Mission: Empowering Teachers

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:

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:

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.

That's empowerment.