Internalization vs. Utilization

image While I was off on a different tangent a few weeks back, I had a chance to spend a couple of minutes talking with David Jakes about a couple of different subjects, but one thing that he said that really resonated with me was that teachers needed time to internalize technology before they begin the process of making technology integral within their curriculum. (David, I hope that I don't stray too far from your meaning.) While our discussion began revolving on the concepts of lifetime learning and teaching, I was really struck by how often we kept revolving around the idea of internalization.

Teaching is often looked at as a reflective process, and as such we often view it in almost the light of scientific methodology. We begin with a skill or concept that is going to be taught (Define the question). We develop a lesson or unit with curricula to engage and convey the concept (Hypothesis and data gathering). We teach the lesson/unit (Perform) We develop a formative assessment to gauge learning and assess student comprehension and achievement. Then we "reflect" (oh, how I hate that word) on the entire process to internalize the lesson/unit and it outcomes and begin planning adjustments. While this is not a bad model for lessons and units, when it is used with making technology integral to teaching, in my experience it simply breaks the process.
Students do not have this internalization process. They simply utilize whatever is at hand… be it a technology or anything else. In the retail world we would call them the ultimate consumer. Today's students ultimately use a "SEE IT, USE IT, TEACH IT" methodology. Ryan Bretag tweeted yesterday about how he helped his mom learn how to use skype… then he corrected himself and said he sat back and watch his niece and nephew use and model skype while he sat back and watched. Another example, I was attending a conference last year where Wes Fryer was presenting and he told a story of how a group of students had developed an online presentation and an hour before they were due to present the District blocked that resource… Now for a teacher that would possible be a crushing blow and cause a major hiccup in their lesson for the day and tarnish that type of tool for future use, the students simply found a different online presentation tools, and in 20 minutes moved their entire presentation over to the new resource and they were ready for class…

As an educator how would you have reacted to that situation? There is not time to internalize a new tool…
This is the difference! We need to move away from the need to internalize or we begin to lose engagement.

Too often I have seen teachers look at a tool, and simply refuse to do anything with it "because no one has shown me how to use it" (<- that is a future post I will be making.) or they are given training or investigate a technology and determine that at this time there is too much on their plate to focus their attention on it at this time… then they simply file it away regardless of the impact it could have on students… (or worse they don't know anything about it and they assign a projects with the use of the tool as a requirement for the output but cannot support students when they have questions – here the rational I have heard is "that they are young they can figure it out") but I digress… now the knowledge for this tool is rattling around in his or her brain for a use… then comes the time where they are hard pressed for "something" because the demands of their class / curriculum require something… (internalization) and OH YEAH! I remember something about "X" that can help here… Hello new tool! However, also quite often they do not remember how to use the technology or have not truly made it integral to their teaching, but use it as an alternative methodology… with the world we live in today this simply does not work. We need to begin to investigate, adapt, accept, and embrace at a gut level.
I realize that with technology, teachers often fear "breaking" something, or feel they do not have TIME to be open to learning something new as it "adds" to their workload. (as opposed to replacing or enhancing their current instruction) OK, I know that this post will feel like I am coming down on teachers, and in a way I am. I also know that there are a LOT of great teachers out there embracing technology and driving their students to the edge of capacity, but there are also a great number of educators who simply do not want to even think about 21st Century skills because they have their curriculum established and opening that door makes revision necessary. There are a lot of folks out there that discuss the issues with teaching or education reform… unfortunately too often those in the spotlight are NOT educators themselves, but we [educators] have to live with the decisions uneducated lawmakers impose on education. However, often the people who really get in the way of educational reform are teachers ourselves.

Ok, I said it, kill me now and let the flamewar begin.

