Sunday, 4 December 2011

Part 2: Technology is UDL!: But it's not about Technology!

Here is the Audio of this blog:

First of all, Technology is NOT the solution for all struggling students.  As Clayton Christensen suggests in his book, Disrupting Class, we need to move beyond a patchwork of gadgets and stop cramming new technology into existing structures (2008).  Sound familiar?  Rather than try and address a concept that carries less and less meaning as it simply becomes ubiquitous in our home and educational lives, I would like to talk about technology in terms of how certain tools have been very successful in helping students and staff reach specific educational goals. This subtle change in semantics is actually a major paradigm shift.

Nearly ten years ago in the 2002/2003 school year, our district implemented a Wireless Writing Program for all our grade six and seven students - notice that the focus is on writing.  We became aware that there was a significant gap in writing achievement between our boys and girls at the intermediate level and there were also very few students (boys or girls) who were excelling on standardized writing assessments.

Our Technology Principal and Director of Instruction at the time wondered what it would be like if every student in grade six and seven had a laptop that was embedded with the Performance Standards Rubrics for Writing in its word processing software.  They wondered how boys in particular would benefit from being able to produce and edit text with a laptop as they often struggled with the handwritten editing process. The results were clear.  Not only did the achievement gap between boys and girls narrow significantly, but All students improved in their writing with a significant percentage now exceeding expectations on tests.  In addition, having this powerful tool in the classroom for every student allowed for multiple means of representation, multiple means of expression and multiple means of engagement in several subject areas.

This is a prime UDL example of how a group of struggling students pointed the way to better instruction and achievement for ALL students.

While the Wireless Writing example above entailed significant funding, training, technical servicing, storing, backpacks, chargers and contracts,  my second example is far simpler but equally powerful.  When one of our teachers realized that his students could not follow his lessons at the same pace, he started to tune them into the  Khan Academy:

The simple, brief video lessons on math and other areas, have made learning accessible for many of our students who could not adjust to the pace or length of the instruction given by their teacher.  This is not to suggest that the videos themselves replace the teacher but are rather a complimentary tool for students and teachers alike.  The elegance and simplicity of this tool lies in the fact that the videos can be accessed from devices that students already own - tablet, smartphone, laptop.  In some cases, the teacher has "flipped" the homework and instructional roles whereby the students review a particular lesson by Khan Academy at home and then at school the teacher spends time with smaller groups of students as they work through practice questions based on the lesson.  Pause for a moment and think about the power to Pause, Rewind and Replay your teacher's lesson... free...from a device the size of your hand.  This site now includes practice exercises, assessments with immediate feedback and the ability for the teacher to track student progress.

These tools are simply a means to an end - student learning.  Whether it is a drama skit that students put together on the Battle of Batoche, a student presenting his work through his Voki avatar, or a teacher organizing a unit into a collaborative Livebinder, we need to provide toolkits for our students AND teachers that allow for an individualized construction of learning.  Most importantly, these tools help us understand that a learning disability resides less in the student, and more in the means we have traditionally provided.

Have a great week,

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