If you’re here, I’m guessing you’re not a skeptic. But many educators still don’t trust the many new technologies moving into schools and classrooms lately. Some fear it’s a message that they are not as necessary anymore. Others think it makes us lazy. Even after 16 years working in education, I am certain that we do not yet have all the answers. Some educators are embracing terrific new technologies to drive student learning. Others—my earlier self included—are slow to get onboard. For the next few months I will be blogging here to find that intersection between technology and student learning, and whether you’re a teacher, parent, principal, or anyone who wants to join us, I welcome you to the discussion!
Where do you fall on the spectrum? Were you a believer from the start, or did it take convincing? Are you somewhere in between? How do you approach the topic with colleagues who disagree? And how do you make sure you are ensuring that the technologies you use are actually empowering students to learn more than they were without them?
Every two weeks I’ll either ask a question that needs your experiences to answer, put forth an opinion for you to respond to, or highlight what other educators are doing to merge technology with learning, whether their students’ or their own.
At the end of today’s post is a list of possible topics. So read on, pick your favorites, and I’ll get started. I’m thrilled that Thinkfinity is interested in exploring these questions for educators to figure out, and look forward to learning from all of you.
This year I returned to the classroom after a four-year hiatus. When I left, Facebook and Twitter had not yet saturated students’ lives, and my students did not use laptops in class. There were online resources for teachers, but it paled in comparison to what exists today.
In my new job working as a writer for a school system, I was issued a Blackberry−which, as I understood it, was to be glued to my forehead as a reminder to all incoming information that I was a willing receiver. By the time I left, the mini-mouse-tracking-ball thingee was dangling off the face, and my carpal tunnel thumbs were happy to relinquish it to wherever technology goes to die.
But my forehead would not have to be accessory-less for long. I was launching a freelancing career that would allow me to both teach and write, and I had a lot to learn. I needed tools such as Twitter and LinkedIn to bring in business. I had to learn about SEO optimization, keywords and social media best practices, and I dragged myself to technology-related trainings I never would have chosen in years past.
So when I entered the classroom again, I was curious. How would all this learning change my teaching? One thing I knew…
I have never trusted a technology just for being cool or shiny, and I am still more blown away by a well-crafted sentence than a great new gadget. I have owned two cell phones in nearly a decade, the first one chunky and unbending, and the second a racy pink Razr that let me fake coolness for a few years, until the number panel kept falling off (not a deal breaker).
I drive a 2003 Saturn that I will not replace until I have to. I blame this in part on a grandmother who grew up during the Depression and who used the same iron, phone, blender and refrigerator for 65 years. The rest I blame on my parents, who didn’t replace their Dodge Colt until it erupted in flames while I was at the movies one night; the earlier Dodge Ram van met a similar fate, and in its last days was prone to dropping various parts from the bottom carriage on the way home, dragging them along to an embarrassing scraping sound (my parents were not prone to embarrassment as their teenagers were).
However, I am not a lost cause—just a loyal one. Once a product proves its worth, I am loyal to it as long as it stays loyal to me.
What does this mean for student achievement? Where do technology and student learning intersect?
Before, while other teachers experimented with shared drop-boxes for collecting student work, I preferred pen and paper. I adopted electronic grading systems with a grumble and preferred face-to-face discussion over PowerPoint presentations that broke eye contact with students. I didn’t trust tools that made things easier because I worried they would make us lazy. I was, possibly, a little militant about it.
We needed to be reading, absorbed and concentrating, not skimming online! We needed to be fired up, not falling asleep in muted classrooms staring at screens!
But by the time I left the classroom, I was beginning to suspect I may be wrong in my prejudice against technology. For example, once I did adopt the electronic grading system, which allowed parents to view their children’s grades from home, I loved what it did for parent engagement. So I added an email list sending parents weekly updates on course content, including “dinner table discussion” questions and suggesting ways parents could help their children prepare for class in the coming week. I was floored by the response from parents, who reported stimulating dinner conversations and were glad to have ways to elicit more than the one-word responses from their teenagers about school.
Back in the classroom after my hiatus, I wondered about all that had changed in just a few years. Twitter was keeping me up-to-date on new research that later appeared on my syllabus. I had become certified in a new system that would allow me to teach my course online. The possibilities for plagiarism had become a whole new monster. Teachers had different policies on the use of laptops and other electronic devices in class. Were they a distraction or a tool? I heard widely divergent views from educators.
How could I adopt new technologies for the good? Could I get my students to follow Grammar Girl on Facebook? Would it make a difference? Did online courses work? How could I learn from other educators in ways that I hadn’t before? Most of all—considering the mistrust that is still out there about ineffective uses of technology in education (e.g. “Who needs a teacher when you can plop the kid in front of a computer to learn?”)− how can we push against skepticism to find what works best for students’ learning and our own?
What do you think?
To answer these questions, educators need to hear and share what’s working. But we also need to talk about the growing pains. We need educators who are sold on technology as an effective tool to drive student learning, and those who still don’t trust it to engage in the discussion. So share your ideas and invite your colleagues to join. Let’s differentiate between what’s shiny and cool, and what works. I am not willing to concede that technology is the silver bullet for improving education in this country, but nor can I call myself a responsible educator if I’m not willing to consider and explore technologies that can improve my practice or help me become a better teacher. Here are some topics I’m thinking about for the next few months. Please chime in on any that look interesting to you, or any you’d like me to consider that aren’t here! Future posts will likely be shorter, but I wanted to introduce myself here, and welcome everyone who would like to join this blog community to engage. I look forward to hearing from you!
- We don’t have to pick between technology and teachers. I don’t care if we live on flying saucers and send kids to school in spaceships. Teachers, we will always need you!
- Modes of learning with technology. Can you be linked in, online and all over the world, and still…be still? Research on the impact of stillness and “unplugging” on cognition and learning; and how teachers can create a balance, teach kids to navigate all the input in ways that will promote learning and concentration.
- Teaching as Art in an Age of Data. If you saw “The Artist,” you saw one actor’s struggle with the transition from silent film to sound. There are so many parallels to what is happening in education. There is also a new book by Eric Booth positing Life as Art that I suspect applies to the craft of teaching as well. Here I would explore the tension between adapting to change and moving forward via new technologies, while preserving the art of teaching—what we need to preserve, what we need to let go of, why teachers feel divided on this and why it’s worth embracing the transition.
- Impact of technology as our main vehicle of communication. Between students and other students, and between teachers and students.
- A recent study shows teenagers prefer to interact via technologies versus face-to-face, and examines the impact on relationship (relating as “projected self” versus the real, vulnerable selves we all are in a face-to-face moment. In my view, the train has left the station on this and social media selves are to stay. But I am interested in how educators and parents respond to it, helping students to navigate classroom and build relationships within this dynamic. Maybe students are just learning another language, and we can teach them to be fluent in both.
- Communication between teachers and students via technologies (i.e. districts restricting teachers from using Facebook to communicate with students. This seems to throw out the baby with the bathwater to me, rather than finding out a way that can work. i.e. separate class Facebook pages from personal accounts).
- Interview/profiles – of educators, parents, students on any of the issues above, or more!
Are you a Skeptic, Believer, or Somewhere In Between?
Kaitlin Murphy has worked in education for 16 years, primarily as a middle and high school teacher, but also as a college writing instructor, a teacher at an incarceration facility, a GED program for teen mothers, a town community school and currently at a community college in New Jersey. She worked at the DC Public Schools for three years as a writer and is a freelance writer, writing coach and communications consultant.