By Thomas Broderick
In the last two decades, technology has drastically changed the educational experience. From computers to smartphones, teachers and students have access to some of the most powerful teaching tools on the planet.
However, using these tools the ‘right’ way is a complicated and somewhat controversial subject. Some teachers are virulently anti-technology, as they see devices as distractions. And it is not just older teachers who hold this view. At the beginning of my teaching career, I saw technology as a hindrance rather than a benefit. Looking back, much of that belief stemmed from my teacher education. The former teachers educating me never had a student with a smartphone or laptop.
So how should teachers adapt? Let Google teach students? Ban cell phones? The answer, as you might expect, is in the middle. Though there is no ‘right’ way to use technology in the classroom, there is a fine line that teachers must walk if students are going to gain the maximum benefit from using technology as an educational tool.
Students Have the Tools, but Not the Skills
As a new teacher, I tried to keep my classroom cellphone-free. Students texting caused me endless frustration. Taking up phones always caused large rifts between me and students. I provided them no guidance other than negative reinforcement.
Looking back, the problem was that I did not recognize that students lack the skills to responsibly use their technology. Since I did not grow up with smartphones or texting, I could not use life experience to help students use their technology responsibility. Fortunately, there came a moment when I realized the new role modern teachers must adopt: technology Sherpa.
Guiding Your Students
Even if you, like me, did not grow up with a smartphone or laptop computer, you can still model how to appropriately and productively use technology in the classroom. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Start with Google. In other words, start with what students already know. Maybe it’s having them look up a picture for history class, a short story for English, or examples of Renaissance frescos for art class. Verbally praise students who stay on task.
- Redefine Your Classes’ Relationship with Technology. This advice works particularly well for teachers who are known for taking up students’ phones. When a student finds something of value (e.g. a picture) with his or her phone, ask permission to (temporarily) take up their phone and show the image to the class before returning the phone to the student. This action shows that you both recognize their work and respect their property.
- Integrate the Use of Technology into Lessons: Even when going deeper with technology, it always pays to start small. If you are planning to do a station activity, for example, have one station ask students to use a smartphone (or a provided computer) to research certain information.
- Use Educational Apps: Educational apps aren’t just for elementary school-aged students. For example, there are many apps that can help high school students improve their SAT scores.
- If Possible, Make Technology a Key Component of Students’ Classroom Experience: If your school is lucky enough to have one-to-one technology, consider using technology as an integral part of your lessons. For example, an Algebra II teacher could have students use Khan Academy during each lesson. Students would review topics and perform practice problems on their computers before tackling the teacher’s formative or summative assessment.
- When it comes to assessments, there’s no need to break out the pencils. Google Apps/Docs has many tools teachers can adopt to create a paper-free classroom.
Mentoring New (and Experienced) Teachers
If you successfully redefine your classes’ relationship with technology, you can still do much to help other teachers. Teacher education programs, even the best ones, tend to neglect the role of technology in the classroom. And even if they taught these skills, the evolution of technology would still outpace their advice. Here are some things you can do to help all teachers navigate technology in the classroom:
- Have New Teachers Observe Your Class: Invite a new teacher to observe how your class uses technology. Not only will they pick up some new skills, this experience will also help you form a stronger professional relationship.
- Present Your Best Practices to the Entire Faculty: Another idea is to address the entire faculty during a staff meeting or professional development day. This way you will be able to distill your classes’ positive relationship with technology into a presentation from which all teachers can learn.
Technology has the potential to radically transform education, that is, if you let it. Finding a balance between technology and traditional teaching methods will require time, hard work, and a few mistakes along the way. But the results are worth it. Your students will have learned a set of skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.