A Question About Technology in the Classroom

Trying to hash out some ideas and would like some feedback.

I have this activity I like to use in the class (many teachers do this, it is not my own idea, but I am not sure where I got it from).  We write down a central thought, or theme, and we start exploring it through words, objects, and ideas.  Here are the basic steps we follow in this routine:

  • Students write their ideas on sticky notes stick them to the board (anything that comes to mind)

  • We go through the notes and take out the ones that are repetitive, or have the same meaning (which itself causes a lot of argument and critical thinking!)

  • We categorize the notes into different columns (tables), diagrams (Venn, etc) or patterns (spirals, trees, boxes).

In the last part of the activity I usually let the students decide how to organize the notes.  It is interesting to see what types of thinking emerge from the discussions and often gives the inquiry a new and exciting direction.  I try not to plan the learning engagements past this point, instead, I use this as a jumping off point to where the students want to take the learning, and work my out from here.

My question is this; is something like this even possible to do in a technological environment?  I am sure there are many tools out there where this could be done, but would they be more effective that the old-fashioned sticky-note way?  What would make it more effective?  What aspects of technology would bring out different ideas, thoughts, and ways of thinking?

In my own experience, I think that the bumping together of ideas that comes with working together in a small group with a tangible product you can touch and manipulate is the foundation of good ideas.  One student suggests something, another adapts it slightly, and then another changes it again.  The final product is completely dependent on the group, or the collective.  One student could not have come up with it on their own.  It is, in effect, an idea that belongs not to one person, but which traces its lineage back over several people.  Take one brick out of the tower and it will fall, and cease to exist as it was.

Is this a limitation of technology in the classroom?

Of course, this is possible in an online medium.  Those of us who use Twitter, follow blogs, and are part of large PLN do this everyday.  Yet, there is something different that I can't quite put my finger on and elucidate.  A disconnect, perhaps, between people and ideas and how they grow and evolve.  I get a lot of ideas online, but there is something missing in this feedback loop.  Are my own ideas and interpretations not challenged?  Am I missing on that bumping together of those ideas to make them stronger?

Just thinking.  Any thoughts?


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