Sunday, October 16, 2011

Does Technology Help?

I think technology helps kid’s learning experiences in school and helps them in life. The problem is I cannot prove it.

Technology in the classroom has gotten some bad press as of late with the recent article in The New York Times. The primary focus of this article is schools where great amounts of money have been invested in technology will little or no gains in terms of test scores. As a teacher that has pushed technology use in the classroom, this was a tough pill to swallow and something I have reflected on at great length since originally reading the article.

With that being said, I think there are a few reasons why this article hits home with some and leaves others scratching their heads. As I have tried to wrap my head around the implications of this article I have come up with a few thoughts and certainly welcome feedback and conversation.

On one side of the argument are those that claim too much money is being sunk into technology at the expense of other programs and in some cases, staffing. I actually agree with this. In many districts, technology is purchased wholesale so that everyone can have an IWB in their room or that the latest and greatest software throughout the district. I have seen firsthand those purchases sitting unused or not used in a way that benefits students. Why not be wiser with our purchasing so that technology is being put in places where it will be used to benefit students. In addition, let’s make sure teachers are training on how to use these new tools so they don’t become glorified paperweights or wall decorations.

Another argument being made is that many technology tools don’t even help students but rather they help teachers. Again, I see some validity in this argument. The best example of this is the Interactive Whiteboard or IWB. Many districts, including my own, have sunk many thousands of dollars into popping these babies on nearly every classroom wall. My initial question is, why? Yes, they are interactive by definition but for who? The teacher? The one student that gets lucky enough to be the chosen one to go up to the board? I have seen more interaction with some dry erase markers, a desktop (an actual top of a desk), and a creative teacher.  If there is not a direct connection to student learning (not test scores) or engagement, then why are we buying it?

According to the article, standardized tests scores are not being raised as a result of technology usage. Standardized tests only gauge an individual’s ability to regurgitate facts. They do not illustrate any abstract thinking or an ability to think creatively or in a critical manner. When “they” say that technology does not improve test scores, they are probably right…but I am ok with that.

So, what good is technology and why should we have it in classrooms? Here are a few things that might not be on “the test” but I think might be worthwhile technology pursuits.

Global Collaboration – Technology allows students to connect with other students around the globe. This builds global perspective and empathy within our students. Many examples exist where students can connect and learn with/from students on the other side of the world. Is this on a test? Can this be done in a textbook?

Ease of Communication – Many technology tools allow students an ability to communicate and express their ideas in ways not normally possible. I have seen non-verbally communicative students able to express simple thoughts through the use of an ipad. Students that are unable to articulate their thoughts in writing have the ability to use voice recognition software to express and record their thoughts. This will not show up in standardized tests, but certainly shows up in classrooms where student’s frustration due to inability to communicate is eased.

Save Time – This might seem trivial but technology can help teachers and students save time. We are no longer typing papers multiple times but simply editing within a word processing program. Why spend hours thumbing through outdated paperback resources when a quick click can reveal more recent and more accurate info? All this time saving leads to more learning opportunities as well as more free time after school. If we can get things done quicker, is that not a good thing for kids and teachers?

Options – Technology is just another option in the arsenal of a good teacher and a good student. Many of the tools available allow teachers to present and share information in varying formats. This helps throw a larger net to engage and interest learners. More importantly, technology gives students options and choice in how they demonstrate and document their learning. For example, there are many ways to illustrate reading comprehension beyond a book report. Technology provides an array of options for students to show the learning beyond a bubble test.

Many of these items I have listed are not tested and frankly I don’t have any data to support them. I only have my observations and opinions for my experience in a classroom. I would encourage and ask you to share you examples of how you see technology helping your students and your teaching. 
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