Grade nine was the year I stopped going to the library with my class. Not because I was protesting or anything but because the library was no longer an event – much like the computer lab. Instead, both facilities were resources, available on demand. If I needed the internet, it was there. If I needed a book, I could stop by the library between classes or at lunch time. Same thing with University.
As we move from the idea of computer labs to mobile spaces in many schools, I want to remind us stop and consider the pedagogy behind these new ideas. Someone told me once “we don’t go to the pencil factory for forty minutes a week. Technology is tool.” This statement opened my eyes to what I was doing with our computer lab. In those days I would march everyone down, make them sit in a quiet row and all type the same assignment. No choice. No differentiation. And it was quiet. I did this with my class because it was done with me when i was a kid and this approach is just wrong. I am not saying that lab assignments are wrong, but the notion of “because that’s how I was taught” is a terrible approach to learning. Computer labs are great and bring equity and equality to many students.
Fast forward to today. In my classroom, technology is no longer an event. My goal is to embed it so deeply that it becomes as common practice as using a pencil, calculator or scissors. I don’t let technology drive instruction, but rather vice versa. I don’t design tasks based on apps, but let the tasks determine what apps we should use. I use the term “we” loosely as it’s not my choice of what app to use (and apps now include pencils, erasers etc. There term “app” is becoming synonymous with “tool”).
One of the biggest shifts in my teaching practice has been to remove the computer lab and library from a scheduled event to on demand resources – learning spaces. Along with that comes a notion of trust and responsibility. I cannot be in two places at once. I think it is crucial to develop a community and culture of trust before you set students “free”. It takes time and it takes work – but it is worth it in the end.
Perhaps the biggest shift in my teaching practice is that I have gone from teaching facts and ideas to to teaching accountability and responsibility. I no longer teach subjects, I teach people – and people need access to tools anytime.