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.


msblkwidow said...

Randy, I am a MINTs (later became) eMints teacher. As a matter of fact, when the project first began, I was selected by Normandy School District to be trained by MoreNet. Twelve other teachers were a part of the group. Two teachers were selected from six school districts - Normandy, Riverview Gardens, Jennings, University City, Affton, and Bayless. I had 15 desktop computers, two printers (one color and one b/w) one digital camera and Smartboard in my classroom. I integrated technology daily...throughout the day. A-n-d, we loved it. I think if teachers would remember, like you, the importance of the old way of completing assignments - writing research papers, using encyclopedias, memorizing multiplication and addition facts, learning to tell time without the use of a digital watch, learning poems, creating stories, meaningful discussions, singing together, doing hands-on Science experiment and Science Fair projects, working together in cooperative groups, creating art work without the use of the computer...I can go on and on..., We'd be much better off and I believe our students would be successful. But, it's all about money. Somebody made a lot of money selling those laptops to your district and will make more selling the ipads. We can't get around it. It reminds me of the book "Farenheit 51". Do the students stil read novels as a part of curriculum? So much has changed. Kinda glad I'm retired, but I do miss being in the classroom. We began this project in 1995 to see how much technology would affect teaching and learning. Please take a look at this article and let me know what you think.

Rick Nichols said...

In the days to come I think we can look for more and more disruptions (natural and otherwise) of the grid that powers the technology we've become so dependent on, so please keep those old books and a few flashlights close at hand.

Anonymous said...

Well stated, Randy. I cannot standing being in a classroom where a high school student needs a calculator to complete simple math problem like 5 + 5 = 10. It's frustrating and scary when you realize that these same kids will be running the world when we are senior citizens.

Rick Nichols said...

I think there are certainly some advantages to the presence of technology in the classroom, but at the same time it appears to me that the social skills of the younger generation are generally in a state of decline because there's a lot less face-to-face interaction than there used to be.

Grimmer said...

A few years ago I was working on an electronic portfolio for a master's level class. Someone hit a utility pole and the school in Monett lost power. I said the same thing. "Technology is great as long as you have power."