At some point cutting edge technology was a Viking in a cave pointing and mumbling: “Hey look, Thor’s got a spoon!” In education technology changes apace; twenty years ago students used typewriters and social media meant the school newspaper. Even in the past five years technology in the classroom (and extending learning beyond the walls of the classroom) has changed the school experience of students, teachers, and parents. It’s a brave new world, and we’re the people in it.
And yet technology isn’t the force that drives learning. If they were alive today, Capote might just as easily have said of Kerouac: “That’s not writing, that’s texting.” What it can do, however, is support learning in the classroom, allow students to engage in a larger world than they could before, and connect us all (students, teachers, parents, and school community) in ways almost unimaginable only a few decades ago.
I see this in classrooms every day, the document camera to show math tiles to the whole class at once, the chromebooks in the science lab to record data and write lab reports, the use of cell phones and tablets in English class to complete a survey instantly and have the results projected for the class to see.
Equity is word that should crop up here; we want to be sure that every student who crosses the threshold of our campus has equal access to the technology they need to learn. This could mean the ease of checking out a chromebook to use at school or borrowing a portable device in a classroom, and it must be a commitment we have at a public school that every kid has the ability to participate with his peers. Many students bring powerful communication devices to school in the form of smartphones or tablets, and rather than asking them to power down when the walk on campus, we do well when we harness the power of this portable technology for learning.
You’ll hear some say that texting is the end of good writing; as a fellow who loves a well placed semi-colon I beg to differ. Every interaction our students have with words has the potential to make them stronger writers. Knowing how to use a different voice with a supervisor as opposed to a chum is part of learning, and practice (which I hear makes perfect) can be a part of what students learn at school.
Technology helps parents too: in our district our Aeries system allows parents to see in real time their students’ attendance and grades. Curious parents can know more about what’s happening on campus by following the school’s Twitter and Facebook, or even see what the principal and assistant principal are tweeting. Many teachers keep detailed websites and online calendars, and technology has made the connection between school and home more immediate than ever.
Whether it is Twitter, Aeries, or Edmodo, technology is a tool. Transformative, perhaps, but always in service to learning. “Good teaching is more than a YouTube video” Personal connections matter most. Technology doesn’t replace great teaching, it enhances it. Technology doesn’t make a school great, but it can let people know about the great things that are happening on campus, and help support the kind of creativity that does make a school great.
We can’t stop technology or even slow it down. Nor should we; where would Thor be without his soup? But as educators we benefit our students when we keep our minds open and use technology as we can to enhance the great work we do with students.