Sunday, December 22, 2013

Placing technology ahead of teachers will not work

Some of the critics of this blog (and hard as it is to believe, there are a few) have said that my criticism of the use of laptops and IPads in our schools shows that I and other teachers are afraid of technology in the classroom.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

As anyone who has ever been a student in my classroom (and as far as I have been able to determine, that does not include any of my critics) I was always able to stay ahead of the curve when it came to using technology in the classroom.

If I had been allowed to continue my teaching, I have no doubt that I would have adjusted to the addition of IPads for every middle school student in the Joplin R-8 School District.

Unfortunately, that is more than I can say for the people who are implementing this ill-advised strategy. If you have watched the pronouncements of soon-to-be former Assistant Superintendent Angie Besendorfer you have heard  her talk numerous times about the students learning on their own with teachers serving as facilitators rather than doing any teaching.

That is a recipe for disaster.

Of course, we love it when students run with what we give them and seek knowledge on their own, but that is never going to be the way most education works even if we have world class facilitators. Pushing this idea that teachers are not important and are interchangeable is doing a disservice to students. How many of us can think back to our school days and remember teachers who provided us with knowledge and inspired us to learn more?

How many people who have succeeded would have done so if educators in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s had simply been facilitators and had not provided us with the knowledge we needed to succeed?

Learning, no matter what people like Angie Besendorfer say, is not something that magically occurs when you hand a student a laptop or an IPad. What is ironic is that today's teachers are being devalued by administrators who, for the most part, have spent little time in the classroom. Those of us who received our education in public schools a few decades ago were used to having administrators who served several years in the classroom before becoming principals and superintendents.

In today's education, many are fast-tracking themselves into administrative positions and are more interested in building resumes than they are in building an educational foundation that will last far beyond their years.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where the path to the top is not achieved by administrators who build a strong foundation and an educational community. Those who succeed and end up making salaries three or four times as much as the classroom teachers they often treat like disposable commodities are the ones who are willing to latch on to any new program, or several at once, just to be able to show they are innovative.

They move on, often leaving their former school systems in debt and having to recover from all of the "innovation."

Their school systems are loaded with technology and buzz-word programs, often at the expense of teachers and students.

Take a look at your local school district. Is that what is happening?


Anonymous said...

I'm not a teacher, but I am a college student. What's more, I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s so computers have always been part of the fabric of my life. The same is generally true for others my age and younger who grew up in developed nations.

Why I think that's significant is that people my age and younger invariably know technology better than the administrators pushing for the incorporation of technology in the classroom, who skew older. Whether these administrators know it or not, technology is naturally incorporated into our life and work without having to make any special effort to learn it.

If I want to write a paper, I use a computer. Ditto presentations and spreadsheets. Beyond that, entertainment and social interaction is also tied directly into technology. Computers are our world, and we already know them because we live them. Learning it at school is kind of pointless when we can already swim laps around you.

It's a waste of time and resources to put so much emphasis on what is already natural to the environment. At some point in the past, every classroom was outfitted with a television. This was indeed useful for watching videos relevant to classroom materials. However, we didn't have entire curricula built around televisions. Knowing how to use a tv doesn't replace basic knowledge and ideas that are more practically gleaned from instruction, interaction, and practice. At best, television could supplement the curricula - not dominate it.

The same is obviously true for computers.

The current emphasis on technology over teachers is further indication of the previous generations' lack of familiarity with computers. Believing that they are magic boxes that have the potential to solve all problems is an attitude that can only come from people who did not grow up with them. I say again: they supplement traditional learning methods, they do not replace them. In a learning environment, the computer is not the teacher, it is a tool for completing assignments. Just as in the social environment, it does not compensate for hanging out with your friends, it just makes it easier to set up the date. Again, learning how to use the computer is a non-issue, just as learning how to use a tv was a non-issue.

The emphasis on technology, rather, is something that administrators can present to the public that sounds nice and makes them look like they are visionary. It provides a rationale for funding and a rationale for how the school is preparing students for "the real world" (a factor in evaluation).

If it is so essential, why do universities not make sure that every class takes place with computer in hand? Why is it often enough to have computer labs available for student use, and leave it at that? They are supplemental, not the focus.

