Using Technology to Create Student Centered, Democratic Classrooms

My most important goal, and biggest challenge, as a novice teacher is trying to create a classroom that is student centered and democratic. This presents numerous challenges, not the least of which is defining what I mean by these terms. A few years back, I opened my Teaching Philosophy Statement for my ed program with the following:

The future is filtered through the walls of our schools. Schools are perhaps the primary socializing institution in our society. While the family and religion also play prominent roles in determining who people are, it is through the act of educating that youth are welcomed into the world that everyone in this country shares. The way in which we choose to educate our children will serve in many ways to create this shared world. If we desire to live in a world characterized by active democratic participation, critical evaluation of authority and the status quo, and social justice and equality, then we must find ways to mirror, question, and explore these notions in our schools.

While this statements aren’t a definition of a democratic, student-centered classroom, they certainly speak to what I have in mind. Nothing I’ve thought or experienced since has altered my commitment to these ideas in any ways. As I discovered blogging towards the end of my last year teaching, I saw it as a great tool to help me move in the direction I had set out for myself as a student teacher.

Clarence recently asked

[W]ill changing the communications structure of a classroom “automatically” change the type of learning that occurs, or does it only make it more possible? What about making alterations to the learning? Will this drive changes in the communication structure?

I think Clarence is on the right path here, that certain uses of technology, such as the blogging, podcasting, and vcasting him and many others are using in their classrooms, can move towards a new “communication structure” in the classroom. However, I think these technologies are only a tool, and that if one is really interested in creating new communication structures (a democratic, student-centered one, for instance) then the entire power dynamic of the classroom and what happens inside it needs to shift. It needs to give students more control over both the content and methods through which they learn. It means conversations should not follow the “bicycle wheel model” (every comment goes back to the teacher), but rather that students should be actively engaging each other without the necessary mediation of the teacher. It means that students should have an active and meaningful role in assessing their selves and their peers.

As I’ve really started reading, thinking, and writing about teaching once again recently, one of the issues I’ve continually considered is that it seems a lot of the blogs I read are primarily concerned with technology use, and blogging in particular, as an end in itself (notable exceptions include Tim, Chris, and Darren). Unless blogging is used as a tool with which to build a larger educational experience which supports and reifies the democratic and empowering power that blogging has, I fear that many students will miss out on its full potential, as well as the full potential which the classroom presents. (Related, check out the AMAZING responses to Nancy’s post asking why teachers blog).

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