I haven’t written much in this space lately. I spent a lot of my last school year looking at my classroom practices, seeing what I’ve done in the past, and putting that up against much of what I was reading that was new online. I’ve been heavily involved with edtech for over a decade and still invest enormous amounts of time thinking about all of different types of spaces where technology and learning collide.
While much of my experience in the last several years has moved over to different areas (or different for me anyway) of things like programming, maker spaces and 3D printing, the majority of my time in the edtech space has been spent looking at the learning possibilities around buildings communities and online collaboration.
Coding, 3D printing and maker spaces are trendy right now in education. Now is the time in the spotlight for these types of movements. This is reasonable to me since all of these topics are important. We need to work to understand our technology and how we can best create new opportunities for learning for our students around them.
On the other hand, topics such as international collaboration and building online communities seems to have reached their limit. The tools exist for these types of learning experiences to happen. They’ve been out there for years. Certainly companies release new tools all of the time. New apps and new software give us extended functionalities, but most of these are granular. “Now, interact with 4 people instead of 3!” Once you have a blog, a wiki, email, something like skype or Google hangouts, and a tool like Google docs, anything else is extra and a matter of personal preference as much as anything.
For a decade or more now, people have collaborated on projects of all types: local, international, cross – grade, inter-generational, bringing in outside experts, for a short time, for an extended time, and on and on. We’ve seen every variation of collaboration using every type of tool, input and output that is imaginable. And this is great. We’ve explored and learned a lot about helping kids to work with others in new ways and open their eyes to new possibilities.
But, I think we’re reaching the limits of this type of pedagogy.
That’s not to say that we should stop working together, or stop getting our kids together. Some of the most powerful experiences I’ve had in my entire teaching career have been with other teachers, working together over long periods of time. These things changed what I knew about teaching and learning and changed what I thought was possible with kids.
But I think that we are at the limits of what we can learn about this type of teaching and learning. I’ve seen little new for the past several years. This isn’t a criticism of the work that people are doing. I’m still involved and heavily invested in this space and this type of learning. There are a lot of people doing great things and providing powerful opportunities for kids. We still have a lot to master. This pedagogy will be different each year depending on you, your school, your students and your community. But this is fine tuning. We have the broad strokes down for collaborative pedagogy. We have the tools. We know how to work in these ways.
I also believe that opportunities exist for kids to collaborate on maker space, 3D printing and programming projects. As far as I know, I don’t think anyone is working in a space like this. I haven’t seen classes designing files to be 3D printed and swapping them between classrooms. I haven’t seen kids collaborating on writing a program to solve to solve a problem. I have yet to see classroom communities of kids swapping out Python programming or Scratch scripts.
Grade tracking and lesson planning software don’t change learning opportunities for our students. Software tracking our students’ reading levels are just fancy skill and drill worksheets. There is nothing new here, and, I would argue, nothing worth your school’s budget dollars.
So, where are we headed? What’s the next real type of learning opportunities that we need to explore using edtech?