Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Taking a Skills Based Approach to Technology Integration

We have all seen list upon list of "cool tools," "web 2.0 websites," etc. and they are a great source for the latest and greatest websites/tools in education. The problem is that they all fall short when it comes to talking about technology skills.  Identifying and teaching transferable technology skills are crucial for students to not only be college and career ready, but also to prepare them to lead productive lives in an increasingly global and digital world.  Ultimately these types of lists are a detriment to teachers and the effective integration of technology into the classroom.

Any one of these web tools that a freshman in high school learns today, most likely will not exist or will be replaced by something better in 8-10 years when that freshman graduates from college. However, if teachers change their approach to focus on transferable technology skills (i.e. the NETS-S) it will make the integration of technology more meaningful and prepare our students with skills they can take with them in the future.
Common Questions and Concerns

"I want my students to use more technology but I don't know where to start."

"That (insert a program, website, "tool" here) is really cool, 
can you show me how to use it in my class?"  

"There is not enough time to teach my students 
how to use technology AND everything in the curriculum."

"I want to my students to use Prezi because PowerPoint 
is just so boring and out of date."

"How can I teach my students how to use technology 
if I don't know how to use it myself?"

These are some common questions and concerns that we regularly hear that can all be addressed by simply changing our approach to integrating technology in the classroom.  The key to making this happen is a  shift in perspective from focusing on "tools" we can teach our students how to use, to identifying transferable technology skills that students can use for the rest of their life.  This was one of the main themes of the second January institute day this year at JTHS. Based on research that we have done, we feel confident that teaching our students a set transferable technology skills will best prepare them for life in a modern society.

Transferable Technology Skills

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has developed a set of "standards for learning, teaching, and leading in the digital age that are widely recognized and adopted worldwide."  Those standards, known as the National Education Technology Standards (NETS), have several benefits including:
  • Improving higher-order thinking skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity
  • Preparing students for their future in a competitive global job market
  • Designing student-centered, project-based, and online learning environments
  • Guiding systemic change in our schools to create digital places of learning
  • Inspiring digital age professional models for working, collaborating, and decision making.

ISTE has a family of technology skills for students, teachers, administrators, technology coaches, and computer science educators.  The set of standards that we will primarily use are the NETS for students or NETS-S.   The six technology skill categories are listed in the image above. 

One key point to make about the NETS is how they have evolved over time.  In 2006, ISTE undertook an effort at both the national and international level to update the standards.  Thousands of people around the world participated in this process and the result was released in 2007.  The NETS for students "reflected changes in instruction, learning environments, and technology."  More importantly, the focus also changed from learning how to use technology to using technology to learn.

The NETS standards will serve several purposes in our district going forward.  As mentioned in the January institute day, we have identified relationships between the NETS-S and the Common Core ELA Standards.  An awareness of those relationships helps to deepen our understanding that technology skills are embedded within the curriculum.  The NETS-S skill categories will also provide common terminology for the district when discussing instructional technology, help us to create a resource guide for teachers that categorize websites/tools according to the NETS-S, and serve as a criteria for professional development opportunities.   

Benefits of Skills Based Approach

Today I want to address one reason why it is beneficial to focus on skills before tools, and then we will revisit this topic again in future post with additional considerations.  Let's examine the topic of student presentations.  Think for a moment about the blistering the pace at which technology is rapidly changing and advancing.  How do we as teachers determine what are the best programs for students to learn when those programs are constantly evolving?  This is where taking a skills based approach helps teachers decide what websites/tools to use in their classroom.

For example, Prezi is the trendy presentation tool that many teachers want their students to use.  There are definitely pros and cons to using Prezi.  It can deliver certain types of messages in a way that PowerPoint can't.  But what if we only teach our students how to push the right buttons and where to click to add video and text?  Furthermore, there are best practices for what makes a good presentation.  None of them include reading a paragraph off of the screen with the student's back turned to their audience.  If this is how your students present in your class, it won't matter what program they are using.       

Ask yourself this question, would you ever consider a grading scale on a presentation that gave your students two options?
  1. Present with Prezi and the maximum possible grade is an A 
  2. Present with PowerPoint and the maximum possible grade is a B        
Why?  Where does your answer place the emphasis of the assignment?  Is the goal for the student to learn the content or the technology?  The only exception would be if you are teaching a class that only teaches students how to use technological software, programs, and tools.  For the vast majority of teachers, this is not the case.  More importantly, we have examined the Common Core ELA standards to use as a model and no where will you find a mention of tools that students should learn.  Conversely, technology skills are embedded throughout the standards.

Let's look at this example form a different perspective.  First, teaching students how to evaluate websites/tools to choose which one is best for the message they want to convey does two things.  It targets higher order thinking and it prepares students with a skill they will undoubtedly utilize in the future.  Next, students who know what it takes to make an effective presentation can be successful using any medium.  As technologies change, those presentation skills will remain constant and ensure the likelihood of a successful outcome.  Teachers will still need to introduce students to websites/tools, but focusing on transferable skills makes that process much more meaningful.    

Digital Scavenger Hunt Question-  
In what ways can you use this information to continue growing professionally?

Leave your response in the comment section and take a screenshot of the answer you submit.

"NETS for Students." Internation Society for Technology in Education. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2013. <>

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