It’s Not All About the Technology
Another article written for The Apple. If you aren’t part of this teaching community, you should be! Sign up today and be sure to add me as a friend ktenkely.Kelly Tenkely | TheApple.comThis may seem like a strange title coming from a technology evangelist and integration specialist. But it is true, it isn’t all about technology in classrooms. Don’t get me wrong, technology can and will do amazing things to increase student learning, differentiate instruction, and meet students where they are. Understand, technology alone can’t do this, it isn’t the golden ticket that when plugged in solves all educational problems. I see many schools who purchase the latest-and-greatest technology, software, and infrastructure only to have the technology collecting dust a few years later when it didn’t solve the education problems of the school. This isn’t the technologies fault, it doesn’t mean that the technology has failed to deliver. What schools often miss is that it isn’t really about the technology at all. There is a foundational level that needs to be addressed in schools first.Many classrooms still look the way they did in the 19th century. The teacher is at the front of the classroom giving students facts to memorize, rules about grammar, math, and science. The role of the student is to take it all in, memorize, and regurgitate the information back in the form of an essay, worksheet, or test. The teacher marks up the student work, puts a grade at the top, and returns it to the student. The process repeats itself as the teacher works to squeeze in all of the curriculum before the end of the year. Technology can’t improve this learning environment. In fact, technology will feel forced and unnatural in this classroom model. Technology invites students to problem solve, create, think critically, and collaborate. The focus is not on memorization and testing but on discovery and creativity. In this classroom model, technology may be used to replace the chalk board with a PowerPoint presentation. This may be more visually appealing, but it doesn’t change how students are learning. The teacher is still the center of the classroom and students are still taking it all in and regurgitating back on worksheets and tests. Learning hasn’t really changed so the results continue to stay the same.Students learn by doing. Students learn through making connections to things they already know. Students learn through discovery. Students learn when they are the center of their education. Technology lends itself naturally to this type of classroom. Technology enhances learning exponentially when introduced into a classroom where students are at the center of learning. Think about the most popular technologies with students today outside of the classroom. For elementary students those that top the list are Club Penguin and Webkins. For secondary students they are Facebook, Myspace, YouTube, and Twitter. What do these have in common? They are all social. Each of these tools invites communication and collaboration. Students aren’t interested in technology for the sake of technology, they are hooked by the increased ability to communicate ideas and work together. In the traditional classroom students complete work for one person: the teacher. There is very little communication after the paper has been handed back. What can technology do to make learning more of a collaborative effort? Web 2.0 tools (those online tools that invite communication and/or collaboration) make learning collaborative.Blogs, wikis, videos, slideshows, and websites can be used in the classroom as a place for students to create and share their work with a wider audience. This audience could be as small as a classroom and parents, or as large as the whole world. These online spaces make students the ‘experts’ and put them in charge of their own learning. They have a sense of ownership in their education. It isn’t about the teacher, it’s about them. Technology invites students to discover learning. Students today find very little value in memorization. It is no wonder that this is the case, many of them walk around with smart phones in their pockets. At any given time they can Google anything and be given thousands of resources that will answer their question. This introduces a new requirement of education. We must teach students to think critically about the information they find. Yes, they can Google anything, but will they know what information is factual and what information is bad? Technology allows students to experience things that they may not other wise have the opportunity to experience. For example, taking a virtual field trip to Egypt to see the pyramids, hear an archeologist speak, and ask the archeologist follow up questions. These experiences help students to make connections to their own lives that would not have been possible with note taking followed by a quiz.Technology alone will not change education and student learning. First, the classroom environment needs to change. We need classrooms that value student centered learning, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity. We need classrooms that value learning. Our goal as teachers should not be to get our students to pass a test, but to teach them how to learn, unlearn, and relearn. Regardless of the technology being used in the classroom, students need these foundational skills to succeed in life. When partnered with this type of classroom, technology will increase student learning and performance. Before any school looks at hardware or software for the classroom, they need to set up a solid educational foundation. The expectation needs to be set that students will no longer be memorizers, they will be thinkers and creators.