Saturday, September 21, 2013

Technology in Schools

I just watched a TED talk, shared on the 1 to1 schools blog, which was not earth-shattering news but nonetheless succinctly encapsulated my thoughts about technology in schools, which is that what's going on right now is woefully inadequate. I feel particularly passionate about underserved students using technology: I have visited schools with middle-class and wealthy students and seen the way they are able to use technology not only to gather information but also share what they know and express themselves. It doesn't seem like this savvy comes from their schools or teachers, but from outside of school. In my experience, there is a huge gap in technology use between poor and middle-class kids (the so-called digital divide). My first year of teaching (most of my students were low income, living on the west side of Chicago), I sent home a survey about how kids accessed the internet, and discovered that for most of the students who had internet access, they accessed it on a mobile phone. Most did not have a computer at home. This is an incredible gap in opportunity: being technologically illiterate is quickly becoming a very real form of illiteracy. Teachers need to stop being so afraid of technology.

The thing is, educators are generally aware that we need to incorporate technology in the classroom. The Common Core State Standards address technology (albeit in a vague and superficial way). And more and more classrooms are being equipped with interactive white boards and student computers (though usually just a few per classroom). The problem is, most educators (myself included) don't how to use the technology in a way that maximizes its benefit for students.

Technology should be a tool in students' hands. But in most cases it's simply window-dressing on old-school teaching. Interactive white boards are a great example. There are a lot of cool things you can do with them, but at the end of the day, they're not really a tool that students are using to create with. It's a specially-designed teaching tool that's essentially a really fancy white board. And most classroom computers are used for playing educational games, or accessing digital versions of textbooks. Again, this is simply a fancier version of something already happening in classrooms, and the technology is not being used by students to create something new, gather information, or express themselves.

Digital technologies are tools—tools that happen to be wildly powerful. They are rapidly reshaping our world. When we talk about using technology in schools, we shouldn't be thinking about how to make our teaching electronic. We should be thinking about enabling kids to use powerful tools to do things in ways they would not otherwise be able to.

Teachers need more training around authentic and purposeful use of technology in classrooms. People who understand philosophically how technology is changing and shaping our world need to help create vision of what technology use can look like in schools. I think this is where we have a disconnect. I am a woeful luddite (like many teachers I know). My awareness of this problem and the sense of urgency are largely shaped by the fact that I'm married to a computer scientist. Sean reflects often on the ways that technology allows him to be orders of magnitude more productive and creative; to have a voice and a larger audience than would ever be possible without it. We need to be thinking about how we can help our students do this in school and make it a part of their learning.

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