How do you measure success when it comes to integrating educational technology into the classroom?
Do you use a result-oriented testing strategy or are you in tune with the multiple nuances of engagement that go so much deeper than the one-dimensional (yawn)-dom of traditional testing procedures?
In my experience of life and teaching, I feel that whatever we measure analytically is always influenced by social and emotional subtexts. I prefer to be in tune with social & emotional dynamics, which, in turn, yield the ‘harder facts’ we require to measure success. Group synergy, rapport, special moments, spontaneous expression, and ‘aha’ moments all give you the gut feeling that all is well in the classroom.
What has all of this got to do with technology?
Well, when you put cool tools into the hands of teachers who know how to empower students in creative ways, then learning objectives are transformed into brain-friendly projects that engage the hearts and minds of students in life-changing ways.
When you facilitate self-expression in the target language via multi-media you give your students new ways to tune into their own feelings about self and learning. When you give students the tools they need to create new language, the experience becomes personalized and inspiring. Personalities flourish, new talents are born, and caterpillars become butterflies.
Without further ado, here are my ten signs that technology is working for your students.
- Students are becoming more confident: My first priority in measuring success is that of confidence-building. It’s also how I measure my own effectiveness as a teacher. The first thing I’d want to use any tool for would be that of building up confidence and self-esteem in students. Some student are socially confident, but not confident about academia or language learning. Other students are good academically, but have trouble feeling part of the group or expressing what they’ve learnt, due to timidity or feelings of social inadequacy. Academically bright students can fail in language learning because fluency depends upon communication, lots of speaking and not being afraid to make mistakes. More extroverted students, on the other hand, may be so involved in talking without thinking that they may get lots of practice but not learn from mistakes and fail to stop and listen to others.
Coursebooks cannot inherently provide personalized opportunities for growth, but technology, I would argue, is inherently personalized. When I say this I’m referring to what I call ‘blank canvas’ tools. Tools that offer challenge, as students must produce, record, listen, speak, write, share, comment, summarize, transform the materials and content themselves.
Productivity and creativity drives the learning. It’s inherent in the tools themselves and it’s powerful.
Let’s say you’ve got to reach certain standards in speaking, reading, writing and listening.
Instead of going through dry, one-size fits all exercises in a coursebook, students can use new language to create posters, videos, stories, comics, infographics blogs, podcasts, eBooks etc.
You, as a teacher, know how to find the right tool and challenge to have students practice anything you want, from tenses, prepositions, and recycling vocabulary. Technology also forces students to employ higher order thinking skills in writing the kinds of multi-media stories, dialogues and movie scripts that demand an integrated manipulation of words and subtle grammatical nuances. Imagine that you can tailor this to all levels from beginners to proficiency.
Then imagine the invisible forces of inspiration at work when students produce amazing multi-media projects, show you who they really are as they emerge from their learning cocoons. Watch them blossom and open up as individuals who are learning more than the language you teach. They are learning the “songs of themselves”, as Walt Whitman once said…
- Both you and your students think beyond the coursebook: When we get into the mindset of teacher as facilitator, we begin to realize that any measures of success are mutually symbiotic. As you experiment with ideas for exploiting tools to aid second language acquisition, your students also become explorers. When you tangibly demonstrate what freedom from the coursebook really means, your students will finally realize that language is alive, that they can shape its meaning, and that it can change how they see the world.
In more practical teacher terms, students write more, read more, speak more, listen more, recycle more, revise more and communicate more.
- Students are fully engaged in learning: It’s palpable and unmistakable. Creative projects and group dynamics are being transformed by just the right challenges and projects. Bullies begin to co-operate and shy students begin to forget themselves as they contribute to the group. Extroverts learn to listen and introverts share their deeper insights. The group personalizes the individual and the individual transforms the group.
Multi-media projects bring out the best in everyone because there is no limit to what collaborative learning can achieve and the process is so much fun.
- Fun classroom dynamics: I emphasize group work here as it’s obvious that thing are going well when group dynamics are flowing socially and intellectually. Body language, facial expressions and levels of rapport reveal themselves on many levels.
The same synergy can be appreciated through online courses too. Forums, comments, the sharing of multi-media projects, collaborative learning, video-conferencing, and all kinds of platforms allow for hearts and minds to meet across cyber-space. I’m talking socially-contagious, viral, unprecedented meetings of hearts and minds across cyber channels the world over.
Try getting all of that into a standardized test;)
- You will experience increased levels of social learning: As mentioned above, this increasing emphasis on social learning will influence you along with your learners. You are their facilitator, you provide them with opportunities and you are swept away by the same tide of influence. New classroom dynamics with a blend of social engagement online bring about small social revolutions that you may hardly notice at first, as they evolve so naturally.
Why is social learning good for language acquisition?
We obviously learn languages so as to communicate for work or play. The nature of social learning, however, is also fascinating in a deeper psychological sense.
To quote Nick Michelioudakis in his review off the ‘Teaching in pursuit of WOW!”
This is the idea behind the ‘moving bench’; the whole is more than the sum of its parts; two people are a group and together they can do things they would never dream of doing alone!
To learn more about social learning, you can read my previous article which introduces the zone of proximal development and my Educational Technology presentation for Digital Ireland 2014 presentation which features the power of social learning via technology.
- Students are taking risks: Speaking of social psychology, working with others is conducive to greater risk-taking. Let’s call it the positive side of peer group pressure. Indeed, for every ‘problem’ we can have with students or children, there is often a positive flip-side to cancels out the negativity. In this case, we need our students to take more risks in trying out new things, expressing how they really feel and think, and sharing new ideas. They need to learn that creativity and happiness are borne of calculated risk-taking.
While the group can act as a support network and buffer against disappointment, it also paves the way for learner eventually striking out on their own to develop and new talent or skill with unprecedented levels of confidence. This is essential for life and language learning. Once a language is mastered to a certain extent, then the individual can redefine its parameters through refining one’s own unique talents and powers of expression.
- Creativity is the now rule and not the exception: Your students are now bold enough to suggest new projects, to take learning into their own hands, to work autonomously, embrace flipped learning styles, and engage with the wider world of learners and multi-media.
Some of them may develop passions for blogging, producing videos, writing poetry or DJing online. Learning seeps into their lifestyles, and they have become creative thinkers. The world is different. They are seeing and understanding through new eyes, hearts and skills.
Instead of asking ”where can I find this?”, they ask ”how can I make this?”.
Instead of asking ”how can I find the answer?”, they may say, “I’m sure there is more than one answer, let me experiment….”
- Your learners have become multi-media producers and elearning designers: They regularly translate standard learning fare into presentations, videos, blogs, vlogs, comics, infographics, mindmaps, memes, collages and complex mash-ups of brilliance.
- Your students bring new levels of spontaneity to their personalized learning experiences: You are learning more about them through their creations as they speak from the heart through EdTech show & tell. This makes them more spontaneous in their personal lives too, more authentic, more resilient and more ”themselves”.
Now, you are confident enough as a teacher to let them lead the way, whilst keeping all frameworks in place with regard to learning objectives, curricula and exam challenges.
- You watch their talents emerge: You have reached them beyond the subject you teach. As they grow in language, they grow in character and wisdom. Instead of merely wishing to pass exams, they are now thinking about how their knowledge of a new language can help them make a difference in the world and lead them to the right career.
To learn more about talent, you can watch my talk for the 30Goals Challenge 2015 called EdTech Stream & flow:give & Grow. There are also many other inspiring and related talks here at the 30Goal.com website.