Get Past Teaching Apps: Build and Use a Student Technology Toolbelt

simulpost with TechLearning Blog

As part of our curriculum, my students use as many application programs as we can get our hands on!

For word processors, we've used Google Docs, ZohoWriter, ThinkFree, Open Office AjaxWrite, and Adobe BuzzWord with Microsoft Word as our starting point. This is just our “word processing” module.

I want them to be technologically fluent.

What is Technology Fluency?
It is not just about being able to use “geek speak” without being overwhelmed.

I define technological fluency as “the ability to determine and use the appropriate technology tool(s) for the task at hand in a manner that allows seamless transfer of created objects and documents to flow easily between the selected tools without outside intervention.”

What would technology fluency look like?
So, a student would be fluent in word processing if they could sit down at whatever word processor is at hand and use it to accomplish a task.

Or, if they determined that particular word processor would not accomplish the task, they could export or move the item created in one processor to another. (Sometimes being fluent means knowing something ISN'T working and where to look for an alternative. Open Source, web app, etc.)

A fluent student would not be tripped up or roadblocked by an obstacle, but be able to move over and around hurdles and make innovations as appropriate.

I hesitate now to even use the word “word processor” with them as now wikis, blogs, and other methods of composition and publication are now available. And if they are writing a screenplay or novel, they may use Scrivener ($39.95 – MAC) or yWriter (Free – PC). It is not about the fact that you are writing but WHAT you're writing.

Pasting from Word into a Wiki and Missing the Point
I cringe because some students beginning to wiki compose “their” work in Microsoft Word and want to copy and paste it into wikispaces — the links don't work and it is not a collaborative document. (The other editors don't know what is there and students often “sign” their work — aurgh!)

They're writing but missing the point of WHAT and HOW they are to be writing. Yes, they made it work but at the expense of their own grade which accounts for collaboration and engagement.

I find that these students are those who were taught that Microsoft Word is the end-all-be-all for word processing. It does many things wonderfully, but to say it is a uni-purpose software wonder is wrong. (I've seen students try to use it to make photo albums!)

Although I have “dug up” some courses on technology fluency, these definitions don't really capture what I'm looking for (and others who understand the concept.)

I think a student is technologically fluent (and savvy) if I can stand up in the front of my classroom and say something like this:

Discussion #1 is a social bookmarking service. It means that we can share bookmarks in ways never before imagined. Sign up for service and add a few bookmarks make your observations about what you think it does and then we'll share what we've learned.”

Activities in Class

The student who already knew how to add extensions to firefox would go ahead and download and add the extension and begin using it. They would go ahead and notice and begin tagging a little bit.

The social student would notice that there is a way to “network” and share and would begin exploring bookmarks from others. They'll all converse and share with one another.

Discussion #2
We would discuss and they would share what they learned, which may mean that day that I didn't have to “teach” anything but rather, guide the conversation. (I still make sure my objectives are covered, but if they originate the conversation it is much better.)

We would go on to discuss tagging, delicious networks, using a standard tag when you want to aggregate (like on horizon) rss feeds, and other examples.

Don't compartmentalize knowledge
So, this is exactly what my professor Dr. Adler used to stress with us at Georgia Tech when he taught us the ‘information conversion” process. That converting information to KNOWLEDGE meant that we would add and apply the knowledge we already had to what we were learning.

He stressed and stressed that we had to get past compartmentalizing knowledge

“History and science and math are not discrete subjects,”

he would say (when he wasn't asking questions Socratically)

“they are invariably interconnected. If you can combine what you have learned in these subjects and then allow the new information to become a part of what you already KNOW and relate it to what is already there, you will be able to see the world in a way that others simply cannot. You will be able to LEARN on your own as a result of interacting with your world and you will be SUCCESSFUL at it.”

He was right and became the single most influential teacher in my life. (By the way, he NEVER gave a test and I can recall the entire subject matter of my three courses with him!)

So, likewise, word processing, spreadsheets, wikis, blogs, presentations, rss, photography, video, are inexorably linked and no longer discrete.

Focus on what are you trying to DO not the tool to USE. (In the south we always say that “there is more than one way to skin a cat.”)

It is a toolbox
I talked to a teacher recently who was frustrated. At her school, they take the approach that once a software program is used that it should never be “taught” again. So, they do iMovie in 7th grade and master it and are never “taught” or even allowed to use iMovie again for any reason. Period.

It has been “taught” move on, they say.

I must say that the idea of “teaching” iMovie or any software program is totally preposterous. But the idea of saying “OK, you know it, let's move on never to return” is equally ludicrous.

Do shop teachers have “hammer” class?

