TECH & TE(A)CH

Picture_9 What are your thoughts on technology in the classroom? Is technology the panacea for American education? Or is technology the the downfall to the art of learning? Discuss YOUR thoughts.

54 years. In geologic time, that is nothing. In technology time, it is nearly an eternity. Much can happen to technology in 54 years. The UNIVA 1 is considered to be the first commercial computer and, with all its parts and pieces, would fill a large bedroom. One huge computer, by today’s standards—colossal. And this computer did not even have drop down menus our a mouse. Can you imagine?

This year a new exhibit around the computer opens in Albuquerque (the place where Paul Allen and Bill Gates started Microsoft in 1975, being close to other computer folks, later moving to Seattle, Washington in 1977).

In my lifetime, the computer existed as huge, behemoths sequestered in rooms where you would have to schedule time to use them. Then, and I remember it clearly, in 5th grade, my school added a computer class. Our computers had a hard drive capacity of 64K, which is funny when you consider that a photo taken by a camera usually has double that. We learned BASIC and played games. That was the curriculum. That was all there was to do with computers and education.

However, that has changed. The computer and subsequent technology is ubiquitous in the classroom and if not, it is seen as a weakness by the community. No other instrument has been accepted as readily as the computer. No other object has as much cache power to symbolize the rosy future for little kids than a computer; think of all of those district or school brochures that show 4 or 5 elementary students huddled around a computer, smiling. It took decades for the pencil to be accepted into the school as an appropriate tool, but the computer was there before people could say, “no”.

Computers have shown their strength as an educational tool, and they do seem to have limitless capabilities. However, I would argue that computers sit in most classrooms collecting dust, used for basic internet research and word processing, two activities that do have their purpose, but could be achieved with computers many years old, and in the case of word processing, decades old.

Why do we insist on using up-to-date, expensive computers when they are not used as such? Is it because the computers are a status symbol or the classroom, the school, and even the community?

I am a teacher of English so word processing makes up the majority of my classroom computer use; and this is fine as it is a real world use.

Computers are great, but they cannot replace the human quality of great teaching in the classroom. They are not flexible and cannot adjust to the immediate needs of the student. To fear the computer and to not embrace it is putting your classroom and students at risk of being behind the times. Students understand vidcasts and like to be able to play and replay a video. Is the acquisition of knowledge inherently better solely through a text book?

Some great computer trends to consider for the coming school year
1. Web site with resources, handouts, and lessons so that students and families can always be up-to-date or used for review
2. Podcasts: audio instruction that can be played on a computer or mp3 player
3. Vidcasts: the visual equivalent of a podcast, stronger because kids like videos
4. Online parental (student) access to the student’s progress in each class, through the teacher’s grade book. Emailing of progress reports to parents (students) whenever the teacher decides.
5. Using the comment feature in Microsoft Word for peer feedback
6. Student web sites of their work and current learning paths—a portfolio
7. Blogs, You Tube, Teacher Tube
8. Web search (not new, but being used more)
9. Weekly “Notes from the Classroom” email or posting on a web site or blog
10. Co-learning with another class over a great distance such as peer feedback on stories with students in Africa.

Worst uses for computers
1. Interior classroom design—the computers just sit on desks in the back
2. Word processing if that is all for which the computers are used (in this case, a decade old grey computer would work)
3. Computerized report cards as the sole use
4. Flash games on the internet
5. Power Pointing your students to death
6. Students Power Pointing their final projects to death
7. Email as the sole reason the computer is turned on in the morning

I have an opinion on the topic and teaching and technology. However, what I want to do with this post is provide an open forum for you to leave your thoughts on technology in the classroom. Check back in a week and respond to the comments left by others. I consider it an opportunity for me to hear from others.

Here are some Points to Ponder:

• To what extent should technology be used?
• What about the discrepancy of technology in the have and have not schools?
• Can computer based curriculum replace teachers?
• What are the strengths or weaknesses of technology in the classroom?
• Are today’s youth “programmed” differently then when you were in school?
• For what do you use technology in the classroom?
• For what do you NOT use technology in the classroom?
• How to get enough computers for consistent use by all of the students. Can you push technology as the panacea of education, but limit the use to three computers, where you have to plan months ahead of time?
• For computers and technology to be used effectively, they need to be accessible whenever the teachable moment happens, but there is never enough technology available, why?
• Teaching the teachers how to use the technology.

