Teaching Through Technology: An interview with Liz Arum


The Teaching Through Technology (TTT) is a one-week intensive workshop for experienced educators in the design of learning experiences using design strategies and emerging technologies. The workshop brings together the teaching practices of experienced teachers with design-driven approaches to the application of technology for teaching and learning. Participants explore the hardest teaching and classroom challenges, and will develop, prototype, and refine new and engaging approaches that advance teaching practice. Participants will leave with a roadmap to apply these techniques in the coming yearLead instructor Liz Arum sat down with MFA Products of Design chair Allan Chochinov to discuss the workshops.

AC: Let’s start at the beginning, Liz: Technology is often thrown in the classroom with the assumption that teachers can integrate that technology into their plans in a thoughtful and deliberate way. What’s wrong with this assumption?
LA: Experienced teachers want to focus on the most important issue—creating life-long learners—when in fact they need to also balance the following:

• maintaining relationships (students, colleagues, administration and families);
• meeting goals (coaching, facilitating, transferring information, engaging students);
• developing skills and behaviors ( teamwork/collaboration, innovation, motivation, inspiration, vision, leadership, emotional intelligence);
• working with constraints (standards, grades, curriculum, limited time, maybe limited money); and
• staying current (dealing with media, new technologies, new content, keeping lessons up-to-date and engaging-connecting material to student values).

Merging design strategies with educational goals and getting teachers out of working in isolation by extending their private learning networks (PLN) will help teachers balance these relationships, demands and constraints and help them meet their goals.

AC: But the challenges go further than technology of course. These workshops pull heavily from the concept of project-based learning.
LA: We want to focus on feedback loops, so that no matter what subject one teaches, the loop is the priority. This can be achieved through projects, games, visual thinking, etc. These are the actions that we want to help teachers hit in every project: Preview, Participate, Process, Practice, and Produce.

This list is easier to accomplish with Project-based learning, but it can also be extended to other kinds of student work as well. Using technology in the classroom should not be a burden on the teacher, and it should not be incorporated just for the sake of using it. We want to help teachers find the appropriate applications that will enhance their lessons and engage their students.

AC: You talk a lot about “active learning” in your process. Can you define that?
LA: Sure. In the workshop we use an active-learning methodology that focuses on 6 objectives: Make students responsible for their own learning, foster important questions in the minds of learners, create cooperative learning opportunities, encourage personal exploration in the pursuit of common learning objectives, focus on rapid prototyping and testing, and emphasize continuous documentation and sharing. We think that these result in a very robust set of outcomes.

AC: Let’s talk a little about the experience of the workshops. What will it be like to be a participant in a group during the week-long intensive, apart from what they’ll be learning?
We believe that the best learning happens through application. In the workshop we don't just talk about applied learning, we put it to practice. Participants in the group will spend as much time designing lessons as they will taking part in them.

From the very first day, participants will have the opportunity to transform learning outcomes into active learning experiences. As the week continues, participants will dive deeper into the lessons they're designing, going through multiple iterations based on testing with the group. By the end of the week, participants will leave with one fully developed and executable lesson, several ideas for more, access to all the lessons designed by the group, hands on experience with technology that meets their objectives, and lists of resources that they will be able to consult throughout the year.

The setting is inherently social and experimental. Participants will be challenged to use new tools that they've maybe never even seen before, work with teachers they've never met before, and create lessons they've never run before. At times it will be hectic—scrambling to meet deadlines—at times it will be relaxing, taking in best practices and new strategies from our expert group of speakers. No matter what, it's going to be a whole lot of fun, as learning should be.

AC: One of the things we’ve always talked about at Products of Design is that it’s a platform for all kinds of teaching and learning. We’re so excited about the idea of “teaching teachers” during the summer, but curriculum and methodology need to meet the learners in ways that are most effective. The summer participants, of course, are students, but also they are teachers! What are two or three ways that teaching teachers differs from teaching, well, not teachers!
LA: One difference between teaching teachers and teaching non-teachers is that the former group, when put in the role of students, can use this opportunity to foster empathy for their students. It serves as a reminder that learning something for the first time is hard, and that sometimes you need to learn something a few different ways before it clicks. So working with teachers is a sort of meta-learning experience, in that teachers experience these methods first hand, but also reflect on the process from the perspective of an educator.

This means that when we teach new tools or strategies, there are really two conversations that are happening at once: how can the teaching be used and taught. If we were teaching non-teachers, they might not necessarily need to understand all the nuances of the tool. In fact, they might be satisfied just making it work. But for teachers to be comfortable teaching a new tool, this demands a deeper understanding of how it works. In fact, the goal is to understand it so well that they can explain it simply. This generally makes for a very curious group of 'students'.

Also, teaching teachers is a particularly participatory process. We acknowledge that the way in which we introduce these tools and strategies and choose to incorporate them into projects represents only one of many possibilities. The teachers who participate are each masters of explanation in their own right, and we encourage them to bring their own expertise to the table. It’s really two things. For one, we want the program to be useful for them and involve them in the learning process. Secondly we hope to demonstrate a learning environment in which the instructor is able to be in an ongoing learning process, and the students are invited to bring their passion and experience to the lesson.

AC: And finally, if I’m a high school teacher reading this interview and wanted to make the case to my school for supporting my enrollment in the workshop, what is the best case I could make?
LA: I think a strong case can be made that by taking this workshop teachers will be exposed to emerging technologies and have the opportunity to evaluate and assess the value of these tools in their classrooms. Participants will also be introduced to and have time to experiment with possibly unfamiliar design practices.

And more importantly teachers will become a part of an expanding learning network. When questions arise during the year or if confidence for using these tools begins to wane after the workshop they will have a network of innovative and creative individuals to work with.