A chicken in every pot and an iPad in every hand
Like Hoover’s promise of prosperity in the 1920s, education officials are promising students and teachers a major upgrade in technology over the next few years. This is excellent news because being technologically literate is one of the most important skill sets that students can have. Unfortunately, not all technological upgrades are created equal.
We are often asked about adopting technology. Is it better to get iPads or Chromebooks? Are laptops or tablets better for students? Should every student have a computer? We have one very simple answer to all those questions: It depends. It will depend on what you want out of the technology, what grades your school teaches, how widely you would like to adopt it, and perhaps most importantly, your budget.
The goal of adopting any sort of technology into the classroom should be to improve student learning. Students can learn effectively with little more than a patch of dirt and a pointy stick; the purpose of adopting any technology should be to facilitate that learning and put additional tools in the hands of teachers and students so that students can learn more effectively, and prepare students for careers in the 21st century.
Today’s article is designed to help you think about technology in the classroom and to prepare you for the process of adoption, regardless of the specifics. Ideally, you should be able to effectively contribute to any discussions that your school or district has about adopting technology and know how to prepare yourself for the process.
Many districts adopt technology as an end unto itself, as though simply having technology in the room means that students will automatically learn through its presence. These shiny new toys must be deliberately incorporated into the learning process; otherwise, they will simply remain toys instead of powerful learning tools.
Incorporating technology into the classroom: Goals
The first thing that a school or district has to look at is what these devices will be used for. Without a clear plan and an explicit set of expectations, all the fancy devices that money can buy will not change a thing. The plan should reflect the particular context of the district and individual school. Because of that, real plans will vary widely, but there are two general ideas that we can speak to here: the goals and the plan.
The goals are the single most important part of any discussion but are especially important to establish before your school district invests thousands of dollars in new devices. Specific goals for both teachers and students will help inform the entire process. Clear goals will make for a much easier time deciding on what is needed.
If teachers are expected to present digital content to their students, they will need devices, projectors, and infrastructure to present. If students are expected to use the new technology to produce and/or consume digital materials, they will need devices. These expectations will help determine both the scope of technology needed and how it should be implemented in the classroom.
Goals should be clear, explicit, and most importantly, measurable. Without being clear and measurable, goals will simply degenerate into generalities that serve no purpose other than to sound good in a press release. ‘Increasing student digital proficiency’ and ‘creating digital learners’ are laudable goals in the abstract, but they have to be backed up by concrete ideas.
Solid examples should include things like having teachers present using interactive digital tools, having students interact with each other in a digital space, and having students regularly create digital content. How regularly these kinds of objectives are done will vary depending on the particulars of an individual school, but they are specific examples of teacher practice and student work that can be measured. A clear plan can be based upon these clear and measurable goals.
Incorporating technology into the classroom: A Clear Plan
A clear and forward-looking technology plan should include both what kind of devices will be adopted and how they will be used in the classroom. For example, if students are expected to produce a significant amount of digital materials, full computers (laptop or desktop) will be much more useful than tablets.
On the other hand, if your school is looking to replace traditional textbooks with digital ones and provide students with access to the Internet for research, a tablet such as an iPad may be better suited to the task. This plan should have reasonable timelines and provide for effective support for both the teachers, and the devices themselves.
Teachers are many and varied. Some already use technology in new and interesting ways at home and to help them teach students. Others are still bemoaning the loss of their beloved chalkboards. Sometimes those are even the same teachers! Every teacher is in a different place with how comfortable and familiar they are with technology.
As technology makes its way into the classroom and the teaching process, teachers will have to become very proficient in the use of technology.
Training should include the basics for the devices that you adopt, but training must go beyond just turning on the device and opening apps. There has to be explicit training in how teachers can use the devices to engage students and foster learning.
Ultimately, both teachers and students should become familiar and natural users. Ideally, the new technology should become as natural and seamless a part of the classroom as the desks and the whiteboard. There is software available now that allows teachers to push content out to devices in the hands of students, see the student working the problem, and correct it through a hand-held device.
Providing effective support for the devices is arguably easier to solve, though it requires more front-end planning. This is primarily the physical limitations of the school sites. Questions like “how will the site’s internet respond to hundreds of kids logging on?” and “how will we ensure that student devices remain charged throughout the day?” need to be addressed.
These are technical issues and are well outside our bailiwick, but they should be considered. We have heard all manner of complaints from the schools we work with. Consultation with technical experts beforehand will provide the answers for these. A good long look at what is needed to support the new technology early in the process will make adoption proceed much more smoothly.
Teaching in the digital classroom: Don’t Panic!
Now that we’ve taken some time to discuss what schools and districts should think about before technology adoption, we should take some time to talk about what teachers should do. Most discussions on technology fall short when talking about how teachers can incorporate technology into their everyday classroom. As a teacher, how should you prepare for the adoption of new technology? Today we will look at some of the steps that teachers can take to prepare themselves.
Incorporating technology into the teaching process should be a seamless process, so teachers can use new tools without any awkwardness or difficulty. Unfortunately, reality will inevitably intrude on such a pleasant fantasy. Whether it is a slow Internet connection, incompatible files, or even the dreaded Blue Screen of Death, technological gremlins can ruin even the most carefully planned demonstrations.
Further complicating this, everyone is in a different place in terms of how comfortable they are with technology. Even people who are proficient may not be entirely comfortable with the technology they use. Only about 1 in 5 teachers in the U.S. today are digital natives, and even those 20% are by no means universally tech experts! Becoming both proficient and familiar with whatever technology you are using will require some work, but will pay off in the end.
Fear not, for fear leads to anger, anger leads to hatred, and hatred leads to the Dark Side.
The very first thing to remember about your new technology: do not be afraid of it. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to experiment with it. Computers and other devices are made by very smart people. It is quite difficult to damage modern devices by using them as they are designed. Be a reasonable and responsible user, but generally speaking, don’t worry about breaking it through using it. Experiment with your new tool so you can learn what it does. Play with it, fiddle around with it, and try to do something new with it every day.
If you don’t have the basics down to begin with, take a class or read through a few tutorials. Many programs and devices have excellent self-guided video tutorials available online that show you a wide variety of tools. Even if you do feel fairly comfortable using your new tools, take some time to browse Google and YouTube for ideas that you haven’t thought of.
The best way to learn about any new classroom technology is to use it. Using technology in education is a skill just like any other. Practice, planning, and cooperation with your peers will pay enormous dividends. Treat new classroom technology like you would a new curriculum adoption. It will take some work to incorporate into your classroom, and there will certainly be a learning curve, but ultimately, you and your colleagues will figure out how best to use it.
Most importantly, try new things. They won’t always work, but you will always learn something from the experience. Ultimately, the goal should be to integrate your new devices into your classroom as seamlessly as the desks the students sit at and the whiteboard at the front of the room.