Category: Technology Integration

Courtesy of:


21st Century Learning is all the rage in education these days.  Many people still haven’t a clue how to define 21st Century Learning including many of its proponents.  I see it as good practice that capitalizes on student interest and inherit willingness to adopt technology.  Student engagement is the underlying key of 21st Century Learning as it has been for countless other educational initiatives that have been introduced throughout the years.  Maria Montessori had as her basic foundation student engagement.  So the concept is not new but the packaging has changed.  Instead of wooden manipulatives we have plastic cases and glass screens.

Another aspect of this wave of educational reform around tech integration is the top-down nature of its implementation.  Ministries, school districts and schools are making the decision to go tech and teachers are being asked to come along for the ride.  Now many teachers are willingly if not enthusiastically embracing this change but many are hesitant if not reluctant to adjust their practice.  Students are a major factor in driving this technological bus as they come to school with any number of devices capable of complex calculations once only possible in large desktop machines.  The ease by which students obtain information and digest content makes the acquisition of factual information seemingly obsolete.  Teachers today recognize this paradigm shift and are making the appropriate adjustments to their practice.  This is no different from a surgeon learning a new surgical technique or a mechanic taking advantage of computer diagnostics to troubleshoot an engine problem.  Professionals are constantly revising and improving upon their practice… this is part and parcel of being a professional.

So does the need for educational change need to come from the grassroots or can it be a top-down initiative?  I propose that the reason 21st Century Learning has been met with such resistance is because of the way it has been introduced to educators.  It assumes the system is broken and that change is necessary for its continued survival and relevance.  Now let’s take the obvious budgetary problems public education faces these days out of this argument for a moment and only discuss the day-to-day practice of educating children.  How would you feel if you were told that you are not keeping up and that your ways are old and out-of-date and unless you embrace this new approach to teaching you will be left behind or potentially out of a job?  That was the approach, maybe not so blunt, that the Ministry of Education took when introducing their education plan for the province.  My first reaction to such a statement would be to put my back up and defend myself.  Whatever comes after a statement like this is irrelevant as you have already lost your audience.  Videos shown to teachers exclaiming the backward nature of today’s educational system serve the same purpose.  How can you encourage someone to change when you start the conversation in such a negative fashion?  Perhaps a more appreciative approach to educational reform is what is required.

Let’s start with the fact that the system is not broken and that teachers are doing an amazing job of educating today’s student with fewer resources and dwindling budgets.  Move on to the reality that technology is here to stay and is becoming an integral part of our lives.  Then ask the question how education can take advantage of this technological revolution and have both teaching and learning benefit.  The conversation has begun.  There is no greater joy for a teacher than to see students engaged in meaningful conversation related to something you have introduced.  Conversation is necessary and must be had in a genuine way to truly allow ideas to blossom.  The trick afterwards is to have the resources in place to take advantage of the ideas generated.

Technology integration, as with any educational initiative, can start as a top-down introduction but then must be quickly handed over to the grassroots so they can morph it and make it work within their practice.  It cannot be force-fed or mandated.  It must be encouraged and fostered.  Champions must be allowed to flourish and must be provided the resources (time, money, etc) to truly thrive.  A clear rationale must be given and backed up by respected professionals in the field.  A wholehearted attempt to truly embrace this change must be taken, including upgrading infrastructure, providing release time and resources.  Concrete examples of what this may look like in a classroom should be provided so that educators can see what their colleagues are doing and perhaps found a way to make it work in their own class.

Ask yourself this question… have you been asked to define 21st Century Learning from your perspective?  If not then we have a long way to go.


With a new school year rapidly approaching, educators, students and parents are filled with enthusiasm for a successful year ahead. As an educator the beginning of a new school year brings with it new ideas and the desire to improve upon our practice. Every year we strive to do a little better, be a bit more organized, add more variety to our lessons, try and reach those seemingly unreachable students and do the best job possible for our students and ourselves.

Perhaps this is the year that you are thinking of introducing technology into your practice. Technology you say… I already use an overhead projector, Multimedia projector, have a Smartboard, etc. Well maybe this is the year you introduce an e-learning aspect to your practice. First of all it is important to note that technology is not the be all and end all many people make it out to be. Technology will not replace good classroom practice and sound pedagogy. A great teacher will be a great teacher whether they use technology or not. So now that we have that cleared up many of us still see technology as being complementary to the learning process and a way to engage students with devices and applications they are choosing to use in their spare time.

