Last week, I was fortunate to be invited to lunch with Stephanie Hamilton, one of Apple’s chief educators, based in Cupertino, California. What I found most profound was that her message echoed much of what we are trying to do in this project with our pilot schools. What was her key point? “We must lead with the learning and not with the technology.” She had a number of other pivotal messages but I want to reflect on the points that resonated for me.
“Mobile devices,” she stressed, “are intended to personalize learning.” We have the opportunity to support students, whatever their struggle, whatever their interests, in more personalized ways. Whatever their issue, there is likely an app or an application that can help them. Schools cannot provide a one size fits all approach. She touched on differentiated instruction and the need to move towards deep engagement for our students. Our district has the same focus for this project. She challenged us with important questions: How does technology change the nature of the task? How can we give students more control of their learning?
The use of technology is no longer about digital integration but about transforming the learning task. She used the work of Ruben Puentedura, a researcher from Maine, and his technology implementation continuum as a point of reference. The best part, however, was when she walked us through explicit examples of student tasks, describing how they looked for each of his four stages, from enhancement to transformation. I found that part the most valuable because that is what teachers need to see. We need real life examples of the transformative use of technology. These provide us with models to help chart our way.
“Teachers need to move from being master teachers to master learners,” she emphasized. I really liked her description of the future of schools. She described schools historically as factory models of learning with teachers as content experts and then contrasted that with schools in the knowledge economy where teachers are the providers of context and students have the opportunity to be “free agent learners.” Her quote from Seymour Papert seemed quite apropos, “ The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.”
Finally, she made some pointed observations about our failure as educators to take advantage of the promise that technology offers. Some of the issues about technology and its integration were the same issues twenty, even thirty, years ago. She referenced the book Switch by Dan and Chip Heath: “For things to change, somebody somewhere has to start acting differently.” Fullan talks about this notion, too, “Research on attitudinal change has long found that most of us change our behaviors somewhat before we get insights into new beliefs. The implication for approaching new change is clear.” I realize that it isn’t about changing people’s beliefs, it isn’t about providing people with a list of reasons for why technology may help us, it really is about putting my own toe in the water. I have come kicking and screaming into the digital world because it became part of my portfolio. I knew I had a responsibility to model the way. I may not have wanted to learn about it but now it is become one of the most rewarding parts of my job. It has impacted my professional learning in a way I couldn’t have imagined. It had to start with me. I had to learn first. I am changing my behavior (trying out technology) and then letting the beliefs follow. We need to provide teachers with the support to do the same. It is about our behavior, our experimentation, and putting our toe in the water. What do you need to do? How can you support those that are willing to take the first step? It is when we learn ourselves, that we can transform the learning of our students.