It is kind of like a shop teacher teaching “hammer.”

The shop teacher would teach HOW TO USE the hammer and which instances it may be used as well as other tools for the tool belt.

Once a tool was understood, it became part of the permanent tool belt for that student and further delineations would happen as claw hammers, ball ping hammers, and all sizes of hammers would be available.

Although these hammers are available, it is just not necessary for the shop teacher to TEACH every one, but to have a wide variety of projects with meaning and a some guidance in the selection of the proper tool. (Shop teachers don't just have them hammer nails into a board for no purpose — they MAKE things that will have a USE.)

And they'd also need many other tools… screwdrivers, table saws, etc.

Also, when a tool that could be dangerous (like the aforementioned tablesaw) was introduced, safety would become a topic of discussion with vigilant monitoring by the teacher during its use (and all subsequent uses) to make sure that the students did not do themselves any harm. (like public publishing of ANY kind)

Do you see the parallels with technology?

Now, using iMovie is certainly harder than using a hammer and would take a little more time to help with familiarity. But we still don't TEACH iMovie any more than we have hammer class.

How do we “teach” it then?

What I'd rather see is that a movie needs to be created for a specific purpose… a math project, science project, history project, etc. (meaningful project) Then, we work towards capturing the video, learning about verbal and nonverbal communications.

(Using something like the amazing AFI materials which are a part of the Discovery United Streaming materials if you have a subscription to this service which is a cornerston of my classroom.)

Then, work with iMovie to create a product that would accomplish the objective. Point out how still photographs AND movies may be edited.

Once students have a comfort level with iMovie, then it should be a permanent part of the technology tool belt of that student. It should be something they are comfortable returning to if need be, or maybe not. Maybe they learn another tool that will better accomplish what they want to do.

So, history teachers would say,

“You will create a multimedia artifact of your choice to demonstrate your knowledge of ___. Embed it on this page I've made for the project.”

Then, the history teacher would not need knowledge of iMovie but would work with the technology area to make the resources available and have advice for students on tool selection from some good people. The history teacher shouldn't have to be an expert on iMovie to have a project created in it. But students should also be able to do a narrated powerpoint, photostory, slidecast, animoto or any selection of their choice.

Give them experience with a wide variety of tools and then LET THEM CHOOSE.

A look around my room today
The wide use of tools was apparent to me today as I watched my second period class work on their videos for Horizon this year.

These are the applications I saw in one class period with 14 students:

  • Windows Movie Maker editing movies
  • Audacity – Recording narration and adding sound effects
  • PowerPoint – making slides to export as Jpeg files to go into a movie program
  • PowerPoint – making animations to run in Camtasia (my FAVORITE screen capture program) to capture the screen and animations and make an avi file to pull into the movie program.
  • Animoto – to make a movie out of photos created in PhotoShop and Powerpoint to pull down off the web using our Video capture procedures and pull into a movie program.
  • Pinnacle Studio – to use sound effects and create some cool transitions between one movie made in PhotoStory and another made in Movie maker.
  • Second Life – using a screen capture program to capture the interactions of characters for the movie to create machinima for editing.
  • QuickTime Pro – To convert a file that was too large into a more compressed format for uploading to the Ning.
  • Quick Time Pro – To rip the audio file off of a video that the student made in order to allow them to put a still shot in between.
  • Green Screen Filming – Some students were filming with their cameras on the green screen so they could use pinnacle to use the chroma key feature to pull out the background and put their actor in another place.
  • Zamzar – Converting video downloaded from the Ning into the proper format for their use.
  • Delicious – pulling out some standard tags and reviewed the bookmarks sent to them from around the world on their topic.
  • Netvibes – Checking on all of their spaces on the project with one quick look.
  • I saw filming on digital cameras, cell phones, webcams, and our single Hi Def video camera.
  • Need I go on… and I could. Corel Guidemaker to rip the video from the Hi Def video camcorder. Logitech QuickCam software and avatar masks. One student imported the sound effect library from Pinnacle into Movie Maker. Google Docs where one had taken the instructions off the wiki page for horizon and put it in a permanent place for reference.

and I could go on.

You get my point, I hope.

And remember this, I spend some time on Movie maker but the rest of these were just quick — “This is what this program does” kind of demonstrations. Most of it is me working one on one with them, helping them select the tools, and them teaching one another.

Is it chaos… maybe, a little. Are they learning and communicating — absolutely.

They are fluent. At the end of their 5 semesters with me they are technologically fluent (I would say that they are fluent at the end of 2 semesters… but they are world class fluent (ok geeks — but they'd never admit it) by the end of 5 semesters.)

