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A Change of Screenery: Mindful Integration of Technology in Asynchronous Virtual Exchanges

Remember when you chose education because you were seeking a dynamic occupation, a noble calling, a vibrant job that would put you in front of people and not ensconced in some corporate cubicle, affixed to a computer screen for the waking hours of the workweek? “I’m going to be engaged and engaging,” you cried, “with real people! Not computers!”

Cue laugh track.

It’s ok, no judgment here: I, like our students, like you, am now spending a depressing amount of my time behind a screen. At least one…come to think of it, another significant portion of my time is spent looking over the shoulder of someone else who’s on a screen. Rather than bemoan our circumstances, though, and suffer the enervating ellipsis of ennui, let’s instead evaluate what we’re doing on these screens.

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, technology has become a linchpin in facilitating learning. Level Up Village is at the forefront of leveraging technology to connect students globally, allowing them to engage in meaningful dialogue through asynchronous virtual exchanges. However, as educators, it kind of falls on us—should we choose to accept this mission—to ensure that this technological integration prioritizes mindful usage over passive consumption. I think it’s time for an examination of curriculum conscience. Here’s a series of investigative reflections that—I hope—can help us navigate this terrain thoughtfully, ensuring that technology serves as a bridge rather than a barrier in our students’ educational journey.

Ensuring Interactivity in Student Experiences

LUV’s asynchronous virtual exchanges, where students trade videos to discuss various topics like literature, climate change, and culture, offer a unique blend of personal expression and digital communication. Like with so many of our social habits during—and immediately after—the pandemic, telecollaboration offers a great opportunity for interaction where distance would normally play an inhibitory role. However, even now, I often ask myself: How interactive is this digital experience? Are students merely passive recipients, or are they active participants in this digital dialogue? Does the whole thing feel sad?

I, like you, want desperately to enhance the interactivity of these exchanges; so I’ve been considering the following strategies:

  • Encourage Reflective Responses: Instead of just viewing and replying to videos, let’s encourage students to reflect deeply on the content, perhaps through guided questions or prompts that demand critical thinking. This is almost impossible not to do in a classroom setting since the students will undoubtedly spark the conversation with some observation, but we should remember that the reflection should weigh as much as the experience itself if it generates authentic interfacing and real conversations.
  • Facilitate Peer Review: Remember, when it comes to interaction, we can also force their hands. Consider implementing a system where your kids can offer constructive feedback on their peers’ contributions, fostering a more collaborative and interactive environment. Plus, your pupils will likely get more excited about their videos if they know there’s “enough to share with the rest of the class.”
  • Promote Real-Time Interaction: Besides considering the integration of occasional real-time discussions or workshops to deepen the connection between students, which we hope reduces the sense of isolation that can come from screen time, perhaps use the form of asynchronous videos to push your students out of their comfort zones and back into the world. I’m always railing against the staid, insipid, somniferous static confessional video where a kid sits in their room and delivers their message in a single take. It’s so boring, and it reaffirms the isolation created by the individuality of algorithmic experience! Tell them, or force them, to film among people, in different settings, amidst a variety of real-world goings-on! They’ll thank you for it, and it helps their workflow transition…

…From Passive Consumption to Active Creation

I think, at the heart of integrating technology in education lies its potential to transform students from passive consumers to active creators. We now know from recent studies that the top automated and generative AI web apps are being used by students in the context of education. But are these same students merely using high-tech tools for low-level tasks, or are they truly engaging in deep, meaningful learning? The cynic in me suspects the former, but we have every opportunity to ensure the latter!

Educators can:

  • Incorporate Diverse Tools: Introduce various tech tools that cater to different aspects of learning—be it coding platforms, digital art software, or interactive simulations. This diversification ensures that technology is a means to an educational end, not the end itself. You don’t need to know how it all works—most platforms are now designed to be so user-friendly that just asking the students to experiment on them ought to yield some good results. Plus, they may either already know their way around, or you could be jumpstarting a nascent hobby or skill!
  • Tap Into Students’ Interests and Passions: So your kids are into fantasy football, anime, digital art, or Dungeons and Dragons. What, you don’t think they’re not spending hours using AI and web apps to create rosters, posters, characters, lineups, and spreadsheets? I know kids who, at risk of failing their history classes, spent an inordinate amount of time recreating ancient civilizations down to minute details with Minecraft because it was extra credit and because…because MINECRAFT! Why not solicit your students for cool and interesting tech they can feature in their videos via screen recorders, tech they’re already using in their free time, and help them connect with other people about these topics?

Balancing Teacher Guidance with Technological Autonomy

Finding the right blend of teacher involvement and technological autonomy is crucial in asynchronous virtual exchanges. You don’t want to do the work for them, but instead, motivate them over the length of the project to continue and put lots of effort into each week’s task. Plus, as you know, each student has unique needs and learning styles, and technology should be an enabler, not a one-size-fits-all solution.

To strike this balance:

  • Customize Learning Paths: At this point, you can probably surmise how to use technology to create individualized learning experiences. This could mean offering different levels of challenges or allowing students to choose topics that interest them within the framework of the virtual exchange. As we said, simply opening up the playing field to the tools they’d like to use or are already comfortable using (or offering a choice of a new tool they can mess around with) can dismantle the prescriptive “busy work” that can feel so draining and instead encourage a problem-solving approach. Consider the difference in prescription: you could ask them to “create a PowerPoint presentation of your Fantasy Football Draft for this year,” or “demonstrate your workflow and thought process when drafting your FF team,” and notice that the latter will prompt results all over the map.
  • Maintain Human Touch: Ensure that your feedback and guidance are integral parts of the learning process. Technology should not replace you but rather augment the educational experience, keeping the human connection at the forefront. Honestly, if you watch the videos, or opine on your students’ creative choices, it will mean as much as having their international partners’ attention. Remember, when you get down to it, they’re doing all this for you…kind of…

In conclusion, as we navigate the integration of technology in asynchronous virtual exchanges, our compass should always be the mindful, interactive, and creative use of digital tools. By doing so, we ensure that technology in the classroom transcends passive consumption, fostering a learning environment where students are engaged, empowered, and connected, not just digitally, but personally and intellectually as well. I’d like to think that, while we ask our students to utilize technology to complete the tasks at hand and open a new world up for them to explore, we are also fostering healthy curiosity and reinforcing their participation and engagement with the world around them. Going forward, let’s always be mindful of what we ask them to do, and how