Rethinking how we use technology for teaching and learning – part 2

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(Thanks to my friend David Mulder, technology director at Sioux Center Christian
Schools, for sharing this blog post.)

Part 2 – Now that we are here, what should we do about it?

Last month, I broached the subject of how we use technology in our classrooms.  I explained the “Tech-on-the-Side” model and left off with the thought that this mode of thinking about technology in school may not be engaging 21st Century learners.

Here’s what I mean.  Tech-on-the-Side might mean:

  • Having your students word process a paper instead of handwriting it.
  • Having your students research a topic on Wikipedia instead of cracking open the World Book.
  • Having your students create a PowerPoint presentation instead of drawing a poster with colored pencils.

Now please don’t feel like I’m picking on you—I’m pointing the finger at myself first and foremost here, as I’ve done all of these things, even in the last couple of years.  It’s not that these activities are bad or “wrong” in and of themselves.  Rather, I don’t think they go far enough in shifting to really integrating technology in a seamless way in classroom practice.  In each of these cases, we may be using a different tool, but the task is fundamentally the same.

As I see it, we are setting up a “digital dichotomy” in regard to the way kids use technology at school and at home.  At home, many kids are living a tech-saturated life.  At school, technology is perhaps viewed—by teachers—as something “extra,” rather than integrated into the fabric of everyday experience. How frustrating that must be for some of our students!  Please note, I am not arguing that every lesson needs to be tech-enhanced…but teachers need to consider how their students see the world.  At the risk of sounding trite, we are (largely) using a 19th Century school model to educate 21st Century learners.

At Sioux Center Christian School, we’re starting to work at this.  We’ve in a process of shifting our vision for how we use technology from tech-on-the-side to technology integration. Changing vision can be a hard process—it means rethinking how we’ve “always done things,” which can be painful.  Here are the significant points to our shift of vision:

  • We must think differently about the kinds of assignments we give.  We can’t just change the media from pencil-and-paper to keystrokes!  The technologies we choose should allow students to employ higher-level thinking skills of applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
  • We must get the technology into students’ hands.  The closer to them, the better.  (SMARTBoards are good, iPads are better.)
  • We must teach students how to use the technologies available to them, preferably just as they need to use them by embedding the tech learning in the project they are undertaking.  Yes, they tend to be quick studies, but our students’ proclivities to use technology do not excuse us from the crucial role of guiding our students and teaching them to use technology responsibly.
  • We must create a culture where it is okay to experiment, play, and reflect.  Technology integration does not just “happen.”  Teachers need the freedom (and time!) to explore.  So do students.
  • We must support teachers.  Some teachers will naturally gravitate to incorporating technology into their teaching.  Others will need some coaxing.  In either case, teachers need to have a person (or preferably, people) they can rely on to support them as they try out new technologies.  A technology coordinator is a great resource, but a professional learning community is even better.  Teachers need training, coaching, and encouragement; we need to plan for this!
  • We must budget for technology-related spending.  (Aaargh…the money…)  Yes, technology is expensive.  Computers are not furniture, but neither are they consumables like pencils and erasers.  It might make the most sense to think of technology in a similar category to textbooks; eventually they get worn out and need to be replaced.  Just as schools plan to replace old, outdated, worn-out texts with new editions, schools need to have a responsible plan for regularly updating technology.

I recognize that some schools are already doing these things, but many others are surely not. Certainly change can be hard, but if it will ultimately provide our students with a more engaging, more authentic learning experience, our efforts are not misspent!  In any case, I sincerely encourage you to start having conversations with your colleagues about how you use technology, and further how you integrate technology into your teaching practices.



Filed under change, classroom, resources, staff development

10 responses to “Rethinking how we use technology for teaching and learning – part 2

  1. There are some interesting assumptions in this piece. The first is that technology is the way to go; the second is that the application of technology will, quote, “ultimately provide our students with a more engaging, more authentic learning experience”. I am not convinced by either assumption. Marshal McLuhan’s prophetic phrase “the medium is the message” applies. The tradition of neo-Calvinist thought on the importance of worldview to all of what humans do also applies. I believe that part of the problem is in the definition. Technology as presented here in this column, what technology has dubbed a blog, conflates information with hardware.