38 thoughts on “TECH & TE(A)CH

  1. The Science Goddess

    I think that we have to get away from thinking that technology is just “stuff.” It is not simply a computer or LCD projector—it is GoogleDocs, Voicethread, and text messaging. That being said, technology is part of any good differentiated learning and assessment plan. It is not enough by itself…it is not appropriate for all situations and learners and teachers. It is just another set of tools in the arsenal.

  2. Chelsea

    I think that technology can and should be a powerful tool in the teaching and learning process. With that said, it should be a component of teacher development programs… I would love to incorporate podcasts and Voicethread and other resources into my teaching, but I don’t have the resources READILY available nor the extra time now that school has started to pursue learning this technology so that I am able to incorporate it into my classroom.

  3. Travis

    @Science Goddess, your point that technology will be useful when we no longer think of it as something extra (“stuff”) is intriguing. Currently, computers and some of the things that they can do are new enough that we still think of it as extra. Take cell phones. The idea of TM is no longer unique or futuristic so it has become common place and that technology is now ready to serve for the masses. This all reminds me of a book I read this summer, Here Come Everybody by Clay Shirky. One of the main ideas in the book is that technology becomes a social tool when it becomes everyday use. When the technology reaches this level, that is when it has power, e.g., the ability of a person at the site to take photos of natural disaster with a phone and upload them directly to a photo sharing web site when television crews would have trouble getting there is superb. The technology gives the power to average people to do above average things. What do you think?
    @Chelsea, what can we do (or districts do) to better equip teachers to use technology, especially the shiny-new-must-have-to-make-our-students-productive-members-of-society technology that the district has already purchased?

  4. Bob Heiny

    Good list of questions, Travis. Like your clever title! You, ScienceGoddess and Chelsea demonstrate again why you are among education leaders: you stepped forward with Qs and Comments on a timely topic. (I’m old enough to remember teachers grumbling to each other in school hallways about having to adopt the new technology of tagboard and marker pens in classrooms! Yeah, true, same comments as we can read about computers.)
    I take a different view of advanced electronic technology in schools. I use these tools to learn, which has informed my teaching, administration, research, and policy work. I find most people not in schools do the same. I’ve found in watching this field for over 30 years a relatively few teachers who do the same. Have you noticed how little there is to learn from the thousands of teacher blogs?
    Mobile PCs are state-of-the-art learning tools, especially iPhones and Tablet PCs. And, they’re a lot of fun to use for what I call open learning.
    As one large California school administrator commented (unpublished, closed door session, no media present), “I would not hire any teacher who does not use them in class. They’re (teacher applicants) obsolete!” And another Western school district superintendent (same conditions as Cal admin), “Our students completed four year of high school in three years with the mobile PCs.”
    With due respect to teachers, as a learner, it’s great to have a learning tool that lets me (and most of the globalizing working world) ignore the negative opinions and judgments of others about values of these tools in schools. What have we missed that we haven’t learned about already by moving on anyway? I hope your Qs, Travis, will help clarify what I missed. I’m want to know.

  5. Nancy Flanagan

    Great, provocative post, Travis.
    Especially pertinent: your observation that schools will strive to provide the most up-to-date computer even when they’re not using them for much more than word processing or computerized grades. Gary Stager says that there are three ways for schools to approach technology use: #1) to make the system more efficient (on-line gradebooks, attendance, etc.); #2) to enhance teaching (teacher as entertainer, iPod plugged in, standing next to the SmartBoard); and #3) to truly make learners independent. You can guess how often #3 happens…not very.
    Here’s a really great post from Craig Cunningham, one of my colleagues at the Education Policy Blog: http://tinyurl.com/6hwaez
    Craig points out that things we assume have always been there in education (grades, standardized tests, grouping students by age) are technologies, too, and
    that every technology impacts other aspects of education. Well worth reading.

  6. Travis

    @Bob Heiny et al, is there a need to keep the teacher and his or her craft with technology? Should the teacher be the one that sets up and helps the students learn through or with the technology, a guide if you will? Or can current technology platforms teach today’s American students (here I would have you remember, Bob, the comparison you made between students in Asian countries and America). Could American students really pull it off in great numbers, in the public system, with all the red-tape in the state?
    I use technology in my classroom not as a prettier way of presenting information, but a way to get to information–a vehicle for thought. However, I am still center in setting up the lessons and gearing them to the individual needs of the student.
    Bob Heiny brings up a great point, one that I like, and that is the openness to using mobile PCs. When we make these tools “everyday” then we will use them for more than just toys. I remember one of my junior high teachers complaining about white-boards so it would seem, as Bob Heiny pointed out, that there will be grumbles no matter what the technology is, and anything could be technology even if it does not have wires and circuits.
    Where does the teacher fit into all of this? Thoughts?

