(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.