Why use technology? Here's my answer.
Ok, so maybe you didn’t ask, but I frequently come across the idea – and oddly enough this comes mostly from teachers themselves – that technology is just “one more thing.” After all, “I didn’t have all of these devices when I was attending school, and I turned out just fine, didn’t I?”
While I have to tone down my knoee-jerk reaction and refrain from replying to this rhetorical question when faced with it, the premise does need a response. Why should technology be an integral part of the experience for each and every child in each and every classroom? My thoughts are below, in no particular order.
So often, we, as teachers, ask for our students to perform for what is really a very inauthentic audience – ourselves – expecting that they will put forth their best efforts to impress us; naively thinking that we, entirely on our role as teachers, naturally and automatically are in a position of esteem in their lives and that our opinion is naturally valued. News flash – while that may have been true for many of us as students, it really isn’t the norm today, especially on the secondary level. (I do have to say that in the primary grades, teachers still hold a position that is slightly below angelic. More than once, my own littluns have argued with me that I was wrong about a given topic because their teacher “said so.”)
Anyhow, what makes an audience authentic or “real” to our students? I would say that most importantly, the audience must be part of the students’ peer and social group, both inside and outside of school. In other words, it is simply the groups whose opinions matter to the student and who the student looks to for approval and reinforcement.
As teachers, we have to expand our assignments and remove ourselves as the primary audience. Instead, our students must produce for the class, the school, their parents and family, their community, and even the entire world. Now consider how this, which would have been entirely impossible only a few years ago, is entirely within the grasp of our students due to the advances in technology over the last two decades.
Ironically, some of our students are already doing this and are faced with the choice each morning to, as described by Alan November in one of my favorite TED Talks, decide if they are going to produce for their teacher or “for the world.” None of us, I believe, are so egocentric as to really think that we would win in such a competition!
So, our only option is to embrace and even leverage this desire to produce and publish for an authentic audience – in the pursuit of authentic and meaningful tasks – in order to get our students to (as they did in the good old days) actually care about the content and skills that we have been tasked with teaching.
So often, we focus on student engagement as a goal and we find ourselves trying to entertain our students with the newest and fanciest gadget or tool or gimmick to try and keep the kids entertained in the hopes that they will glean some content in the meantime.
I think that it is safe to say that this is entirely the wrong approach.
Instead of looking at engagement as the goal, we have to view engagement as a beneficial byproduct of quality instruction – with or without technology. However, I do believe that technology amplifies a teacher’s abilities. Through effective integration of technology tools, instruction improves and engagement is a visible and measurable indicator of that improvement.
Success breeds success, resulting in an increase of confidence on the part of students. The inverse is also true – repeated failure results in a self-fulfilling cycle that so many of our students find themselves in.
So what is the answer? While technology integration is certainly not a panacea that we can package to cure all of the woes in education, what it does provide are access and equity to level the playing field and provide all students with the opportunity to succeed and to reach the learning that is at their level and within their zone of proximal development rather than be left behind in our outdated one-size-fits-all industrial model of education.
This is one of my favorite reasons to promote the integration of technology into instruction – the opportunity for students to express their learning in new and innovative ways, often in ways that go far beyond what we had previously imagined. This self-expression is a key factor in ensuring that your instruction is authentic as students develop a voice that extends beyond your classroom walls.
Let’s face it, none of us like to be told exactly what to do and how to do it. One of the most important aspects of a 21st century classroom is the element of choice. By giving students options, with appropriate training, guidance, and support, we increase student ownership of their own learning. Not that many years ago, this was extremely difficult to do, and while it is still not easy, it is possible through the use of appropriate technology.
We’ve been talking about differentiating instruction for years now thanks to the work of Carol Ann Tomlinson. This differentiation can take place with the process, the product, and even the environment in which their learning is demonstrated. The use of technology makes this possible in whole new ways.
We live in a different world now than when we were students. More importantly, the world that our students are going to inherit as they graduate from school is vastly different from what most of us encountered. So, the idea that we should teach our kids exactly as we are taught is counter to logic. The only problem is that we are so comfortable with the way that we were taught that we don’t necessarily know how to do anything different.
For this reason, we have to experience a paradigm shift in order to make the instructional shift away from the teacher-centric direct instruction that we are familiar with towards a student-centered classroom in which learning is done by the students rather than teaching being done to them.
Sometimes when I talk about changing instruction, people think that I am advocating a loosey-goosey feel-good education in which students learn what they want, when they want, with no accountability for educators. This certainly is not the case. Our students are leaving our schools in a world that is more competitive than ever before. If we truly want to prepare the students in our classrooms for this world, then we use tech as a way to help students to master the standards and demonstrate that mastery in new and innovative ways.
To me, perhaps the most important skill that students need to learn as they enter the workforce is problem-solving. Gone are the days when rote memorization should be the goal of education. (After all, how many times did it truly benefit you to know that the Norman Conquest of England took place in 1066?) Instead, our students need to be able to think critically to solve authentic and real-world problems just as they will once they are in the workforce.
The Bottom Line: I don’t think that I need to say anything else as the numbers say it all. We are only two years away from these predictions being a reality. If we truly want to prepare our students for the future, we will help them learn how to learn. The tech will change at an exponential rate and the jobs that they will work don’t even all exist yet. So what do we really need to teach our students? The ability to adapt to changing circumstances and to learn new ways of doing things – this is what they are going to be doing for the rest of their lives.
So why use technology?
Why use technology? Really, given the obvious reasons, the question should be why wouldn’t you use technology?