One of the most thought-provoking phrases related to education and technology that's ever crossed my RSS feed is
At a conference last week, Mark Weston from Dell computing stated that asking the question, "Does technology improve student learning?" is the wrong question....Since I started my graduate work, I've been on a rollercoaster ride of thinking about the use of techology in my classroom - both the pros and the cons. In a somewhat ironic outcome, I've started to wonder if technology itself can actually hinder learning at times rather then help. I'll come back to this thought.
The question should be, "Does technology support the practices that improve student learning?"
-Doug Johnson on Blue Skunk Blog
Any educator whose gone through a pre-service program in the past ten years has surely heard the phrases constructivism, student-centered learning, and best practices - sometimes in the same sentence! I am no exception to this rule. As a seasoned math educator, I can attest to the fact that some learning goals are more suited for this style of learning while others are simply...not. For example, teaching Geometry students that the sum of the interior angles of any n-sided polygon is (n-2)*180 lends itself very well to a student-centered approach. On the flipside, instructing students how to solve multi-step linear equations or how to use the quadratic formula does not lend itself to a constructivist teaching style. James Cangelosi's book Teaching Mathematics in Secondary and Middle School speaks of the need to differentiate between construct-a-concept, discover-a-relationship, and algebraic skills, and developing knowledge objectives. The content/objective should determine the type of pedagogy used to teach the idea.
The same analogy applies to the use of technology in our classrooms. Are using blogs, Moodle, Google Docs, or Twitter the "best practice" for every discipline and for every standard in our curriculum? I've long been an advocate for Mishra and Koehler's TPACK framework.
With all of the talk in the education (technology) blogosphere about "best practices," I would like to propose that "better practices" is a much better term. There really is no "best" technology tool or teaching style to push unless it meets up with the corresponding content to be taught in the middle of the TPACK Venn diagram above. Wikis, for example, might have different uses in a British literature classsroom than they would in a ceramics class. At the same time, wikis may have no place in a particular P.E. unit. When we push things like "iPods" and "cooperative learning" blindly, its no wonder the masses see them as "add-ons."
Venn diagrams are hard to sell our colleagues...but so are "best practices." Are you ready for the era of "better" practices?