Schools been putting computers and other forms of technology in classrooms for decades, but walk into most American classrooms and often are they sit unused with out-of-date software. Even in schools that have very good computer-to-student ratios there is no guarantee that the teachers are adequately prepared to change the way they have been delivery instruction since the day they earned their teaching credentials.
Two recent sessions that I have had with middle and high school students provided very clear examples of the above. I was asked to be part of a technology-integration advisory group for a local high school. One afternoon we had a chance to have a lunch forum with a small group of students and their teachers. The comments from the students drove home the key points. Collectively the students all agreed that they were dismayed that they were not allowed to bring laptops to class; not even for the purpose of taking notes. Granted there are concerns about having students use personal computers and connecting them to a school network; however in this case, the students merely wanted to use their laptops for note-taking purposes. As one student stated, “…what I do in school is copying notes from the board. When I get home, I transcribe them into a digital format so that I can actually use the information for learning purposes; seems rather unnecessary.”
In another example a student used his smart phone to illustrate the disconnect in how such technologies are being used for educational purposes. With a bit of dramatic flair, the student took his device off of his belt and held it up asking the adults in the room what they saw. To a person, all of the teachers stated that it was “a phone.”
“Precisely my point!” the student declared. “You see a phone when in reality this is my computer. This is my connection to information.” He then went on to share how a teacher recently scolded him for “having his phone out in class” when in reality, he was using it to learn more about the topic that the teacher had been discussing in class because he was interested in the lesson. In that moment, the student was left to feel that he again needed to leave technology at the classroom door.
A meeting I had with a group of 18 middle school students on a career day was equally telling. I asked them the standard “what is your favorite class” question that seems to be a staple of such events. The response I received ranged from P.E., band, web design/computer class, etc. Not a single student responded with math, science, English, or social studies. As I asked follow up questions it became apparent why the students identified the classes that they did. Being actively engaged in the learning process is core to those courses. P.E., band, and a computer class is not a passive experience. They could not say this about their other classes.
Assigning blame will not serve us well. While we can debate the reasons as why technology is not more fully integrated into traditional classrooms (lack of teacher professional development, administrative commitment, pre-service preparation, and yes, funding being a short list), we need to change this and soon. The term “digital divide” is taking on meaning beyond the traditional reference to those who do not have access to technology. There continues to be a growing divide that exists between our students of today and their use of technology in every aspect of their lives (including the desire for learning) and how technology is really being used in many classrooms.
The use of technology to assess performance and individual needs; instruct students inspire their curiosity and creativity; to expand when and where learning takes place; and to engage parents can allow us to fundamentally change what “school” is – for the better.
These changes will not happen overnight, but there are steps that school leaders can take today:
- Dramatically increase the technological component of teacher training. While pedagogy and subject matter expertise are important, teachers need training on how to use technology as part of their instruction. Included in this training is not only how to operate hardware and technology devices; but training on how to teach with digital content and how maximize their communication with students and parents through available technologies. (http://www.sas.com/cp)
- Establish expectations for the use of technology in your classrooms that goes well beyond merely using PowerPoint to deliver information. Demand accountability. Require that teachers identify in their lessons plans how technology is being used by them and their students. Insist on evaluations that demonstrate teacher and student use of technology.
- Implement solutions that allow school and district leaders to have instant access to data that will help them run their schools more efficiently, identify and address specific problems, and to ensure that students are being appropriately assigned to the courses and instructors that they need and deserve. (http://www.sas.com/govedu/edu/k12/index.html)