Choice is critically important in learning. If a student feels more comfortable and accelerates their learning with a device, it would not make much sense to force them to use a pencil and paper. This is NOT saying just give a kid device because it will be better for their learning. If we do not think differently about our practices in education, there is no doubt a myriad of other options for kids on a device than there is on a piece of paper. The focus is on (as always) what’s best for learners. We should not limit the opportunities for our kids, nor our adults.
This same choice is also important for adults. I have watched adult learners in sessions have a mobile device, laptop, and pencil and paper, and choose the latter of the three for the majority of the time. This reminds me that this same notion is true for our students. It is not about using devices all of the time, but having access which really makes a difference.
This all being said, there is a “but” about to happen. As educators, we should not only understand what students are learning, but we should understand how they can learn. In fact, as some information can change over time, understanding how we learn is more important in many cases than the “what”. We shouldn’t just have a basic understanding of what we are learning, but more importantly, we should understand how we learn.
As a leader from any position, the best way to help people see there are new and better opportunities for teaching and learning, we have to first put ourselves in a place of discomfort, which helps us to focus from the viewpoint of a learner, as opposed to a teacher. If we truly want to become “master” educators, we must continuously strive to become “master” learners. There is no endpoint to this process.
I was deeply influenced by a video that was shared on the “Harvard Business Review” simply titled, “To Innovate, Disrupt Your Routine”. In it, author Frank Barrett talks about the importance of disruption in thinking, and shares the story of an airline dealing with a great deal of complaints on their customer service. What they did (which is normal for both business and educational organizations) is had a retreat on how to create a better experience for their customers. Yet what they did during that retreat was where their routine was truly challenged. While they were in meetings on the first day, the Vice-President of marketing took out the beds of their hotel rooms and replaced them with airline seats, which they had to sleep in that night. Needless to say, they came up with some “radical innovations” on how they would change the seating on an airplane to become more comfortable for their customers. Their “discomfort” in experiencing what their customers had shared, led them to a new understanding.
When professional learning opportunities are happening in our schools, do we put people in this place of discomfort. One of the things that I have suggested for these times is making them paperless. Not providing “handouts” to staff almost encourages using a mode of learning that we grew up with and many know inside out. By sometimes forcing our hand, we are more likely to use devices than the more traditional medium. Some may be disappointed in this approach, and I always suggest you teach them how to print for themselves. This is not saying we shouldn’t honour our adult learners, but as educators we have to not only understand, but immerse ourselves in new learning opportunities.
Even with digital tools, I have seen perpetuating the “old” over the “new” in our approach. I have watched administrators encourage the use of something like Google Apps for Education by sending out a Word document. Does that make any sense? If we want people to try different opportunities for learning, we need to model them as leaders.
If we are not willing to disrupt the way we have always done things in our own learning, we will not see much change in the classroom.