Thursday, February 5, 2015

Technology Integration, Get it Right!

Recently a colleague mentioned ideas about schools and technology presented in the opinion section of The New Yorker, Can Students Have Too Much Tech?, so I had to check it out. It is not often I find something that just leaves me flabbergasted, but this article did just that. Though there are some valid points about time-wasting that can occur using devices, a missing perspective is that of a teacher who teaches students how to use a device in a way that benefits expanded learning. If one were looking for a way out of technology integration, this would be it. Game, set, match. Just send administrators and teachers on a mission to ban student devices in our schools! I say this somewhat in jest, but I know there is an element of truth to it as well, as I often hear other educators downplay the need for students technology use in school. The common retort is that traditional schooling is good enough or there is not enough time or money to spend on technology integration. To challenge each others' thinking is quite often hard work, but now, especially now, is the right time to question why we are steadfast in our traditional mindset of teaching.

I don’t want to dwell on the author’s opinions, but it’s important to note a few things I believe are getting in the way of student learning because of articles like this. The biggest problem I have with the article is its promotion of the misconception that students only use technology in ways that waste time, negatively impacting their learning. Though the data shows decreased scores in the selected test groups, with part of the purpose being to rally support for more good teachers (with which I totally agree), the opinion disregards the world in which our students will be asked to live and work in the future. The article promotes limiting student use of technology in schools, viewing it as a distraction. If our school community viewed technology like the author, there certainly would not be any need to change what we are doing; we could just keep living in the past.

A couple of years ago, I might have used this kind of information to support my own lack of urgency for student technology use at school. At some point, though, it had to become more about my students and less about me. It was true self-reflection that caused me to realize the technology skills our young learners will need in order to hold the most basic of jobs or make it very far along their chosen career path. I respect and agree with our students' need for daily face-to-face interactions at school and at home, which are so important in raising communicative, collaborative people. I also agree there is a great need for skillful teachers. Given the needs of our students, I say -- we want it all!  We need to purpose ourselves to having skillful teachers guiding students to use technology in ways that support critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity.
As an administrative team, we struggle with differing opinions as to the role technology should play in our schools, but that’s a good thing -- it’s evidence of true collaboration, where we make each other think, and we and our schools are better for it. As we wrestle with the overall concept of technology use in the classroom, the questions we ponder mostly are “How?” “What?” and most importantly, “Why?” In education, leaping before looking at times appears to be the status quo. More often than I wish, I find myself in a situation that leaves me wishing I had planned just a bit better, feeling like a lack of strategy resulted in lost opportunity. Much like the Seahawks’ last play of Super Bowl XLIX -- as much as we wish we could get that one back, we can’t. We will have to wait until next year, which is not much unlike the field of education where everything is moving so quickly.  

Technology integration in our district is a project that has been slow to evolve. It may seem a bit odd to think about, but having limited dollars to expand our technology has probably been in our favor. Our situation has allowed us, even forced us, to be a bit more thoughtful about the big picture and more purposeful about implementation. The work that needs to be done revolves around the “Why?” which will lead to the “What?” which then gets to the “How?” Let’s not rule out technology as a tool for learning. Let’s put plans in place and do work that needs to be done to ensure we meet our number one goal -- educating our kids so they are prepared for their futures. The key will be to do this the right way.