Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What does it take to teach with technology?

After spending the last 5 months training teachers on how to use technology in the classroom, I've been able to come to some conclusions on the subject.  I'm not the first to say it, but it really is true that it isn't about the technology.  It's about the teacher.

Teachers have gotten by just fine with a single piece of chalk for a long time.  That's because it wasn't the chalk that was teaching.  Sure, there are those book things also, but with technology we can provide instruction in ways we weren't previously able to.  Think of it as going from a standard box of crayons with 5 colors to a jumbo box of 64 with a sharpener.  Wow, think of the possibilities!  Problem is, even though you have a palette of the rainbow before you, it still depends on how good you can color.

So what does it take to teach with technology?  It takes effort on the teacher's part.  You need to educate yourself on what resources are available and how to use them.  Your goal shouldn't be to plug a computer into a student.  Each tool and resource have their own benefits and limits, so get acquainted with them.  Decide if you want to color the sky with Cerulean or Blue Gray.  You have your standards to guide you, but you don't have to stay in between the lines.  You have infinite resources and solutions to choose from so you better get started.

You have a lot of ways to present the information, but you still need to think about the information itself.  If a lesson is composed poorly, technology isn't going to save it.  Think about your instructional goals and then choose the best resource to accomplish it.  You shouldn't be using technology for the sake of technology alone.  On the other hand, why do you have that beautiful box of crayons if you're not going to take it out?  Is that interactive whiteboard collecting dust in the corner because it isn't useful or because you haven't found a use for it?

Be prepared for class.  Sometimes you find a crayon in the box that is broken.  You need to have a back up plan for those times when the Internet is down or a bulb is blown.  If you have trouble, you can always ask for help from the teacher across the hall, only now you have thousands of teachers across the hall of cyberspace to get advice.  Become active in a social network to build upon your professional development.  This is where you'll get ideas and perhaps you can help others as well.

If we are asking our students to be creative and innovative, then it makes sense that we should expect the same from the teachers.  Unlike your coloring artwork, this doesn't come naturally.  You need to look for the resources to use and assemble them into your instruction.  The possibilities are countless so the more informed you are the easier it will be to find the right crayon for your creation.

There are very few limits.  If you were restricting yourself to teaching from a textbook before, then you had confined your students to that material.  Would you want to go through school with just 5 colors of crayon?  Google the words "water cycle" and you get over 23 million choices to explore.  Look it up in the back of the book and it will say "p.54".  Furthermore, an additional benefit of ed tech is that a wider scope of thinking skills can be addressed more easily.  Collaboration, improved problem solving skills, and creativity are common byproducts.  Most textbooks aim low in Bloom's Taxonomy, but then again, this depends on the teacher.

If this sounds like a lifestyle change then I guess it is.  You can get by with what you've been doing and save yourself the additional time and effort this requires.  But if you're like me, you'll find a renewed sense of purpose and energy in your instruction.  The common thread to all of this was that it wasn't the piece of chalk or the crayon or even the bulk of technology making the decisions.  It isn't the technology that improves instruction, it's what the teacher does with it.

Photos by stuartpilbrow and Ben Sparks
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