Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hey, teacher... give the kids their phones!

Let me apologize in advance for having the cojones to mark my return to blogging with a post that I pretty much copied and pasted from the discussion board of my last M.Ed course, but I thought it might be a nice change from my not-so-recent run of despondent entries.

The class in question deals with integrating technology into the classroom, and included a webinar intro that tried to start off with a bang by stating: “The greatest impedance to instructors not using technology in the classroom is the instructor’s unwillingness to actually use the tech item. It is an instructor’s unwillingness to give up control to a generation of youth that may be more electronically sophisticated than the instructors themselves.” This point might be valid were it not for the fact that it is unconscionably facile. My experience, limited though it may be, is that the greatest impedance to instructors not using technology in the classroom is the atrocious way in which technology use in the classroom is approached. The notion that occasionally using a PowerPoint presentation or playing a YouTube clip will somehow engage or even pacify today’s technology-driven students is ludicrous, yet is viewed by teachers, administrators, and even the educational research community as being compliant with the mandate to implement technology in the classroom.

At our school, this problem is exacerbated by the seemingly contradictory way in which we are asked to implement the use of technology while simultaneously adhering to our acceptable use policies. Students are forbidden from using their electronic devices during class time, as explicitly stated by our “off and away during the day” rule. Be that as it may, during just about every professional development session, we are subjected to watching presentations or webinars from education experts who exhort us to engage our students by making the instructional content accessible to them in a “teen-friendly” context. Last year, for example, one such presentation involved the use of cell phones as polling devices, calculators, and the like, an approach that has become increasingly popular recently because there is a notion that class participation increases significantly when cell phones are used in the classroom. The facilitator asked why so many of us insisted on using calculators in class instead of cell phones, and I gladly raised my hand and pointed out that the few times I allowed students to use their phones in class to purportedly calculate values, I caught several students trying to use search engines to find the answers to word problems, instead of simply learning the curriculum. No such problems arise when I provide them with calculators.

The presumption that teachers are reticent to use technology, preferring to stick to a board and dry-erase markers, or even chalk, because this enables them to somehow remain as the sage-on-stage, is utterly ludicrous. Several of us love computers, ANGEL, Data Warehouse, interactive board technology, clickers, iPads, and any other technology-driven strategies that not only engage the students but streamline the teaching and learning processes. As a science teacher, I find the use of lab probeware for the acquisition and analysis of data to be invaluable. My students find the interfaces intuitive, and I find that, once I have taught my students the mathematics behind graphs and statistics, the amount of time that is saved by having these processes automated is infinitely better spent teaching them more content.

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