Sunday, October 19, 2014

Part I: Stop Robbing Students of Tomorrow

There are some common myths surrounding *technology that we need to addressed because they are often used as excuses for why we are not integrating technology. We must find a way to get past these barriers so we can move forward and do what is best for our students. John Dewey said “If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.”

Myth #1  Technology will increase student performance.
There is a common misconception that putting a device in the hands of a student will magically increase test scores and engagement. Good teaching increases student performance. Using effective teaching methods increases student performance. Technology alone does not increase student performance. Many teachers believe they are effectively integrating technology when they move their traditional activities into a digital format. This is the first step in the SAMR model and it is a start, but it is far from where we need to be. Providing students with opportunities to analyze, evaluate, create, collaborate, and communicate will increase performance. Giving them a worksheet to complete, even if it is in a Google Doc, will not increase performance. Doing what we have always done and only changing the method of delivery will not yield different results. Technology is simply a tool that allows students to engage in ways that will help them develop a deeper understanding of different subjects and ideas.
Myth #2 Technology will increase student engagement.
We all like new, shiny devices. Who doesn’t like getting a new laptop, phone, or tablet? Imagine how a class of 8th graders would react the first time they got their hands on a Chromebooks. They are going to be very curious about what they can do with it. Perhaps the first few times they use it in class they copy notes from the board using Google Docs or they complete a worksheet that has been shared with them in Google Drive. The first few times these assignments might be exciting because the way they are completing it is new, but before long the novelty wears off. In the end they are still passive learners who are completing the same assignments at the same time as everyone else in class.
Were the students in the example ever truly engaged or were they simply entertained and intrigued by a shiny, new device? Entertainment and engagement are not the same thing, but so can look the same to the casual observer who might be walking by a classroom. Genuine engagement does not simply happen when technology is introduced. Teachers must work to create conditions that foster it. Tapping a screen, interacting with a white board, and answering multiple choice questions with a clicker might be entertaining and they might keep a student busy for a while, but these activities are not truly engaging.
Technology allows us to engage in ways that were not even possible until fairly recently. Technology provides numerous ways to communicate, collaborate, create and innovate. It also provides teachers the ability to differentiate instruction so each student is learning at the level and pace that is right for them. All of these factors increase engagement, not the device itself.

Myth #3 I’m not techie and I do just fine teaching the way I have always taught. I don’t need to change.  
In what other profession is it acceptable to not keep up with changes in the field? Would you go to a doctor who graduated from medical school in 1975 and never bothered to learn anything new since then? Of course not! Sometimes we use the excuse that all of this technology is new. It isn’t. The Apple Classroom of Tomorrow project, which provided students with extensive access to the newest technology available at the time, began in 1985. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is an organization that has provided technology integration resources for over 30 years. Tech & Learning has been around for over 30 years as well. I could go on, but my point is that the field of educational technology did not just spring up overnight. Resources and professional organizations that educators can turn to for support and resources have existed for at least three decades.
The world of education has changed dramatically over the last ten years. The skills students need to possess have not changed much, but the way they build these skills has evolved significantly. Digital tools allow students to work at their own pace on assignments that are appropriate for their level. The days of students working on the same assignment at the same time are numbered. Worksheets are giving way to assignments that have more value and meaning to students. While this might sound like quite a bit more work for teachers, it isn’t. Instead of grading and correcting hundreds of papers each week now many teachers are now using formative assessment to provide feedback to students while they are working on different activities and projects. Formative assessment paired with a change in grading practices can have a huge positive impact on student learning.  
Teachers across all subject and grade levels are expected to be digitally literate. But what exactly does this mean? ISTE has published a set of standards for teachers that provides a very clear picture for what skills we need to possess. Organizations such as ISTE and CUE provide numerous professional development opportunities. There are plenty of informal ways to learn as well. The easiest is to join (or just follow) any one of the dozens of Twitter chats that take place. Here is a list of over 300 different chats that take place around the world.  From there you will find passionate educators who will be thrilled to help you learn new things.

Change is definitely not easy. If it was then people would not be so opposed to it. In the end we need to do what is best for our students. We need to find a way to overcome our fear of the unknown so we can provide our students with the opportunity to build the skills they need in order to be a productive citizen in the world they will be living in tomorrow.
*In this post the word technology is referring to web-enabled devices such as Chromebooks, laptops, tablets and phones.

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