This blog features observations from Randy Turner, a former teacher, newspaper reporter and editor. Send news items or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, January 11, 2013
When technology in schools isn't the answer
(The following is my latest Huffington Post blog.)
Sometimes when that tiny voice inside me says, "We are placing far too much emphasis on technology in the classroom," I mentally slap my face and get back to teaching.
It is not that I sit in a dark corner and piously claim that education was much better 20 years ago before the advent of the Internet.
I don't find myself wanting the math teachers to toss calculators out the windows and restore the abacus to its former place of glory.
It's just that I have a reverence for the simple things that are being replaced one by one by the wonders of 21st century technology.
I teach in a school district that -- thanks to a $1 million donation from the United Arab Emirates after the May 22, 2011 Joplin tornado -- provides MAC laptops to every student in grades 9-12.
Next year, my eighth graders, for the first time, will have iPads. Technology is here, no matter what trepidations we have with it.
With all of the world's information at our fingertips, the future is here, but at what cost?
I worry about the loss of the simple joys of education and life -- things like discussions, writing coherent sentences without relying on jargon or slang, and most of all, the joy of turning the pages of a real book -- not scrolling down the iPad or the myriad other readers that are available, not summoning text on smartphones or iPods, but actually reading books.
Technology is wonderful and I have no desire to return to those hard-to-remember days before the World Wide Web became so important in our lives.
But what happens when the power goes out?
That was what happened at my school Wednesday as my students were on their laptops discovering information about Emmett Till, the Birmingham Church Bombing, the March on Washington, and the various other topics they can choose from during our annual civil rights research project.
About five minutes into the sixth hour class, a boy at the front table raised his hand. "Mister Turner, I can't get the Internet to work." This was followed by about a half dozen students echoing the same sentiment.
It was quickly determined that the school district's server was down. After I made that announcement, I watched as a miracle of education took place.
Three students from different areas of the room stood and walked to the back of the room, where I have a cart with approximately 150 civil rights books.
As other students noted what they were doing, they, too, stood and headed for the cart seeking books on their research topics.
Before long, nearly every student in the class was either typing or writing notes over the information they were finding in the books.
And all of this happened without me saying a word.
The Internet was up and running by the end of the day, so my return to the golden days of education was short-lived.
I wouldn't trade our start-of-the-art technology for anything, but it still makes this old-timer feel good to know that the tools of the past can still play an important role in 21st century education.