Tech Guru, Tech Skeptic

Ibm_pc-jr  By Mark

I've inadvertently, and inexplicably, become a guru of sorts. I sometimes feel like I barely have myself figured out–but nonetheless, my willingness to experiment with technology and use it in my instruction has led other to seek me out for advice. The dirty little secret? Most the time those confident answers I offer are simply my willingness to offer conjecture and speak it with authority–I have no special training to back it up other than the time I spend on my own just playing with these "cool toys." 

The dirtier little secret? When it comes to incorporating technology into the classroom, I may be computer savvy and a digital native, but more than that I'm a technology skeptic.

Too often, when I see technology for the classroom, I only see ways to go the long way about accomplishing a goal which could have reasonably been accomplished "the old-fashioned way." (Full disclosure: I'm a 31-year-old education blogger who came of age with the internet…so I may be entering my curmudgeonly years a little early.)  

For me, it's about results. I'm not talking data, I'm talking return on my classroom-time investment. Some recent articles compiled for the Accomplished Teacher SmartBrief assembled nuggets ranging from the discovery that few computer-based literacy development programs actually net a measurable increase in reading comprehension–to the revelation that teachers are still, like me, not so sure about this movement to incorporate certain technologies into the classroom.

On one hand, there is the compelling but perhaps hollow argument that our students as digital natives must gain the skills that will enable them to navigate that world. However, I've never really understood exactly what that means. The ability to build a PowerPoint? Knowing how to code a website? How to edit a video from their cell phone and post it on youtube? Or, are we concerned with proficiency in blog etiquette? The ability to use Google intelligently and not get suckered into buying something you don't need? What, exactly, are the skills that we want to impart unto our students through our use of technology–and are those skills necessarily better transmitted through technology?

I am not fundamentally opposed to the use of technology. I have a static class website. I have created Nings for literature circles and wikis for the writing process and even SurveyMonkeys for assessments. I use PowerPoint every day and have used computer-based reading assessments (which, like the research above, were great for diagnostics but not useful for actual advancing skills). Despite all this, aside from the rather cliche uses of classroom technology (read: caveman PowerPoint), I have yet to meet a technology tool other than a word-processor that actually facilitates the accomplishment of my language arts learning goals in a means more efficient than I can do in my brick-and-mortar classroom with those old crusty bookthingies, graphite, and paper. Am I sitting by some whale oil lamp with my feather quill as some spectacular ship is passing me by?

Aside from the transmission of information on a website, blog, or PowerPoint, how have you used technology in a way which helped you accomplish learning goals and instructional targets in a way more efficient and more effective than traditional, unplugged classroom instruction?

6 thoughts on “Tech Guru, Tech Skeptic

  1. Clix

    No, I’m with you. My school is having SmartBoards installed in allll the classrooms, and while I think they were purchased with grant money that was specifically for that reason, I can’t help wishing they would’ve given me books for my classroom library instead. I wish people who gave us money were not so delighted with bells and whistles. *sigh*

  2. Eva

    Students today seem to respond to those bells and whistles if used well, so I would offer that technology provides alternative ways to be effective and engaging with students – however efficient could be debated due to the prep time they take in getting up to speed to actually use them with students. I have a Smartboard and students clamor to have a turn at it to show what they know, but I wish I had more time to make more dazzling files to use with it. I have spent A LOT of my own time training myself, since my district has not provided any. I have a classroom response system that I won at a tech conf. that the students love given they are push-button kids, but I rarely use it – again because of the prep time to put the test questions into the software – but once I have them its great having the software spit out student scores. I also have animation software and students love to do claymation with it for math or reading purposes, but that is a slow creative process too, so I’m not always sure its a good use of time, but at least the students are learning how to work together on a project. I see technology tools as a positive overall for students because it’s their world us old folks are trying to stay current in, but again it’s a balance of how you use your time to prepare with these tools and continually updating the software versions versus the demands of your district with data collection.

  3. Connie

    Our school has SmartBoards in every classroom. I am a special education teacher and use the SmartBoard for my small group direct instruction lessons in reading, mathematics, and writing. The direct instruction reading and math presentation books direct the teacher to write “on the board” to teach letter/sound combinations, for checking answers and to demonstrate procedures. At first, I found this time consuming; taking away from the already too short time I have available for instruction. For every “write on the board” in both reading and mathematics, I’ve created SmartBoard screens. It does help to focus the students’ attention — I can write on the screens and then when finished, save without the changes. For the writing lessons, I use a screen with lined paper to illustrate how to head their papers, where to begin a paragraph, as well as letter formation. It was a lot of up front time, but it has been very useful for me. Each year I refine the screens. I’ve saved them to CD and share them with my fellow special education teachers.

  4. Mark

    A few teachers in our Math department have SmartBoards–I’m not very familiar with them. How much of it is bells and whistles and how much of it helps you do your job better than you did without out (not just prettier, or “cooler,” but better)?

  5. Tom

    I think some technology tools are effective because of their “coolness.” We’re studying plant lifecycles in my third grade class right now, and I have my students make daily drawing and write their observations in journals, but I also take digital pictures of their plants each day, which they use in their Powerpoint journals. I think the combination of modes is good, but they seem to like the Powerpoints best. Plus, not everyone is good at drawing, and using a digital picture equalizes things out, talent-wise. It would be far more effecient to bag the computers entirely, but I don’t think the kids would be as motivated and they probably wouldn’t learn as much.

  6. Kristin

    In a high school LA class I don’t use technology very much. Maybe a powerpoint to walk them through a lesson on themes and character development in Hamlet, or showing a clip from Netflix instant view so they can compare a cinematic interpretation to that on the page. While it would be fun to make movies, I agree with you that it’s not a great return on my classroom time. They get a lot more accomplished by turning to a partner and discussing.
    I spend a lot more time teaching them to evaluate the credibility of a source of information on the internet, or teaching them to be safe on their Myspace page, or teaching them to present themselves well in internet correspondences. We spend time recognizing bias on internet news sources, and learning to use search engines and data bases efficiently.

Comments are closed.