I am a teacher interested in transforming the learning experience of my students, but I am skeptical of the claims of those who champion educational technology. I am not yet convinced that introducing technology into my classroom (beyond what we already use) is necessary or desirable, or that it will help me achieve my goal of making my classroom a more engaging, student-centered space.
So I propose that anyone who advocates significant technology use in the classroom do me the favor of imagining the following scenario:
Take a history classroom at a small 9-12 independent school. Assume the students to be middle-to-upper middle class, and that they have smart phones, laptops, and ready access to WiFi at home, in school, and when travelling. Assume that they travel frequently, both domestically and internationally and are fairly cosmopolitan and progressive in their worldviews. The school has a high degree of cultural diversity, but also fairly high socioeconomic homogeneity. The students are capable and bright. They want to do well, but tend to focus on grades more than authentic learning experiences, though they value engagement and authenticity when they experience it. With the exception of Advanced Placement classes, teachers have a great deal of autonomy in choosing materials and to design courses.
The school has a photography studio, film program, art studio, boat-building program, outing club, competitive robotics team, and a maker space equipped with a 3-D printer. It has vibrant technical theater, performance, choral and instrumental music programs. There is also an active literary magazine, independent study program, various community service clubs and projects that are ongoing.
Assume that we have the funds to purchase and implement any sort of technology plan, devices, or software that we choose. All classrooms are equipped at minimum with a digital projector, whiteboard and a sound system. The teacher routinely collaborates with students via Google Docs, and the learning management system is adequate. The teacher is very comfortable with technology in general, and is web-savvy in terms of social media and educational applications. The teacher makes extensive use of Facebook and Twitter to collaborate professionally on matters of both pedagogy and research, and has done so since the advent of those applications.
In this scenario, however, you don’t know anything about my teaching methods. Assume that all you know is that I would like my classroom and the learning that takes place there to be more student-centered and engaging, to give more agency over the learning process to my students.
Consider all of the above and please do me the favor of answering this question:
Why do I need technology to accomplish my goals? And if I do, what, specifically, would the learning in my classroom look like over the course of, say, a few months. What sorts of things would the students be doing, and how would those activities or approaches help achieve my goal without compromising the academic integrity of my subject matter or the depth and sophistication of the learning that occurs in my class?
I’m not looking for a list of “cool things” I can do with Twitter. I want to be convinced that I need technology to teach college-preparatory history effectively, and that if I have a low-tech classroom I am doing a disservice to my students. This issue is at the core of my skepticism toward those who breathlessly advocate increasing and pervasive use of technology in the classroom. I hear often that technology is “merely a tool to transform learning,” and yet the conversation almost always proceeds to be about technology exclusively, neglecting to engage on a very specific level about exactly what sort of transformation is being advocated. My sense is that the tech tail is still wagging the learning dog, and I want to be convinced that that is not the case. Please convince me that I am wrong to hesitate to bring technology into my classroom.
Thank you for your consideration.