Throughout my elementary-school experience, technology in the classroom meant overhead projectors, first-generation iMacs of various colors in my fourth-grade classroom, the odd typing class, and the utter ecstasy elicited upon walking into a classroom and seeing a TV on top of a mobile four-foot cart. Movie time!
By high school, PowerPoint slideshows were added to the mix, by both teachers and students. And while I’m sure there are plenty of examples I’m forgetting, these are the ones that stick out.
I’m quickly learning that in the nine years since I graduated from high school, a lot has changed in this department.
In three days, I’ve observed primarily English classes, but also choir, math, and Spanish classes. Apart from choir, every class used a form of technology that I was either completely unaware of, didn’t exist when I was a student, or I had never seen in action. Teachers use smart boards to write on and save information (as opposed to erasing the whiteboard when more room is required). Video cameras project images onto those boards in much the same way as overhead projectors, only they can capture actual objects versus only transparent sheets. Students use laptops to take math tests online (the whole idea of laptops in math class tripped me up for a bit). Teachers talk into microphones so they can be heard clearly by all students and are free to walk throughout the room.
I think what excites me most about the use of new technology in education are the options it offers students, particularly in helping those who require accommodation a less conspicuous way of achieving success. For example:
- When taking notes, students can choose to write them by hand or type them, whichever is more efficient for them personally. Some (including yours truly) learn better when writing things by hand. Some are fast typists. Others might have a physical condition that affects their dexterity, including their ability to grip a pencil. (Certainly, assistive technology is available to help such students, but again, if other students are also using laptops, it would make this student feel less conspicuous.)
- Students can choose to read an assigned book, listen to it as an audiobook, or both. While this would be especially helpful for students with a reading disability, anyone could opt for the audiobook. This is a great example of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which has been likened to wheelchair-accessible buildings — they’re necessary for some, but anyone can take advantage of them.
- I got especially excited today when observing students using Google Classroom to virtually discuss a question posted by the teacher about Macbeth (“Who or what do you think is at fault in the play so far? Back up your argument with textual support.”). Students spent several minutes writing a substantial paragraph. After posting it, they replied to three other students’ posts — agreeing with, disagreeing with, or questioning the author. All students were respectful, even when disagreeing. Meaningful conversation was taking place. A significant amount of information was exchanged in real time. Everyone had an equal chance to participate, and everyone was heard. Students could take time to articulate exactly what they wanted to say without being put on the spot in front the of the whole class. And the “discussion” was in print for the teacher and students to review later. Perhaps best of all, this digital conversation translated into verbal discourse, with students leaving the classroom saying things like, “I would argue that …” even after the bell rang.
Now, if you’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop on this topic, consider it dropped.
In a very succinct nutshell, my main concern about so much technology is that, given its prevalence, students are going to spend the majority of their day on screens. It’s no secret that students go home and spend hours facing phone, computer, and TV screens for entertainment and cyber-socializing. But I worry about them doing so after already being on a laptop for English, math, history, government, video production, homework, etc. In an increasingly sedentary society, it’s just one more aspect of modern-day students’ lifestyles to worry about. This is clearly a big issue that won’t be solved in one blog post, no matter how insightful its author. I’m just throwing it out there.
Another (lesser) concern is students taking advantage of so many technology-infused lessons by browsing unrelated websites (social media sites, I’m looking at you). After 10 minutes in the math class I observed, I saw one student scrolling through Pinterest. This ties back to student accountability, and a point I mentioned in my Day-1-of-Observations post: How do you make students care?
I could go on for a while about this subject, but I think I’ve thoroughly scratched the surface for now! Thanks for reading.