Teacher Empowerment: Doing More with More
The Empowered Teacher is dedicated towards helping teachers use Web 2.0 tools to support Learning 2.0 schools. Unpacking the jargon:
- Web 2.0: Web-based communities that invite users to generate content and interact around it, with blogs, wikis, forums, and other tools.
- Learning 2.0: Extending teaching and learning beyond the classroom and schoolday with virtual classroom sites that use Web 2.0 tools.
As instructional technology and web 2.0 experts, we help teachers "go 2.0" by using collaborative technologies for curriculum development, teaching and learning. In turn, we hope they will empower their students with the same tools. The 2010 Horizon Report on key trends in educational technology reinforces this hope / vision at the university level, but it transfers to secondary education:
The work of students is increasingly seen as collaborative by nature, and there is more cross-campus collaboration between departments. While this trend is not as widespread as the others listed here, where schools have created a climate in which students, their peers, and their teachers are all working towards the same goals, where research is something open even to first year students, the results have shown tantalizing promise.
The Pedagogy of Student Empowerment
Approaches to teaching and learning are "Student Centered" or "Curriculum Centered" to degrees. The "Inquiry Model," for example, proposes that student questions drive instruction, while a "Curriculum Standards" model says outcomes should drive it. But there are midde ways, and inviting students to collaborate online prior to the finalization of a lesson plan could be a key innovation.
An Education Week article on Project Based Learning considers the challenge of picking the right core questions for an inquiry project:
Educators at the training session invariably describe this process of crafting units as "frontloaded": The bulk of their work is performed before students are given the assignment. It involves planning, securing the materials needed for the projects, and contacting individuals who will agree to grant interviews to students and serve as resources.
"Basically, if the students are given control over most or at least part of the lesson, you're following their interest," said Daniel T. Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, who studies cognitive psychology in K-12 education. "You really need to know your content to evaluate whether a student idea is likely to be fruitful, or needs to be narrowed down, or they need to try something else."
We suggest that blend of classroom and online collaboration can make best use of both. For example, students can form "online focus groups" to help guide the core questions that will inform the design of a lesson days before it happens. Teachers can then respond to this feedback by designing the lesson around issue the students who responded said they cared about. This would be a radical new way to collaborate with students, empower them, and get more enthusiastic participation as a result.
Introducing the principles of collaborative design to curriculum development is behind our claim that the tools and practices of the Open Source community are relevant to teachers. More succinctly (though without the detailed richness of the model), David Kelley calls this "Design Thinking" - and he proposes "thinking like a designer" as a key objective for students, not just teachers doing curriculum development.
The Technology of Student Empowerment
Prisoners of Time (1994) well documents the barriers to meeting and collaborating in person during the school day. As exciting as it would be to spend classtime planning subsequent lessons with each group of students, this would cut down the active learning time around the actual lessons prohibitively, and such a conversation would be beyond the maturity of many students. However, online tools for collaboration can make all the difference.
Today's knowledge workers use software to collaborate at a distance, across time zones, and even across languages to create useful and functional products, whether editing an online article or writing a piece of software. Teachers can do the same - with colleagues, with outside experts, and even with students. By proposing topics and methods well in advance of a unit and responding to comments and feedback, teachers can enlist the support of students who contributed their own ideas in making the lesson work.
We promote and support particular tools to make this work. We help teachers can solve the "no time to meet" problem with Open Atrium, for example, and offer training and lesson design collaboration using Skype and GoToMeeting.
How We Empower Teachers
Think of how empowering it was to move from telegrams to phones, from typewriters to word processing, or from postal correspondence to email. These technologies have made so much more possible in life, work, and home - even if they have had side effects. Some technologies are distractions, and some are disappointments, but the RIGHT technologies are profoundly empowering to those who know how to use them and when.
Here is what we do:
- Empowering with Technology Planning: If you're a teacher and you are planning a new unit after school or on a break, you can walk the halls to find a free colleague to bounce ideas off; or you can check your Skype and see who's online, and do a quick video conference and screen share. There's technology planning and budgeting required to make sure all teachers who want them get cameras and microphones (and have Skype unblocked). We work with schools to help administrators see the value of those choices and expenditures.
- Empowering with Technical Support: If you're at teacher planning to do a "Web 2.0" activity that students will access after school, you'll want someone to help you custom-build the learning environment students will use. You can track down your computer teacher and see if he has time, or access your Empowered Teacher consultant to quickly make the changes to the "Sandbox" site you'll use, and show you how they work. We use Drupal to create online spaces that suit the needs of teachers and students, make sure they work, and make sure you know how they work.
- Empowering with Community Building: If you're the only teacher in your grade or department teaching with technology, you're a "pioneer" - you go it alone, and you have to invent every wheel yourself. On the other hand, if a group of teachers are ready to be "early adopters" of Learning 2.0 with you, and your administrator has approved In-Service courses to support sharing, planning, development, implementation and evaluation of these activities, you will no longer be alone. We help build professional learnign communities about teaching with online tools, and that empowers every teacher who wants to upgrade their pedagogy for the 21st century.
Of course there are many ways to teach that don't involve logging in to websites, and meeting face-to-face together in the same place to teach or to collaborate is a primary reason to go to a school building every day. Our position is that this particular kind of technology - Web 2.0 - can complement and extend what can be done in schools to a profound extent, and that teachers who explore these new powers will enjoy their work more, reach more students, and deepen the quality of professional collaboration in their schools and communities.