There Is No Spoon : Seamless Tech Integration in the Lit Class?

matrix neo kung fu

Down The Rabbit Hole 

When in doubt, use students as guinea pigs (as rabbits?). So, in doubt, I invited my students to join me on my journey towards seamless tech integration in the Lit class.

The Matrix
Down The Rabbit Hole…and into the MATRIX!

BACKGROUND: I had my students fill out a survey for me which addressed their use of technology, their work habits, and their anxiety level for upcoming assignments. They are most worried about two upcoming assessments where they need to write essays using literature we’ve studied this year. They also agreed that they love to use SKYPE and Youtube for every-day use, and that they’d enjoy something as easy/ fun/ mindless to use  for class purposes. In our discussion we agreed that perhaps a video series overview of the literature would help them succeed in these two tasks. But, we went on with the design lab to see what else they could do.

Today in class, my students and I went through the DESIGN LAB process presented to us by Cohort 21. Their challenge: to design a tool that would promote maximum literature engagement, and that they’d likely use for themselves.

This is where they blew my mind!

They collaborated to create excellent designs in the design lab. These designs were tested using the “extreme user” model.  “Imagine your designs will be used by the student who currently takes notes every class and reads the literature many times, and also the student who has never opened the book.”

Let me tell you about three of those designs.

Get Appy

The first design was for a review app. It looked like this:


Does it look familiar? That may be because it looks exactly like this:



This is Trivia Crack, a trivia-quiz game where you can compete against friends in timed challenges. Do you have any students in your classroom using cell phones? They’re likely playing Trivia Crack. Actually, the initial wave of popularity  in the last two weeks has started to die down here. Nonetheless, more people seem to be addicted to to Trivia Crack ) than not. So what did my students do here? They designed an app to closely resemble an app they were already comfortable with and enjoyed engaging with.

I have been searching for a quiz game that they can use to compete with one another for fun. Other than Kahoot , I have found QuizUp  –thanks to THIS discussion thread.  So I have a starting point, at least.


Digitize My World

The second design looked like this:



That’s a sketch of someone’s MacBook.  What they’ve designed here is a responsive website for essay practice. Instead of on paper, these students have  designed a website that provides randomized IB essay questions, especially Exam Paper 2 questions, with sample level 7 (top level) completed paper 2’s to use as exemplars.

I give students this kind of task with tree-based materials before exams in my class. They want to practice.  And they want to see excellence to emulate excellence. Plus, they want instant feedback if possible. Again, this is familiar to them : they already have a tool like this. They simply want unlimited access to sample questions and excellent exemplars. But they want them digitized, fast, and all at once.

They’re asking all the right questions. They want to know:

What does an IB question look like?

What does a good answer look like to that question?

How do I write an excellent essay?


My next steps here are easier than app development: I can create a website with  a database of essay materials for them.

I Know Kung-Fu

This was the third prototype:


Yeah, that’s for real.

It’s a pill: a pill that would allow us to remember things without having to do any work.

At first I thought : oh no! But after some brief reflection, I realized… YES! That’s what I want for this project, or at least, what I want it to feel like. I want their engagement, review, and retention to feel like the least amount of work with the greatest pay-off.

They want their tools for learning to be so integrated that they don’t even know they’re learning. Well, actually they want to not have to learn. They want this:

Matrix Plug


Eventually, according to Ray  Kurzweil, we’ll have that matrix-y-head plug. But in the mean time,  what we really need is a way for students to feel like they’re gaining mastery-level-knowledge effortlessly, while activating their critical thinking skills (which, even when we can access neck-ro-chip knowledge, we will need to facilitate).

Notice, none of the students were interested in designing as a part of learning. They wanted formulas, review, and instant understanding.

There Is No Spoon

Seamless : the tools between the user and the learning should not really exist. You know how we don’t notice we’ve been on youtube/twitter/facebook/in-front-of-the-tv for 4 hours? That’s what I’m talking about. That’s the kind of “tools” the students are looking for.

So that’s my first challenge in my Action plan : invisible/unobtrusive tools.