    We live in an information economy. The social revolution we are living through is the access to information that technology facilitates. In an information economy the core objective of education is teaching students how to think about and evaluate the information that is put in front of them. This is not something new in the reformed tradition; we now call it critical thinking and use to call it worldview studies. Does teaching students to be critical thinkers depend on technology? Is a computer necessary to teach a student how to filter junk from wisdom? The issue is not technology it is information. So while the discussion of technology in the class room is de rigueur it is not the core issue.

    A core value of a Christian education in the information age is the ability to filter information in ways that bring glory to God and build Christ’s kingdom. With a common understanding of how to decipher the worldviews that are attached to information and also the mediums through they are delivered, we can then begin the discussion of how to integrate technology into a Christian classroom.

    When I look at the list of why we need technology in the classroom provided in this column I sincerely hope that none of them are dependent on technology. Not a single one of these skills should be dependent on technology. In fact I believe that these all of skills listed are precursors for effective use of technology
    •Employ higher-level thinking skills of applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating
    •Create a culture where it is okay to experiment
    •Guiding our students and teaching them to use technology responsibly.
    •Teachers need training, coaching, and encouragement; we need to plan for this!
    There are two remaining factors that are touched on in this piece that need careful examination if we are to integrate technology into a classroom.
    1. The expense of technology and its “shelf life”.
    2. Time. (To train and to do research) We all know what a “black hole” the internet can be for time.

    I’d love to read the thoughts of others on this topic.

    • Larry,
      I agree that we must think critically about technology and that we can do things without it. However, the fact remains that the tool has dramatically changed how we can operate and can make education more engaging and interactive for kids. Here is just one example I came across in the last two hours about how technology has impacted even the most traditional of subjects: I am excited about these possibilities for learning. I too am concerned about how it impacts faith – I just finished an article for the February Christian Educator’s Journal on this subject – I would love to hear your feedback when that comes out. However, I think that the bigger change than technology is how access to information changes/can change the whole teaching and learning process. Thanks for writing!

      • Hi Dan,
        I have a question for you on the topic of technology. Here is some context for the question. I just read the article on Jacques Ellul in “Comment” the magazine from Cardus. Dr. David W. Gill is the author of the article. Here is a quote, “Technology is now felt by the people as a sacred phenomenon: intangible, supreme, unassailable. “All criticism of it brings down impassioned, outraged, and excessive reactions” and even panic! – just as infidelity and profanity toward the older gods was once intolerable.”

        In the same vein as Ellul, Bob Goudzwaard wrote in that great little book, “Idols of our time” that Technology is one of our new idols. The technological mind set, the attitude that technology is a saviour is pervasive. “Technology” or as Ellul calls it “Technique” has been adopted as the sacred centre of our society.

        So here is my question. If technology/technique is the sacred center of our society how do we, Christians in the reformed tradion, respond to the use of technology as a tool for teaching children how to follow jesus?

        If McLuhan’s dictum “the medium is the message” is true then embedded in the use of technology in the class room is the belief that technique/technolgy is the sacred centre.

        And here is a follow up question, how can we use a social idol in a christian classroom and not realistically expect that the faith development of our students will be challenged? (See the book that you recommended by John Suk “Not Sure”)

        Final question: Where is the debate about the use of technology in the classroom occuring in Christian schools? [other than in blogs like this]

      • Larry,

        If you have access to CEJ – Christian Educator’s Journal – I wrote an article about technology and faith development entitled Technology, Faith and Practice that appeared in the February 2012 issue. I list six areas as concerns/needs and some suggestions to deal with these areas. You may find that helpful.

    • Hi Larry,
      I sincerely appreciate your response! In fact, the ideas you present actually fall very much in line with my own thinking, and the approach behind the changes I present.

      Two notes:
      1. You’re right–I do assume that “technology is the way to go” in the 21st century. I would *never* argue that every lesson needs to be tech-enhanced. I would definitely prefer that kids continue to have kinesthetic, tactile, “get-out-and-make-mudpies” sort of activities over virtual ones. At the same time, I desire that my own children practice skills of information literacy, and critical thinking, and time- and resource-management when it comes to the technology that is omnipresent in North American culture. So, what I’m really seeking is a balanced approach.

