Old School Technology
In elementary school my teachers used an overhead projector with transparencies and Vis-à-vis markers to take notes with. Most classrooms came equipped with a blackboard (some of them were green, so confusing!) and chalk. When I moved up to middle school it was a big deal that we had dry erase boards in some of the classrooms, what a sweet piece of technology. Want to watch a video? No problem! Reserve one of the carts loaded with a laser disc player, VHS player, and a TV, just make sure to rewind in between classes! Nothing was more fun than when we got to watch a laser disc. Those were the days eh? Endless Bill Nye The Science Guy and The Voyage of the Mimi, if you haven’t seen The Voyage of the Mimi, or if you just miss it, full episodes are found on YouTube (you are welcome).
Looking for some one on one computer time? Guess we better head to the computer lab. What computing power we had too, just by inserting a floppy disc we could travel the Oregon Trail killing every buffalo on the way. Of course the picture quality left a little to be desired, I was tired of being a little pixelated green man! I’m not an alien! When we died for the 10th time on the Oregon Trail we might hop into Number Munchers where a little monster would hop around and eat multiples of 5.
As we moved into middle school research became easier to do on the computer with disc versions of encyclopedias like Encarta or Britannica we no longer had to put up with those pesky book editions from 1970. In addition our schools came equipped with iMac computers that had Netscape Navigator loaded on them! Now we could visit websites, not that there was much to visit but hey a win is a win right?
Education Technology in 2017
The scenario above was the reality around 15-20 years ago. If we pause to think about the capabilities we have now, it is astounding. Students today often have their own smart phone on which they have access to pretty much any information that they could ever want. If you need to learn something, there is always at least one high quality how-to video on YouTube. I did this just last weekend when I had a leaky pipe, I watched four how-to videos and learned how to replace the pipe using a propane torch and solder. I had never done it; I didn’t have a live person to teach me I just did some independent research. That is the power of technology; it provides instant information on almost every topic. It doesn’t make our task as educators easier it just changes what our task is completely.
In the classroom many schools are approaching a 1:1 ratio of students to devices, at our school we have a good amount of Chromebooks in carts of 36 that can be checked out. This is very different from 1996 when we had to reserve the one computer lab in the school if we wanted to be on computers. On any given day students can be researching, writing, or taking some video, all independently. With the implementation of Google Classroom or any of the online Google related applications like docs, presentations, or even spreadsheets, students can interact with assignments and each other from home too. The classroom today can easily be expanded beyond the actual walls of the classroom.
Ease of information access is not the only use for technology in classrooms. Students can use various tools such as Prezi, Google Presentation, and any number of blogging platforms to create high quality, professional communication mediums to transmit information and show learning. Students need much less class time and materials to create great presentations whereas back in the day, the parents shouldered much of the financial burden of creating presentations for the class. Parents had to buy poster board, glue, coloring materials, and any other need, as such poorer students often were not able to create posters with the same sparkle factor as their more wealthy peers. Today, that is not the case; a poor student can go to a library and create just as great of a presentation as a wealthy student because the programming that is being used is free and widely available on many devices.
Using Technology in the Classroom
With the widespread abundance of technology, students have become desensitized to the use of tech in the classroom. In 6th grade it was a huge deal to have PowerPoint ’97 available, just being in the program on a computer was enough. Today that is not the case, just putting a laptop in front of a student is not going to engage them, they have a Play Station 4 at home, there is nothing in terms of graphics or fun that we can do to beat the engagement provided by Call of Duty. So how do we engage the students in using technology in the classroom? Simple. By giving students the skills to use the technology as a tool for inquiry, just like our teachers did back when we were in school, but instead of a library and encyclopedias we have the internet and Google. Show students the possibilities and then let them run with it. Regardless of the type of technology, whether a simple Chromebook or a complex robotics kit, the shine and sparkle will wear off if the inquiry piece is not there. Using technology just to say you use technology is not a method for success, it should have a purpose other than, “It is cool!”
Ensuring Responsible Use of Technology
As with anything new, and technology is always changing so it is consistently new, there is a learning curve. We need to ensure that when we are using technology in the classroom, specifically for research purposes, that we are explicitly teaching safe and responsible internet usage. With the openness of the internet and the ease of creating websites and content, students need to be taught how to recognize reliable sources and more importantly, how to avoid hazardous sources that might be dangerous if they click on them. In addition students need to understand the implications of posting to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter, what goes out into the cyber world is often public and cannot be taken back.
Earlier I mentioned that technology does not necessarily make our job as teachers easier, it just changes what we need to teach for students to be successful. We do not need to give them every piece of content information because all of the information they need is out there already, but we do need to teach them what is real and what is a scam or fake. Fake news is a huge buzzword right now and it essentially refers to news that is spread via a website or sharing on Facebook or Twitter but is completely and utterly false. Here is an example of an extreme consequence of fake news that actually led to a man taking action. Teaching our students to find and use reliable sources and to consistently be skeptical of any story that seems extreme or over the top is certainly a starting point. I also ask students, when researching, to try and corroborate a story, especially if it seems over the top. As mentioned above, when I was repairing my pipe I watched four different videos, they all essentially gave me the same instructions so I figured they probably were giving me good information. I also had to consider my topic, sweating a pipe is certainly not something that you would expect someone to actively lie about, however, if you were researching a controversial topic like evolution, then you would want to be sure to get information from many credible sources.
In summary we live in a very exciting time. Especially in education, we can do so much more now in a much shorter time period with less physical resources. Just by adding a set of Chromebooks to a classroom the whole dynamic of the class changes. With these changes, however, it is important that teachers explicitly educate students on how to find useful information and how to recognize fake news. In addition, teachers need to always keep in mind that using technology is a means to an end and not an end in and of itself.
English Language Development teacher attempting to bring some truth to the table.
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