We are so caught up in content or standards that we are not looking at what is crucial to the world today and how our students will need to interact on a global level when they stop being OUR students and need to have skills to survive beyond the educational process. David Warlick has had a number of great posts along these lines one on Pedagogy Getting in the way of Learning and a more recent one on What Would you have Them Say. Additionally, Marc Prensky is speaking around the country with his Engage Me or Enrage Me topic set. While some (including myself) challenge some of the extravagant statistics he throws around, and well sorry Marc horrible ugly slides, his message is sound. The students we are teaching today are growing up in a global connected authentic world. I presented on this topic myself last November.
Ok, so the questions that keep bouncing around in my head are:

  • Where do we go from here?
  • How do we create (or re-find) that childhood love of investigation for all educators?
  • How do we break down the fear barrier?
  • How do we become comfortable moving away from [canned] curriculum?
  • How do we meet the needs of 21st Century learners?
  • What is it really going to take to make technology integral to learning?

I would like your thought and comments… even negative ones. We all learn best from our mistakes.
Photo from Flickr: Comte de Cagliostro


7 thoughts on “Internalization vs. Utilization

  1. The difference in learning styles between many young people and many older people is summarized well in what I’ve heard others term a “navigational” versus a “procedural” approach to technology use. Young folks tend to take a more navigational approach, in which they experiment via trial and error to discover how something works. Many older folks, including lots of teachers, tend to be more fearful about technology use and take a more procedural approach. With procedural learners, they want to have everything spelled out in advance on a detailed handout they can follow. One of the greatest challenges in professional development for teachers, I think, is helping people who are naturally more “procedural” in their learning approach with technology to become more navigational. I don’t have any silver bullets on how to do this, but I agree with you and David Jakes that personally using the technology is key. If I was launching a PD initiative in a school district, I might even make personal uses of technology the centerpiece of the program. Too often (and I am guilty of this too) we rush to get teachers to the creative integration phase of technology use, when they have barely started to use the tools themselves. I think this is a response to several of the questions you’ve posed here, including “where do we go from here” and “how do we get beyond the fear factor.” Let’s focus on digital photography, sharing images safely with sites like Flickr, and videoconferencing with family and friends using tools like Skype and iChat. I think that is where we need to focus much more attention when it comes to technology tool use inside and outside of schools. To make technology integral to learning, teachers must be able to seamlessly use technology tools throughout the day as they access, use and share information. It must become part of the way teachers process and work in their world. Personal uses of technology are pivotal here, in fact I am sure they are a prerequisite to higher level uses of technology throughout the curriculum. I think too many leaders want teachers to skip developmental steps in their own technology use, and taking that approach is as developmentally inappropriate as giving a kindergartner an encyclopedia to read instead of a picture book.

  2. Wes, thanks for stopping by and commenting.
    Your comments about “navigational” (utilization) versus “procedural” (internalization) hit it right on the head and it sparked a conversation with my wife (also an educator and yes we were/are up at about 1am cst blogging) about goal setting… Young learners believe that they can do anything, as such they do not feel the (irrational?) fear of not being able to accomplish something so they try and try again. Look at the video game analogy. Where else do you see kids failing over and over yet coming back changing tactics, strategies, the outright rules to succeed… Is there a point in which procedural learners acquire that “fear” where learning becomes rote?
    I guess that I am thinking that if we look at how young children, who very much want to learn and I feel are a great model of what an investigative thinker/learner is/should be, learn (navigationally) is there a point in the education cycle where we teach that out of them and create a procedural learner in its place? Are we creating this cycle by in essence teaching goal setting and breaking of topics/ideas down into more manageable “goals.” Then this carries over into life? Do we actually teach them to fear?
    Is this why a majority of educational advocates are now talking about formative vs summative assessment and moving to authentic learning activities to get away from this “procedural” format?
    I completely agree with you about the personal uses of technology to help bridge that comfort level gap and how it leads to higher level uses of technology. The struggle I am finding is the lack of desire for investigation 😦 Will Richardson has been talking for over the last year about educators using these tools for their OWN personal learning and less to get teachers to teach their kids these tools… (I don’t think that came out exactly right here, but I can’t think of a better way to say that) Then as you point out through a seamless use of technology by teachers modeling will enhance student learning and these tools will become seamless for students.
    I’m still rattling around how to make this happen. I do like the suggestion of starting with digital photography. Make it personal to the educator and then look for natural ways for them to feel comfortable bringing it to students.
    Is it really the leaders who want to teachers to skip those developmental steps or is it just easier? I guess I am coming back to that question: Are we “teaching” investigation out of our students? At what point do we want to stop learning and prefer to/need to be taught to learn?… hhhmmm…

