Technology Tools Can Increase Student Advocacy
Over the past few months I have had a number of encounters that I can only categorize as magical. On several occasions, when working with either students or teachers, I have had the pleasure of sharing in moments that take my breath away. What unifies these moments is they are all instances of people advocating for themselves, their own interests, their own goals, their own vision. Let me tell you a little bit more about these moments.
Several months ago I was approached by a student who was interested in buy a tablet. The student had done some preliminary research but wanted to share ideas with me and get my opinion. The student discussed their needs with me, and in so doing recognized their challenges and was identifying technological solutions to some of these hurdles. About a month later the student came racing up to me waving the new device with glee. We then had an even more detailed conversation and trouble shot some of the things that the student had specific questions about or needed help with. The student had spent time playing around with the different features and had discussed the use of the device with teachers. Having this tool enabled the student to test different applications and functionalities, ultimately settling on those that best met their needs. When the student needed to discuss this with their teachers, this became a much more authentic and relevant process, for both parties. The device in questions enabled the student to voice record lectures, taking notes along side. The device had typing prediction, voice recognition, calendaring, and access to all google apps for education, which is what the school uses. This student carefully thought out the purchase, owned the tool, advocated for their needs and really owned their education in the process.
Another way that technology supports self-advocacy is simply through utilizing the internal accessibility features of the computer, in this case a Mac, and/or adding chrome apps to the browser. It is essential to discuss these preferences and changes with students making them apart of the process of personalizing their interface. For example, students with visual impairments can increase the cursor size and change the screen contrast. There are several Chrome browser apps that will either read content to you, or will write content if you speak it. Both of these functionalities are extremely helpful for a wide variety of learners.
In our pilot there are many ways that we have noticed how access to the tools, and more specifically the data, has changed the ways that students advocate for themselves and their learning. Using Khan Academy in math class has encouraged students to pay attention to their own ‘stats’ and in turn they share in each other’s accomplishments and push themselves to do better. I have heard students speak about feeling like they need more instruction or help with a given topic because of the data that they have received from a given program. These are magical moments and I relish them whenever I witness them.
Since AERA is in town, I had the opportunity to spend time hearing about the amazing projects that are going on in education around the country and the globe. I saw one presentation about edu-blogging. Now there is a lot of work that shows how blogging as part of a classroom assignment can help students find their voice, and strengthen their digital communication skills. This presentation focused on the expanding world of academics entering the blogging space. Now as professors and researchers the written word is a major form of expression, yet it takes a very specific form. This presenter was arguing for the freedom and creativity that comes with blogging, as well as a space to dialogue about relevant ideas and advocate for perhaps nonstandard or unique perspectives.
I took a break from the conference and wandered over to the Ferry Building to have lunch with a visiting scholar who does research on new technologies in teaching and learning. Here is a link to her work on learning blogs. Her more recent work is on Facebook, and more specifically the ways that this particular social media platform can be incorporated into teaching and learning. From her work with many pre-service teachers and professionals she has determined that the strength of this particular social media tool is in the way that it facilitates and encourages informal learning communities. It is clear from data dives that this informal learning space contributes to academic, intellectual, and application gains. Why? Because it is a space for students to share, support each other, and have some of their needs met. So Facebook, as an example of a social media tool, also increases students self -advocacy and communication skills.
So it seems that all ages, whether in the K-12 education system, or a university student, or a scholar, technology tools provide opportunities to develop self-advocacy skills and improve how we communicate our ideas and needs, as well as an eco-system for having these needs met.