Rewired: The Psychology of Technology

How technology influences family life, education, the workplace, and every waking moment of our lives.

Bring a "Knowledge Broker" to School Today!

Adding Tech to Your Classroom? Try a "Knowledge Broker"

Note to Teachers:
If you want to integrate technology into your curriculum consider a "knowledge broker"

Over the past 5 years or so I have given workshops and talks to thousands of teachers at various schools and conferences across the U.S. and in other countries. I always start the same way. First, I present what I know from my research about generational differences in the use of media and technology. Second, I talk about multitasking, or task switching, and how it also varies across generations (and may have less of a negative impact than some educators think). Third, I finally introduce a model for educating these Net Generation and iGeneration students. At that point I can see that at least half of the teachers are grumbling to themselves and talking about how they don't have time to learn new technology and how it is changing so rapidly that by the time they learn something new the students have passed them by and the new is now the ancient (at least in cyber years).

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This is where I introduce the concept of a "knowledge broker." A knowledge broker is someone who has three characteristics. First, he or she is up to date with technology, not only in the educational arena, but across the board. Second, your knowledge broker must be able to have the interest in finding resources for any class content. Third, and perhaps most important, the knowledge broker must be able to transfer his/her knowledge to a teacher - who is most likely not all that excited about technology or at best a bit skeptical - in a calm, jargon-free style. The knowledge broker must be patient, willing to tolerate numerous questions, and available for help at any time. Although this is not a new concept, it seems that it is not widely understood in the educational arena. Teachers are being pushed from all sides. The state government tells the administrators that in order to get a good school rating they must teach specific content and have their students obtain high test scores on that material. At the other end, our teachers are educating students who spend their day absorbed with multiple media at all times of the day and night. They are little sponges that gleefully try any new technology and individualize it to their tastes and needs. But when they step into the classroom they are faced with a ‘unitasking" environment where the teacher provides a wealth of content - information - mostly using the old fashioned lecture technique. Oh sure, teachers have, for the most part, mastered PowerPoint to make their presentations more jazzy, but behind their backs the students call it "Death by PowerPoint." Some teachers get whiteboards and dazzle themselves, while the students, for the most part, crave the media-rich environments in which they live when they are not in class. It is a conundrum to say the least.

The worst part is that most administrators realize that technology is critical to engaging and educating our youth but they have little or no money for equipment and once that budget is exhausted there is nothing left for allowing the teachers to develop an interesting, appealing course content that will grab the students' attention. It is a Catch-22 to say the least. This is where the knowledge broker comes into play.

In my latest book, Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn, I discussed an interesting article by Dr. Sandra Kay Plair, an educational technologist at Michigan State University. In 2008, Dr. Plair, in a forward thinking article in The Clearing House, wrote about knowledge brokers as a way to revamp professional development in order to introduce and integrate technology into the classroom. Here is just a sampling of Dr. Plair's thoughts: "Changes in the contour of technology-related professional development, as with most reforms, will not be simple. Policymakers and school administrators need to appreciate the difficulties many veteran teachers experience with integrating technology into comfortable, existing pedagogy. This change can also be a costly endeavor that creates avoidance rather than acceptance. Allowing teachers to fumble along implementing technology experiences haphazardly is no longer productive or effective. Brokering knowledge with a different kind of professional development resource can ensure that technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge are intersected and merged to alter the way teachers teach and students learn. The potential for these knowledge brokers to support all teachers can only lead to successful learning, and that is what it is all about."

Dr. Plair is spot on. We cannot keep hoping that our teachers implement classroom technology without giving them some assistance. That's where the knowledge broker fits into the equation. According to Dr. Plair, the knowledge broker needs to have fivev different "skills" or roles to play. First, in Dr. Plair's words, the knowledge broker needs to be a "harbinger of innovation" meaning someone who keeps up with new educational technologies by attending conferences and staying connected with other knowledge brokers. Second, he/she must have time to develop classroom (or outside of classroom) technology-related activities. This means that they are the ones who learn about new, cool, engaging tools and these are the people who have the time to do all this learning and experimenting. Third, these select individuals must be excellent teachers and know how to explain complicated technology to digital immigrants. I will talk about this part later. Fourth, knowledge brokers have to be available to help the teacher learn the technology, help introduce it to the students (or stand by while the teacher does the introduction to help with the expected problems), and be willing to return calls - shouts - for help immediately. Finally, knowledge brokers need to be catalysts for change in the school environment which means that they have to be able to assume all four roles PLUS coordinating all the present and future technology integration. In other words, they have to love it and embrace it and get the teachers to feel the same way.