I also want to integrate content creation for learning — which my students aren’t even thinking about. You know the old theory that students learn best by teaching? Well, apparently it works, cuz science. So I’m not going todevelop the materials – they will.  Having them develop learning materials for others will certainly help them retain content.

So the second part of my action plan is to use the Active and Collaborative parts of the Technology Integration matrix (TIM) (there’s that thematic tie-in) to both facilitate seamless tech integration AND improve students’ active participation and collaborative synthesis in the classroom.

Here’s my task, according to my pal TIM:

“The Teacher encourages the innovative use of technology tools. Technology tools are used to facilitate higher-order learning activities that may not have been possible without the use of technology ”  [ higher order: analyze, evaluate, create]

Design Labs

Will we develop an App? Maybe.

Will we use immersive technologies or game-style review? If we have the budget…?

But I will definitely endeavour to make this integration as painless and seamless as possible.  I plan to help students explore tools to produce both review and deep engagement materials.

And I will certainly keep in mind my “extreme” audiences: those who will already do the reading at home and take notes (and enjoy doing it!), and those who wanted a pill.

I invite you to join me as we continue down the rabbit hole to Wonderland.

7 thoughts on “There Is No Spoon : Seamless Tech Integration in the Lit Class?

  1. Ashley,
    What a powerful experience for me – I mean reading this blog demonstrates the immense power that students have, and the result AS A PROCESS of thinking that subsequently sends them further in their learning. The soft skills that you’ve started to foster through this design thinking format are great, but so too are they many different ideas that they have come up with.

    Peripheral impacts of this are going to be something like “We just created the coolest thing in English class…” and “Wow! My teacher made me really think outside the box today…” and definitely “WoW! My teacher really cares about getting me reading!”

    In terms of your next step with TIM, there are many different apps and sites that fulfill your requirements for sending them deeper. I would suggest trying gaming too. Check out “Gone Home” as an exploratory game: It has great potential.

    I would also suggest checking out @dganley’s blog and @ckirsh too – they do great things with literarture and reading….

    Truly inspirational! Thanks for inspiring me, and your students…Lucky us!

    1. Thanks, Garth!

      That’s encouraging! – Actually, another group I didn’t mention designed a “virtual reality” game experience to get familiar with the context of a piece of literature. It’s great to see someone has already done this with the Gone Home game! Next version: Elsinore Castle? Okonkwo’s Tribe? I think they’ll love this site.
      AndI agree- @mrsganley and @teach_tomorrow are doing some really great things!!!!

  2. Ashley, number one it was so good to see you at the Joseph Boyden event. Are you planning on going to the CITE conference in April? I hope you can present some of this incredible work, as I would love to just come and peak inside your practice for an afternoon!

    I want to make sure that @lmcbeth sees this post, as it is a phenomenal example of design thinking at work to solve real problems in the classroom. Your practice inspires me. I’m definitely going to be pushing many others to be reading your blog!

  3. I was planning to go the conference, yes! I was not planning to present, but thank you for the encouragement! I will think about doing that!

    I am so thankful that Leslie taught us about design thinking! It’s such a cool way to bring inquiry into the classroom. Thanks so much for the kind words — and potential traffic. 🙂

  4. Ashley, what a fantastic post. Thank you so much for inspiring me. As an English teacher struggling with student engagement, you have really pushed Design Thinking into my sphere of how this can apply in my classroom. Great post!

  5. Hey Ashley, You are the talk of the town in Lakefield! You are a great writer and your students are lucky to have such an inspiring teacher!

    There’s something special about Trivia Crack – my students are on it all the time, and I believe it’s about the instant feedback and friendly competition – I love that they offer it in French!

    Something to help with the Collaborative Learning Aspect – here is a link to propose a new collaborative endeavour with other Round Square Schools – perhaps you’ve got people around the world who want to jump down the rabbit hole to wonderland with you!!

  6. Ashley,
    Just following up after that great conversation on Monday (thanks @ckirsh). It’s fantastic to see how you are using the Design Thinking model with your students to engage them in the learning process. Thanks so much for sharing!

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