  7. Renee

    Great Blog Travis. You echo many of my very own thoughts concerning technology and its use in education. I personally use computers and other forms of technology a great deal in my classroom. I feel that I reap many benefits from using technology. As an Exceptional Needs Specialist it allows me to accent the textbook and to reach the many different learning styles in my classroom. Its use helps me to use less paper and greatly reduces my planning time. When I find new computer resources to use in my classroom I feel that my teaching gets a new and exciting component that revitalizes my practice. My students are more engaged and curious about learning in general. They will come up with questions about information that is presented in the text and ask me if I can help them find more information on the computer about the topic. They independently construct their own power points around text related material and bring them into class and ask if they can present their work. It’s just great.
    One of your points to ponder is one that I often think about being, “Can computer based curriculum replace teachers?” I would say that anything is possible. We have online programs, distance learning for credit via the computer, and Internet academies already. What do other educators think about this topic?

  8. Bob Heiny

    Thanks for asking, Travis, about a teacher’s place with mobile PC learning.
    In short, I think teachers will likely continue to make learning easier and harder for students, as many do now.
    At the same time, software has changed what teachers can do in classrooms. In a way, software developers design lessons, assessments of those lessons, etc.
    Watch an infant work with an electronic learning game by the frog at a store. The same teacher-free response can happen in PK20 classrooms with a few academic subjects.
    These developers’ products must work enough to generate a profit, or they don’t eat. That’s a powerful incentive to make learning more efficient on-demand, some argue enough incentive to keep expanding mobile learning offerings.
    An unspoken secret among developers and in-the-know policy makers is that software and hardware can already at least supplement what willing teachers do (as Renee mentions), and that many students (I’m guessing half of all students; that’s a statistically safe guess) who elect to do so would exceed what group instruction now yields.
    Does this address your point? Based on what you know about teaching and teachers, does this make sense?

  9. Travis

    @Bob Heiny, Yes, it does address your thoughts further. I think your statement about how “teachers will likely continue to make learning easier and harder for students” is especially true. Renee’s use of technology is great. It sounds like she is using it to further her students’ learning, allowing it to give that individualized instruction. And since she teaches exceptional needs students, that would be even more potent. In her case, the teacher is a part of the learning through technology system.

  10. The Science Goddess

    Shirky’s point is much deeper than that, I believe. It’s really about collaborative action as a challenge to traditional power structures. Do I care that my school has network filters when I have a broadband capable phone in my hand? They don’t get to decide what I see and where I surf anymore. Ditto for the students. I don’t need the school secretary to put something in the school newsletter when I can tweet or group text my students’ families.
    The real question is what will happen when students finally realize the power they are holding in their hands in the form of cell phones. Most schools current approach is a bit ostrich like. Should be interesting to watch all of this implode on them in the next couple of years…and I, for one, will be cheering kids forward every step of the way.

  11. Travis

    Voicethreads……hmmmm, just checked those out and signed up. They currently have a deal now where you can get an account with most of the features if you are an educator. Here is what I gleaned from my first Voicethread creation: it is like a vidcast, but quite user friendly. There are some limitations that are not found in vidcasts. However, for many items especially if students are sharing ideas or discussing, this would work out wonderfully. I thought about how I could use this in class and one of the immediate ways is when we discuss advertising and the persuasive components of it. To upload an image of the advertisement and then have the students comment and share their ideas, in their own voice, at the pace they choose, would be powerful. And to be able to draw as you write with multiple colors–Great.
    Here is how this social tool can support learning and be something more than just a gadget. A teacher could post an image, students could comment on it outside of class, listen to the comments outside of class, and then come to class and take the next step. I have always had issue with homework for homework sake and believe that homework should be an extension of what you are learning (not just more of the same) and should not be the first time the student has learned something (what better way to confuse a student then to teach them something in 47 minutes and then expect them to do it that night).
    Thanks for sharing this tool. I will add it to my podcasts and vidcasts, but the benefit here is its ease (not platform specific, no software needed…)
    Here is the BIG question, how many districts would go for this? It is likely that a district would see Voicethreads as an outside web site of which they have no control and would (1) block it in the schools and (2) not allow you to link it or use it in class. I have come up against this a few times with various online features. (Many years ago, I came up against the school wall for sending out an email “newsletter” of the week’s lessons.)

