Sunday, February 1, 2015

Ed Tech: Power and Peril

A quick assessment:
-- 21st century students need access to technology
-- 21st century teachers need to be able to give their students access to technology in the classroom
-- Without technology, students will not be able to learn effectively

The answers? True, true, false. But you knew that. And you knew that the last question is a trick question.

Kids can learn with or without technology. In fact, teachers can teach without technology.

I cannot stress this enough: It's not the technology that matters but how the technology is used.

Should school gorge on gadgets? No. Schools should invest in technology resources that make sense for their students. School and district leadership need to make sure that their teachers have the training and the support to use that technology effectively. More is not better.

Is technology a fad, as suggested by Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers? No, technology is not a fad. And any 21st century educator worth anything knows that technology used purposefully and thoughtfully can make a difference.

Not will make a difference, but can make a difference for students and their learning.

Should legislatures pass funding bills mandating types of general software purchases? Maybe. Utah should recently passed a bipartisan bill funding software. The good: the bill allocates $1M for software. The bad: the bill does not allocate enough money for every teacher to have the software. The dubious: the bill specifies an ELA instructional tool for software "that can grade students on technical components of English and writing. Also measured would be the students' comprehension level and reading ability." But it's only for ELA teachers even though math, social studies, science, and every other teacher has expectations their students will be able to comprehend the texts students are required to read and even some of those teachers assign writing. So while the intent of the bill has its heart in the right place, it's clear that the legislators really don't get how technology can and should make a difference.

There are those, such as UCLA developmental psychologist Patricia Greenfield and Slate writer Annie Murphy Paul, who believe technology has no or little place in the classroom. They fret about video games, which could be a good reason to fret if that were the only technology being used in classrooms.
Precisely because young people spend so much time with digital media outside of school, schools must offer them a very different kind of education in order to even the cognitive scales. In Greenfield’s view, this means reading copious amounts of old-fashioned literature—just what young people are not doing (according to research) on their own time.
Now there are LOTS of great reasons for students to read. And there are very good reasons to encourage students to read the printed page. And there are good reasons for students to read "old-fashioned literature." But there are also excellent reasons to allow, if not encourage, students to read using digital devices and to read non-fiction and literature that one might not label as "old-fashioned."

Fortunately there are many more who believe it is important to have technology in the classroom, just as there are many who realize that those without current or sufficient technology will suffer.

I believe we empower students when we give them access to technology, even the most limited technology. Especially when we are creative about showing students how to use that technology, and when we teach them how to extrapolate and figure out how those skills can be applied elsewhere. I believe there is peril when we throw technology in a classroom willy-nilly: without giving teachers the support they need to learn to use that technology effectively, when teachers try to integrate technology in ways that don't support learning objectives and so just confuse kids not only about the technology but about how to use it for learning.

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