Friday, June 28, 2013

Humans in a Digital Age: Exploring the Role of Technology in the Classroom

I've been on vacation for 7 days now and I have 3 more days until I'm home! Thank goodness for drafts done ahead of time and scheduled posts. 

I'm also extremely thankful to Mr. Hawkins, the tech teacher at my school for writing the following post for me while I'm away. My class gets to visit Mr. Hawkins once a week and the kids LOVE him. The projects they complete in tech class are amazing. In his post he gives some interesting insight into integrating technology into the classroom. I'm crossing my fingers that he'll want to post for me more often!


Will all this technology rot their brains? Why are the Birds so Angry? Do I really need computers in my classroom? What do 1-to-1 and BYOD mean? Can't we just go back to pencils and paper?

If you've wondered any of these things, you're probably a modern educator, trying to figure out the appropriate place for technology in your classroom. I hope to offer a few helpful thoughts on the subject. 

It’s no secret that the modern-day student is impacted by technology. The laptops, the iPads, the smartphones, the Nintendo DSs and PS Vitas, the Xboxes, the gigantic flat screen TVs… they have our students (and many of us) captivated. Just look for glowing faces in the car next you, and you’re sure to find a youth tethered to some shining device.  Or talk to a student about his favorite video game – but make sure you have a few minutes, since he’ll probably give you the whole plot line and his most recent exploits.

Here are some numbers: The average U.S. home has 5 Internet connected devices. 6% of households own more than 15 connected devices (Olga Kharif, Bloomberg Tech Blog, Aug 2012). There are 315 million people in the U.S., and about 425 million Internet enabled devices, according to the NPD Research Group (Katie McDonough, Salon, Jan 2013). In 2009, 97% percent of American classrooms had one or more computers available for student use (U.S. Department of Education, NationalCenter for Education Statistics, 2010). 6 out of 10 students have used a digital textbook. And by the end of this year, 11% of all textbook content will be digital (OpenColleges Infographic, 2011).

So with this digital revolution in full force, we know (or perhaps, FEAR) that as modern-day educators, we must get with the times, be cutting edge, and somehow become digitally savvy. This is why schools are pouring what little money they have into computer labs, rolling laptop or tablet carts, and classroom devices and peripherals (i.e. SMART boards, tablets, doc cams, etc.). We know that technology is inescapable, and we think we should probably be doing….something educational with it.

But there’s a problem: technology doesn’t actually DO ANYTHING helpful for our students unless we can identify a UNIQUE need that it may meet – something that could not be done without technology. And this UNIQUE application is not just the digital duplication of oft-done projects (i.e., typing state reports, biographies, etc.). There must be a better way to invite technology into our pedagogy. That better way, in my opinion, can be termed technology integration and collaboration.

Now when I say “INTEGRATION,” I’m referring to using technology to SERVE, EXPAND, and ENLIVEN the content that we already teach. It’s tempting to say, “Well, I have this class iPad, so I should probably do an iPad activity today.” Instead, an integrative approach would look at the content that needs to be taught and ask, “Can I teach this content using technology in a way that I could NOT without technology?” I’ll get to specifics in a minute...

Another temptation, as I alluded to above, is duplication. “My students always write out state reports, so I guess I’ll have them do some online research and type out their reports… that’ll throw a little tech in there.” The problem with this is that students are not challenged to go beyond what they have done before. They are not invited to work together and construct their learning together. They are not invited to grow in creativity, since they are really just repeating old forms dressed up in digital clothes. We need a technology paradigm shift.

And this leads me to the COLLABORATION component. To me, the most exciting possibility for technology in education is found in the realm of student-teacher and student-student collaboration. In the past, students have been limited to verbal response, written response, solo projects, and group projects. Of course, these forms still have a place in the classroom. They are important for assessment and information transmission. But we have the opportunity as educators to tap into the digital culture in which our students live, and in so doing, connect students to one another as learners.

We teach at a time in history when information and communication are often instant, geographical boundaries are blurred, and people of all ages and backgrounds can participate in the conversation. Now, with cloud technology (i.e., Google Drive, Skydrive, Dropbox, Evernote, and others), free and easy blogging tools, digital classrooms, educational social networking sites, information curating tools, and countless other Web 2.0 tools, students can collaborate with one another about virtually any topic. It is up to us to facilitate this collaboration.

But where do we start? Well, here are a few concrete examples:

  • Instead of having students write reflections, reports, or essays, consider creating a classroom blog using Have students write blog posts and comment on one another’s posts. Then make the blog accessible to parents so they can witness the collaboration. Students will find this writing format new and exciting.
  • Or… set-up a class community on (a Facebook-inspired educational social network). The class groups are private, and the students get to write short posts, comment on each other’s updates, and customize their profiles. Teachers can also post assignments, quizzes, and polls, as well as hosting all sorts of class content in their digital library. You can also link your Edmodo to Google Drive for easy file sharing with your students. (Edmodo is best for 4th and up.)
  • If you have a class tablet (iPad or other), have students take turns summarizing sections of a book or concept the class has finished. Once each student has recorded something, compile the clips using iMovie (or another video editing app/program), and play for the class. Then have students interact with their classmates’ summaries, asking questions and adding points. Or have students record themselves using a screencasting app like Educreations or Knowmia (both for iPad), then play it back and discuss. This turn-based recording can be useful for anything from story-telling to concept explanation.
There are countless other ways to integrate technology throughout the content we teach. And with a bit of boldness, a bit of research, and some willingness to go out on a limb, we can use technology in a collaborative way that invites our students to participate in THEIR learning experience. We can re-appropriate all of the digital noise around us and make something inspiring out of it. We can help students see technology as a tool that can enhance their academic journey and not distract from it. And along the way, we can have a lot of fun watching our students grow in creativity and competence.

So how do you use technology in your class? What tools have you found helpful? There are so many more specific tools we could discuss, but they might have to wait until another post...

All the Best,

Mr. Hawkins


Thanks again Mr. Hawkins! Show him some love and comment below with your thoughts, insight, questions, etc. 

"See" you all in real time next week!

1 comment :

  1. I love being able to schedule posts too! What a great idea to have a staff member from your school guest post!