Techstanding #1

It is no secret that modern teachers are fighting an uphill battle for the attention of our students. The main competitor is technology such as Iphones and PSPs. How do we as educators compete with devices that can take you half way across the world with the push of a button? I would argue that we cannot win, therefore, we should cut our losses and pitch in with the winning side – technology. Who says that it is not possible to harness this unstoppable energy and use it for education in the class room? If the students put as much interest into learning in the class room as they do texting or playing video games then we will have no problem in creating strong learners.

In order to break down how technology will be applied to the class room, I am going to make use of the Universal Design for Learning.

When using UDL, the first step is to consider representation – or in other words – what types of media will I use? The students of today are a very diverse population with a very diverse set of intelligences. Obviously it behooves an instructor to tap into these varied intelligences by presenting students with a variety of different media from which they can learn information. In my class room I would like to make use of PowerPoint for those days that you are taking notes. It provides a clean and neat form of displaying important information while allowing for pictures, audio and video so as to augment the words. Nothing hits home while talking about D-Day in WW2 like showing a clip from Saving Private Ryan.

Saving Private Ryan D-Day

Another form of media that I would like to use more is video games. According to Gee, a well designed video game allows the user to feel like a master before total competence has been gained. By reaching the rewards of instruction early, this motivates learners to continue on. Prensky also supports the use of video games in that they appeal to the modern brain of digital natives. Rather than being slow and methodical, video games force students to multi-task, use graphics instead of text and allow them to achieve random access. In my previous grad class I designed a simple simulation using Inform 7 which allowed the user to become part of the decisions leading up to and during WW2. Using technology in this fashion fits Prensky’s beliefs as well because it provides instant feedback. As soon as a student makes a decision, he or she is presented with the results immediately. On top of all these benefits, most video games make use of spatial reasoning which is another type of intelligence that I am trying to target.

A final example of a type of technology which is well suited to the class room, is music. Now music has been around for centuries and, therefore, is not necessarily a new technology, but the new ways we have of using it are. I can download a song from Itunes at home, put it on a jump drive and play it at school the next day. In most cases actually, I just use YouTube to look up a song and play it in class. If need something for the American Revolution, I just type in “American Revolution songs” and I have a variety of selections to choose from.

By using music, it appeals to students that are strong in that form of intelligence, but it also gives them something to associate the information with. Rather than just memorizing facts, they can link them to the song that I played that day, which is much easier for some of the students.

Having considered representation, it is time for the next step in UDL: action & expression. By allowing multiple forms of response to the information, teachers allow students a variety of means to express their thoughts and ideas. One method which has been studied quite a bit by Maloney, J. H., Kafai, Y., Resnick, M., & Rusk, N. and Kelleher, C., Pausch, R., & Kiesler, S. is the idea of letting students explore technology on their own with limited support. Maloney et. al. gave groups of inner-city youth access to the computer program Scratch after school on a voluntary basis. Despite having only a few mentors with no experience in Scratch, the students were able to achieve significant progress in using the program. Kelleher et. al.’s experiment was very similar, but they studied adolescent girls and their interaction with the computer program Alice. This time they had an expert mentor, but he or she would only help the girls when asked to do so.

Obviously both situations had students learning on their own – something all teachers salivate over. The idea that students could be motivated to learn new ideas with no threat of punishment or poor grades almost seems too good to be true. Herein lies the true potential for technology: students want to use it. If we as educators can design technology that has skills and ideas embedded in them, the students will use them willingly and learn without even realizing it. On some level this seems like we are duping the children and taking advantage of their naivety, but if it works, it works. One final thought on this idea, as effective as these tests were with very limited instruction or support from a teacher, Nelson, B. C., & Ketelhut, D. J. bring up the obvious next step of how powerful technology could be with the proper level of scaffolding provided by a knowledgeable teacher. With technology, a teacher moves from being the main source of education to a learning multiplier which increases retention enormously.

Another form of student response which has been suggested is the use of groups and technology. Papert in his paper Mindstorms discussed the use of Samba schools in Brazil where there were no adult teachers. All the children were learners, but with differing levels of experience. This environment of participatory culture as Ondrejka refers to it allows those who want to learn to go to those who know a lot about the subject. Everyone participates in the teaching and learning process rather than it being a one-side affair between a teacher and students. Schools could make use of the online program SecondLife as it is an open world that allows anyone to create pretty much anything they want. Students could experiment on their own, get help from knowledgeable peers and most importantly take part in the education process from start to finish.

Second Life

Another part of action & expression is varying how the instructor gives feedback. Technology provides many venues for responding to student creations. At my school we use a web based program called EdOptions ( which uses a pretty simple text and question format. Using this design, the most basic feedback to a student is what questions they got right and what they got wrong. Students can go back and look at previous submissions to see correct answers in green and wrong ones in red. I can also post a comment at the bottom to provide focused support or even motivation. Technology can do much more than this, however, via the internet a teacher could create a shared document on google docs in which the teacher and student could edit a work in progress. Another option is to record a video and post it on YoutTube showing the instructor explaining his or her feedback using audio and visual sources. The possibilities for post-assessment instruction and re-teaching are really only limited to what the teacher is up for.

The final step in UDL is engagement. This is popular idea in education today with many different names such as Differentiated Instruction and Response to Intervention (RTI). They all focus around the idea that education should be student centered and based upon what interests them and what they need to succeed, even if success is not the same for everyone. I think that an instructor combines methods from above such as audio/visual references, computer software, web based learning and student involvement in learning with the idea that these tools should be crafted for each individual learner, any child can be made to achieve. Rather than designing a unit with 3-4 weeks of instruction and then one big test, have multiple informal assessments along the way with which the instructor can gauge the progress of individual students and tweak things as necessary. If a student seems to be struggling with learning facts through using notes, allow him or her to learn them using another means such as a video game or computer application. If a student has trouble connecting information, use music to create bridges between islands of knowledge. No matter what, no student should be forced down the same path as everyone else. We all are different people and, therefore, learn differently as well. To achieve more in school, we as educators must adapt to the needs of our students.

From my own experience,  what I have found is that even though school is serious business not be taken lightly, education must be fun or else it is just not as effective. If technology will help create that aura of fun in the class room, then it should be used to the utmost extent. By combining effective content, varying means of response/feedback and engagement, instruction should become not only easier, but also better over the long run.


Papert, S. (1993). Mindstorms: children, computers, and powerful ideas. Basic Books. Chapter 8: Images of the learning society.

Gee, J.P. (2007) Pleasure, learning, video games, and life. In Knobel, M., & Lankshear, C. (2007). A new literacies sampler. Peter Lang Publishing.

Maloney, J. H., Kafai, Y., Resnick, M., & Rusk, N. (2008). Programming by choice: urban youth learning programming with scratch. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, 40(1), 367-371.

Kelleher, C., Pausch, R., & Kiesler, S. (2007). Storytelling alice motivates middle school girls to learn computer programming. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 1455-1464). San Jose, California, USA: ACM.

Ondrejka, C. (2007). Education Unleashed: Participatory Culture, Education, and Innovation in Second Life. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning, 229-251.

Nelson, B. C., & Ketelhut, D. J. (2008). Exploring embedded guidance and self-efficacy in educational multi-user virtual environments. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 3, 413-427. doi: 10.1007/s11412-008-9049-1

Mark Prensky Digital Natives/Digital Immigrants


About Bryce Hartranft

High School Social Studies Teacher
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