I recently attended a teachers meeting with an excellent speaker. Her topic was “engaging students in learning” and her focus was on preventing high school students from dropping out of school. The primary method for engaging students these days seems to be technology, and that is also the preferred method of our speaker. Classrooms from K-12 are installing computers, printers, cameras, smart boards, software, and even hand-held devices and laptops to integrate technology into the curriculum. Our speaker is in awe of the potential for student achievement in a future liberated by technological advances.
However, our speaker’s experience in front of our group was typical of the experiences most of us have had in our classrooms. Her first three attempts to connect her laptop to the school’s system failed and a tech advisor had to be called in to get everything integrated properly. We waited far more patiently than a room full of young students would while he worked. Then half-way through her Power Point presentation, a link was broken for a video and she stopped and tried to find it on her original file, but instead somehow managed to shut down Windows. Again, we waited while that problem was solved.
I’m not faulting our speaker. I’m sure she is far more knowledgeable about technology than I am. It is simply the nature of the beast- if there is a machine in the room, it will at some point fail- generally when you need it the most! In fact, I would have to say that out of all the Power Point presentations I’ve seen in the past five years, I can’t remember one, not ONE, which has gone from start to finish without a problem. Some were probably “operator error”, but many were just victims of the inherent glitches that go along with embracing technology.
The same things happen in the classroom. Teachers don’t get nearly enough training in technology and then they are expected to use computers and smart boards with ease and professionalism. If something goes wrong there is usually a long wait for a tech advisor. Or you might be in the middle of a lesson and there is a sudden announcement that due to “blah, blah, blah” (that has nothing to do with you or your classroom) the network will be down for a few hours. Then it’s on to plan B. And if you are embracing technology you’d better be sure you always have a “plan B”.
The other problem with technology is that few schools are properly equipped. The usual ratio of computers to students is one to twenty, except for lab time if you are lucky enough to have a lab. And if you do have a lab, then you have to be ready to handle any and all problems on twenty computers at once, unless you have a lab teacher. Or you might have as many as six computers to twenty students in your classroom, but that still involves planning and sharing. It also makes it difficult to engage the students who are not at the keyboards because they are watching those who are and anticipating their turn.
Computer learning is entertaining. It is engaging. It is beneficial in many situations. However, I can’t see that our students have made astonishing improvements in reading or reasoning because we now have more technology in our building. I don’t find them more informed or more interested in learning. In fact, I find some of our fourth graders a bit jaded. Some have the “been there, seen that” mentality. They’ve been on computers for most of their lives. They become impatient and bored if things don’t happen at the speed of DSL. They are no longer amazed by Discovery Channel or enthralled by the fact that they can visit with a classroom in New Zealand. They know that information is just a click away if they need it; what they want is to play games, watch You-Tube, email their friends, and visit My Space.
Don’t think that I’m anti-technology, or just an old granny who is afraid of progress. I love my computer. I wish I had six or eight in my classroom. I wouldn’t turn down the offer of a smart board if someone wants to give me one! I suppose I just want to advise a bit of caution. As we embrace technology in our classrooms we need to realize that it only plays a part in the education of our children. We need to be careful that they are truly engaged in learning and not just entertained by the screen. They still need to be able to function independently and intelligently in a variety of situations. They need to know how to get along with people and establish real relationships. They need to be able to read and write and solve math problems. They need to be creative and innovative. They need to know how to think for themselves and solve problems without depending on chips and circuit boards.
If the electricity goes off I still know how to light a candle!