Thursday, December 6, 2007

Flexible Technology

Debates in education often remind me of the old Saturday Night Live skit: "It's a floor wax." "No, it's a dessert topping." "It's both!" (I'm sure you can find the routine on YouTube.)

Unfortunately, the arguments in the education world often fail to get to the punchline. Whole language OR phonics. Conceptual math OR skills and procedures. Direct instruction OR constructivism. Hey folks, it's both!!!

In the educational software design course I teach at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, I restrain my students from thinking about the technology until they have a solid understanding from the research about what problem they are addressing and what success looks and sounds like.

There is no one instructional approach that works for building fluency, acquiring deep conceptual understanding, and prompting behavioral change. Only when they know what they want to accomplish, with whom, and in what context (classroom, home, museum, etc.) can my student designers bring their creative energies to the task of figuring out if and how technology can help.

There's nothing cookie cutter about this approach. So it's not surprising that a project focusing on vocabulary acquisition will look very different from one targeting improved student engagement in a civic society that's different in another way from one building deep conceptual knowledge of negative numbers. And technology can take a supportive, but very different, role in each of those instructional endeavors.

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