“As various educational analysts have joked, if you brought a bunch of surgeons from a hundred years ago into today’s hospitals, they would have no idea what was going on, because everything about their craft had evolved: antibiotics, laparoscopic devices, MRIs. But time-traveling teachers would have no trouble walking into an elementary school (or even Harvard) and going to work, because schools are nearly identical. Walk to the front of the class, pick up the chalk, and start lecturing.” (Thompson, 2014)
Educational theorists from around the globe agree that the model of school has not changed much in centuries. I believe that is about to change.
The evolution of digital technology use in schools is increasing all the time. Educators are using digital tools to augment the limitations of our brains, provide meaningful and authentic learning opportunities, and create artefacts of learning that can be shared and improved on by others. Of course, this kind of process takes time. Whenever a new practice is developed there are always those folk who realize its potential early and jump on board. For others, it takes a little more time to change.
Innovators and Early Adopters are pushing the boundaries with digital technologies in schools while the Early Majority are now moving through the framework of SAMR model of technology integration in their classrooms. I am sure, upon reflection, the history of school will be divided into the time before and after the digital revolution.
The utilization of digital technologies in our schools is still in its infancy. Diffusion of innovation theory describes how, why, and the rate in which new technologies, ideas, and processes weave their way into the fabric of society. According to Everett Brown’s research on diffusion theory, there are four main factors that influence the process of adoption of an idea:
- The innovation itself
- How information about the innovation is communicated
- The nature of the environment the innovation is introduced in (Rogers, 2003)
The decision to adopt a new idea, process, or technology is based on what Rogers calls the Innovation Decision Period (IDP). The stages of the IDP are:
“The adoption of an innovation follows an S curve when plotted over a length of time. The categories of adopters are innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.” (“Diffusion of Innovations,” n.d.) The adoption of digital technologies, aligned with sound pedagogical models of technology integration, which are used to make school more meaningful and personally relevant to learners are still in the ‘early adopter’ phase. Several factors stand in the way of the diffusion of digital technologies in our public schools and include; inadequate funding, privacy issues related to FIPPA, general resistance to change, infrastructure issues, hype, and misuse. According to Thompson (2014) classroom technology has a long history of hype that has rarely delivered. From radio to television, these innovations have been positioned as saviours to the education system but have failed to live up to their claims. I believe that schools need robust instructional frameworks to manage new technologies and avoid spending a whole pile of money on using digital technologies for the sake of digital technologies by replicating offline activities, online.
When embracing digital technologies in the classroom the SAMR model of technology integration is both simple and robust. The model encourages educators to move the practice of using digital technologies from the acts substituting offline activities to online activities to creative new ways of creating, evaluating and sharing content.
As educators move from positions of substituting offline for online activities to creating content, developing and sharing knowledge, they improve their instructional practice. Embracing a model of technology integration like SAMR will increase the legitimacy of digital tools by the majority of educators, parents, and educational leaders. At this point, comparisons with prophesied educational technology revolutions of the past, such as radio and television can end. Resulting in a move towards creating a new vision of school where all stakeholders have a voice at the table.
Smarter Than You Think, a book by Clive Thompson, tackles this idea that change needs to be adopted in our education system. His chapter titled Digital School helped me to question the purpose of using digital technologies in my classroom, and prompted me to critically-evaluate the tools I use. Deciding whether or not to embrace digital technologies in schools is no longer the question we should be asking. Instead, we should be asking how we can use digital technologies to create artefacts of learning, which are both authentic and meaningful?
Thompson’s discussion on the merits of coding in school were personally relevant as it coincided with my class’s participation in the Hour of Code. I appreciated Thompson’s discussion around the work Seymour Papert championed in the 1960’s with his Logo programming language. I’m sure I’m not the only teacher who struggles to make aspects of mathematics personally relevant to their students. Unlike Logo, where students programmed a turtle to move around the screen during the Hour of Code, my students were making a character skate patterns in ice. While I walked around the room, I observed several unique moments. Students did not need to ask me constantly questions about a task; they seemed to understand what was required. Secondly, I saw cycles of failure and success, which led to new learning. I rarely see students take these kinds of risks in offline activities. Thirdly, I saw students collaborate in more supportive ways than I have seen before. Perhaps most importantly, from an educator’s perspective, I saw student’s experiment and develop new knowledge about mathematical concepts such as computational thinking, angles, and shape naming. My Hour of Code was a complete success! I certainly agree with Thompson when he says, “It proves that you learn by experimenting and making mistakes, and not by trying to be perfect the first time.” (Thompson, 2014)
Diffusion of Innovations. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved December 16, 2014, from
Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations. New York: Free Press.
Thompson, C. (2014). Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing our Minds for the Better. New York: The Penguin Group.