The difficulty comes in deciding what to introduce, how to introduce it and how to effectively use it. Another difficulty is the nature of the teaching profession. Once the school year begins it is self-preservation to use tried and true methods of teaching and learning rather than move outside your comfort zone and try something that may or may not work. The hectic nature of the profession makes it difficult for new ideas to be introduced and implemented in the same school year. That is why now is the perfect time of year to start thinking about our practice and what we want to accomplish this upcoming school year. Many of us have started to turn our attention towards September and are beginning preparations for the classes / courses we will be teaching. Here are a few suggestions on e-learning strategies that can be easily introduced and allow you to get your technological feet wet:

1. From Poster to Prezi: Convert an existing project you have to an online assignment utilizing presentation tools like Prezi or Empressr. Both sites are user-friendly and can be picked up fairly quickly even by the most novice of students.

2. Put that Smartphone to Good Use: Many students these days carry a Smartphone with them these days. Why not have students film a short video of themselves and e-mail the results to you? You can have students film themselves conducting an experiment or learning a concept. Minimal prep required and will add a new twist to handing in homework.

3. E-mail Me: Collecting assignments or homework can be difficult at the best of times. Keeping track of late assignments or students that are absent can take up valuable prep time. Why not have students e-mail assignments to you? You have the luxury of a timestamp that tells you exactly when the assignment was turned in and it provides an opportunity for students that are absent to submit assignments from home.

4. Class Blog: This takes a little more work to setup but with sites like Tumblr, WordPress, Moodle and Edmodo much of the work is done for you. Developing an online presence for your course is a very powerful way to start to remove the walls of learning and allow for students to engage with content outside of the classroom. It is also an excellent way to bring parents into the fold by providing them a window into your classroom. More on this in later posts.

5. Social Media: This is another tricky one to do well but an easy one to start and play with during the course of a school year. Developing a Facebook site for a club or team is a great way to stay connected and disseminate information to people quickly and effectively (make sure you check your school districts policy on Facebook before proceeding). Twitter is another service that allows teachers to step outside the box and provide enrichment opportunities for students by tweeting out links to videos, blogs, discussion boards on whatever topic is being discussed in class. It can also be used to broadcast homework information and test dates. I have found this to be a great way to remove the excuse, “I was away so I didn’t know…’ from the students repertoire.

6. Laptops and iPads: if your school has access to these devices take advantage of it. Bring them into your class and simply have students play. The level of engagement, from my experience, has been extremely high if not 100% each time I brought these devices in. The work the students do on the device need not be difficult… it might as simple as looking up information for a project or completing a homework assignment and e-mailing it to you. The idea is to introduce the idea of e-learning into the classroom and then develop more meaningful ways to take advantage of these technologies.

These are in no way the only entry points to tech integration in the classroom but they might be a good way for the tech-reluctant educator to dive in and see what potential technology holds for their practice. I welcome your comments and feedback. I also would like to hear if you have other ways educators can get their technological feet wet.


Image courtesy of

Twitter is a social networking and microblogging service that allows you to answer the question, “What are you doing?”by sending short text messages 140 characters in length, called “tweets”, to your friends, or “followers.”

The short format of the tweet is a defining characteristic of the service, allowing informal collaboration and quick information sharing that provides relief from rising email and IM fatigue. Twittering is also a less gated method of communication: you can share information with people that you wouldn’t normally exchange email or IM messages with, opening up your circle of contacts to an ever-growing community of like-minded people.  You can send your messages using the Twitter website directly, as a single SMS alert, or via a third-party application such as Twirl, Snitter, or the Twitterfox add-on for Firefox.  Your tweets are displayed on your profile page, on the home page of each of your followers, and in the Twitter public timeline (unless you disable this in your account settings.)


Teacher <-> Student Communication via Twitter

If a communication is to be rational, it must have meaning.  On occasions, an individual tweet may not seem to meet that assumption.  However a thread of tweets on a particular topic can prove to be most meaningful, as they can provide the basis for subsequent analysis to reveal the meaning and other indirect, frequently irrelevant, information about the event.

As an education tool, tweets could suffice to merely track student attendance at an assignment, as well as determining of what value the assignment was.  To do this, the teacher could designate an account, a hashtag, e.g. #Assignment 01, to which the students as followers send their tweets.  The teacher then would collect all the tweets sent by the class to examine the tweets of those who did, or did not, attend to determine whether the value of what they submitted was worthwhile.  This might also prove helpful as a record of attendance for students who have to attend a number of activities in their field during the semester.

It can also be used to provide short, concise information on homework assignments, test dates, lesson details and link locations to interesting and relevant sites.  The potential to use Twitter as a real-time communication tool in the classroom is also intriguing and has been tried at post-secondary with mixed results.  A possible application could be to have a live-stream of comments from students, as a teacher lectures, to provide feedback to the teacher or even better to ask questions of the teacher that they may to shy or reluctant to ask otherwise.

