Lisa Nielsen Champions a Unique Brand of Technology Engaged Learning

Lisa Nielsen Welcome to our Masters in Education series! Check back each month for another profile of an expert educator. 

When Lisa Nielsen graduated from college at 19 with a perfect GPA, she felt disoriented and directionless, according to her blog, The Innovative Educator. Though she had excelled at every task placed before her, she had never questioned the tasks themselves, whether she cared about them for their own sake or how she might build on them in the future. She goes so far as to write: “In the end, it felt like a waste of 16 years of classes that I mostly wasn’t interested in.” That is why Nielsen decided to become an innovator in the world of education, championing a unique brand of passion-driven and technologically engaged learning.

Passion-Driven Learning

Nielsen’s core philosophy as an educator is to create space for exploration in the classroom, allowing students to find the avenues to knowledge that interest them. Students are still required to learn basic facts, but Nielsen emphasizes the discovery and pursuit of passion rather than rote memorization or “teaching to the test.” Student progress is measured by the creation of a “Total Talent Portfolio,” which students create through a relatively autonomous process of developing and rounding out the abilities they will need to succeed. While this model may sound fanciful to some, it has already been implemented successfully by The Island School and others like it.

Thinking Outside the Ban

When New York City banned the use of cell phones in public schools, Nielsen found herself in a controversial position as an advocate for technology in the classroom. Nielsen wrote in The Huffington Post, “When we blame or ban the technology, we solve our issue temporarily, but we are ignoring the root of the problem.” Nielsen went on to argue that educators should use mobile technology to more deeply engage their students, as well as modeling safe and ethical online behavior. The Department of Education responded by offering her a job teaching other educators about using the forbidden technology, and she has since co-authored a book on the subject entitled Teaching Generation Text.

According to her article in the New York Times, Nielsen’s strategies for cellphone engagement include consulting with experts on Twitter during class time and using Google Translate to text with parents who speak another language. She also uses the flipped classroom model, where students watch pre-recorded lectures at home and use class time for individual or group work and more engaging activities. But she notes that there are important preparatory steps before students can bring their phones into class, like establishing a responsible use policy and obtaining parental consent.