  12. AMD Fanboy

    We have quad -core processors in our new Dell machines this year. I would like to briefly address whether we need all of this power (read: spent money) in the classroom. Until Open -source software gains a better foothold in the American Marketplace, it behooves any school with the financial resources to have the very fastest machines that they can afford. If we’re keeping the machines for a three -or -four year cycle, the oldest machines should be as capable as the newer ones with basic tasks. Microsoft and the hardware manufacturers are exploiting and catering to our blind consumerism by building ever -more power hungry Operating Systems, applications, and productivity suites, coupled with incredibly fast hardware. Computers are “obsolete” after a five -year lifespan, when they are still quite capable of many tasks.
    While I dearly love my killer gaming system, every one but me should learn to do more with less. If we as a people could begin to embrace a philosophy that cherishes frugality, even at the level of how many processor cycles it takes to produce the desired result, then the market would reward those who are able to write leaner code. If the code were leaner, we’d need less power (read:electricity and money) to create the same result while generating less heat and lowering building cooling costs. It’s no secret that Linux and Open Office are much less “bloated” then their Microsoft counterparts. However, since most of North America is still using Microsoft products to communicate and collaborate, we must teach the students to use the tools that will most benefit them whether they’re entering the workforce, or continuing on to higher education. As you can see, this problem is more a symptom of a larger sociological disconnect.
    As for computers replacing teachers in the classroom, the computer is but a vessel into which a structure must be poured. Somebody has to tell the computer what to instill in the student. There will always be a need for teachers in one capacity or another to structure the learning process. Since the nature of digital media lends itself to being reproduced quickly and inexpensively, however, we may need less teachers actually fulfilling this role, but I believe that we also need human teachers that are available in the classrooms to help students. The computer is very useful as a tool for the teacher to organize, research, collaborate and streamline lesson plans, etc., but there will always be a niche for human interaction between teacher and student, even in the case of distance learning. A computer cannot review an essay, keeping in mind the students’ progress throughout the term. A computer cannot give sincere praise or judiciously omit harping on about comma splices while focussing on more important issues like paragraph structure. A computer won’t share its lunch with you if you forgot yours.

  13. Travis

    @AMD Fanboy, you bring up many salient points (and even more that I will need to go back and reread and ponder). I think your comment about the reality of knowing that open source and the like may be better in the end, the here-and-now is to help students with what they have, and most have Windows. I found your comment about “but there will always be a niche for human interaction between teacher and student, even in the case of distance learning” reassuring especially coming from an obvious techy like yourself. I do an online course and we do meet a couple of times just to get that humanity and build the relationship that then can be continued online. Phone conversations help as well; but we are all old by computer standards so talking works for us. :O)

  14. Benjamin Skaught

    Following are a few brief comments I would like to add to the opening prompts.
    • To what extent should technology be used?
    —to the fullest extent possible. It makes no sense for tools to gather dust, nor for tools to be used in the wrong ways. Hammering a nail with the back end of a screwdriver is terribly inefficient.
    • What about the discrepancy of technology in the have and have not schools?
    —this is a problem that must be addressed on a grand scale. The discrepancies exist in every area, from books to the quality of teachers, to the conditions of buildings. Fix the discrepancies, but don’t hold back on the implementation of new technologies where they are possible. New technoligies are often used to solve the larger problems.
    • Can computer based curriculum replace teachers?
    —that’s a good one. I’m still waiting to be replaced by the television.
    • What are the strengths or weaknesses of technology in the classroom?
    —an adequate response to this would result in about a 1,000 page thesis. In short, the strengths are boundless, limited only by the imagination. The weaknesses are in short sightedness, under-utilization, improper application and fear of the unknown.
    • Are today’s youth “programmed” differently then when you were in school?
    —yes. Their world view is more global. My generation’s was much more parochial.
    • For what do you use technology in the classroom?
    —instruction, assessment, enrichment, research, networking, product application.
    • For what do you NOT use technology in the classroom?
    —technology touches almost everything that is done in the classroom, though it may not be the primary tool. PE classes exercise, but may use pedometers or exercise machines or graphing programs to chart growth. It is not that technology is absent, but that the level of technology is less sophiticated than might be possible.
    • How to get enough computers for consistent use by all of the students. Can you push technology as the panacea of education, but limit the use to three computers, where you have to plan months ahead of time?
    —I don’t believe technology is the panacea of edcuation. Educators with insight and creativity are the panacea. It’s their innovative ways of using technology that are valuable, not the technology itself. One cannot esape the reality that technology is costly. As such, public institutions will not be the place to find rapid growth. Slow growth is better than no growth.
    • For computers and technology to be used effectively, they need to be accessible whenever the teachable moment happens, but there is never enough technology available, why?
    —costs of both equipment and the technical support team. teachable moments are missed whether there’s technology or not. The master teacher is always prepared with an alternate route. That’s one reason why the teacher can never be replaced.
    • Teaching the teachers how to use the technology.
    —critically important. Ongoing training in all aspects of technology should be a part of the professional development program of every school district.