Anonymous said...

Technology and kitchy initiatives are all the Joplin district is about. And after reading McGrew's column this morning, I'd have to say that won't change if he's elected to the board. He uses all those talking points. Same ol', same ol', with little focus on real learning. I know one I won't vote for now. We need some common sense in there somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Innovation for the sake of innovation is all Joplin has seen since the tornado allowed administrators open access to the purse strings. Unfortunately, learning hasn't equalled money spent and nonteaching employees hired. Seems like more learning happened when, gasp, books and paper were used and, even worse, teachers were allowed to teach. My kids miss those days. I'm glad our time in Joplin is about over. It's ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful explanation behind the problem with reliance upon technology over those schooled in content knowledge. Those who perpetuate the technology-as-education-panacea myth obviously don't know the mentality of young and older teens. They are just as distractible as they ever were and require supervision as much, if not more, than ever. Those who believe that teenagers can be turned loose with technology to learn unsupervised, or with minimal supervision and instruction, need to go back to college and take some adolescent psychology courses. Or, maybe they just need to go back to the classroom for a bit longer.

Anonymous said...

One of my children received three years of regular instruction and the other two prior to the tornado. We feel quite fortunate, as they received a very solid education in those years. Their experiences with the technology-driven education practice did not prove as productive, and I am not blaming the teachers for that at all. They did all they could with what they had.

We are quite fortunate in that we have the Internet at home, and we could afford supplemental resources to make up for what was missing in their school. But I can't help but think about those students who are not as fortunate as we are. Judging by the numbers that get posted here from time to time, I would have to surmise that not much learning is occurring.

Technology is a tool, and we are fortunate to have it in our community and the country as a whole. However, it cannot replace kind, compassionate adults with a zest for knowledge. It cannot be the only tool that teachers have to use in the classroom. I hope that future Joplin students will receive a more balanced approach to learning. In the meanwhile, I will just be grateful that mine are finished and in college, thanks to their efforts and that of their teachers.

Anonymous said...

It is said that modern businesses rely heavily upon technology and collaborative skills. I cannot attest to that, as I am not in business. College is my venue, and I feel comfortable in saying that in college, for the most part, we still hold students independently accountable for their knowledge and skills. Collaboration occurs, but not constantly, and technology is reserved as a tool for research and Word programs in the majority of non-science, non-technology-based courses.

In other words, if the goal of public schools is to get students ready for college, they need far less time spent with technology and far more time spent learning content knowledge and skills. Nothing can ever replace the value of KNOWING and the skill of THINKING, whether it be expressed in writing or in speaking. I've always been a proponent of "moderation in all things," which would include technology. Perhaps after the new wears off, a more rational approach will reappear.

Anonymous said...

America's Military Academies have been issuing computers to their Cadets/Midshipmen for almost twenty years now. During that time, one basic truth has become evident. Computers are a tool to be used in the educational process, just as textbooks, slide rules and sextants once were, nothing more, nothing less. In a highly intense academic environment, there is one constant in learning the skills necessary to lead in today's world and that constant is the classroom instructor. Learning can take place without computers, but it damn sure cannot take place without an instructor.

Anonymous said...

10:37...THANK YOU!!!

Anonymous said...

They've let teacher pay fall so far behind neighboring districts and states that they won't be attracting the best, no matter what CJ says in his BS standards. So much talk. They put their money in nonsense that didn't pay off, and the person who thought it all up is skipping town and leaving the big fool holding the bag.

Anonymous said...

10:37...what a thoughtful, intelligent piece...thank you for not blaming Joplin teachers...

Anonymous said...

Learning has been devalued by this generation of administrators, and Joplin's in particular, because they aren't devoted to that concept. They are devoted to self-promotion, which cannot happen with something so simple as a love of knowledge. Everything must be innovative in order to grab the attention of the media. The biggest problem with that concept is it requires constant, nonstop changes not for the sake of the children, but in order to keep the ambitious as trendy as a Coach purse. The results are disastrous as teachers give up in frustration and children become lost in the shuffle. It's past time for common sense to return. Bill Gates has enough money.