Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Six Characteristics of Great Workshops (& Great Classrooms)

[This is an excerpt from an editorial to appear in the June edition of eSchool News]

As much as possible, Justin Reich and I have designed EdTechTeacher professional development workshops to embody the characteristics of great classrooms. If we want teachers to integrate exemplary practices and lead and inspire the next generation, then we must prepare them in exemplary learning environments.

To this end, we deliberately construct a workshop environment which embodies the following:

1. Constructivist
EdTechTeacher workshops are marked by experimental learning. Participants are actively discovering the features, properties, and potential of an app and a device. They are being challenged to make sense of tools for themselves. By not controlling how learners receive and process the information, we do not position ourselves as the sole expert in the room. Instead, knowledge comes from everyone. (To quote Harvard’s David Weinberger: “The smartest person in the room is the room.”)

In EdTechTeacher workshops we want teachers to fail early and to fail often. We want them to encounter stumbling blocks and obstacles, and start developing the persistence and creativity to work through these challenges.

2. Collaborative
We want teachers to work collaboratively to uncover solutions to the challenges we provide. We want them to work independently of us and thereby gain some measure all of confidence that they can solve future problems. We do not want to be the sole experts in the room. We do not want to control the knowledge. In the instructor-driven model, problems are often averted.  In the collaborative model, educators are working together, collaboratively, to make meaning and to help each other.

3. Differentiated
By providing both beginner and advanced challenges, participants work at their own pace, allowing us to model strategies for differentiated learning.  Furthermore, we introduce apps that provide multiple pathways to learning. By providing access varied tools we attempt to give diverse learners very ways to understanding and presentation of content we are helping ensure that we meet the needs of all learners. We also provide for differentiation as different individuals present educational content in different forms. Some create virtual tours, others tutorials. Some are primarily visual, some primarily auditory, some mostly text-based.

4. Personalized
As instructors we circulate the room, providing just-in-time assistance and encouragement. We work as facilitators and not principally as experts, and try to foster a proper balance between self-exploration and direction.

Additionally, the singular access to devices allows a more individualized educational experience. Instead, while students are working individually or in pods, the teacher is now free to move about the room and engage students on a more individual and personal level, providing guidance and support. In this sense, the learning becomes less teacher and more student centered.

5. Mobile
A mobile device adds a unique element to professional learning, because it removes the limitations of a classroom. No longer is the teacher the purveyor of information. Rather, students have a wealth, even a glut, of information available at their fingertips. They can now take that device (with its access, content, and materials) with them out of the classroom—on field trips, bus rides to sporting events, the library, a park, home, and more.

Our Explain Everything challenge simulates a mobile learning experience for workshop participants. We hope it’s also a catalyst for teachers to devise mobile learning experiences for their students.

6. Goal Oriented
In a challenge-based technology learning environment we attempt to simulate the types of learning spaces we hope that teachers will emulate in their classroom. In all, there is a marked emphasis on student directed learning. It is in the constructive learning environment where the learners are making sense of the tools and technological environment.

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