Chris Dede

Chris Dede, Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, researches how people learn in the wake of emerging technologies. His teaching models the use of information technology to distribute and orchestrate learning across space, time, and many interactive media. His research spans emerging technologies for learning, infusing technology into large-scale educational-improvement initiatives, policy formulation and analysis, and leadership in educational innovation. He currently conducts funded studies in developing and assessing learning environments based on modeling and visualization, online teacher professional development, wireless mobile devices for ubiquitous computing, and multiuser virtual environments.

T&L contributing editor Matt Bolch spoke with Chris Dede about his views on technology and learning.

1. What's the most surprising thing you've discovered about how people learn using technology?

Technologies can unobtrusively alter how we process information and express ourselves. Because I learned to write using pencils and typewriters, composing a single sentence took a couple minutes of thought, because changing what I had written was so difficult. As a byproduct of writing with a word processor, I now develop a sentence by thinking for a few seconds, typing an initial version, and modifying it several times afterwards. Writing as revision is more powerful than writing as one-step composition – and that skill developed automatically as I grew comfortable using a word processor. Today, many types of interactive media are unobtrusively reshaping how our minds work and how we communicate with others.

2. How important is teacher professional development in supporting new learning technologies?

Using learning technologies to automate presentational instruction is easier than rethinking pedagogy to foster active learning via interactive tools and media as catalysts. Getting the full benefit of technology in education involves unlearning adult behavior patterns, a challenge that requires intellectual, emotional, and social support. Without professional development, most teachers end up with “old wine in new bottles.”

3. How does technology play a role in classroom (i.e. not individual) learning?

Technology can help teachers to customize and personalize instruction to individual students, even in the group setting of a classroom. By motivating students and helping them to learn independently of the teacher, while keeping rich, diagnostic records of each learner’s progress, interactive media can aid teachers’ understanding of how to help each individual. By fostering peer collaboration in both virtual and real settings, technology can aid students in helping each other learn.