“You can lead a student to the Internet…

… but you can’t make them think” was a defining comment from 1 to 1 pioneer Gary Stager when he visited Trinity College last week, and spent time with a collection of teachers and IT staff over a long lunch to discuss technology in the classroom.

Gary Stager sharing with Trinity College staff

And, as one of Tech & Learning’s top influential people on the subject, he provided a lot of worthy advice. He’s been around the block several times, and most likely seen and heard most of it before, but it was an excellent opportunity for many of us to find out a little more from a master on the importance of technology in education used the right way.

What follows is a summary of what I personally took away from the session. There were 20 other people in the room, and their stories might be different. (In fact, Trinity’s official version can also be found online.)

For any brilliance below, feel free to credit Gary Stager. If I have misconstrued any of his messages, assume error on my part.

Less us, more them. Delegate work to the students, and err on openness. It’s more manageable for teachers to share work, and it also has huge educational benefits. For example, implementing peer to peer assessment in addition to the more traditional teacher only assessment. Try not to be the star of the show all the time. Develop a deeper role of trust in the students. Lower the boundaries between a teacher and a learner.

Why the iPad vs Netbooks/Laptops. They are durable, cheap, instantly on, have a massive battery life, and are easier to maintain. Other staff present added that the iPad frees them to teach rather than spending time trying to make things work and that the low profile of the device on a desk or on a lap created less of a barrier compared to laptops.

When you make simple things easier to do, it means that complex things are possible. By using good technology, students are able to create much richer presentations using a range of formats, whether it’s video, audio, animated, visual, etc. It engages them, and is more appealing to others. We need to try and get out of the “It has to be awful for you to learn anything” mentality.

How to link assessment to the technology? Get peer reviews by students. Err on open work rather than “keep your eyes on your paper”. We’re an interconnected world. Have students critique other student’s essays.

All the work should be available online. Keep it wherever you like, Facebook, a blog, etc. Students can create a portfolio that is not only accessible to their immediate teachers and classmates but can be used by them to connect to a wider audience and to demonstrate their abilities (for example when applying for university or for a job).

Think about how best to use the time when we are physically in the same space. If it’s run of the mill stuff, let it be done outside of the class. There’s plenty of collaboration opportunities available that don’t require physical presence, but not all. Use the time wisely.

If you find an app/product that works, stick with it. Don’t get caught up in ‘Software du Jour’. While new technology can be appealing, it’s worth assessing whether the benefits outweigh the difficulty in migrating. E.g., if you’re using DropBox and it does the job, there might not be a need to jump to whatever else has just been announced in the cloud file sharing space, just because it’s got some hype or a couple of minor new features. I like this advice because you can expand it into the whole technology in education argument. If an iPad which obviously is hardware du jour is going to create more pain and less learning through it’s implementation, it’s worth thinking about whether it’s worth using. (So far though, it seems like it’s worth it!)

Evaluating our iPad pilot is exactly what we’ll be doing for the next few months. So far, it’s been an exciting journey!

What do you think is an important consideration in implementing technology in a classroom?


4 thoughts on ““You can lead a student to the Internet…

  1. Gary Stager was really inspiring.

    Here are some ideas I got from his words and experience.

    I wondered if we could start a forum called FOUNDATION ACADEMIC NETWORKS -FANS- This forum could be for discussion with other foundation programs in Australia. It could foreground the intelligent use of technology to enhance teaching pedagogy. It could do the following:

    – discuss ideas for stimulating classroom interactions and relationships using interactive technology;
    – encourage collaborative research and publishing;
    – review how assessment could be conducted using technology;
    – give feedback on any work with virtually-linked forums, such as using google.com/groups, e.pub and office textboard, as Gary suggested.

    As Mark noted in his excellent summary of Gary’s seminar, it is vital to make the best use of the physically-scheduled time together, namely in lectures, tutorials and consultations. I think peer observations of what is happening in this precious time would be terrific.

  2. Great summary Mark. I got those points as well.

    I was really touched by the “less of us, more of them” idea. I am still working out how to do that – it is actually not easy when you have 15 or so people in the room. However, one idea that occurred to me in the past few days is to hand over small sections of teaching on particular points to students who are already familiar with that idea/point. Students are often at a variety of levels in their writing skills so I figure if someone else is good at say – writing introductions – when I teach that I can ask them to team teach with me or to even lead a session on that.

    I also thought I would borrow some of the ideas he suggested such as pair writing and editing, giving assignments that allow the students to set the parameters themselves. ie. “Interview someone you admire”. Sounds fabo – just hope we can pull it off.

    I also loved the “app de jour” idea and his ideas to hang back on what is free because it may not be there next semester. This I had not thought of. I am also slow enough at learning a new app to need to be extremely focused in what I try. I do not learn an application easily or quickly. A few that will be around for the long haul sounds good to me.

    I know we had heard a lot of it before but it still excited me to be reminded and to be in the presence of someone plainly still totally enthusiastic about teaching.

    Thanks for setting it up.


  3. Just another thought – I was a bit worried by some of his thoughts on assessment. I think it unlikely Trinity will give up formal exams etc easily. In fact I think we will even find it hard just to discuss changing assessment procedures to focus on learning not results.

    I wonder what others think.


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