Transforming Technology Use in the Classroom

Courtesy of Fotopedia

Grappling’s Learning and Technology Spectrum is an important point of reference for eMINTS. We use the spectrum to help teachers determine how they are using technology with their students, providing depth and context to the “Powered by Technology” component of our instructional model.

While Grappling’s Spectrum does not necessarily provide a hierarchy of technology use, we do encourage teachers to push their technology use toward the “Transforming Uses” so as to make said technology use more purposeful. This can be hard to do, but breaking down a simple lesson for its key components can help us see that metamorphosis from literacy to adapting to transforming levels.

For example, let’s say a teacher is assigning a book report to be completed in PowerPoint form. To prepare the students to use the software, the teacher uses direct instruction to help the class build a generic PowerPoint presentation. Once the students know how to use PowerPoint, they can then apply it to their book report. This use of direct instruction hits the “Literacy Uses” level of the spectrum and the use of that software to complete a somewhat traditional book report falls under “Adapting Uses.” Teaching students how to use software is an important step in insuring their success.

To advance this use of the software to the next level, a slight shift can happen incorporating a constructivist approach. The teacher could simply assign the book report to be completed with PowerPoint, allowing students to learn the program through their creation of the final product instead of teaching the skills separately. There is nothing new about a book report except that students are using a new(ish) technology to complete an old task. Still, it’s important for students to apply traditional tasks in non-traditional modes.

How do we make this a transformative project? The teacher could ask students to crowd- source their presentation through social networks. Interaction through blogging, discussion boards, or Twitter might provide discussion and insight into their book report. Students could use these discussions in piecing together their book reports or even share their presentation online using Google Docs or Office Live. The online, real-world interactions transform the traditional book report into a conversation that reaches beyond the student’s insular interpretations.

The PowerPoint book report was simply moved from literacy to adaptive to transforming uses with slight shifts in approach. Instead of teaching software skills separately from the academic task, the two were combined to adapt a traditional activity. Then, that traditional activity was revised again to include online, interactive components, increasing the complexity of the original project.

Other examples of shifting the technology levels of typical lessons may include…

Literacy Uses Adapting Uses Transforming Uses
How to use Skype or G+Hangouts to communicate Use Skype/G+Hangout to demonstrate and share results from an experiment Use Skype/G+ Hangout to collaborate the planning and implementation of an experiment, responding and revising each other’s process
How to use Google Sketchup Use Google Sketchup to design a structure using common geometric shapes Use Google Sketchup to design a structure using common geometric shapes; share drawings on a blog, inviting submissions for revisions and improvements from architects
How to use an online timeline generator Use an online timeline generator to retell the major events of the Civil War Collaborate on a timeline with a school from the opposite side of the Mason-Dixon line to create site-specific timelines that show both sides of the Civil War

Of course, this is a limited list of activities to adjust for the various levels of Grappling’s model. Simply, direct instruction on how to use technology fits the literacy uses level. Learning that same skill by applying it to a typical activity meets the adapting uses level. Finding ways to make that same activity interactive with audiences beyond the classroom can convert this activity to one that applies to the transforming uses level of the spectrum.

Not every use of technology has to be revised to meet the transforming uses level of Grappling’s spectrum. In fact, there are reasons for using technology at all levels. However, as shown above, it is easy to adjust an activity to transform how students use technology to support their learning.

How do you use technology in all levels of Grappling’s spectrum? How have you revised an activity to meet the transforming use level? What kinds of activities best lend themselves to the transforming uses level?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.