  15. Travis

    @Benjamin Skaught (and any one else reading), I just have to throw this question out there, not as a counter to a comment you have, but as a plea for ideas/a call for change. You wrote “To what extent should technology be used? —to the fullest extent possible. It makes no sense for tools to gather dust, nor for tools to be used in the wrong ways. ”
    How can teachers use technology to the fullest extent when districts and schools are so tight with restricting technology use. I do understand that there needs to be code and conduct. However, for example, I have vidcasts for many of the topics covered in class to use as refreshers, tutorial, instruction….Yet, many parents (and students) do not want to download these for fear of downloading a virus or lack of knowledge on how to do so. I would love to just have the vidcasts available online, but that would be connecting a district teacher web page with a third party; that is not allowed.
    Arrrg….

  16. Benjamin Skaught

    In response to Travis’s concern over restricted access, I fully understand the frustration. In some cases I do think the restrictions are over-the-top, yet, there is a real danger of the damage that can be done by unrestricted access. In a free society it is ideal that there be no restrictions, but unfortunately, there are elements out there that are misquided and will try to take advantage of an open system. There are enough cases out there to demonstrate that a simple virus can shut down a complete system for an extended period of time, much less a more complex virus that can destroy a system. When the cost of purchasing and maintaining a system, much less enhancing it and keeping it on the cutting-edge, stretches the financial resources of a district beyond what tax-payers can tolerate, safe guards must be put in place. It’s a sad situation, but a reality, that third party access can and has been used in abusive ways. “Fullest extent possible” means recognizing the safety limitations and continuing to work on more sophisticated means of applying technology that is protected from misuse. While blogs and wikis are usually restricted to the outside, teachers can be taught to create blogs and wikis within their systems. One evidence that systems can improve from within is the simple change from sending e-mails with attachments that are so large they slow a system down or even freeze it. By using links, the same information can be communicated without a negative impact on the system. As each new form of technology is introduced, such as your vidcasts, adaptations will need to be made to protect systems from abuse. While this seems slow or cumbersome, the speed by which these changes are taking place are astronomical. Who dreamed that there would be a time when every teacher who wanted it would have their own webpage. I sympathize with the “arrg”. I feel that way when my printer runs out of ink.

  17. Bob Heiny

    A work around exists to school limits. Assign tasks for students to complete on their own computers, whether at the library, home, church, etc. Teachers have used such work arounds since the start of schools. No teacher should think it’s OK to limit the learning of those with the capacity and initiative to complete these assignments We all agree, right? Or do Draconian ideologies still exist among those who control advanced electronic learning in schools? 🙂

