As an online graduate student, of course I have grown to be supportive of technology for convenience, connection, communication, and the overall ease of access to knowledge and informational resources. Today’s learning opportunities are a far cry from the musty card-catalogue I grew up learning to use. As a teacher of electives and special populations, my least favorite use of technology is for cumbersome or intricate Learning Management Systems, which is why I rely on Canvas by Instructure when I am forced to use a tracking or grading portal for distance learning (http://www.instructure.com/try-canvas). Canvas is also a well know class-portal for posting podcasts, and for hosting live webinars and screen-sharing sessions.
But today’s technology is best prized for its accessibility, not it’s exclusivity, which is why Video Podcasting on sites like YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/) are creating learning-communities of its own. The interconnectivity of blog sites with social networks like Facebook, and Media-hosting sites like YouTube are creating amebic groups of learners more akin to a “school” of like-minded fish journeying together than a concrete box “school” where pupils are assigned a seat. Ted.com (http://www.ted.com/) and TedEd (http://ed.ted.com/lessons) are two other favorite sites for educational video. The use of Facebook alone, (https://www.facebook.com/) can act as a learning portal and classroom if individuals choose to Like Fabook Pages which offer educated content, and are encouraged to share educated ideas and discussions via the Comment feature.
On the other hand, live interaction between instructor and student have come a long way with technology, and now coaches, tutors, trainers, and mentors are capitalizing on tools like Skype (http://www.skype.com/en/) and Google+ Hangouts (http://www.google.com/+/learnmore/hangouts/) to chat, demonstrate, and monitor individual participants and small learning groups remotely. UStream (http://www.ustream.tv/) is also one live-stream Broadccasting site I have had the opportunity to try in conjunction with a professional conference, which allows for faster and clearer one-way live communication, along with a live text-chat box for viewer response at a lower-bandwidth than other two-way video-conferencing requires.
Given the availability of mobile technology, blended learning is even more possible today in any setting. Mobile phones and touch devices with cameras and internet connection are at least as powerful as the pencil as a tool for education. Like many teachers, I have become reliant on useful and unique tools like Pinterest to visually organize not only personal interest items, but lesson ideas, project samples, and instructional information (http://www.pinterest.com/). The ease of being able to look up a photo and link to a video or written instructions for nature-craft idea, while on a hike in the woods with a group of children, is simply revolutionary in means of accessibility to both knowledge and creative inspiration. Educators are beginning to realize the value of such a tool, akin to using a traditional cork-board as a learning surface, rather than as just a display-space as noted in these two blog posts on Edutopia.org (http://www.edutopia.org/) written and shared recently:
Here is a video tutorial of how to use Pinterest, and how to incorporate it into lessons for visual posting and sharing of educational content like project displays, writing prompts, categories to share, and for topical discussions:
Surely the opportunity does not stop there. Between learning games, simulations, virtual worlds, and augmented reality, the technology of today’s mere blogs, wikispaces, and webcasts, will someday seem as musty as that old card catalog. More than offering mere pop-up advertising as you walk down the street, GoogleGlass is already finding it’s place in education and as a valuable tool with the disabled:
Regardless of whether a teacher enjoys incorporating technology into their lessons, it is already becoming incorporated into our world, and learners of all ages are utilizing it to aquire new knowledge and skills every day.