A Report from the Teaching with Technology Conference

by Meagan Bromley
March 4, 2012

On Friday, February 24th, the Center for Teaching Excellence at New York University hosted the Teaching with Technology Conference to promote conversations around how technology is currently being used in learning environments and how the field of education can develop the best possible relationship with technology across various disciplines and settings. Many issues central to the Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s mission and areas of focus were brought up in discussions of the day – particularly the notion of fostering evolving “new literacies” that children need to compete and cooperate in the interconnected, global world of the 21st century.

 

One key question of the conference was how to bridge learning experiences in global learning and collaborations across cultures. Christopher Hoadley highlighted the importance of engagement in designing such learning experiences, reminding those in the audience to be sensitive to different cultural opportunities and constraints for different learners, and to conceptualize people’s use of technology as part of a whole ecosystem. Diana Taylor of the Hemispheric Institute presented an overview of the organization’s digital library, which ties together different culture groups in the Americas, with translations of content into multiple languages. Additionally, courses being offered at the New York City campus of NYU are beginning to take a global classroom approach in their design, planning learning activities with the express purpose of increasing inter-cultural communications across global campuses (in locations like Abu Dhabi and Shanghai) and broadening student perspectives.

Considering the hodgepodge of academic fields represented with speakers in backgrounds as varied as Journalism, Computer Science, International Education, Business, Gaming and Public Service, the magic word of the day was most definitely collaboration. Members of the educational community are increasingly concerned with how information can be best shared, how individuals might work together over distances and across cultures and mediums, and how experts in their respective disciplines might effectively come together to inform the design of educational technologies. As the keynote speaker Clay Shirky pointed out, we are now living in a networked age.  However, in the online space, our society is currently in a situation where “we spend more money preventing people from getting to information than we do sharing it.” Teachers and researchers are going to need to be “massively collaborative” in their actions and mindsets in order to be successful. Those speaking at the conference offered many ideas and opportunities for advancing collaborative practices.  

An approach for promoting stronger bonds across learning experiences might focus on the cultural and personal preferences of the learners themselves, like work being done in gaming technology by Jan Plass and colleagues at the Games for Learning Institute (G4Li). Dr. Plass provided several examples of a how games for learning are currently being used in classrooms to encourage student collaboration and motivation in areas like math and science. The design of technology is an essential part of collaborative experiences as well, as Ken Perlin demonstrated with a new program for viewing e-books. The user experience centers around the idea of many readers collaborating over an authors work, in a format where examining books can be approached more like a searchable wiki.

David Schachter from the Wagner School of Public Service summed up the day’s discussion rather eloquently by applying the political scientist Robert Putnam’s notion of “bonding and bridging” to the future of education. The terms typically refer to social capital and networking in traditional business settings, however it became clear throughout the day, as a variety of perspectives and interests in teaching and learning were presented, that these same terms will be essential in teaching with technology as we head into the 21st Century. How can we use technology effectively to “bond” and “bridge” people and learning experiences?

There are many questions that arise when thinking about how to use technology effectively to create meaningful and successful learning experiences, but if the collaborative effort of the Teaching with Technology conference is any indication, there are a lot of great answers out there.