      2. Remember, my first part in this series is about the problems associated with Tech-on-the-Side. This part was intended to present an approach to addressing these problem. The inauthentic part of Tech-on-the-side is the overemphasis that it puts on technology by making it a glaringly obtuse part of the school experience. I affirm your point that most all of the changes I propose are not really changes that *depend* on technology–they are things that I hope would be found happening in every school. I suppose you might say that my point here is that when we consider what excellent, God-glorifying pedagogy will look like in contemporary culture, we will likely need to address how we use technology in schools as well. My real hope is that by making these sorts of changes, we would in fact minimize the importance of technology that the Tech-on-the-Side model assumes, because technology integration would make it a more seamless part of students’ experience.

      Thanks for taking the time to respond! I too am very interested to see what others have to say about the ideas presented here.

      Christmas blessings,

  2. Love what you’re saying, I see where you’re coming from. Keep your ideas coming!

  3. This has been a very interesting discussion. I am encouraged in my thinking that technology used well will enhance any human endeavor, including education. As an art teacher I exposes students to centuries old technologies and processes and enjoy the response of students to these tactile rich activities. I also yearn to use up-to-date technology that will allow for new explorations, and the creation of new images that will benefit our own students, and enrich our world.

  4. Jo-Anne Voogd

    Engaging, exciting and absolutely essential dialogue is taking place in this blog! Our essential, driving questions of what it means to educate from a Christian perspective and how to invite our students into that Biblical worldview is a major challenge and gift. Seeking to integrate into the actual weave of the curriculum, the unpacking, discovering, and integrating information and questions as teachers and students learn together, can and should take place using technology, face-to-face interaction and individualized learning.
    Technology is for some people the end-all-be-all, or as Larry made reference to the article in the Cardus magazine, “a sacred phenomena”, For others, technology and its many uses is a threatening and alien unknown. As an educator, I desire to see the joy of learning take place in all sorts of inventive and creative ways. Technology should not be a mere replacement “bandaide”…word processing vs. pen and paper…although both can and do serve a purpose. Nor should it replace vital explorations into real places and hands-on experiences. Technology is an amazing tool which needs to be implemented with time given to educate the educators how to most diligently and intelligently implement it in and out of the classroom. Empowering teachers with the tools and the time to dialogue, practice Biblical discernment and develop curriculum using the many aspects of technology, is so desperately needed.
    Creating learning and exploring environments employing project based learning, mentorship, and global connections, our students can and should be uncovering and practicing Biblical principles of bringing their faith into action in all areas of life and learning.
    I am excited when I read the questions and the pedagody you are struggling through in Sioux Center! Your school is blessed in that there has been a financial and philosphical commitment and direction to invest in its teachers, students and broader community by not only supporting the use of technology but challenging the role and purpose it should play in education. Thank you Dave, for your queries, probings and sharing of your insights and experiences.
    Jo-Anne Voogd
    Centennial Christian School, Terrace, BC

  5. Kelsey Horlings

    Thank you for sharing this blog! These are incredibly important discussions to be having within our schools. Whether we are familiar with or support the advances made in technology in the last decade, we have to face the reality that our students are already living in this technological world. Isn’t it our job to understand the world we live in and then guide our students to make good decisions within it?

    I appreciate your criticism of the “tech-on-the-side” habit that so many of us fall into in our classrooms. As teachers in Christian schools, we are called to be purposeful and provide our students with a learning experience that applies directly to their experiences outside of the classroom. We are already constantly finding ways to integrate our subject areas and make connections to “real life”. If this is truly the case, we need to practice the same application and guiding with technology. It is not enough to simply have a projector in our classrooms; teachers need to push themselves to continue to teach with essential questions, and then find ways to enhance them using techonlogy. Like David mentions, this does not assume that technology needs to be used in each lesson. It should not be forced in just to make it “relevant”. How we teach and what we teach needs to be authentic and natural in order for our students to connect to material.

    I am just beginning to explore how technology can support and expand my lessons and am chalenged by this blog to make sure that what I am doing isn’t just for the sake of using technology, but that I am being purposeful and not losing sight of what I really want my students to learn. Technology is one tool that can help me show my students the incredible world God has created for us and empower them to be disciples of Christ in our world today.

  6. Hi Kelsey thanks for the comments on this discussion. Can I suggest that the most powerful tool to help your students discover the creation is a bog walk or a forest tour or any field trip where students can put their hands on the things you are teaching. For those far away places yes technology can be a useful tool but nothing makes creation more alive and real to a child than going down to the creek and looking at the frogs, fish, bugs, flowers, trees, squirrels and birds doing there thing.

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