National Writing Project

A Technology Toolkit That Is Really an Educational Toolkit

By: Paul Oh
Date: March 2008

Summary: In her column "Technology Toolkit," Minnesota teacher-consultant Sandy Hayes examines the educational possibilities afforded by technology, sharing ways it can allow both teachers and students to view the world with a new perspective.


What might a teacher find in a technology toolkit?

If you're digging around in a magazine column called "Technology Toolkit," written by teacher-consultant Sandy Hayes of the Minnesota Writing Project (MWP), you're likely to find an examination of peer conferencing using an online bulletin board, an exhortation to understand and experience our students' "MySpace culture," or a how-to on mapping online literary road trips with your class.

Hayes, a former technology liaison for the MWP and an eighth grade English teacher at Becker Middle School in Becker, Minnesota, has been writing the "Technology Toolkit" column on current issues involving technology and literacy for NCTE's Voices from the Middle for the past two years.

The column, Hayes says, is not meant to showcase cool new projects, but rather to examine more deeply the educational possibilities afforded by technology.

"It's not about learning how to use the tools," she explains. "It's about understanding how to use the tools to learn."

‘It’s not about learning how to use the tools,’ she explains. ‘It’s about understanding how to use the tools to learn.’

Transformative Writing Experiences

Hayes has been employing technology in her teaching since the days of the Apple IIe (think mid '80s), and has always felt that computers could have a profound impact on education.

Then, two summers ago, she helped facilitate an MWP youth writing camp attended predominantly by underserved children, many of whom hadn't had much access to technology. And it was a technology project that "totally hooked them."

The campers were asked to create a video poem or story based on a work of art they observed as part of a trip to the Weisman Art Museum on the University of Minnesota campus. The students jumped at the chance to work on the digital interplay between sound, image, and text, Hayes recalls, and created wonderful pieces.

"That just sold it," Hayes says. "When I went away from that experience, I felt even more convinced that technology is vital for kids."

Technology allows kids—and teachers, too—to view the world with a new perspective.

"Bottom line, I think that's what the writing project is about: having writing experiences that transform your thinking, and helping teachers see things in different ways and bringing that back to kids."

Finding Space in MySpace

Hayes gets some ideas for her columns from her own practice. In her piece titled "Improving Writing: Online Bulletin Boards," she includes excerpts from exchanges between her students that emerged from a threaded discussion during a writing workshop focusing on poetry and memoir.

Sometimes the idea for a column emerges from current educational trends, such as in her piece, "How Can We Already Be Left Behind When Nobody Told Us Where We Were Going?," in which she critiques the technology component of No Child Left Behind for mandating assessment without providing a sufficient, updated set of learning standards.

And in her piece, "The MySpace Culture," Hayes is responding to popular technologies among youth, in this case the exploding interest in social networks. After providing a litany of statistics that demonstrate the exponential growth in these online spaces, Hayes challenges educators to understand and then help shape their students' experiences in these forums:

"Giving students guidance and time to participate in youth culture, to create personal and meaningful content, and to create rules for our community and still have fun will help them move more responsibly into the larger spaces of our digital culture."

In her columns, Hayes acknowledges that it can be a struggle to integrate technology in meaningful ways into work with students. Apart from learning new technologies, teachers also have to deal with the fear that these technologies will fail at the most inopportune moments. Hayes, in one of her pieces, offers up hard-learned lessons such as: "Work gets lost. Corollary: Even back-up work gets lost."

But like the true writing project teacher she is, Hayes says the critical thing in situations like that is taking stock of the process.

"Even when the work is lost," she says, "the doing of the work isn't lost. In other words, it isn't about the product. It's about learning in a new and different way."

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