Maybe it’s a lack of vision. Or perhaps unrealistic implementation. Either way, I have demonstrated yet again that there is a lot to learn from failure. I wanted to leverage technology to create a virtual, multimedia art gallery and while the computer did allow, to some degree, for this to happen, I’m not completely sure that I have achieved anything beyond the level of simple “Adaptation” level of technology integration although the learning characteristics are “Authentic” as “The teacher creates instruction that purposefully integrates technology tools and provides access to information on community and world issues. The teacher directs the choice of technology tools but students use the tools on their own, and may begin to explore other capabilities of the tools.” All of this is according to the Florida Center of Instructive Technology’s website matrix.
The goal was to engage senior IB TOK students in a discussion about the nature and definition of “art”. Students were grouped in pairs or trios around one computer and asked to come up with a “working” definition for art that they could all agree upon. Then they went to the class website and “walked” through the virtual gallery (nothing fancy, just a series of interconnected webpages each with a single or paired work of art. Students were to then “test” their definition against these challenging works to see if they were included or excluded by their initial definition. They were to reflect on each work and make a comment as to how their definition would include or exclude that work and whether they were personally happy with that inclusion/exclusion. Thus they made their way through a variety of mostly avant garde 20th and 21st century art. The benefit of technology in this project was that each student could, as in a real gallery, stop and take as much time as they wanted to look at and discuss the works. But more importantly, technology allowed for the inclusion of multimedia that would be difficult to do without at least some laptops spread around the room. If this were simply done with 2 dimensional works of photographs of two dimensional works then a whole section of the lesson would have been abandoned.
That beings said, I don’t think, in the end, the entire lesson was a success. Students were very heatedly engaged, but the really dynamic conversations occurred face-to-face rather than in the comment section. While as a teacher this makes me question the value of the activity as constructed, it did demonstrate what I think is so fundamental about who we are as human beings. When engaged with challenging, thought provoking material, face-to-face beats mediated communication every time. While I had the urge to discourage (and thus sacrifice) the organic, dynamic conversations that were happening, I resisted it as despite the effort I had put into planning, what was naturally arising was the authentic student learning I would be stifling with an insistence on slavish engagement with the technology.
This has made me think further about what is lost in what seems to be a mad dash by most schools to achieve a 1:1 academic environment. While I do not doubt that there is immeasurable value in each student having a laptop, I am increasingly convinced that in class, the ratio should never be more than 2:1 with 3:1 being ideal. My experience over these last four years in a laptop school consistently suggests that the 1:1 ratio can be, in many situations, an authentic conversation killer. I realize this sounds like I’m banging my Luddite drum but I do not deny the value of appropriately leveraged technology use in the classroom, I simply believe that my lesson served as a potential experimental warning, mostly to myself, of what is lost if we try to construct curriculum to fit the technology rather than vice versa. I don’t want to claim that COETAIL is, in any way, encouraging a blind insertion of tech into every lesson…most thoughtful proponents are much more nuanced and selective in what tools serve what purposes. But as I walk around the halls of our 1:1 school, I notice that, for most classes, the laptops are constant, individual, often isolating presences rather than targeted classroom tools used to customized tasks. Do I have a solution to this? Not exactly, but I am certainly not averse to having students close their laptops when they are an uncalled for distraction. Richard Moore has some nice thoughts on the whole classroom management approach to this.
Anyway, the project has been an opportunity to confront some of these ongoing concerns about the double-edged power of the technology. The lesson plan for the project.