For the purposes of clarity, this post focuses on technology in the classroom, not in the home. Families will have their own perspectives on device use outside of the classroom and this post will not dive into those challenges.
When considering how to approach the use of a resource in the classroom, a teacher’s focus needs to be on the content to be learned and task to be done, not the tool to be used. With all of the fantastic educational resources and trends that exist, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking about the tool first. We all have heard the saying, “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” This idea is what happens when a teacher decides that a tool is more important than the learning. In education, and especially with technology use, this is akin to having students annotate a worksheet digitally, which tends to require at best one robust or two simple programs. In this scenario the learning outcome is no different than printing the worksheet. All a teacher has done with this application of technology is complicate the task with no value added outcome.
In the sections ahead, I will discuss the “Goldilocks” spectrum ideas associated with technology. With teacher perspectives and opinions varying widely on the topic, we need to establish the bookends of the conversation before we talk about the middle ground of practical and productive integration.
Too Little Means Too Late
I’ll start this section out with what could be considered a polarizing statement, but I feel the need to be direct. Choosing to remove technology from the classroom is something that will have a profoundly negative impact on students in the future. While it may seem easier in the short term, specifically for classroom management, to remove technology, we would miss a vital educational opportunity to help students understand the responsibility and effectiveness of using technology that they may never again get.
One story I heard recently was that a teacher wanted to purchase a WiFi/Reception jammer for her classroom so that students would have no way to use their cell phones in class. This attitude is one that situates students in an unrealistic environment where they are not afforded the opportunity to learn how to use a device for learning, nor the responsibilities of possessing a device. I would anticipate that this perspective is not as pervasive as the opposite, but while it is always up to a teacher to build their classroom environment by their standards, we must always consider how our classrooms will prepare students for the future, both academically and socially. By avoiding the learning opportunities that come with device use in classrooms, we miss the chance to help our students become responsible adults. Students will inevitably error in their use of devices, better to have us there to give them feedback than for it to have a more detrimental effect.
My position that too little technology in the classroom means that it will be too late for students is based on the idea that it is unlikely that they will have the opportunity for effective coaching and support for device use in learning during another other part of their lives. Use of technology for learning is a vital skill that students will need, and avoiding this completely is a disservice to students.
Too Much Means Too Distracting or Too Confusing
On the opposite end of the spectrum is unnecessary use of technology, which is obstructive to learning. It is so tempting to follow the trends and try new technology. I will attest that it is very hard to not implement certain things immediately. While much is tempting, we need to think about the value it adds to the classroom, both in learning and in process. In many situations, the novelty of technology increase the engagment of students in a task. However, the efforts of students need to be productive or the outcomes will become convoluted. Teachers are likely to overlook the productivity of a tool due to the engagement of the students. Engagment does not always equate to learning.
One of the most debated practices is the use of devices for notetaking. Whether this is in coordination with flipped videos or direct instruction via lecture, this topic has spurred rounds of research. There is research that retention of information is higher when written over typed; but the other consideration that needs to be examined is that distractablility of one process against the other. This is where, to me, written notes pull ahead of typed notes. If a student is capable of avoiding distraction, one could pursue a different arguement, but the lack of instruction for behavior creates the disparity. While instruction can be done, and I have done so, due to the fact that it is up to the students to act on the instruction leaves room for improvement.
Another topic for discussion is the complexity of the task of using certain tools. Simple tasks can become confusing when the tool to achieve them is overly complex. Teacher experience with tools or an observation of its implementation gives the opportunity for teachers to evaluate the tool for the purpose they intend to use it. This is not to say that a teacher must be a master of the tool, he/she just needs to know how to support students in its use. Flying blindly into a lesson is never a good idea, and when this is done with a new tool, it can be that much worse. Tools can be a great idea, but adding for the sake of adding creates a frustrating learning environment for both the teacher and students.
Just Right... Task First, Tools Second
Now that we have an understanding of the extremes of this conversation, it is now time to talk about how we can avoid them. This is an inexact science, but one that finds success with a pragmatic response to questions about teaching and learning. I’m not claiming to be an expert in the field of instructional technology, but what follows is the outline that I use for considering technology use within a class and lesson.
Establishing Classroom Expectations - This is something that is done at the beginning of the year for the purpose of outlining expectations of appropriate behaviors associated with device use and the consequences of violating the set expectations. Just as with other classroom rules, it is important that this is a conversation with students. Each group of students you teacher will have different levels of experiences with devices. Knowing more about how they use devices will help you shape the expectations in the classroom.
Under normal circumstances, students are permitted to have devices in my classroom. It is where they are that depends on the task.
Technology Integration for Lessons - Technology can make or break a lesson, warranting the need for intense evaluation of the purpose for integration. There are a few simple questions I ask myself when considering whether tech should be integrated, and to what extent.
I’ll be honest, teaching with technology can be a confusing endeavor. If you think that it comes easily, you may want to step back and think about what and how you are doing. This is not to say that it is bad, but perpetual evaluation and reflection could allow you do make an even better experience and environment for your students. While I won’t claim to be a “guru” of technology integration, but the questions above help me on my journey to being better each day. In addition, trying things for yourself and FEEDBACK FROM STUDENTS will give you even more insight into how well you integrate technology into the classroom.