Ontario Tech University
The use of educational technology tools has increasingly become common in twenty-first century learning environments. With multiple forms of EdTech tools to experiment with, it is important for educators to use these digital tools in a meaningful and appropriate way to engage students and match their individual needs. Technology tools on their own cannot serve a purpose and should integrate into lessons to enhance learning experiences for students. The following chapter explains how to create meaningful EdTech lessons that align with learner-centred themes and characteristics. To use EdTech tools in an effective and purposeful way, educators should provide opportunities for learners to take control of the technology tools while educators facilitate learning. This can foster collaboration between educators and learners, and a strong motivation to learn new concepts. Having first-hand experience with technology tools, helps learners experiment with their learning. A creative way for students to engage with EdTech tools is through the process of digital storytelling. Digital storytelling is a concept that allows technology users to become creative storytellers and create user-contributed content using various multimedia tools and platforms. This chapter explores the use of digital storytelling, and its ability to create meaningful and engaging lessons. It will also look at how digital storytelling builds a strong foundation for promoting twenty-first century learning skills.
Keywords: collaboration, digital storytelling, educational technology, learner-centred, meaningful lessons, motivation, student engagement, twenty-first century learning skills
In twenty-first century learning environments, educators can easily gain access to multiple forms of technological tools that can help create and implement engaging lessons to meet the needs of a diverse range of students (Currie, 2016). Whether there are limited technological resources or there is wide access to a variety of technological tools, effective pedagogical knowledge combined with meaningful technology-integrated lessons can increasingly promote student engagement and empowerment (Currie, 2016). The presence of educational technology will not be transformative on its own. It will require educators who are able to integrate technology into the curriculum effectively and use it to enhance student learning (Kumar, Rose & D’Silva, 2008). Educators need to be mindful to the needs of their students, and should match the appropriate technological tools needed for their students (Currie, 2016).
The role of educational technology has been significant in the transformation of the traditional aspects of teacher-directed learning into collaborative student-centred learning. Educational technology has the ability to bring changes to the traditional roles of an educator. It also requires educators to take on, more powerful roles (McCombs, 2000). These new roles for educators do not simply require them to use technology to create new pathways to learning but also includes finding ways to construct purpose, meaning, connections, and relationships to the community and outside world (McCombs, 2000). The existence of the latest educational technology tools can never replace a great educator because educators are the key to whether technology tools are used appropriately and effectively in learning environments (Kumar, Rose & D’Silva, 2008). Using educational technology tools can help both teachers and students collaborate in the teaching and learning process in an innovative manner.
Key Components in Creating Meaningful EdTech Lessons
21st Century Learning Skills: Collaboration and Student Engagement
Using EdTech tools in twenty-first century learning environments requires collaboration between educators and learners. Educators and learners should assume roles of being ‘partners’ in the teaching and learning process, where educators provide guidance and appropriate tools for students to work with (Prensky, 2010). When using EdTech tools, educators are able to provide extended learning opportunities and choices for students rather than just “telling” students what to do (Fullan, 2013). In order to create and implement meaningful EdTech lessons within a learning environment, it is crucial for educators to treat learners as the primary users of technological tools (Fullan, 2013).
The effectiveness of using educational technology also largely depends on its ability to engage students in a meaningful manner (Sadik, 2008). The key to using educational technology is to create meaningful tasks that can engage students and build their knowledge in different ways, which was not there prior to the use of one or more technology tools (Sadik, 2008). Student engagement is the key to achieving learning success; therefore, it is extremely essential for educators to use educational technology to engage students appropriately in their learning process.
EdTech tools that allow students to experiment with their learning and not be reduced to learning that is static, is considered to be highly effective and meaningful for students’ learning experiences (Chen et al., 2010). When students are able to get first-hand experience with their learning by using EdTech tools rather than simply reading off a course text, the experience becomes more engaging and memorable (Chen et al., 2010). Having first-hand experience allows students to remember and retain more information and that is when meaningful learning takes place.
