Thursday, September 6, 2012

Guest Contributor Neven Jurkovic: Strengthening a Classroom Community with Technology

The following post was submitted by Neven Jurkovic. Neven is the creator of Algebrator, a math tutoring software. Currently, he lives in San Antonio, TX and is the CEO of Softmath: http://softmath.com/ .

Several advantages to having 1:1 technology in a classroom (such as a class set of laptops or iPads) are obvious.  For example, student work in 1:1 classrooms can be more effectively differentiated to meet a wide variety of learning abilities, students can publish their written pieces and multimedia projects for a potentially global audience, and students can become technologically fluent at a time when technology plays a critical role in almost every workplace.

I would argue that educational technology, when implemented well, can play another important role in the classroom: it can serve to strengthen a classroom’s sense of community.  This assertion flies in the face of the common notion that technology, despite its amazing power as a communication tool, actually serves to hinder the social development of those who use it most frequently.

So how can it be done?  How can technology serve to strengthen, rather than weaken, a classroom community?  Here are three key ways to do just that:

1.  No more “sage on the stage”:  With Internet-connected technology at the students’ fingertips, the teacher no longer needs to be the primary source of information in the classroom.  Whether your students are studying the causes of World War II or the stages of mitosis, teacher-directed lectures can be replaced with collaborative tasks that allow students to take a more active role in learning about a topic and then producing content (such as through a class wiki) designed to teach those understandings to others.  Content can be “jigsawed,” with various groups of students researching different aspects of a certain topic, then presenting their findings to each other.  


2.  Students as tech experts:  Just as the students can be empowered to take on the role of collaborative researchers (and even instructors) when it comes to the subject matter at hand, so too can students be empowered to help each other to learn new technology skills.  Whether it’s a 3rd grader who wants to post a photo on her blog for the first time or a 7th grader who needs help editing his time-lapse video, other classmates who know how to help should be called upon to do so whenever possible.

3.  Drawing everyone into the conversation:  A common problem with traditional in-class discussions is that a few certain voices tend to dominate the conversation.  Technology can serve as an outstanding equalizer, allowing more introverted students an avenue through which their voices can be heard.  Whereas a whole-class conversation typically requires students to speak one at a time, an online backchannel also has the benefit of dramatically expanding the conversation space to allow all students’ thoughts to be recorded (and commented upon) simultaneously.


When utilized well, technology has the potential to not only serve as a differentiation and publishing tool; it can also dramatically strengthen a classroom’s sense of community.


About the Author:
Neven Jurkovic’s interest in teaching with technology developed while pursuing a Master of Science degree at Southwest Texas State University. Apart from publishing a number of papers on the application of artificial intelligence in elementary mathematics problem solving, Neven is the creator of Algebrator, a math tutoring software. Currently, he lives in San Antonio, TX and is the CEO of Softmath: http://softmath.com/
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