  3. I am resonating with so many things in this post I can’t figure out where to begin.
    And I’m sitting here wondering if there is any way to shift more teachers from a procedural method of learning into a more navigational and experimental one?
    Perhaps building more small professional learning community opportunities on campus so there is a more evolving model where people can try things, discuss them, learn and grow–rather than the more customary “sit and get” opportunities?
    Perhaps creating situations where teachers have more incentive “within the system” to develop their own learning plans and then pursue them? Rather than being treated as more passive learners?
    Hmm, wait, shouldn’t we be doing that with students as well?
    I agree with your question about investigation and are we training that out of students (and teachers) in exchange for compliance?
    But also do our very systems discourage experimentation, innovation, and creativity in the classroom? Do the leaders in a school or evaluative tools in a school reinforce these qualities in teachers or rather discourage them?
    And in terms of students in our classroom, do our assignments encourage experimentation or discourage it?
    When I sat in a meeting recently, and heard someone saying about teachers that I do respect that they had already had their lesson cycle planned out for NEXT year, I just wondered to myself–what is wrong with this picture? If knowledge is a living thing, and if we are teaching students it is a living thing, how can we have something planned out a year in advance?
    I think another question I have about staff development is do we begin with the end in mind, or do we even have an end in mind?
    And because we don’t, is that why things are so piecemeal?
    I go back again to the idea of some scaffolded learning–either via small learning communities on a campus who support one another towards a shared goal, or personal learning plans where teachers are guiding themselves towards a learning aim, or staff development geared towards a campus direction or goal that is shared. How important is the general environment of the school in supporting any type of movement towards innovation or embedding technology?
    A group on my campus was also talking about this in regards to students the other day. We were wondering if a few teachers try different methodologies, but then most of the other teachers aren’t–do students discount those who are innovating or just “go along” but that it’s not enough if they are receiving conflicting messages in other classes? I thought that was a fascinating question to think about, and a real problem. I mean, I trust that students know when they are being challenged and learning to think, and enjoy that and respond well to it, at least a majority of students do, but I also sense that those resistant to experimentation would just sort of explain it away as that one different teacher, etc.
    Lots of thoughts circling around in my head in response to your post and I’m not sure I’m articulating them well enough.
    I would like to thank you for the questions you raise. As I’ve been struggling to plan some staff development series this year through quite a few pitfalls, I think they are really resonating with me in terms of thinking about making things more meaningful or doing things differently so that they are more connected in to the needs of adult learners.
    So thanks for stirring the pot!

  4. Futura,
    Thanks for stopping by and joining the conversation. I am where you were minus one day 🙂 I am wondering the exact same thing. How do we shift the paradigm of educator learning. The future blog post I hinted at in this one is on the topic of exactly where in an educators career do we just stop learning unless something is taught to us? (with handouts etc.) Unfortunately, this is the pattern for most educators I know.
    In one of my teachers classes they were studying the etymology of words and one of the students took on the word to learn. Prior to the 1930’s is always took on the meaning or connotation of hands on exploration (learning by doing) like learning a trade… however, in the 30’s there was a shift where to learn meant to be taught something in a sedentary manner i.e. a classroom…
    I like the ideas of small professional learning communities but the push back I typically receive is where is the time? We have been piloting a 1:1 initiative with two departments in my school. Next year we will be expanding this program to 5-6 departments and a smattering of individuals in the remainder of the curricular areas. As part of this we will be moving to a required number of PD hours with the tablet PC’s we will be distributing. I spoke with a department chair of one of the departments who currently has a tablet and related that I would be developing a different type of PD as his groups was beyond the basics and his reply was “If we had 8 hours to work on these available we would have already been investigating new teaching practices with these things… we just don’t have that time!”
    I go back to my questions: How do we move forward in this environment? I take my tablet almost everywhere I go. I discovered uses while surfing the net at home… I know that not all teachers are so set in their ways that they are not willing to be investigational, look at all of the amazing PD that goes on on twitter and all of the dialogue surrounding Diigo right now.
    I also like your idea about developing a personal learning plan.
    Regarding your thought about student “awareness” and perception? Absolutely they are aware of this situation, and teachers lack of drive toward authientic learning and technology enrichment. See my Presentations section for a presentation I gave last fall at IETC. I sat with three classes and the commentary was astounding. Here is a link to the background blog post my teacher did with his class:
    Some of the comments about being ppt’d to death, or only “X” teacher encourages us to use blogs etc… are stunning in a building of 2600 students and 180 faculty members regardless of the training I work with the faculty on… Frustrating to say the least, but I feel it is detrimental to a students education as well…
    I feel like I am ranting a bit right now and I apologize. Thanks for continuing to carry forward this conversation.