  18. Travis

    Great thoughts everyone. I am enjoying the variety of responses (as that allows us to think) and it looks like you all come from different backgrounds/angles so that is wonderful.
    I feel the need, in this discussion, to clarify something I mentioned on which Benjamin Skaught commented. Benjamin Skaught mentioned the need for safe guards on computer systems in schools….and I agree. It would be a sad thing to have a whole network (yikes…even district) come crumbling down is a student downloaded some file of an unknown site.
    However, and here is where I clarify, my issue is with being able to post links to outside sites that I feel are useful to students and parents that they can use while at home. Absolutely, guard against a program being downloaded by a student, but when it comes to me suggesting some links, as the professional, the highly-trained individual, the one who knows the needs of my students best, let me post that link.
    On one teacher web page I had, I had links to many online resources, i.e., dictionary, a thesaurus, writing tips. I also had a link to a blog, showing some of my vidcasts so that parents and students do not have to download a file to view the vidcasts. I also had the vidcasts on You Tube but I have disabled the link to You Tube.
    And it is the disabling of the link to You Tube that, to me, illustrates the complexity of the situation. I understand the desire of a district to not allow a link to You Tube. They would argue that there are many items on the You Tube site that the district does not want to be held accountable for (eg, a parent saying that his son was watching a vidcast on hyphens and then decided to click a link on the side bar to another video about a topic similar to “hyphens”.) And yes, there are alternative sources for video sharing such as Teacher Tube (although Teacher Tube was not around when I started sharing vidcasts).
    So I do not have a problem with being safe. However, in one district I taught, the essence of a memo on teacher web pages (or was it a TPS report?) went something along the lines of wanting to keep all material in-house and not linking to outside sources. When I read the memo, I thought, this will be interesting because the goal is to not allow links to questionable sites as it is far too easy for a teacher to just link things up without thinking (aghast). However, the wording will have the interesting effect of stopping science teachers from being allowed to link to a NASA video of the lunar cycle; or a 6th grade teacher wanting to show a photograph of the Declaration of Independence; or an English teacher wanting to show 9 comma rules.
    When a district blocks linking to unknown sites, the other, useful sites, will be brought up as being “outside the district” as well. How will the district deal with this conundrum? Should be interesting indeed.
    How does your district balance out the usefulness of outside sources online with the need to keep in check the material to which teachers are directing their students and parents?
    Furthermore, what solutions are there for solving the issue of “bring down the computer network” while, at the same time, letting material in? I know that my wife’s work, a hospital, come across this when they were asked by the doctors to let You Tube through the safeguards because there was valuable medical information there; a specific example of this was a doctor’s lecture online (at You Tube) on the effects of a medication. And yes, the doctors promised to not abuse the rest of the site. And guess what? The hospital trusted them. Cool.

  19. Benjamin Skaught

    In our district, not all outside links are blocked, but it is also not unrestricted access. Because of the size of the district, it is unrealistic to expect that every teacher has the time and expertise to monitor and screen outside sources carefully. There are more and more high quality, well monitored sources that are available to teachers, and key personnel within our district, library media persons, department supervisors, curriculum coordinators review and adverstise the availability of these sites. (I am often amazed at how many of these sites are posted on a weekly basis). In addition, whenever someone attempts to access a site that is blocked, a message is sent that informs the teacher that they can request the site be unblocked by providing information about the site and its value to the curriculum or instruction. While that doesn’t guarantee that a site will be unblocked, it does open up some channels. It also allows for examination of a site that links to a link to another link. Recently a site that was unblocked had to be blocked because they allowed a link to another site that was not appropriate for school age children. The site was contacted, they removed the link, and the site was restored. If they had not removed the site, the marketplace offered other sites that could be used as alternatives. Wonderful thing that marketplace.

  20. Travis

    @Ben Skaught, that sounds like a reasonable, workable, proactive solution to linking sites on school web sites. How about the rest of you out there? What do your districts do?

  21. TL

    I would like to use more technology but efficently. I want to assign podcasts, have kids read blogs for “other” opinions, etc. But all the good ed stuff is blocked at school. This is very hypocritcal, contradictory, and frustrating.

  22. Bob Heiny

    Good responses, Travis, to your Qs. Now, let me ask as a former school supervisor (also called supt.) exactly to which state standard for minimum student academic performance does any response increase student learning rates beyond what a good teacher will accomplish without the tech? In other words, why would any superintendent agree to having more advanced tech in a school building?

  23. Benjamin Skaught

    As a building principal, I’m quite used to responding to a superintendent’s concern about how to use limited resources. With high stakes testing driving the priorities in schools, we need to make sure our students are proficient in the basics of math, reading and writing. Our school could certainly be seen as a case study in how teachers have been able to use technology to close the achievement gap and raise overall student achievement. Not only are the presentations in the classrooms done at a higher cognitive level, but the need for ongoing assessment to drive instruction has improved through the use of technology. But beyond this one day, one test syndrome for measuring instructional effectiveness, we as a nation will find ourselves falling further behind gobally if our high school graduates are technologically ignorant even, if 100% of them can read and write at grade level. The world our children live in exposes them to a wide array of technology and many of them come to school with skills well beyond what our teachers possess. We could save a lot of money by teaching our children with chalk and slate boards, but that certainly hasn’t proven itself to reach the diverse populations we teach nor does it allow for differentiation. But to respond at a practical level, my math resource teacher piloted a computer program last year that resulted in 17 of 24 students raising their performance on the state assessment for determining AYP. She would like me to purchase the program for this year. It might be worth the money when I see that we need to raise the scores of just 15 or fewer students for all of our subgroups to meet AYP.

