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My 6 Favorite #edtech Recommendations

 

From what I can tell, there is no debate that the world is facing changes that are occurring at an unprecedented pace; society is faced with Big Challenges, and our graduates are sure to face new obstacles – and incredible opportunities. So that today’s students are adequately prepared, what then, shall learning look like?

 

I frequently get asked, “What technologies really matter?” My first reply is, “What do you mean by technology?” From the pencil to a digital pen, from paper to a touchscreen, from an abacus to a calculator, from a smartphone to a tablet to a laptop, technologies come in many shapes and forms – each serving a different purpose. Choose wisely.

 

Secondly, it’s an extraordinary experience, not just the technology, that shapes a student’s future (ref: Brad McLain, who co-directs the Experiential Science Education Research Collaborative (XSci) at CU Boulder. His experiential learning research explores “…extraordinary experiences and how such experiences may change our sense of self and life trajectories at different ages.”). We also know that technologies change faster than the weather report. As such, rather than highlighting the “technology du jour”, my answer is typically organized into categories that describe the types of experiences the technologies enable.

 

With that in mind, below are my six favorite categories of education technology:

 

  1. Technologies that empower creators and makers
  2. Technologies that provide access to opportunity
  3. Technologies that amplify, not replace, our best human qualities
  4. Technologies that provide analytics and insight to the learner and teacher
  5. Technologies that personalize learning
  6. Technologies that enable curiosity, creativity, inquiry, and playfulness

 

 

Category #1) Technologies that empower creators and makers

 

In 2005 I met Larry Rosenstock, founder of High Tech High, a charter school in San Diego that believes in project based learning. When I asked him what role technology plays at his school, he said, “Students should be creators, not consumers”. One of his many examples at the time were the students who were writing and publishing books. Real books (print-on-demand). Real readers (books-in-print, Amazon distribution). Their students continue to be some of the most motivated, creative, and talented.

 

This same point of view is echoed by the throngs of “makers”, in and beyond school, who are rediscovering the joy of inventing, building, and creating stuff. Enabling design thinking and stimulating the maker experience is the focus of work by Digital Promise as the help schools create a “Learning Studio”. The studio uses an HP Sprout to support design thinking, communication, invention, 3D design, digital storytelling, and social entrepreneurship.

                                                                                                       

 

Then for those students who prefer digital stuff, there’s the world of coding. My favorite example is Apps for Good, that combines app design with social good (www.appsforgood.org).

 

All these experiences lift students out of a passive role to an active, engaging, relevant experience that can be unforgettable.

 

 

Category #2) Technologies that provide access to opportunity

 

Not everyone has access to a high quality education. Connectivity, as basic as it sounds, is still a critically important enabling technology. High-speed, low-cost connectivity is even better, and countries that make this widely available to their citizenry in schools, homes, and throughout their communities, have a tremendous economic and social advantage.

 

Once connected, many learning experiences become possible, from the “flipped classroom” extending  learning outside the classroom, to various forms of “blended learning” that combine on-ground with on-line, to open online content and courses, it’s an exciting (and necessary) time for learners to have access.

 

 

Category #3) Technologies that amplify, not replace, our best human qualities

 

In my view, the best education technology doesn’t replace people – it makes them better, amplifying what our humanity is good at. From synthesizing complex ideas, to brainstorming and collaboration, to inventing and investigating, technology has been extending human ability in powerful ways in science, math, and engineering – and is doing the same when it comes to teaching and learning.

 

 

Category #4) Technologies that provide analytics and insight to the learner and teacher

 

While big data is a hot topic on many fronts, I am actually most excited about small big data – that is to say, using the power of analytics to reveal our learning trajectory. The most powerful data for the learner is feedback that happens in real-time (or very close to real-time). This type of “formative assessment on steroids”, according to learning assessment experts, is what helps students succeed. From a teacher’s point of view, it makes a lot of sense: If I know what you don’t know right now before the bell rings, I can help you.

 

Real-time polling tools begin to unlock this potential – and real-time GRAPHICAL polling, where students respond to open ended questions with a drawing or graph, has huge potential in STEM education, where the disciplines are highly diagrammatic in nature (after all, have you ever tried to have a conversation about mathematics with just a keyboard?)

 

 

Category #5) Technologies that enable personalized and PERSONAL learning

 

Adaptive technologies that support alternative learning paths and differentiated instruction are just the beginning. Making learning PERSONAL, not just personalized, is even better. The best example of this is the way technology, including social media, connects learners (and teacher-learners!) to resources and people. A “personal learning network” (PLN) can connect you with courses, content, experiences, experts, peers, mentors, and coaches around the world. Educators and students who have a PLN are amazing – and unstoppable.

 

 

Category #6) Technologies that enable curiosity, creativity, inquiry, and playfulness

 

These four habits of mind, curiosity, creativity, inquiry, and playfulness, are at the core of Common Core, power the thinking behind design thinking (ref: Next Gen Science Standards), yet are far too often “not on the test”. Nevertheless, they are part of what are frequently referred to as “21st Century Skills” – which is not surprising, because curiosity, creativity, inquiry, and playfulness, are the engines of innovation.

 

So pull out your School Technology Plan, take an honest look at what your students are busy doing, and ask yourself how many of these 6 categories are represented in the technologies your students are using to enable their Learning Journey…

 

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About the Author
  • Jim Vanides is responsible for the vision, strategy, design, and implementation of education technology innovation initiatives. His focus is the effective use of technology to create powerful learning experiences that help students around the world succeed. He has been instrumental in launching over 1200 primary, secondary, and higher education projects in 41 countries, including the HP Catalyst Initiative - a 15-country network of 60+ education organizations exploring innovations in STEM(+) learning and teaching. In addition to his work at HP, Jim teaches an online course for Montana State University on the Science of Sound, a masters-level, conceptual physics course for teachers in grades 5 through 8. Jim’s past work at HP has included engineering design, engineering management, and program management in R&D, Manufacturing, and Business Development. He holds a BS in Engineering and a MA in Education, both from Stanford University.
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