The use of educational technology can only be effective when educators are technology literate and possess the expertise to apply technology in a meaningful way (Kumar, Rose & D’Silva, 2008). Even if students are able to use technology independently to enhance their learning, it is highly unlikely to see significant levels of improvement without teacher guidance (Kumar, Rose & D’Silva, 2008). To use educational technology in a meaningful way, it is essential to look at teachers’ acceptance of technology use (Kumar, Rose & D’Silva, 2008). If there is a lot of resistance in using educational technology and unprepared attitudes coming from educators, then using educational technology to create meaningful lessons will not be effective.
The way educators use EdTech tools is a key determining factor for improving student performance in acquiring knowledge and developing skills enabled by technology (Kumar, Rose & D’Silva, 2008). This is where the technology proficiency of educators plays a crucial role when it comes to using educational technology in the classroom (Zhao, Pugh, Sheldon & Byers, 2002). Successful implementation of educational technology and creating innovative and meaningful lessons is most likely to happen when educators deeply reflect on how their pedagogical practices match their purpose of using technology (Zhao et al., 2002). According to Zhao, Pugh, Sheldon & Byers (2002), successful implementation of educational technology occurs when educators viewed technology as “the means to an end” and saw a strong connection between technology and the curriculum (p.492). When the appropriate EdTech tool is chosen which is compatible with an educator’s pedagogical beliefs and approach to teaching, the integration and implementation of the technology tool becomes smoother (Zhao et al., 2002).
Creating meaningful EdTech lessons involves authentic and challenging tasks that actively and purposely help learners to construct their own meanings and knowledge from thinking about experiences (Sadik, 2008). One of the main objectives of creating meaningful lessons that involve EdTech tools is to make sure that it incorporates learner-centred themes. Meaningful integration of EdTech lessons is achieved when educators allow students to make choices about technological tools they can possibly use for their learning (Sadik, 2008). In this way, students are able to obtain information that they can analyze, synthesize and can construct using their own experiences (Sadik, 2008).
Integrating educational technology within classroom lessons must serve a purpose, such as to promote and demonstrate problem solving (Chen, Calinger, Howard & Oskorus, 2010). Using EdTech tools to create meaningful lessons is considered a success when a specific technology tool or tools emphasizes on learner-centred goals and allows learners to have a certain level of control on their learning (Chen et al., 2010). This can make the lessons more meaningful for learners and gain substantial learning. To create meaningful EdTech lessons, the focus should always be on the learning and not solely the piece of technology used. According to Chen, Calinger, Howard and Oskorus (2010), educational technology tools that employ experiential and situated learning, can create significant impact on increasing student learning, motivation and retention of content (p.302). Meaningful lessons that use EdTech tools to support and fit the individualized learning needs of students are considered as highly effective to promote and enhance student learning (Chen et al., 2010).
Applying and integrating educational technology to create meaningful lessons must be engaging, motivating and interactive (Chen et al., 2010). As mentioned earlier, student engagement is the key to getting students interested in further learning. Due to the wide access of various technology and communication tools outside of school (such as video games); students have general exposure to various interactive technologies that can be highly motivating for student learning. Using interactive EdTech tools can allow students to exchange ideas, work and data on numerous multimedia platforms, which provides enriching educational experiences (Chen et al., 2010).
The Concept of Digital Storytelling
The method of storytelling is seen as a traditional teaching method that originates from the very early process of teaching and learning. Storytelling is not only a simple teaching technique but is also seen as a powerful method, which engages students and helps them make sense of the complex world around them (Sadik, 2008). Although storytelling is not a new concept, the idea of digital storytelling is relatively recent. The concept of digital storytelling revolves around technology users who become creative storytellers by selecting a topic or area of interest, doing research, developing a script and narrating an interesting story using various types of multimedia (Robin, 2008).
