Our school, like many others, is in the midst of figuring out how technology fits into our curriculum, instruction, and student learning experiences. Technology is very prevalent in educational discussions. There are conservations occurring throughout education focused on increasing funding for computer science[i] and STEM educations. The Partnership for 21st Century Learning includes an entire section of its framework on Information, Media, and Technology Skills[ii]. As educators, we are having these discussions, because we are trying to figure out what technology looks like in our schools. The digital age is new and can significantly change the direction of teaching[iii]. As our school has increased our technology infrastructure, number of devices, and professional development, I have made some observations that I find important.
It’s not all or nothing
I have come to realize that integrating technology does not need to be an all or nothing approach. I feel like there is a misconception that if you decide to add technology to your classroom, then you need to switch everything to be digital. This is a dangerous misconception and a scary one if you don’t know what it might look like once implemented. I recently observed a teacher and was specifically looking for digital technology use, behavioral engagement, and cognitive demand of the lesson. During the lesson, there was no digital technology being used, but the students were engaged and the rigor was high. This was a glowing example of how technology should be used when appropriate.
It’s only one of many tools
When technology is used appropriately, it is used with intention. Students are not sitting in class all day playing with a device. They instructed when to use a device and why they are using it. If the task does not lend itself to using technology, then other educational tools should be used. When we are planning lessons and activities for students, we need to consider the most effective way to getting to the learning goals and what tools will support that process. We can’t force the use of technology into classes when it is not the right time.
But even when it is the right time to use technology, we need to be ready for it to be a mess. Anytime we try a new instructional strategy in a class, there is an increased risk of it not working. We get comfortable in our early years of teaching with our handful of strategies that work for us, and we tend to not want to add new strategies for fear of making a mess. So when we add technology, we have to know that it might not work the way we hoped. We need to be comfortable taking the risk to see the long-term benefits of adding new strategies to our repertoire.
Have a back-up plan
One way to lower the fear of technology not working is to have a back-up plan. This takes a little extra time to prepare, but it is very important. Even the best technology infrastructures are going to need maintenance or have failures, and if your entire lesson is dependent upon technology and you don’t have a back-up plan, your lesson is toast. Your back-up plan does not need to be elaborate, but have a quick activity the students can do while your program loads, or another way that you can show the material if your internet is down. Being prepared allows you to troubleshoot the technology problem without losing the entire class and becoming completely frustrated.
Try it first
Another way to avoid feeling frustrated by technology is to try it first. As a science educator, one of the golden rules is to always perform the lab you are going to do with the students before the actual lesson. This way you know the nuances that will make sure the lab is successful. You have an idea of where it might get stuck and where you might need to give extra instruction. Technology is very similar. If you want to the students to make a movie, practice making one yourself. Then you have some knowledge and can support them in their learning.
See it in action
Since not all of us our experts with technology, we need to find others who can help us. We did not grow up with iPads and laptops in the classroom. I remember having to go to the computer lab and use the old Macs to play Oregon Trail. This is not where technology is going any more. Today’s technology can be so much more dynamic. Find someone that uses technology in their classroom and see if you can go see it in action. Some teachers have spent a lot of time and are highly creative in the ways that they are integrating technology into their classes to enhance learning. We can all learn from those individuals. It can be difficult to be creative and think of ways to use technology because it is so new. So instead of reinventing the wheel, develop a network with others that are using technology and trying new things in the classroom.
Find the right technology
Lastly, invest in the right technology. My school originally invested in SMART Boards for each classroom. We used them for years, but they were nothing more than a fancy projection tool. We rarely used the interactive touch feature. The teachers did not use the SMART Notebook software either because it wasn’t familiar and slowed their computers down. So as we started looking at upgrading technology, we decided on technology that felt familiar. We bought flat screen TVs, Apple TVs, and iPads. All of the teachers knew how a TV works and how an iPad works. The Apple TVs allowed the teachers to pair their work on the iPads with the TVs. We had the same fancy projection capabilities that we did with the SMART Boards, but the teachers were getting more into the iPads. The comfort with the device was essential to getting the teachers to use it more in the classrooms. As administrators and teachers looking to upgrade their technology, we have to consider the comfort and familiarity with the devices and what we are hoping the students will do with it.
[i] Megan Smith (2016, January 30). Computer Science for All. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/01/30/computer-science-all
[ii] Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2015). The intellectual and policy foundations of the 21st century skills framework. Retrieved from http://p21.org
[iii] Fullan, M. & Langworthy, M. (2013). Towards a new end: New pedagogies for deep learning, Sponsored by: Motion Leadership, Intel, Pearson, Collaborative Impact, Microsoft, Promethean.