What should be in this technology toolbelt?

Well, I think that is going to be a future book but lets take a look at the things I teach my students in 9th grade. Their “efolio” documentation of their year with me is due next Friday (7 days from the writing of this post.)

Let's look at one student — she's documented 27 major areas of proficiency thus far:

Note that students list things in which they have demonstrated proficiency.

NOTE: They don't list every website they go to, however, Wikipedia is listed because she has demonstrated that she knows the proper use of Wikipedia in her coursework with me. Youtube is listed because she learned to create a video and upload it to youtube. A student who looked at youtube wouldn't have demonstrated proficiency there.

It is about proficiency and fluency. I'm sure she'll end up with more.

Should we have spent more time in the workbook?

Maybe I didn't spend so much time when they were in their “Microsoft Word workbook.” I could have taken the whole year and done every page of this workbook. Instead, I've covered 75% of the book PLUS a whole lot more.

They've blogged publicly and in semi-private spaces while learning how to burn their feeds in feedburner and track stats in statcounter. Many of them have continued to maintain their blogs since we moved on in December.

They've investigated digital citizenship with new friends in Austria and Qatar and are now teaching our elementary and middle school a digital citizenship course that would make a professional developer proud. (Each of our students 4th – 8th grade will receive one hour of digital citizenship training as part of the digiteen action project by next Friday!)

They know how to IM and group skype… ok I'll stop.

What the future won't hold!
Play name that application
The sad fact is that everything I've named here will be supplanted by something else in the next five years. Everything including the PC's that will one day make us laugh!

In five years these students may be using handheld devices for most tasks except making movies and graphics.

They will talk into their devices and type into them.

We cannot fathom what the future holds for them but we know what it won't hold.

It won't hold the software that we taught them this year in its present fashion.

So why teach it at all?

I groan at the elite private school down the road that cut out their entire “computer” program because of this very fact. “The kids can come in and learn Word or PowerPoint before school if they don't know it,” they say.

They replaced it with Latin.

We are truly still in the dark ages of computer use. Technology is still in its infancy.

However, if we

  • focus on tasks to be accomplished
  • focus on how to select tools and how to self-learn those tools without a lot of outside intervention.
  • focus on creativity and innovation and give time for meaningful technology-enabled projects that push the ability levels of students and are related to core-subjects or current events.
  • require students to research, learn practical guidelines for digital citizenship and safety, and how to publish safely
  • teach them to think and construct personal learning networks AND methodologies to bring others easily into those networks of sharing on a common topic…
  • help them be unafraid and understand the file formats and basic codes that underpin all of the sharing (including RSS)…
  • help them become comfortable in virtual worlds and understand that they are interacting with avatars that represent real people
  • help them understand that online activities have offline consequences

I believe we will see the technologically fluent student emerge, ready to conquer the world.

Learning to change
If a carpenter went back 1,000 years he would be able to find a hammer. It may look different and be out of different materials but it would be recognizable and usable to him.

And if we expose them to a wide variety of tools NOW (rather than just three or four) they are a whole lot more likely to be able to handle the CHANGE that is before them because we taught them how to change from one tool to the other successfully today.

Image Sources
Hammer against Yellow Background, PPDigital's PhotoStream

GeekSpeak in the Paper, Andrew*'s PhotoStream

Name that Application
, Mooganic's photostream

Microsoft Word is a Republican
, kamikaze.spoon's photostream

No Imovie for you, Sean Sperte's photostream

Ouch, I missed
, Aim and shoot!'s photostream

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Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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Pat May 10, 2008 - 2:13 am

Well put. I’d add one more aspect to your definition of technology fluency. Being TF means that you have a set of tools, you know when to use a different one. That’s all true. But when you are doing a job, you have a sense that the tool isn’t quite working. You know to go out and find a new tool. You master what you need and get the original task done.

Isn’t that why we move from one tool to another everyday? And each one just takes a little further.

Phil Macoun May 10, 2008 - 6:16 am

Hi Vicki,
Thanks for this fantastic post. I was particularly fascinated to read about all the creative ways you and your students are using web 2.0 apps. I recently experienced the power of the ‘toolbelt’ approach with my grade 7 class. We had been asked to create a thankyou of some kind for our school parent volunteers. Lots of classes were already making cards and banners so I asked them if they wanted to use some of the technology skills they have been learning. Within 24 hours they had created: a podcast of interviews with teachers and students; a Photostory of all the different things the parent volunteers had done to help; and a music video of a song they had written, made with audacity and movie maker. Their skill and motivation amazed me.

Your blog and wikis are a great help to a starting ed tech teacher like myself. Many Thanks.

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