  24. Bob Heiny

    Kudos to your math teacher Benjamine. As for chalk and wall board failing, I know of no evidence beyond speculation to support that assertion. As for diversity, it’s a convenient truism (I’d argue political myth) that diversity is new in schools. And, yes, principal’s face uncomfortable, but not difficult, decisions. I’m sure you’ll decide in favor of those who step forward and show achievement increases, right? Keep on truckin’.

  25. Gunnar

    Many of the questions and comments originaly posted I have considered almost daily. I mostly teach 8th grade math in a regular education classroom with a wide range of skills. I find that technology in my classroom (interactive white board, remote tablet, graphing calculators, and two stand-alone computers) have increased the engagement and excitement of students in the learning process.
    I am a strong believer that these tools can only be used effectively by a trained and facilitating educator of these tools. The effectiveness of technology will only be successful as a support and diversifying forum for our students.
    Unfortunately I continue to ineffectively use my two computers in a way that can support fundamental skills of my intensive or strategic learners. One of my goals this years is to implement a plan that will provide individual learning opportunities to those that struggle with number sence and basic opperation in math. Without these skills, many of the students come unequiped with the tools to attack and solve problems presented in our curriculum.
    It is our responsibility to provide learning opportunities through and with technology to our students. Yes, technology is rapidly changing and the available technology to our students post K-12 will be vastly advanced. The more opportunities we provide them the more adaptable they become and the more equiped to succede in careers and society.

  26. Tom White

    After reading another great post, I have to say one thing about computers in education: you have to have a critical number in your room in order to actually use them as an effective tool. This was a reality that the Gates Foundation accepted ten years ago when they began the TLP computer grants. They realized that doling out computers in an equitable manner (one for you, one for you, etc.) didn’t and wouldn’t work. This was a great way to improve “classroom interier design” but a lousy way to improve teaching practices. I think it takes seven or eight healthy machines in order for the classroom to actually use them as effective tools. Obviously, this isn’t feasible or sustainable in most districts. But here’s the thing: It doesn’t have to be. In any given school, you’re going to have teachers who love technology and have creative and effective ways to use it. And they will have colleagues down the hall who can barely read their email. So let those teachers teach without computers, and give the fancy machines to the teachers who are willing and able to use them. This has been going on in my district for the last five years and there is a surprising lack of controversy. There will always be plenty of wonderful lessons taught by effective teachers that don’t require the use of technology. But it’s up to us to ensure that students get a “balance diet” of techie and non-techies as they move through our schools.

  27. Travis

    I really like the point that Tom makes: what is equal is not always fair. Teachers, being that they are human and like gadgets, would certainly say “yes” to a question of would you like computers in your room. However, as Tom points out, few would actually use the computers to their fullest. So is it fair to the teacher that would use the technology in a way that is both innovative and would benefit children to not have more computers? I taught in one school where nearly every teacher had 4 computers. Most teachers did not use them on a daily basis, nor were the computers central to the learning, a social tool for education. The computers were used on occasion for word processing or doing a PowerPoint. But not daily.
    I agree with Tom’s statement of needing a critical number of machines to make the tools useful, 8 is about right as a minimum (student groups of 4, or some variation thereof).
    If I had 8 computers, a projector, and a document camera (and the freedom to use whatever social online tool I wished so long as it was appropriate), tech would be a day in and day out process for my classroom. And I am an English teacher. We love paper and pencil. Drafts and crossing things out.

  28. Annette Weeks

    Wow – this is all very interesting. I struggle with technology on a daily basis and not necessarily because of the restrictions placed on me by my school district, but because of the restrictions that many of the parents place on their children. We have many parents who refuse to grant interent access to their students when they first come to the high school. This is based on religious beliefs that it is too worldly (yet many of these students have higher tech phones and ipods than I or my own children do).
    While this is a hurdle that we are usually able to get over in the first few months of high school with these students it is a hurdle none the less and it makes for a challenge as it is a real job convincing these parents that we will monitor their children and what they are doing on the internet. I have begun a website of my own and one of my goals with that website is to use it as a place to post safe website links for reasearch projects so that I can give parents 1 more reassurance that I am doing everything I can to keep their children safe.
    My website has been an interesting topic of conversation also as these families, about 25%, don’t have internet access at home. However, many of the parents have access through their jobs and so they do receive e-mails there and seem to be checking the site from work. It has not been useful to the students of these families at though, as they do not have access. I have computers in my room that they use to check the site for assignments when they have been abesent.
    My director is playing with the idea of buying classroom sets of laptops in liu of textbooks. Now there is food for thought….

