Skype is one such example of using technology to build students' cultural awareness. Teachers can use Skype for whole-class discussion with another individual or class somewhere else in the nation or the world. Students can also communicate on a more personal level with their very own "Skype pal."
Another option is for students to share their learning on a class or individual blog to communicate with others around the world. They are excited to learn where their commenters are from and learn more about them since they are personally invested in their own blog posts. The comments they receive may also represent varying opinions or perspectives from their own. The lesson here would be that there can be more than one way of looking at a particular topic, and that this does not have to come down to someone being right or wrong. Through connecting with others around the world and building their cultural awareness, students become more engaged in their learning. For example, Lyn Hilt describes her students' heightened interest in the tornadoes in Alabama or the earthquake in Haiti after making personal connections, either through Skyping or blogging, with people directly involved in those events.
Technology can also be used to meet the varying needs that come from the diversity within our own classrooms. This is known as differentiation, which is "a way of looking at instruction that is centered on the belief that students learn in different ways" (Smith and Throne, 2009, p. 30). The concept of differentiation is not new. Smith and Throne (2009) point out that it has been around since the days of the one-room schoolhouse, in which a single teacher had to tailor the learning for students in a range of ages and grade levels (p. 30). Luckily, today's technology has the power to make this differentiated instruction (DI) much easier to accomplish. Edyburn (2006) lists modern examples of assistive technology, such as text-to-speech software, dictation services, fact recall websites, and online math computational tools (p. 22). He explains, however, that there is a cultural shift that must occur before assistive technology tools such as these can be fully used without consequence. He explains that there exists a bias called "naked independence" in which our culture "exults the performance of able-bodied individuals and devalues the performance of others who must rely on external devices or tools" (p. 22). He concludes with this powerful statement: "The long-term consequences of academic failure must motivate the profession to intervene with carefully designed learning activities that ensure success from the onset" (p. 23). Whether or not our culture is ready to accept it, technology can certainly help with this type of intervention. Students can create different artifacts of their learning and teachers can use technology to offer a variety of assessment strategies. We can use technology to go beyond differentiation to truly personalize learning for each student. Technology makes it possible to have "the ability to learn what we want, when we want, with whomever we want as long as we have access" (Richardson, 2012, p. 23). One fascinating example comes from the foreign language program at the Trinity School in Atlanta:
Students choose to study one of 23 world languages offered in Rosetta Stone's online classroom. Each student can work through the curriculum at his or her own pace under the guidance of a world languages instructor at the school who may or may not know the language but who is an expert in facilitating language learning, goal setting, and personalized practice offline. According to teacher Megan Howard, the personalized nature of the program requires teachers "to meet each child where he or she is and differentiate support and curriculum on the basis of language and learning style rather than grouping or whole class. That's a necessary shift in the role of the teacher." (Richardson, 2012, p. 25)
Edyburn, D. (2006). Failure is not an option. Learning & Leading with Technology, September 2006, pp. 20-23.
Smith, G. and Throne, S. (2009). Differentiated instruction and middle school learners. In Differentiating Instruction with Technology in Middle School Classrooms (pp. 29-39). ISTE.
Richardson, W. (2012). Preparing students to learn without us. Educational Leadership, February 2012, pp. 22-26.