Integrating Practical and Academic Knowledge: How Technology Can Bridge the Gap

Last module I spoke about Dr. Tony Bate’s conception of a “knowledge-based society” and articulated some hesitation I feel as an educator in an increasingly tech and practical skill driven world. The truth is practical knowledge is not my weildhouse; academic knowledge is. I often fear that emphasis will be “placed on the utility of knowledge for commercial purposes,” (p. 2.7.1) instead of on the importance of knowledge for knowledge’s sake – knowledge being integral to critical thinking skills and active citizenship. Dr. Bates assuaged my fears, however, in suggesting that focusing only on practical knowledge is “a mistake, even in terms of economic development,” (p. 2.7.1) and contending that academic and applied knowledge are, and should be, deeply integrated.

So how best could I integrate applied knowledge into my academic curriculum, I asked myself? How could applied knowledge actually better support academic development? What types of digital tools and environments are out there to support both individual and collaborative learning in and out of the classroom?

Part of integrating practical and academic knowledge involves tearing down the classroom walls. Students should engage with their academic subjects in practical ways in their own time. The online textbook is a great way to do this. It allows students to intellectually explore as they use practical-internet based skills to best interact with their textbook.

In my own AP U.S. History class we often suggest that our students use the companion website for our textbook, America’s History (2007), at http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/henretta7ehs/#t_771262____ The website offers students several resources integral to learning at home. The website offers an e-book version of the textbook, should a student want to virtually interact with its contents, as well as section and chapter reviews and practice quizzes. The site also includes resource guides that point students towards additional online resources. Instructors can also enjoy in the site’s resources – they can check out its supplemental primary source materials and lesson plan suggestions, and can even check in on student interaction with the website.

Another part of pairing practical and academic knowledge is asking that students collaborate on learning projects. Google Applications for Education, https://www.google.com/edu, is a widely-used practical tool that enables students to engage in collaborative activities and projects. Students can simultaneously edit documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and more, as they interact with a site integral to the commercial workplace. Google Applications for Educators also allows for a great deal of instructional oversight, as teachers can create accounts for their classrooms. They can check in on student collaboration outside of the classroom, and offer insight and guidance from the privacy of their own home.

The trick, of course, is to keep thinking on ways to incorporate digital tools that may someday be integral to the commercial workplace into the academic setting. We can focus our energies on academic knowledge while simultanously teaching our students practical skills that support both individual and collaborative learning in and outside of the classroom walls.

References

Bates, A.W. (n.d.). Fundamental change in education. In Teaching in a digital age (2). Retrieved from http://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/part/chapter-1fundamental-change-education/.

 

Telling (Digital) Stories of our Nation’s Past: Using Film Technology in the U.S. History Classroom

The technological revolution has knocked on our classroom door, and it is asking to come in. Proponents of using technology in the classroom insist that it allows students to investigate learning in new and individualized ways. Teachers must focus on the skills students need in our rapidly advancing world while still maintaining the integrity of intellectual and independent learning.

Dr. Tony Bates purports that we are living in a “knowledge-based society,” or a society dependent on its 21st century skills so I began this week by questioning how I could better incorporate the tech-skills needed for this same society into the Social Studies classroom. I asked what types of tech-driven projects have been used in the History classroom that have allowed student to demonstrate creativity while constructing genuine experiential knowledge? What innovative ideas were out there and what technological products and processes were best for students to engage fully in exploration-based projects?

I began answering this question by reading up on digital storytelling. History, after all, is our world’s narrative; it’s a compilation of stories – biased, tainted, epic, and tragic. Bob Dillan (2014) writes of the power of digital storytelling and promises it is “now both easy to produce and simple to publish [and is] an ideal way to energize learning and engage students at a deeper level.” The digital storytelling model allows students to showcase their learning not only for their peers and teacher, but also for a public beyond the school building.

I have found that telling stories, particularly through film (with its important visual aids and historical reenactments), really brings History alive for students. My mentor teacher and I have been discussing developing a project in which our AP U.S. History students create a digital story through a historical film reel. We plan to introduce a little bit of film history to the course — i.e. when it was that the reel was first invented and what early filmmakers did with it — and ask that students channel the storytelling skills of those early filmmakers and document something of that time in a short film sketch. Dillan’s work assured me that there was a lot out there. Students can use tools such as WeVideo, Youtube, and iMovie to craft and edit short films to better tell their digital stories of the past.

Further investigation brought me to teachinghistory.org, a website with incredible resources for Social Studies teachers, full of ideas for best practices and suggested teaching materials. I stumbled upon an article about integrating technology in the classroom, which referred to the Reel American History Project (see http://digital.lib.lehigh.edu/trial/reels/), a film project created by Lehigh University students which offers a list of independent and historically significant films, and explains how best to use them in the classroom. Each film helps students construct a deeper understanding of history. The project also encourages students to submit their work to its archive so they can be shown in other classes throughout the country.

Teachinghistory.org also described Digital Storyteller (see http://www.primaryaccess.org./) a web-based tool used for creating short digital movies using text, images, and narration. “The goal,” teachinghistory.org states, “is to guide students in effectively using, interpreting, and integrating primary sources” (n.d.). Teachers can even create a classroom account and select and annotate resources students may use to create their 1-3 minute movies.

Students are always more engaged in their learning when they are asked to produce something creative, original, and uniquely their own. Short film reels will allow them to do just that, and to tell their own digital stories through independent renderings of the past.

Is it just me or is technology’s knocking on the classroom door getting even louder? We better let it in, invite it to stay, and see what it can do! At the very least it can help us tell pretty great visual stories of times long past.

References

Bates, A.W. (n.d.). Fundamental change in education. In Teaching in a digital age (1). Retrieved from http://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/part/chapter-1fundamental-change-education/.

Dillon, Bob (2014). The power of the digital story. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/the-power-of-digital-story-bob-dillon.

Teachinghistory.org: National History Education Clearinghouse (2016). Integrating technology in the history classroom. Retrieved from http://teachinghistory.org/teaching-materials/ask-a-master-teacher/23634.