Low Hanging Fruit: 3 Simple Ideas @mcleod #edtech

Watching a presentation by two book authors at a conference earlier this year, a colleague sitting next to me remarked, “Wow, they included all the low-hanging fruit. I expected more.” It was a valid criticism if you imagine that every book or publication should address technology integration strategies of some sort.

Image Source: http://goo.gl/o0l3lY

However, while I agree that this type of sharing is “low-level,” it’s important that we continue to share. The act of sharing can be fun and enjoyable for educators, as well as anyone. To insist that sharing always aim for the uppermost branches of learning can be a tough, stressful series of actions.

As I was working my way through various emails, I ran across the following from Stacy Behmer:

Hold on to your hats boys and girls because we will try to fly through 60 great Chrome web apps and extensions in 60 minutes! Chrome apps and extensions are what help you make the most of the web. Web apps are those shortcuts to websites you can use and I’ll showcase some that tie in with Google Drive and then we will look at some of my favorite Chrome extensions to help make your browsing experience more efficient and these extensions can also be used to help support accommodations for students! READY… SET…GO! 

It immediately made me think of Dr. Scott Mcleod’s blog entry, 60 apps in 60 seconds, where he points out:

How many sessions like these have we seen at educational technology conferences? (fess up: how many have we delivered?!) Teachers attend, they scribble notes madly, they ask for the slides afterward because “they missed some.” The long-term substantive impact of these spray-and-pray workshops on teachers’ day-to-day practice? Zero.

I must disagree with Dr. Mcleod. While not all teachers will embrace ALL of what has been shared, some teachers will reach for the one item that engaged them. The spray-and-pray approach reminds me of Stephen Krashen’s second language acquisition theory of comprehensible input, or i+1.

According to this hypothesis, the learner improves and progresses along the ‘natural order’ when he/she receives second language ‘input’ that is one step beyond his/her current stage of linguistic competence. (Source)

In technology parlance, that would be, learning how to use technology that is one step beyond current usage. For example, MS Word to GoogleDocs.

Here’s the text:

Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill. Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language – natural communication – in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding.  

The best methods are therefore those that supply ‘comprehensible input’ in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are ‘ready’, recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production. 

In the real world, conversations with sympathetic native speakers who are willing to help the acquirer understand are very helpful. Source: Stephen Krashen as cited online

While we are talking about language acquisition here, I suppose that this theory might lend itself to using technology as well. Let’s revise this perspective–totally unsubstantiated by research, of course–to reflect technology instruction:

  1. Technology integration does not require extensive use of conscious pedagogical rules, or tedious drill. Integration requires meaningful interaction in the use of technology-blended instruction in which learners are concerned, not with what technology, but the how the technology expands their learning.
    Example: Share popular apps with learners that help them achieve something relevant and meaningful to them. Although not all apps shared in 60 seconds will be useful to all, some will be.
  2. The best methods are therefore those that supply technology use scenarios in low anxiety situations, focused around uses that learners really want to adopt for their own. These methods do not force early production at a high level, but allow learners to produce when they are ‘ready,’ recognizing that integration comes from supplying comprehensible input.
    Example: Can you think of a more low anxiety situation as a conference where someone is promising to share apps with you? Not only can you practice lecture student role–which all of us are familiar with and agree is fairly non-threatening–you can revisit the presentation at your leisure.
  3. In the real world, technology use with sympathetic learners who regularly use technology and are willing to help are more helpful than ivory tower academics proclaiming from their perches atop well-respected blogs.
    Example: It’s so easy to be critical of folks, but those who are sharing “where the rubber meets the road” technology uses provide an entry point to higher learning.
Seriously, wasn’t that fun? Low-hanging fruit, indeed!

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4 thoughts on “Low Hanging Fruit: 3 Simple Ideas @mcleod #edtech

  1. Scott McLeod April 14, 2014 at 11:02 pm Reply

    Using your own words, Miguel, I concur that this is the key assumption that is made during these kinds of presentations:

    “While not all teachers will embrace ALL of what has been shared, some teachers will reach for the one item that engaged them”

    That's what we would like to believe, isn't it? That those being sprayed will, after they've been soaked, be able to pick out the few drops that are of worth to them and make delicious tea…

    I think that folks who are technology-knowledgeable – folks like you and me and Stacy, for example – might be able to do this. We have both the motivation AND the ability to actually pluck one or two ideas/tools from the stream, investigate them, and make critical, thoughtful decisions about if, when, and how to incorporate them into our practice.

    But I don't see much evidence of this happening with the vast majority of educators, particularly those whom are less technology-knowledgeable. They get sprayed with apps – and they may even have the motivation and good intentions of making one or more of those work for them back in the classroom – but they didn't get deep enough exposure during the presentation to really understand the app(s) nor do they have the experience and/or ability to do it on their own without additional assistance. Thus the apps don't really make a dent on them or, more importantly, the learning of their students. At best we see superficial implementation and replicative practice using the new app(s) because no one's ever modeled something better.

    With due respect to the phenomenal work that both you and Stacy are doing, I believe that we can and should do better. Instead of the 'spray and pray' approach, it's far more powerful to show a classroom educator how to use one app – or a small handful of apps – really well, for a variety of purposes and in a variety of contexts, so that they can begin wrapping their head around what it might look like with THEIR students in THEIR classroom. [Side note: Of course that would require us as presenters to be aware of and be able to present those varied purposes/contexts rather than simply touting the next shiny tool.] And that's what I think we should be striving for: depth over breadth (just like we say for our students).

    Are we really arguing about whether to focus on fewer things learned deeply instead of many things learned shallowly?

  2. Miguel Guhlin April 15, 2014 at 2:11 am Reply

    There's a beauty to the shallows that brings a smile to the eye…as someone who dwells in the shallows, I find the constant push for rigor and relevance, the drive to go deep to be so tiring.

    Teachers are often so deadly serious they forget to have fun, and these kinds of presentations are unrepentant exuberance in how technology can enhance learning.

    While we've all seen the value of Problem-based Learning, Project-based learning, case learning, those approaches aren't always applicable to all teaching and learning situations. Learning is ever an invitation to explore, whether that exploration be the shallows or the depths you long to send our children to.


    heck, why not argue it?


  3. Scott McLeod April 15, 2014 at 2:57 am Reply

    Goodness knows I'm not against fun! But we have limited opportunities for professional learning. Shouldn't we at least try to get something meaningful out of those experiences rather than sprinting through apps and having most people never do anything with them? If we can't figure out how to make meaningful work also 'fun,' shame on us!

  4. Steven Hopper April 21, 2014 at 4:17 pm Reply

    I've had the pleasure of attending both Scott's and Stacy's presentations in the past, and I would argue that both have merit. The context, however, is critical. The “spray-and-pray” approach would not be appropriate in a small group PLC setting where it's much easier to take a single app or strategy to greater depth.

    Conversely, when you're at a conference with hundreds of people from dozens of different schools and a variety of collaborative cultures, I find it very difficult to get them talking about what an app might look like with THEIR students in THEIR classroom.

    The key is to strike a balance on the continuum of breadth and depth. I would agree with Scott that many of the conferences I've attended focused too heavily on the former at the expense of the latter, but I've also worked with district teams that get so caught up in a single tool that they lose sight of the bigger picture.

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