Creating a Technologically-Friendly Environment for Learning

I co-teach a course for undergraduates on classroom learning environments, and one of the purposes of that course is to help undergraduates understand that the manner in which we establish the physical and emotional environment creates the tone for the learning environment. How we establish relationships with children and arrange the physical space is indicative of our personalities and our philosophical beliefs. We are conveying our beliefs to children through our furniture, our gestures, and our words. Lately I have been trying my hardest to help my colleagues and I rethink our pedagogy with regard to our use of technology. At best, I have been currently able to implement the use of Google docs as a medium through which I can encourage our students to participate during our classes. While I know that there are other platforms out there (please do not lecture me at present), this is a big step for many of us. (However, I am open to hearing about how you are encouraging multiple forms of participation in your collegiate classroom.)

What you must understand is that when I teach, I am not the sole instructor. Collaboration has many benefits, and I see and experience them everyday. However, when I teach with others in this situation, I must share and negotiate our use of technology. Some do not see the same benefit of technology and its ability to engage others in conversation; they do not see its value in collective knowledge - that others in the room many have knowledge rather than the teacher and that they can share that knowledge - that knowledge can reside in others rather than the teacher. Maybe it's the fact that these ideas are radical or that these ideas turn the traditional notions of teacher as expert and student as passive receiver of knowledge upside down - I'm not sure, but what I do know is that technology can afford us other ways of thinking about our pedagogy. It can cause us to challenge our notions of knowledge and where it resides in the classroom; it can cause us to rethink participation, what it looks like and feels like from both the student experience and from the teacher's experience. However, if we do not establish a learning environment that is technologically-friendly, then we are sending mixed messages to our learners.

One way to be technologically-friendly is to teach students to use technology for a purpose rather than a distraction. Digital natives should know how to navigate the internet. They know how to Google; they know how to get information at their fingertips. Supposedly they are easily distracted and require information immediately. If that is the case, then let's harness the power. Rather then telling them to "put their lids down" on their laptops for fear that they will be engaging in inappropriate activity because they are "bored," let's harness their ability to access information. Why are we not encouraging them to connect and find resources? Why are we not having them create personal learning networks that they can access and draw upon in our coursework so that we can tap into those resources? Why are we not creating a collective space for knowledge such as a wiki, a google doc, a Ning, or some other social site to organize, reorganize, and converse about knowledge and practice? Students could be accessing and bringing information to us if we teach them how and encourage them how to harness the power of technology. Instead, when we tell them "lids down," we are taking away their pencils and their papers. We are essentially asking them to create a project with only part of their supplies, and those supplies are SO outdated. It's no wonder they think they are boring! Why would you want to write a letter on chalk and chalkboard when you could create a multimedia project using Prezi?

As teachers, we have a responsibility to create a learning environment that is conducive to learning. Today that means creating an environment that is technologically-friendly.