Back in the 1990’s, the boys at the high school I worked at carried all their textbooks, notebooks, pencils and calculators in large duffle bags. They had access to a locker, but students felt carrying their locker in one bag from class to class was better. In any case, they got their weight training in early. It was during this time the Dean of Technology, Dr. Jerry Waite, and myself were looking into e-books, originally called, “e-readers.” This was pre-kindle. We both came to the early conclusion that if educational publishers ever took on the task of converting traditional paper textbooks to digital this could save a lot of weight. However, would owning an e-book increase student reading skills, comprehension, and output? Would it increase literacy? Would it motivate students to read more? We weren’t sure.
This article is a continuation in a series I am writing about regarding the Tools of the Trade. Teachers have access to more teaching tools than any previous generation. How to choose the best tool for the right job is still an important question. There is no one tool that fits all. Hopefully, these articles will open dialog and direction that in the end will benefit our students.
In the world of marketing, both online (Social Media) and offline (newspapers, flyers, and even business cards) media are encouraged in getting the message out. Likewise, in education it’s important that we embrace the new technologies while continuing to evaluate what we gain and lose with legacy tools vs. digital tools. Certain questions have come to mind, which I believe are being ignored or overlooked.
Question 1: What improvements in learning are achieved by integrating new technology into the classroom?
Lest we forget, the classroom is a learning tool, and the classroom as we knew it has been evolving. Today’s classroom can be a dynamic learning tool for discovery, creating dreams, and empowerment provided we address three conditions:
- IF, all the elements in the classroom are interconnecting and engaging the
- iF, the teacher has been well instructed on how to use and integrate the
technology into the curriculum, and
- IF, the teacher is willing to push the technology envelope to find more ways to
reach student learning styles.
I have read a lot of articles about the “New Skills” today’s technology will teach our students. But no one has ever taken the time to make a list of exactly what those skills are. LAUSD spent $1 billion dollars to purchase 600,000 iPads and WiFi infrastructures for it’s school district. The only public reason given for this purchase has been that the California State Standardized Tests under the new Core Curriculum will now be taken online. So I thought, what new skills are needed to learn on how to click on a bubble, or type in your answer in an assigned box?
A week ago, I visited a fifth grade math class. The teacher had several multiplication problems on her Smartboard that were being copied by students using their iPads. As I walked around the room I saw student after student using his/her finger to write the problem onto a blank screen and carry out the computation. Students could use the same finger to erase by tapping on the appropriate icon. As the students continued to work, I asked the teacher a question, “How has the student learning outcomes improved by replacing pencil and paper for the new digital device?” She replied, “We haven”t had much time to evaluate that question.” She continued, “However, it has saved our school quite a bit on paper purchases.” Was saving paper or student growth the most important reason to implement iPad technology into the lesson plan?
The efficacy is further hindered with yearly industry system and software upgrades along with district demands not only to learn the new technologies but finding new ways to integrate them into current curriculums. All of this creating a learning curves for teachers that are almost vertical on the graph.
So, how is this problem to be solved? Base on my research, these six foundation questions need to be answered first.
- How will the technology being considered improve the content to be delivered?
- What projects will be developed from the technology demonstrate student engagement and self-motivation?
- How will the technology create collaboration between students?
- How will student communication improve?
- What creative projects can be created, that will utilize both traditional and digital technologies in solving a unique problem?
- How will the technology help to encourage learning outside the classroom?
Second, better assessment tools need to be created, not on the technologies, technologies don’t have learning outcomes, but on student learning outcomes.
Third, programs need to be re-evaluated for school mission efficacy. Our school missions are the light houses that represent who we are, and what goals we have agreed to work on for the betterment of our students, not state rating or scores.
Back in 1988, I took a photography class at Glendale Community College. This was in PDA (pre-digital age). Like my fellow students I brought in my brand new Minolta 35mm camera. Our first assignment was to go around campus and take a composition picture in black & white showing textures. Our teacher went out as well, taking his 1950 Brownie camera to take shots. When we returned we all prepared our film, chose the best negative, developed it, and proudly placed it on a viewing rack. We then voted on the best picture. Okay, you’re jumping ahead, but you’re right! The teacher’s photo won. I still remember his words, “It’s the eye of the photographer, not the camera that takes a good or great picture.” Years later, when I taught a digital video production class I passed on the same phrase to my students. Composition is a communication skill that should not be left to the camera to decide.
My teacher’s quote can also be applied to today’s professional teachers. The technology available for classroom projects, presentations, and experimentation is awesome. But in the end, it is still the teacher not the tool that motivates a child. Today’s teachers are graduating from the best universities coming out with knowledge and insights on how the human brain learns, memorizes, and thinks. Neuroscience research has become part of the university’s curriculum with the newest information and studies on learning impairments, learning styles, cultural integration, and motivation motif’s. And yet, not one class is set aside on the topic on current technology being used in the classroom. Not one class discusses the best methods and procedures on how to implement any of the technology tools available into lesson plans that will engage and motivate young learners.
Some will say, today’s technology is quite intuitive, and there doesn’t need to be any training in it. There is some truth in this. My Canon Rebel digital camera can take good automatic pictures once I set the auto dials, then all I have to do is push a button, and instantly I get to see my taken image. But professional photographers learn how to compose their own shots, manually setting their own speeds and lighting, using raw files instead of tiff files. Pro photographers expand the envelope of their tools to invent and create new ways to communicate visually. There is a difference between a candid shot and a professional shot. But what has all of this to do with teachers?
Teachers who are not trained in how to manipulate the technology given them are limited to only the program instructions and device functions. Student engagement and motivation becomes a reality when teachers are trained properly on what their technology is capable of doing. An iPad device has access to thousands of apps, however, understanding how a child thinks and learns opens up opportunities in not just choosing the right app, but being able to manipulate it into a functional teaching tool. Teachers need to be taught how to choose the right technology and software programs that will meet the student’s learning style. There is no one size fits all here. It is at this point we transform the classroom facilitator into a EduTech professional capable of changing lives, engaging students, motivating them to their highest potentials, and in the end, even keeping the bureaucracy satisfied with higher test scores.