Which comes first, acquisition of technology skills or using technology skills for deeper inquiry?

Ah, Arvind Grover asks in his most recent blog posts Should We Teach Software Skills,

How to we blend learning skills with higher order thinking? Do we teach kids PowerPoint or do we teach them how to make fantastic presentations using digital tools? If you say obviously the latter, can you do that without a digital slideshow tool like PowerPoint? And if you do, don’t you need to teach them that tool? While someone above argued that we are using overkill tools to teach our kids (which I agree with), I don’t think we are going to find a totally intuitive software package for creating digital presentations. I’m not willing to leave teaching to go design it, are you? So in the mean time, let’s do both, teach skills and context – just don’t pick only one; it’s not fair to the kids. Or you.

This is one of the questions which one of the debates that I am in the midst of having at our school. With time being the limiting factor, do we focus our time on making sure that our middle school and high school kids gain skills, or use the tech skills to answer essential questions which demand the critical thinking skills (data gathering, analysis, synthesis of new idea)? I am leaning on the later, but then it comes around to accountability and how do we make sure that students acquire the skills in order to get to be able to use. We do not have a technology/computer science/applications course in our middle school or upper school which is required of all students nor is there one currently in discussion for the upcoming academic year.

I will agree that if you want to talk about accountability and measuring student progress, that a skills based curriculum is easier to manage and maintain. There are checklists which are easy to go through and then assign remediation for those skills not meet. But in the absence of a regular class which facilitates learning those skills, how is the student going to be held accountable for meeting those measures? It also makes coordination difficult, as you make sure that every student has an opportunity to learn all of the skills integrated into the various other curricular pieces.

Or should the learning be structured so that students learn the skills as they need to answer and communicate their answers to well constructed questions. The technology coordinators job changes significantly, making sure that there is a good question and one or several solutions so that students can answer the question. This is the approach that we took for our US History trailer project. Students were shown, in 20 minute blocks, some essential skills that they could use to construct a film trailer. Not every student used the software and techniques demonstrated in class, some used Windows Movie Maker or Pinnacle Studio, which were more appropriate for the story that they were trying to create. Do the students lose something if they use different software packages?

I know my learning style with technology is one which I best learn a new application as the result of learning it while doing an authentic project which requires that skill. In my 22+ years of working on professional development with teachers, it typically has been the same story, if you do a general project, teachers will learn at that moment, but if they don’t apply those skills and repeat them for something that they are going to use within 48 hours, they don’t internalize the project. This is why I believe that Personal Learning Plans are one of the best methods of professional development, since they are developed with specific goals that are teacher (as student) created. This does not mean that we don’t share examples to a whole group, for this is sometimes the only way to make individuals aware of what it possible.

Thank you Arvind, for bringing getting me to think about this once again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *