Posts Tagged technology

The Role of Technology in Education

So many people espouse the many benefits of technology in education. Sometimes it seems like the so-called “experts” are getting kickbacks from the technology industry. So, how do you tell if a new technology is actually worth the time, money and effort? Here’s how I judge new technologies.

There are two things that technology should and must do if it’s to be found in the classroom. One is that it must increase student learning. Now I’m not one of those folks who emphasize the difference between “teaching” and “learning.” In other languages, these two words are one in the same. So, when I talk about student learning, that includes anything that helps teachers teach better and students learn better.

The other main purpose of technology in education is to help reduce the workload of teachers and students. This seems like a fairly straight-forward request. However, you’d be amazed how many new technologies have been introduced but no one has given an ounce of thought to how it impacts the teacher or student. Sometimes “time-saving technologies” actually add hours to the end users. What they usually do is save someone else’s time. ¡No bueno!

So if you hear about a technology that just “has to be in your school,” ask for specific details about two things: the impact on student learning and the work-load reduction. If they promise things that are beyond your wildest dreams, they may be trying to sell you something.

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Who Should You Call? 911 or Facebook?

A recent event highlights a critical need for adults to help young people navigate the new digital world that we’ve created. Two girls who were lost in a storm drain decided that they should update their Facebook status instead of call for help. Read the story here at ABC News-Australia. It’s imperative that teachers and parents step up to the plate and help young people understand how to use new technology appropriately. We can’t sit on the sidelines and “let the kids figure it out.” We created this technology–it’s our responsibility that it’s used correctly.

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Cloud Computing-the future or doom?

With the recent problem with Gmail (news) outage, many computer users are wondering about the use of “cloud computing.” Simply put, cloud computing is the idea that you save all of your electronic documents, files, pictures, etc. to somewhere on the internet (this is called the “cloud”). You can access them from anywhere.  All you need is an internet connection and your username and password. Ever since computing was born, the dilemma of where to save has one main problem: what if that location goes down. In the early days, we saved to floppies. Then we moved to hard drives, the internet, CDs, flashdrives and other devices. The problem that Gmail experienced is not a new one. What’s new is the number of people affected.

Some say that the idea of “cloud computing” is dangerous. They point to the Gmail outage to call attention to this fear. However, this point seems irrelevant now since so much of our data is now electronic. The question isn’t where to save it; the question is how do we protect that data from loss or temporary disruption. Backup systems need to be in place for quick recovery if needed. There is cause to be careful but let’s be clear what the issues are.

In the case that we can’t get to our data because the “cloud” or other celestial location is unavailable, my advice to you is to relax. If you can’t get your email for an hour or two, have a glass of orange juice. Just sit and enjoy a conversation with a friend.

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Technology Gets in the Way of Thinking

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.

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Computer Projectors

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.

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