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In my high school psychology class the other day, I posed the question, “What is normal.” As students began to think about this question, I could tell we were in for a great class discussion. Then one student asked, “Can I ask ChaCha?” “Sure,” I replied, “why not?” Text your question to ChaCha (242242) and answers are just seconds away. But what happened next surprised me. The thinking stopped. Students stopped thinking about the questions and waited for “the answer” from ChaCha.
I’m so glad this happened. Not the “stopped thinking” part but the fact that my students could witness the one of the pitfalls of technology first-hand. I like technology a lot. However, users of technology, especially young users, need to be aware of how it impacts their learning and their thinking. Sure ChaCha, Google, Twitter and other tech tools are incredibly valuable. However, they can’t replace thinking. Parents, teachers, and the providers of technology need to emphasize that these tools are meant to aid thinking–not replace it. We must put the tools of technology into perspective.
Not surprisingly, the info that ChaCha supplied wasn’t very helpful. Here’s one answer to our question of what is normal: “not abnormal.” Thanks. I like services like ChaCha but what I like even more is when students understand how they can use tech tools most effectively. We can’t let technology get in the way of good thinking.
After working in the field of technology and education for over 17 years, I’ve seen a lot of technologies come and go. However, one stands out in my mind as a game changer: the computer projector. The ability for educators to use visual material has been fairly limited since the beginning of time. Great teachers would take their students out into the world to show them things. Or they drew in the sand, on clay tablets, on chalk or white boards, or on any other available surface. Even the lowly overhead projector with its blinding light was a godsend for teachers who wanted to communicate powerfully with students. But with the availability of a computer projector, my life as a teacher changed completely.
A few years back, as part of my school technology department, we had the opportunity to purchase either computer projectors or new computers. We decided that we would put a computer projector in each classroom. This idea was still novel at the time. We’d done some homework and found that some schools give out new technology like projectors to only to those who want it. We decided not to take that approach. Here was our reason: if this technology wasn’t available everywhere, it wouldn’t impact student learning. There are always super-savvy tech users on every teaching staff. But we also know that there are those who don’t jump on every new band wagon that comes along. We knew that if every teacher had a computer projector in their room hooked to their computer, there wouldn’t be any excuses not to use it. As well, some of our teachers had to move classrooms throughout the day. So, unless they had a computer projector in each of their classrooms, they wouldn’t use them anywhere. I knew this first-hand because I was one of those teachers (more on that in another blog entry).
Once we got the projectors in the building, we lost no time getting them hooked up. A mistake that many schools make is putting off the installation work. Too often new equipment sits in a corner or back room until some other disinterested third-party is able to install it. They often don’t have any interest in the technology or gain any benefit from it. We decided not to wait for others to solve our problems. One of our very talented technology assistants figured out a way to mount them safely to the ceiling. It took a lot of work getting the power run to the ceiling and then mounting them in the best spot but we had them all ready in the fall when teachers returned.
That whole year, the focus of technology support was around helping teachers make the transition from paper-based teaching to electronic-based teaching. Many times administrators or technology directors want change implemented immediately. But it takes time for teachers and staff members to integrate new technologies effectively. Many teachers already had much of their lessons/notes saved as ClarisWorks or Word documents. What we did is help them learn how to present that information easier and more efficiently using the computer projector. We helped them scan in pictures and diagrams to supplement their lessons. Once teachers saw what they could do with computer projectors, they didn’t look back. Even the teachers that deliver their lessons like well-rehearsed actors on stage found ways to utilize the projectors. The days of massive notebooks with endless numbers of overhead transparencies were over. So too were the times spent writing out notes that students couldn’t read or drawing diagrams that students couldn’t understand. The sentiment of the staff at the end of the year was very compelling: the quality of teaching had gone up significantly. Instead of just telling the students about the world outside, we could now bring the world into the classroom.
So, it’s with no reservation that I say: the computer projector is literally the single most important innovation in my teaching career.
Although I’ve written about technology in education in a variety of formats, I’ve never had my own blog. So, here it is. I now stand with my students in the public world of the internet.