Sunday, November 9, 2014

Not a Luddite, just a Pedagogical Pragmatist

I've always been a teacher to embrace technology. I was in the first masters class to earn an "online journalism" degree at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. At my first teaching job in 2001 at a small, private school, I was in charge of the school's technology. My most important role was helping other teachers use the tools available to them. I was the first teacher in my school to have a Smart Board and use it to its capacity. My students were publishing on blogs in 2006 and responding to prompts online and in instant messages. I am proficient on almost every educational program out there. In addition, if I'm not, give me a day with it, and I will be.

Last year, though, was my first time teaching in a total lap-top environment. I had concerns from the start. "How could students possibly pay attention with so many distractions?" The answers I received were that kids can multitask and that a laptop environment was just another factor in classroom management. 

So, I dove in. I told my students that they didn't need notebooks or paper: everything would be paperless. Awesome, they said. 

"Can we use the books online?"  

"Sure," I said. "You don't even need to check out a book if you'd prefer to use an e-text."

Every classroom activity contained a Google Doc, spreadsheet, Powerpoint, a Chat, a Forum, or a Tweet. So, especially if you are in my classroom now, you might wonder, what happened? 

The students were not learning. They were too distracted. They were constantly on Facebook, Youtube, you name it. We would argue about computer usage and attentiveness. The classroom became more of a battleground scene from a teenage household than a place of education. 

One might argue an effective teacher could have combatted these obstacles to allow for the use of technology in the classroom. Or, if a students want to be on Facebook, that is their problem. They won't learn the material and then earn a poor grade. 

When a students don't do well in a course, I don't look at it in terms of fault; I look at it in terms of, what can we do together so that they can achieve? One of the answers is to limit the use of software and internet to specific activities in which the goals are best achieved by technology. 

For example, this year students must use a notebook in class. Every day, I ask them to write the date and the material in which we will cove, so that they can refer to it when studying for their test and finals. Students use notecards instead of Quizzlet so that they are interacting with the words, not just reading them as they flash by on the screen.  Short homework assignments and quizzes are hand written. Students must use the actual novel to read and annotate. 

The use of the novel has been met the most resistance, especially when I ask them to find quotes to answer a specific question. "It would be so much easier to Control F."  I know it would be easier, but I want them to master the novel. By searching for quotes, they must reread parts which improves their overall comprehension.   

I've also been influenced by the growing literature that is uncovering how students learn, and when it comes to reading specifically, the computer screen, even without distractions, is not the optimal place to grow as readers. 

I have not rejected technology altogether. In fact, although I wouldn't say that I'm on the cutting edge, I am one of the first teachers to explore and implement a new technology when introduced.

But before we turn over our classrooms to the robots, remember the role of the teacher is not just to use technology, but to discern what is best for student learning. Sometimes the answer is pen and paper. 

Here are some of the articles that have influenced me on this topic:

Why a top new media professor banned tech use in

Debate about use of computers in classroom &

Your paper brain and your Kindle brain aren't the same thing

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