(Thanks to my friend David Mulder, technology director at Sioux Center Christian Schools, for sharing this blog post. Look for part 2 next month.)
Part 1 – What is the problem and how did we get here?
Do you have a computer in your classroom? (Silly question in 2011?) I want you to think about how you use the computer in your teaching practice. Does the computer allow you to do things fundamentally differently? Are you able to do things in your classroom using technology that you simply could not do otherwise?
Here’s the thing: I’ve become convinced that the way we use technology in schools has to change. And I’m further convinced that this change is going to be a big, big shift for most teachers and most schools.
I want to set the stage here by describing what we have going on at Sioux Center Christian School, which will perhaps help frame the conversation. Beginning in the mid-1990’s we began adding computer technology to our school in a deliberate way. By the early 2000’s, we had network cables pulled to every room in the school from a central server case, a computer in every classroom, two computer labs with about 25 desktop computers each, and regularly scheduled times for “computer class.” (Depending how long you’ve been in the profession, I’d guess this sounds familiar to you, either as a teacher, or perhaps as a student.)
Fast forward a decade or so, and several cosmetic changes have happened. We have largely gone wireless, with a wireless network throughout the building and several mobile computer labs (25 laptops on a cart, so the lab comes to you!) Teacher laptops have replaced classroom computers and we’ve installed video projectors in most classrooms around school. In the past two years, we’ve also begun to add interactive white boards to some classrooms—the next big thing in technology. Whatever your school’s level of technology, I’ll bet you can relate to the story so far to some degree.
Here’s the thing: I think these changes (adding laptops and SMARTBoards) are “cosmetic” changes, because while the tools and their availability may have changed, the way we used the tools fundamentally did not change. We have been implementing what I now call the “Tech-on-the-Side” model.
Here is what the Tech-on-the-Side model looks like in practice:
- A designated space for using technology, whether that is a separate room (a computer lab) or a part of the classroom (the computer corner).
- A designated time for using technology, which might be a specific time each week when the class goes to the computer lab, or perhaps “computers” as a separate school subject.
- A focus on learning how to use specific applications, such as web browsers, word processors, spreadsheets, presentation tools (i.e. – PowerPoint), and media-editing tools such as iMovie or MovieMaker, regardless of how these tools might be used to support classroom activities.
- Tightly controlled access to technology, because the tools are limited, so we need to share and play well with others.
Does this sound familiar?
Now, I want you to think for a minute about how people use technology outside of school, in “real life.” In almost every way, Tech-on-the-Side is the opposite of how technology is used life outside of school:
- Rather than a designated space for technology, we use laptops, smartphones, iPads and the like wherever we go.
- Rather than a designated time for technology, we use computers and other devices whenever they suit the task at hand—whether work or play.
- Rather than learning specific applications foisted up on us, we tend to learn how to use the apps, sites, services, and devices that are most useful to us, most productive, or most enjoyable.
Tech-on-the-Side may have made sense a decade ago—even five years ago—but the world is changing. The problem is that the Tech-on-the-Side model doesn’t really address the changes that have happened (and continue to evolve) in how we use technology in the 21st Century. The Tech-on-the-Side mode of thinking incorporates technology in ways that simply replace current activities with ones that add a computer-based component, but the task itself remains unchanged. Next month, I’ll offer some concrete suggestions for how to begin shifting from Tech-on-the-Side toward a more transformative way of thinking about using technology in schools: Tech Integration.