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It’s been over a month since I finished “teaching” the 2011 Technology and Learning Institute (TLI). I have vivid and fond memories of my eight students (teachers, really), and the lessons these young people taught me (see their blog for more details). What I’m not sure about is whether those lessons apply to teachers of any age or early career teachers only. In the past, with teachers of mixed experience levels, I assumed the most effective approach was to “teach” them how to use a technology tool in several curricular contexts, and then turn them loose to play with and discover the capabilities of the tool themselves. This year, however, my teachers told me that my role was to “introduce” them to the tool for about ten minutes, and then get out of the way so they could learn and incorporate it into their own teaching styles and content; pretty sophisticated stuff from a group of teachers with no more than three years’ experience.

Most experienced teachers now understand that both “the sage on the stage” and “the guide on the side” are not pedagogies that can be used exclusively. When a child’s brain is learning effectively, teacher intervention is minimized, but when anxiety interferes with the learning process (the amygdala kicks in), teacher intervention is often exactly what is needed to restore student confidence. In the case of my TLI teachers, was it their familiarity and comfort with technology that instigated their independent learning or are the current technology tools easy enough to learn either through great product design or superb documentation? If the latter, then I have to rethink professional development for technology integration, minimizing the “presentation” element of the teaching, and becoming more of a resource to assist when teachers get stuck or be a sounding board for their curricular ideas.

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This is an important question for educational technology specialists because it impacts the allocation of our resources. Perhaps large group workshops will turn into information sessions rather than classes. Smaller groups will become collaborative exchanges of ideas rather than tutorials, and one-on-one instruction will really be exploration. In short, the real learning will occur during the interaction with colleagues, and the interaction with technology tools will be more self-taught skills. I welcome such a change if it is real, as it creates conversations in which my colleagues are  talking about student learning rather than which key to press next. What my TLI teachers were reminding me of in June was the need for us to stay focused on why we do what we do, to enable and enhance student learning. I salute these young people for their insights.