What should the knowledge broker teach? This is where I come from a different place than many educators. I see these iGeneration students gleefully using their technology to access Whatever, Wherever, Whenever - the new WWW. They are all on Facebook and all access YouTube with regularity. They have an iPod, a smartphone and a computer with Internet access.

[Note to teachers who say that their students are among the "have nots" who are too poor to have these technologies. In general, I would agree with you if the data didn't show that social networking is shared by all, regardless of socio-economic status. These students find ways to get online including at the library, friends' houses, and anywhere they can.]

My argument has always been to take advantage of the omnipresence of technology after school hours and provide assignments that use technology to push the content of the course. For example, if you are teaching about Ronald Reagan's presidency have your knowledge broker find a variety of sources that disseminate the content you need to teach via podcast, vodcast (YouTube is a great source) or other means. Then you, the teacher, can use the time that would have been spent presenting those wonderful PowerPoints in class to talk to the students about what they learned. You can help them understand the material, assimilate it and synthesize it with all the other material in the course. In essence you become a "teacher" again rather than simply a content delivered. The best part of this model is that if the students don't seem to understand the material after your in-class synthesis experience, you can send them back to the same online source or even one using a different format or modality.

In TechnoStress, a book that I co-wrote way back in 1998, Dr. Michelle Weil and I proposed a set of 13 rules for introducing technology to any system. These rules were intended to fit in a workplace, a school, and even a family system. Here are those rules:

  1. Limit session time of training or support: short and focused.
  2. Teach single concepts at a time.
  3. Avoid jargon at all costs.
  4. Use humor: technology does not have to be a serious business. It can be fun.
  5. Use hands-on training - the teacher's hands, not yours.
  6. Teach on the same equipment that the teacher will use.
  7. Show a variety of sources for help if you are not available.
  8. Match your teaching style to the teacher's learning style: auditory, visual, or tactile are all styles that can be used to teach and support technology.
  9. Don't assume any pre-existing knowledge.
  10. Start by understanding what the teacher knows, not what she doesn't know.
  11. Model actions first and then step back and let the teacher make mistakes. Often more learning happens when you make a mistake then when you do it correctly.
  12. Summarize often: Repetition and summarizing are good teaching/support tools.
  13. Start early: Don't start the teaching or support after the first catastrophe.

Who should serve as your knowledge broker? In a recent article that I wrote for Educational Leadership I suggested that the knowledge broker could be a tech-savvy older student who has already taken the course and knows the content that needs to be transmitted, a local community college student perhaps for internship credit, or even a parent. I missed two important categories of potential knowledge brokers and have heard about this from many educators. The first is the campus computer technology or IT coordinator. This is a person who may very well fit the bill and fulfill all five of Dr. Phair's criteria. The second is a librarian or media specialist, sometimes referred to as a teacher librarian or media specialist. Cristen Harden, a library media specialist in Colorado Springs, wrote "One of my biggest roles is to gather online resources for the teachers in my school as we collaboratively write lesson plans. I spend a large part of my day searching for resources and showing teachers how to use them." Another, Rachel Kellerman, a teacher librarian in Palo Alto, wrote "We are the only professionals who are explicitly trained to teach information literacy and 21st Century skills." Both Cristen and Rachel (plus several others who wrote me) are absolutely correct in identifying another excellent source for your knowledge broker. Tap those resources! Find a knowledge broker, or two, or even three, and set them loose on showing you how to integrate technologies that students already find engaging and use almost 24/7/365.

Postscript: I was just about ready to send this live on PT blogs and realized that I had not given you any resources. Here are a few:

 

Larry Rosen, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills and the author of Rewired.

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