I have been thinking quite a bit today about the reasons that we use technology in the classroom. There is a camp of people that are pretty convinced that technology is not going to help students learn. They feel that teachers who are using technology to teach are doing so out of an attempt to entertain students in hopes that they learn something.
While I don’t agree at all with this thinking, I do think that the entertainment factor of technology does have its benefits. However, this is not the main reason that it should be used.
Student engagement is the reason we need to be using technology in our classrooms, and there is a stark difference between a student being engaged in learning and being entertained. I think one of the biggest problems is that the definition of “using technology in the classroom” is wide and varies from teacher to teacher.
Having a classroom of students watch a video might be deemed by some a use of technology to teach. Many school districts are buying interactive whiteboards by the truck load and installing them in classrooms as fast as they can in hopes of bringing up test scores. Then there are the teachers that video every class project they can and post them on Youtube. No one can argue that these teachers are not using technology in the classroom, but there is definitely an argument in whether or not they are actually using the technology to teach. There is a very good chance that none of them are.
Here is the problem. Teachers often use gadgets like projectors, computers, interactive whiteboards, and calculators to teach, but these tools are not used to help the students think. They are often used to teach students at the most basic levels of Bloom’s. It seems that there are number of teachers who are cramming as much knowledge as possible into students minds, and they mean well. After all, that is how most of us learned. We sat in the room and copied notes off the board and had a test at the end of the week. Now the teacher can make a fancy PowerPoint with nifty animations and even videos, but many of these lessons still amount to “cramming” the mind with knowledge. For many, this constitutes using technology to teach.
I am going to apologize now to those who see the interactive whiteboard as the greatest teaching tool to ever come along, but I am having a hard time with it as a stellar teaching tool. Sure, they are a great tool to use for writing on the board, and I can prepare some pretty cool lessons with interactive activities for the students. They are definitely a great thing to have in the classroom, but they do not require a whole lot of upper level thinking. Those districts that have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on them hoping to raise test scores are spending money in the wrong place. It’s kind of like paying for the dentist to fix a broken tooth when you really have a broken arm!
Even something as simple as a calculator, if not used to make a student think, is a waste of that student’s time. What good is the knowledge of how to graph a line if the student has no idea how this knowledge can be applied to life?
What we need to do is carefully evaluate each lesson we do and make sure that we are pushing student to think with each one. Technology, if used correctly, can help do this, and it does so in a manner that truly engages the mind.
Engagement is another word that is used loosely in education. Oftentimes, student engagement is recognized as a teacher who has a class full of students looking at the board or projector screen. As long as no one is sleeping then the class is engaged.
That is not what an engaged learner looks like. An engaged learner is thinking and then acting on what they have learned. Even better, they take some information or knowledge from the teacher and then run with it. They are engaged in their own learning because they want to. They want to use their new found knowledge and come to understand it on their own terms. This is learning, and technology can help students achieve this kind of learning when they are allowed to.
I guess my point here is that we need to make sure we are using the tools we have to their fullest potential. In these days of high stakes testing. we cannot afford not to.