Occasionally, on twitter, I am asked my thoughts on the usage of a new tool, gadget, or strategy in my classroom. For me to even consider using a new tool, there are a couple of questions I ask. It’s really quite simple…if these questions are adequately answered, I’ll evaluate when and where the tool can best be used in my classroom. These questions are very similar to what I ask when considering professional development.
So, here are the questions:
1. Is there evidence of its effectiveness?
Is there reliable and valid evidence that this new tool increases learning? Whether it be gamification and virtual reality or a worksheet and a textbook, there must be evidence of its usefulness. In this instance, evidence includes studies conducted in classrooms and/or in labs. Evidence is not the level of fun the students appear to be having or how engaged students are…I have a real problem with the extent to which engagement in the classroom is used as a proxy for learning.
There also must be indication of its efficiency. Does the use of this tool more efficiently create gains? For example, there may be studies showing some student growth using discovery learning, but what is the time cost? If time can be better used elsewhere, that is certainly something to be considered.
2. Does the tool, gadget, or strategy do the work of the brain?
Learning is all about cognition; thinking with and about information. Simple learning strategies like retrieval practice, spaced practice, dual coding,interleaving, elaboration, and the use of concrete and abstract examples all show evidence of increasing retention of material because they require effortful cognition. Students need to think with and about the material; applying, synthesizing, etc. If a new tool provides increased opportunities for students to mentally work with material, I am very interested. But, if the new tool makes thinking easier or creates a scenario where students have to think less, I am not going to use that tool, gadget, or strategy. If the tool makes information more accessible, I’m good with that. An easing of accessibility to information is quite different than a shortcut to thinking.
I really hope this doesn’t come across as anti-innovation. I am not against the integration of meaningful and purposeful technology in the classroom, as long as it is a catalyst to cognition and not a crutch.
So, that’s it. Two questions for the possible implementation of new tools in my classroom. Simple, really.
Has this changed how you will analyze the usage of new tools in your classroom?
Do you have any other requirements for the implementation of technology in your classroom?
One of the situations in which tech might both reduce the thinking and increase access to information is when a student needs to reduce the cognitive load in order to focus on the task at hand. In particular I am referring to students with learning disabilities who find the cognitive load of reading for example to television up so much of their energy that they aren’t able to give thinking power to the actual task or concepts/skills being learned. In these times reducing thinking is exactly what is needed to free up space to be challenged for the new learning to happen. Students with LD are held back when this isn’t allowed simply because the tech reduces thinking. They are sort of trapped. So perhaps an exception to your rule that might be needed for anywhere from 5-20% of students (so actually not uncommon).
You make a great point…maybe an addendum to the post is necessary. Thank you for taking the time to comment. 👍🏻