  5. Scott,
    That post from “futura” was me, as I was logged into my own blog account and didn’t realize at the time 😉
    Just to clear up that mystery!
    I’ve been influenced a lot by some reading and by my own principal’s philosophy that you make time in the schedule for what you value.
    With her leadership our campus has managed to rearrange our schedule somewhat to have some late start days for teachers to work together, and to have an internal pd class period during the day that can be used one day a week for workshop types of time.
    So we’re discussing how to embed our professional learning community time into that time each week, partially.
    I do think that school leadership in how time is distributed in the day is an important piece here.
    We’ve been trying a model this year that hasn’t been working as well as a lot of us would like, so the idea of goal setting or learning communities is one a committee of us is currently exploring.
    I’m appreciating your comments, as they are very straightforward and on the money, so to speak, with experiences I have observed as well!

  6. I think your post, with the example of the students finding an alternate website when their original was blocked, hints at one of the frictions between newer technologies and (many) teachers’ hesitancy to experiment; the difference between viewing learning as divergent in nature or convergent in nature. Convergent learning focuses on “one correct answer” and divergent learning focuses on “many different possibilities”. The students were viewing the situation in a divergent way, selecting one of many possible alternatives. Many individual teachers, as well as the current educational climate in general, strongly encourage “one correct answer” that fits neatly in a small space.
    Many of the newer technologies, (wikis, blogs, etc.) encourage collaboration to come up with many different answers; divergent learning. The current climate of many schools generally places collaboration in a rear-seat to individual, convergent learning. Teachers are, both tacitly and overtly, discouraged from integrating methodologies, (and technologies) that take time away from individual, convergent learning. My guess would be that most of the “canned curriculum” to which you refer is also convergent in nature. One of the problems of internalization is that the possibilities of the technologies don’t match up with what we “value” in educational settings.
    Of course teachers do not speak up on these issues as much as they should. Then again, neither do students, administrators, parents, or the general public.

  7. Ben,
    I agree in the world of high stakes testing that we are living in, we are stuck in a one correct answer format. (and this should change… it looks like there is some movement in this direction in NCLB or at least Illinois State’s view of it) While I agree that teachers can be discouraged from expanding their implementation of navigational (divergent) learning in the classroom favoring the convergent single answer model, I hope that as a profession teachers would rebel against that format of student learning…
    You mention “technologies don’t match up with what we “value” in educational settings”… if self directed continual learning is not something we value, what do we value? Going along those same lines, if convergent learning (as you put is) therefore is valued, why are there so many teachers at odds with NCLB and high stakes testing or is that just smoke and mirrors by educational professionals? If we truly value convergent learning from established curriculum, what then is the opposition to “teaching to the test?”
    Global learning is happening outside of education regardless of whether we like it. Students access servers all over the world to play games, get news, socialize, text message, etc. Unless we looks to draw educational relationships to this type of learning and begin to expand the walls of education, we risk crippling children’s abilities to function, evaluate information, disseminate information, and create knowledge… sorry on a soapbox again…

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