  29. Annette Weeks

    I am both excited and hesitant at the thought of laptops for classroom use.
    My husband is a business education teacher at the same school I teach at and every year has a handful of flagerant cheating incidents. The administration at our school isn’t as swift to deal with these abuses as we would like and that bothers me.
    Until we can get a good handle on how to deal with this cheating issue, I’m not ready to take the leap. I would love to have the access to that many computers with internet access, as the sky would be the limit for what I could use for information in my classroom, but our school isn’t ready to deal with everything that comes with it.
    Also, our IS dept. isn’t big enough to deal with that big of an increase in computer numbers.

  30. Travis

    @Annette, you bring up a point that not many thought about–is the infrastructure or system or culture (or even the students and parents) ready for an increase in technology. Thanks for bringing your view to the discussion. I wil have to think more on this.

  31. Benjamin

    For those who question the effectiveness of using technology in the classroom to improve student achievement, the research is rather clear. Check out this research study: http://eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/17/92/9f.pdf
    It should be no surprise that when technology is used to promote higher level thinking skills, student achievement improves. Another interesting note is that when teachers are trained to use the technology, students of those teachers perform 15 months ahead of their peers. It is also important to note the negatives. When technology is used to drill students on low level functions, there is no advantage and students may actually perform more poorly. To me the two important points of this meta-analysis are that when used properly, student achievement is significantly better with technology, and that when teachers are trained appropriately, their students perform significantly better than their peers.
    Another important finding centers on student attitudes toward technology. If it’s absent from our classrooms, or underutilized, it’s not hard to imagine another generation of Americas raised with a phobia about computers. That certainly is not in our best interests.

  32. Glenn Loayza

    Travis, you bring up some great questions to ponder. Personally, I am a complete advocate for using technology in the classroom. It isn’t the pancea. It is a tool just like all of the other tools that teachers have at their disposal. When used by trained teachers and used properly, it can engage students and improve quality of work. I have experienced this first hand as a ‘Gates Grant’ recipient. As I integrated technology throughout the curriculum, I noticed that students were more thoughtful about their work when they knew it was going to be displayed publicly on the web. They also put more time and effot into their work when they could use multimedia tools, eg. web page design, windows movie making, podcasting ,etc. I would often have students ask to return to my class during lunch or after school. I did not get this same result when we completed traditional paper and pencil assignments. Yes, it is a huge motivation for many, not all.
    In terms of your statement on whether students are programmed differently then when I was in school. I would definitely say, Yes! The students of this generation are referred to as ‘digital natives’, a term coined by Marc Prensky. This referes to the generation that has been raised in the digital revolution, computers, cell phones, MP3’s etc. I am not a digital native. I am considered to be a ‘digital immigrant’. One who was raised without technology.
    Because of the influx of technology in students lives, educators at MIT are looking at game oriented programs that mimic what the mind does to help students achieve academically. Their theory is that the mind works like a video game – multitasking with multi-level connections, random rather than linear. Students are accustomed to this and this is why they perform so well on video games. Sit down with any 8-10 year old. This is the one place in their lives where they perform better then their parents. It is an interesting theory. Not the complete answer, but an interesting idea for us to consider. Technology is not going away. The question to ask is ‘How can we use it so that it works for us’?

  33. Travis A. Wittwer

    @Glenn Loayza, I love your last statement in the previous comment: “Technology is not going away. The question to ask is ‘How can we use it so that it works for us’?”
    I think this is a reasonable perspective and puts the power in the hands of the user rather than the user being used by the technology, which many fear.

  34. barbara kington

    ‘Computers are great, but they cannot replace the human quality of great teaching in the classroom. They are not flexible and cannot adjust to the immediate needs of the student. To fear the computer and to not embrace it is putting your classroom and students at risk of being behind the times.’
    This is rightly said. As teachers we should not fear the fact that computers are great and will be taking our students places. The reality is that they are not humans and therefore cannot satisfy the here and now emotions of our students. We should therefore not allow the computer to replace us or leave it to do our work. Nor are we going to allow dust to gather on it because we are afraid that we will be replaced. When we allow our students to explore all angles to obtain knowledge it shows that we are flexible quite unlike the computer.

  35. Travis A. Wittwer

    @barbara kington, well put. Computers (and things digital) are not flexible in the sense that humans (teachers) are and for that reason a teacher will always be at the heart of the educational process. Instruction is an art and a skill. Computers are but one tool to help deliver instruction to students.
    You concisely state the argument for using computers and not fearing them.

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