Technology is a tool that can change the nature of learning.
First and foremost, educators want students to learn. It is certainly not enough to tell educators that they need to use the boxes and wires that have invaded their schools simply because they are expensive or because students need to know how to use the latest widget. If it's clear that technological tools will help them achieve that goal, educators will use those tools.
The real world is not broken down into discrete academic disciplines. I've heard a number of teachers say that they would like to be able to change the way they teach -- to find ways to implement project-based, multidisciplinary lessons. Let's think about how that might happen when technology is used to support learning.
Technology lends itself to exploration. But before technology can be used effectively, exploration must be valued as important to both teaching and learning. In a technology-rich classroom, students might search the Web for information, analyze river water, chart the results, and record what they've learned on the computer.
In such an environment, acquiring content changes from a static process to one of defining goals the learners wish to pursue. Students are active, rather than passive -- producing knowledge and presenting that knowledge in a variety of formats.
In such an environment, educators can encourage a diversity of outcomes rather than insisting on one right answer. They can evaluate learning in multiple ways, instead of relying predominately on traditional paper and pencil tests. And perhaps most importantly, teachers and students can move from pursuing individual efforts to being part of learning teams, which may include students from all over the world.
Of course, active learning is rarely a clean, neat process. Students engaged in such a process can create busy, noisy, and messy classrooms. It's important to recognize that this kind of learning takes practice -- for both the teacher and the students.
Activities and learning environments must be carefully guided and structured so learners are fully engaged in their learning. Students must learn that exploration doesn't mean just running around doing what they want and ending up who knows where. Educators must recognize that if students are investigating and asking questions, writing about what they're learning, and doing those things in an authentic context, then they are learning to read and write and think.
In a technology-rich classroom, students don't "learn" technology. Technology merely provides the tools to be used for authentic learning. It is a means, not an end.
Technology provides educators with the opportunity to move from simply streamlining the way things have always been done to really imagining things they would like to do.