No Wonder

Using technology to support classroom creativity

GUEST COLUMN| by Micheál Heffernan

CREDIT GoConqrTo children, everything is a wonder. Their roving curiosity leaves them free to approach the world without judgement or preconception, which makes them naturally innovative, enthusiastic and resourceful learners.

But somewhere along the way everything changes. Once they become students, children relinquish control over their learning to a large degree. Information is no longer simply the result of hands-on discovery, but something that is imparted through classification, structure and repetition.

The problem with this model, however, is that it prioritizes rote learning and recollection over creative thinking.

When used correctly, technology can be an outlet for personal expression as students take the lead in engaging in meaningful and creative activities.

While this may have had some success in the classrooms of yesterday, the goal posts have moved almost out of sight. Myriad new technologies are giving students new ways to communicate, collaborate and create outside of the classroom. Therefore the big worry from a tech advocate’s perspective is that classrooms that do not embrace technology in some way are holding students back by preparing them for a world that is not in sync with modern-day realities. Ignoring technology will not make it go away – it only risks further dislocating students from current educational practices.

This seems to be borne out by the results of a recent Gallup survey that asked 13- to 17-year-old students in the US to describe how they felt about school in three words. A staggering 50 percent of respondents chose the word “bored”.

Such ennui should be a cause of considerable concern for educators. When students don’t feel engaged at school, they learn less, dropout rates tend to increase, test and project scores dip, and – worst of all – education becomes synonymous with boredom. This may be harmful in the short term; in the long term, it would be nothing short of catastrophic.

Using Technology to Reclaim Creativity

When properly channelled, creativity can act as a magic bullet for boredom. By nature, it is kinetic and energizing. It encourages innovation – a vital quality in a world that is evolving so rapidly and in so many ways.

Technology supports creativity because it offers a more fully immersive medium than the passive, one-way interaction of, say, watching TV. When used correctly, technology can be an outlet for personal expression as students take the lead in engaging in meaningful and creative activities. It can rejuvenate the joys of discovery since it gives teachers and students the opportunity to do something exciting with learning again – namely, experiment.

Of course all this sounds wonderful, but what are some of the practical ways that teachers can use technology to encourage more creativity in the classroom?

In truth, the answer is that they are too numerous to include here, but here are a few examples to give you an idea:

  • Discovery and inspiration
    Websites, podcasts, videos, blogs – there’s a world of information at the fingertips of today’s students. They can speedily find and access content on just about any topic and in a variety engaging formats. Many teaching models, such as flipped classrooms and project-based learning, are already using technology to support classroom learning.
  • Engaging and creating
    There is a vast array of tools out there that let students explore, innovate and express themselves. They can blog, upload videos, create audio files, put together elaborate mind-maps or study notes – such tools let them take ownership of their learning and truly bring it to life.
  • Communication and sharing
    With so many options for plotting and displaying ideas, students will naturally want to share their creations with others. They can now do so easily using a variety of web-based platforms such as forums, social media, video chat, online study groups and more. Such options give students the chance to join and contribute to a network of ideas that can be local or global. Online communities can also act as a source of inspiration as they expose students to a greater diversity of thought and opinion.

Too Much Information?

Of course, not all that glitters is gold. Introducing technology into classrooms will not suddenly produce a hive of creative activity all by itself. Indeed, without guidance, technology is just as likely to confound students thanks to the vast amount of tools and information currently floating around cyberspace.

Therefore, one of the key tasks for educators should be to teach students how to source quality information and become more discerning web users. Such efforts would augment individual research, digital responsibility, critical thinking and web navigation skills. They would leave students better prepared to explore their creative potential in the safest and most productive ways. If you imagine that students are a creative classroom’s orchestra players, and technological tools are the instruments they play on, then teachers are like the conductors whose role is to tease out the best performance possible.

Micheál Heffernan is part of the team at GoConqr, a free personal learning environment that allows students and teachers to discover, create and share online learning resources.

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One Response to No Wonder

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