There is value in the networking and real-time interaction that you can get using Twitter. Many educators and academics find this to be an effective strategy for dealing with the isolation that can come from working in the classroom or office. Imagine encountering technical difficulties during your lesson and having a means of receiving assistance within minutes. Consider the ability to receive assistance from others during a teachable moment in which you don’t know the answer to a student’s inquiry.

Pros and Cons


  1. It can be narcissistic. Does anyone care what I had for lunch?
  2. It can be boring. Is my average day so exciting that I have to share its details with the world?
  3. It can be redundant. I already have a daily blog. Why do I need Twitter?
  4. It can be time-consuming. It will distract from other, more important tasks.
  5. It can be dangerous. Letting someone know where I am at all times is like legalized stalking.
  6. It can contribute to the dumbing down of society. Most people don’t have the attention span for a well-crafted argument in a book. The blog is a step-down. Are we taking an even further step down, demanding our information in bite-sized chunks?


  1. The rapidness of disseminating information. amazed at how quickly the information went out.
  2. The ability to share interesting articles.
  3. The importance of conciseness. The brilliance of Twitter is its limitation of 140 characters. Most blogs are surfed, not read. Putting out a brief quote will probably be read by more people than a long blog post.
  4. Connecting with others. I am on Twitter primarily because I get to “follow” other people on Twitter. It keeps me connected to others who put out edifying “tweets” and who pass along interesting information.
  5. Boosting the blog. It takes a lot of work to maintain a daily blog. Linking to a blog post on Twitter gives my “followers” the opportunity to pass the article on to others who may benefit from it.

Here’s how to avoid the cons:

  1. Narcissism? Don’t make the majority of your “tweets” about you.
  2. Boring? Again, don’t make the majority of your “tweets” about you.
  3. Redundant? Instead of letting Twitter compete with your blog, let it point people to your blog.
  4. Time-consuming? Limit the number of people you follow and don’t constantly check for updates.
  5. Dangerous? Avoid giving details of your whereabouts and plans.
  6. Dumbing Down Society? Send along good links to thoughtful articles and news stories.

Teenagers are known for rebelling and introducing new trends into society.  Whether it be through music, fashion or language teens have always set the culture or counter-culture of society.  The same can be said for their interactions in cyberspace whether it be MySpace, Facebook, Youtube or Fourspring, youth have always been the early adopters of new social media.  It is ‘cool’ to set the trend or break new ground but as soon as something becomes too popular or mainstream it is time to move away.  The first time an adult put on an Ed Hardy t-shirt it ceased to be cool.  So do teens appreciate teachers using ‘their’ social media for educational purposes?  Does it cease to become ‘cool’ at that point?

A common refrain from 21st Century Learning enthusiasts has been utilizing the skills and interests students already have with respect to technology.  Meeting students on their ground and using those sites and skills to educate and engage.  The assumption is that since students are already using Facebook that utilizing it as a teaching tool makes perfect sense.  The same can be said for students that vlog… asking them to create a video for Youtube should be an automatic win win.  But what about the idea of counter-culture?  When adults started to invade MySpace kids moved to Facebook.  When Facebook became popular they started using Fourspring.  Now there are sites like Omegle that students frequent because adults have not found out about it yet.  Twitter is a service utilized by adults far more than teens… even though it was the young pop culture stars of today (Ashton Kutcher and Justin Bieber to name a few) that made the site so popular.  It quickly became a political tool, utilized extremely well by President Obama, and the rest is history.

The data on this is very scarce as not much research has been done on the internet movement habits of teens in comparison to adults.  This is primarily from my own experience as a teacher trying to utilize sites and services that students ‘should’ be engaged in and being met with some resistance.  It’s almost like treading on their internet domain is the equivalent to listening to the same music or wearing the same clothes.  Is it safe to assume that students will simply welcome teachers in to their world?  I do see this as an issue for secondary (high school) students more so than intermediate.  A student drawing for pleasure may resent being asked to draw for an assignment so why would it be assumed that use of the internet would be any different?  I realize this is a simplistic representation of a more complex situation but it is worth considering before we forge new paths and put in place policy that neglects to take this phenomena into consideration.

I have recently assigned my Biology 11 students a concept mapping assignment on Microbiology.  The assignment details can be found on my class blog at the following url:

The cool part about the assignment is the level of engagement the students have when using laptops and an online site to build their concept map.  I have done similar assignments in the past but have used poster paper as the medium instead and the level of frustration was exponentially higher than with the laptops.  The students dive right into the task and are able to find information that they otherwise would have not taken the time to seek out in their textbooks or notes. The three online sources that I allowed students to choose from were:




Students spent part of a block exploring the three sites and deciding which option they liked best.  They then spent a portion of the block mapping out the assignment on paper before committing their ideas to digital paper.  They will another block of class time to put their map together.  I will post the finished assignments here at a later date.