Tools that unlock learning environments

When I started my career as a middle school Science teacher in 2005, I came to my classroom with an passionate enthusiasm for the Internet and the kinds of tools it could provide for learning. The educational blogosphere was abuzz with tales of wonder of Web 2.0.

So, throughout that first year, I would spend evenings and weekends feverishly trying out new tools. Then, on Monday, I would bring my students into the computer lab to try them out. This was certainly exciting for me. I hope that the students derived some benefit, but looking back the value to them is unclear. Sure, there were lots of cool gizmos, but did they support learning?

At the end of that first year, I discovered Will Richardson and his book Blogs, Wikis, and Podcasts which had a profound influence on me. I had my students blog and create podcasts (and was the first teacher in my district to do so). These experiences radically shifted my relationship with and attitude towards the use of technology in the classroom. Instead of being starry-eyed about the latest and greatest tools, I was enthralled by the level of student engagement and ownership that I saw. These insights led to a research study Teaching for Ownership in the Middle School Science Classroom: Towards Practical Inquiry in an Age of Accountability.

The big shift was in my commitment to using technology to promote, support, and foster student autonomy and engagement. Not surprisingly, this also led to enhanced academic performance. The classroom became a different place. Maybe also not unsurprisingly, this has been difficult to communicate to others at times.

So, I have started this blog as a vehicle to begin a conversation that discusses learning environments as a system that can support student autonomy while also enhancing learning in meaningful and rich ways.

cover image by MEDIACRAT. Reused under CC BY-SA 3.0