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Technology can be a tool, but also a trap
The tools technology has brought to education can come with conveniences and learning opportunities. For example, many classrooms in my district, if not most, now have a SMART Board. I didn’t even know what a SMART Board was until just a few years ago. Now my district regularly has “how to use the SMART Board” professional training. To be clear: they are pretty impressive machines. I’ve gone to training a couple times, but I am only semi-adept, if that. This particular tool of technology isn’t the entire focus of this article, but I start here because I have seen reliance on them grow. As this and other technologies encroach more on practice, there’s a risk that reliance becomes a trap.
You can do some pretty cool things with these new gadgets
The most useful thing about SMART Boards, for me, is the display and write-on features. You can project an enlarged image of the paper the class is working on. Then, with stylus-style “markers”, you can model and guide completion of tasks. The class can do a math problem, or locate-and-annotate relevant details in a shared text or document. It can work more or less like a dry erase board (just do not use dry erase markers-not good!) where you digitally “erase” if you need to. The ability for the teacher to model a successful process in a big, visual, communal way, is powerful.
Also, applications like those once seen only on TV shows and in movies are available. Tap and enlarge or reduce images. Hold and slide them around to re-position them, dice games where the dice “rolls” on the screen…I’ve seen these things work, but my own skills haven’t reached the level where I can do that stuff easily. It ends up being trial-and error, looking for the right tool menu, five minutes wasted as three other pull-down menus are accidentally opened, tapping everywhere, kids telling me what to do…It ends up being like when an old guy has to order on the touch screen at Panera instead of just telling his order to the kid at the counter.
At least, that’s what I heard. It’s not like I know or anything.
But with all the convenience, bells and whistles fun come the “traps”
Remember that old man and that kid at Panera? Back in the day, they had to actually communicate. Have a brief conversation. Once upon a time, the kid could even demonstrate the ability to count back change from what you owed up to how much you paid. The reality of what we lose to the trappings of bells and whistles is the one that old man lives at Panera, or lives when he sits helpless in his car at one of those ten-minute oil-change joints. Not so long ago he could just do it in 30 minutes or less. Sparks, wires and filters too- if needed. Now, with all the extra crap crammed under the hood it’s nowhere near as simple.
At least, that’s what he tells me.
All this classroom technology can end up feeling the same way. In my school, many of those SMART Boards had to be mounted in a specific location in order to be set up correctly. For some, that means they cover the chalkboard, which takes out one of the most reliable and timeless tools a teacher has at-the-ready. Even when the chalkboard isn’t covered, imagine what happens when you planned a great interactive lesson that integrates that fancy technology…and there’s a “glitch”, a power outage, a “network down”…
Maybe you have a ‘just in case” back-up plan (you should). But you know what used to happen back in the day when a piece of chalk broke? The lesson didn’t end, you just got another piece of chalk!
When I think about these SMART Boards, the laptops, Ipads and other weak attempts at pursuing EdTech, the risk is this “stuff” becoming a fixture, and the teacher losing sight of the purpose. As more of these tools are integrated into our practice, we need to turn them more to the facilitation of student pursuits vs facilitation of either slick instructional delivery, management of our procedures, or arbiters of our effectiveness. When the technology breaks down, the purpose can’t.
Like it or not, the technology we've been seeing, and will be seeing, is here to stay. Click To Tweet
“…emphasis has shifted toward observing learners’ active participation and construction of
their own path toward learning. In other words, interest is moving away from the design of pre-specified
instructional routines and toward the design of environments to facilitate learning.” (The Definition of Educational Technology June 1, 2004)
Teachers who have embraced the EdTech approach are trying to grow their practice along with the trends in their profession. They might integrate technology into their routines, but resist becoming the tool. They plan for its use, and plan for students to use it: to make choices, to explore, to become familiar with the resources and with their world. Much of the growth and change seen in education is inevitable, as more and more young people come to to school already adept with technology we teachers never dreamed of. So growth in the teaching profession, in the area of tech awareness and proficiency, is imperative. We have to keep up with the new gadgets our students have.
Haylee Massaro outlines some of that struggle in her article Keep That Smartphone Out: Teaching in the Age of Technology.
“Today, students have access to advanced technology at their fingertips! Smartphones and social media have changed the way that we communicate in our day-to-day lives. Teachers and our students have the ability to be connected to people all over the world with the click of a button.” (Haylee Massaro, in Keep That Smartphone Out…)
Like it or not, the technology we’ve been seeing, and will be seeing, is here to stay. It will keep coming, and it is only natural that it reaches the youngest among us in one way or another. Our job, our mission actually, as educators: know this technology. Know what it can do for your learners (not just what it does to them). Integrate it into your approach to maximize the use of technology as a tool, and master your tools. Otherwise technology becomes the master and you are the tool.