a bridge, but people make it move (we are connectors)

Technology connects us to new tools, resources, and information. It also bridges the time and global gap between people. My first experience with global collaboration was during the Flat Classroom Project started and led by Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay. Students in my 10th grade English class were connecting with students from Qatar, Australia, England, Romania, and Canada. We were using Wikis, a Ning site, and other forms of technology to make connections and do work with students and teachers from around the world. However, my students and I will never remember how technology allowed us to bridge this time and distance gap. Instead we’ll remember the connections. What it felt like to work with someone in a different timezone and country. And what the summit at the end of the project looked like compared to our normal class presentations!

With many amazing global collaborations going on like the Global Read Aloud, and some awesome new global collaboration platforms like Write About, it’s important to remember that technology may lay the bridge between people, but we still need to interact to make the learning move.

2. Tech is a drill, but people have to aim, prep and finish (we are builders)

This year I’ve been part of an amazing revitalization of our Industrial Arts program into a Maker department. We’ve built an xLab at our High School and provide all kinds of tools like 3D Printers, Vinyl Cutter, Heat Press, and CNC Router to make the space allow for any type of building. But even with these awesome tools…our students have to do the work of building. Our teachers have to do the work of making lessons, creating projects, and guiding during the design and making process. Without people using these tools, they wouldn’t be transformational.

3. Tech is a mindset, but we have to be willing to change (we are growers)

Many of the people I meet through blogging, twitter, and going to conferences have something in common: They aren’t afraid of change. It seems that technology adoption in education lends itself to a type of person who understands the need for transformation at some level, and embraces the notion that things are going to be different.

As I work behind the scenes and collaborate to build a platform that personalizes professional development, we keep on running into teachers and leaders who want to make courses to better themselves and also help other teachers grow.

To that extent, technology also helps us give. It allows us to give new ideas to our colleagues, new experiences for our students, and new connections that may transform our personal practice.

When I realized that people, not just technology, were the key to transforming teaching and learning…that’s when the real fun started.

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