Over thirty years ago, an open letter to the public, A Nation at Risk, called for the recommendation of teaching computer science in high school, equipping graduates to “understand the computer as an information, computation, and communication device; use the computer in the study of the other basics and for personal and work-related purposes; and understand the world of computers, electronics, and related technologies.” I do not think the authors would have ever believed the abilities of students today and the technology available to them.
My 13-year old daughter, after school on any given day, works on her homework with her iPhone in her lap, buzzing away with texts, Facebook updates, Instagram posts, and other notifications. She most likely also has her iPad out watching her favorite youtuber or listening to the latest one-hit wonder. If a question from her homework stymies her in any given subject, she has no problem opening her laptop and “googling” a query for assistance. Most students in this day and age have a remarkable ability to adapt and be able to use multiple devices simultaneously.
Many educators, on the other hand, aren’t quite as tech-savvy. Technology has been an asset to teachers in the classroom for the past century, ranging from the overhead projector and calculators to the television and copier. When it came to these advances, teachers easily integrated them because they were relatively simple to use and made things easier in the classroom. However, in the past 25 years, technology has advanced to a point where there are more options for teachers than ever before. This presents a problem in most cases because the question becomes, “What do I use?” and then, “How do I use it? When do I use it?”
I once did a study about technology in a small rural school district where I asked teachers about the integration of technology in their classroom. They freely shared their opinions, and most complained about the lack of funding, equipment, and training within their school. All of the teachers felt that they were integrating technology in the classroom in some way. One teacher gave an example of using a “boom box” to play CDs during class. Another teacher was excited about getting a SmartBoard installed in the classroom; they were going to be able to write all of their notes on that board instead of using the old white boards. She was going to save money because she did not have to purchase dry erase markers any more. A majority of teachers said if they had problems with their computer or tablet, they simply asked a student to fix it – it took too long for someone from the school to come and look at the problem.
The funniest thing I encountered was a teacher that was adamant about students not bringing cell phones or tablets into her classroom. I asked her why. Her reply was that the students became distracted with playing games or texting other students. I then asked her if she had ever caught students passing notes in her classroom. She answered very quickly, “Of course.” So my reply to her was, “When you caught them passing notes, did you take away their paper and pencil?” She thought about it for a few seconds, and we started to have a conversation about how allowing students to bring in their cell phones or tablets could have benefits.
The most overwhelming thing shared during my interviews with these teachers was the lack of training the teachers receive. It seemed as though as soon as they started becoming comfortable with using a piece of software or website, something new was introduced. Often, leadership within their school would attend a training, become excited about what was introduced, and mandate that teachers begin using that particular technology. Some of the teachers offered examples of being asked or required to do things in such various ways that they ended up duplicating the work for multiple platforms.
In my job as Literacy Design Collaborative (LDC) and Mathematics Design Collaborative (MDC) Coordinator within the Professional Development Unit of the Arkansas Department of Education, I am interested in emerging educational technologies and becoming prepared to model them within our teacher trainings. The last thing we want to do is react because a teacher says, “I had a student show me something the other day.” In the coming weeks, I hope to share with you how we in the state of Arkansas are preparing educators and providing continual job-embedded support in answering this main question, “How can we continue to assist teachers in shifting to a student-centered classroom and developing high-quality instruction utilizing the resources and technology available to them?” If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Photo by Lexie Flickinger on Flickr, made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license]