We’ve all seen it: top of the head, eyes intent on the screen.

Many believe that our technology-focused society has greatly diminished the opportunity for conversation. Moreover, the push to incorporate the 4Cs of Learning into an increasingly device-rich classroom brings about a unique set of challenges as teachers strive to merge content with creation.

As outlined in the 2016 National Education Technology Plan, the influx of devices and access requires a new examination of the role of technology in education: “The conversation has shifted from whether technology should be used in learning to how it can improve learning to ensure that all students have access to high-quality educational experiences.”

By its very nature, technology’s greatest impact in the classroom is elevating the experience. 

Stemtistics’ Change the Equation (2015), puts it best: “Simply being able to use a smartphone or Facebook isn’t enough. To be successful in a global economy, our children must become fluent in the technologies that are revolutionizing our lives and our work, and how best to use them to innovate.” 

The challenge, then, remains in moving from theory to practice. How can we communicate and collaborate around the screen? Learning these days doesn’t come easy; it requires intention, planning and craftsmanship. As such, to be effective, each learning experience must be purposefully designed. 

Borrowing practices from Wiggins and McTighe’s Backwards Design Model (2000), the teacher needs to begin with the end in mind, and then carefully craft the process to encourage interaction, collaboration and communication.

This means:

publishing ideas in ways that writers can receive feedback, reflect, and revise their work and thinking;

harnessing social media to intentionally promote feedback and interaction;

collaborating in real-time to accomplish collectively forged and monitored goals.

Devices can facilitate collaborative learning and make it easier to assess understanding and progress. Similarly, devices can improve documentation of learning and provide opportunity for authentic feedback. With built-in features like camera/video, voice recorder, interactive whiteboard/drawing tools, and a word processor, gathering evidence of learning becomes innate to the daily process.

In the classroom try encouraging students to:

  • take photos or screenshots of their work at varying intervals -the process, not just the end-product

  • record audio notes of small group discussions

  • capture screencasts of their brainstorms 

  • video practice runs

While these individual snapshots of learning are important, the transformative experience lies within collaboration. Each element is meant to be shared and interacted with by others. Utilizing a shared environment (e.g. a class LMS or cloud-based location), students then exchange ideas or jigsaw their processes to elevate collaboration. While peer review is certainly a by-product, more significant is the opportunity to explain thinking, justify opinions, and share learned techniques. 

Simply put: the learning is in the conversation — between, around and beyond screens.

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