Within the past two decades, there have been various emerging technology tools and electronic media outlets, which have encouraged educators to incorporate different teaching approaches to help students construct their own meanings (Sadik, 2008). Digital storytelling is a method that involves user-contributed content (which can be seen often on social media platforms) which can help educators productively use EdTech tools and make the learning meaningful for students (Robin, 2008). Digital storytelling can be used to assist students in organizing their thoughts, being reflective and engage in critical thinking, or for project-based learning (Lunce, 2011). The method of digital storytelling is useful for students because it can reinforce their skills in research, writing, organization, presentation and problem solving (Lunce, 2011).
How to Use Digital Storytelling to Create Meaningful EdTech Lessons.
The medium of digital storytelling can offer educators a wide variety of opportunities to engage and assess their students (Dreon, Kerper & Landis, 2011). Digital stories created by teachers or by others previously, are used as an instructional tool that can introduce new content and capture student’ attention (Robin, 2008). Digital stories can serve as a ‘hook’ of a classroom lesson and can integrate multimedia into the curriculum in an effective manner (Lunce, 2011). Presenting and integrating digital stories into classroom lessons can help translate difficult or abstract content and make it more understandable (Lunce, 2011; Robin, 2008). Digital storytelling can spark and facilitate classroom discussions that can increase students’ interest in exploring new concepts (Lunce, 2011; Robin, 2008).
One of the greatest benefits of digital storytelling is when it is used to enhance learner-centred themes. This is when students have the opportunity to create their own digital stories either individually or in a small group setting. There are many different kinds of software that can be used in the classroom for creating digital stories. For example, one of the most popular tools used to create digital story content is Microsoft’s Photo Story3 (Lunce, 2011). Photo Story is free to access and download, and is available for students to help create video stories from photos that are digitally captured by cameras or images from the Web (Sadik, 2008). Mixbook is another technology tool to help students in K-12, create digital stories that is simple and easy to use (Lunce, 2011).
A practical application of incorporating a digital storytelling task or lesson within a K-12 curriculum can be having a digital book talk. Much like presenting a book report, a digital book talk can have students read a piece of literature of their choice and create a short movie trailer using video editing software like Movie Maker or iMovie for the books they read (Dreon, Kerper & Landis, 2011). By creating a lesson that involves a digital book talk for students, it engages and provides reading motivation for students and helps them narrate a story using multimedia elements. In today’s YouTube generation, educators can also create instructional YouTube videos that teach students key concepts about a topic using a narrative style and other multimedia resources (sound, images, etc.) to keep students engaged. This can help many struggling readers visualize and envision the text they are reading and offer a platform to visually communicate meaning (Dreon, Kerper & Landis, 2011). Creating or viewing digital stories can connect students to content in ways that they are conveniently accustomed to absorbing information (Dreon, Kerper & Landis, 2011).
Conclusions and Future Recommendations
The concept of digital storytelling has the potential to create meaningful lessons using EdTech and enrich learning experiences for students. This kind of creative work provides students with a strong foundation in building twenty-first century skills (Robin, 2008). Twenty-first century skills describe the combination of digital literacy, global literacy, technological literacy, visual literacy and information literacy (Robin, 2008). Using digital storytelling in classroom settings encompasses and strengthens twenty-first century skills for students when they are able to use the latest technology to communicate effectively (Robin, 2008). As students actively participate in the digital storytelling process, they enhance their communication and literacy skills by conducting research, organizing their information, express ideas and information, ask questions and build meaningful narratives (Robin, 2008).
The concept of digital storytelling is just one of many ways of creating and implementing meaningful EdTech lessons into daily classroom settings. Regardless of whether educators choose to use digital storytelling or any other methods that incorporate technological tools, the aim is to use educational technology in an effective and meaningful manner. Using just one, or multiple EdTech tools can not only enrich learning experiences but can take teaching to a whole new level (Currie, 2016). Creating lessons using EdTech tools that have a purpose and are meaningful for students, can foster an innovative learning environment. This can be sustained if educators and students collaborate, and are committed to strive for excellence and engaged in deep learning.
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