Technology Integration: My Thoughts

Technology. Does anyone else seem to have a love/hate relationship with it? Mine is mostly love, but gosh darn it, why can’t my iPhone 5s be as awesome as the 6s? Why does technology have to change all the time? Why couldn’t my phone be cool for longer than approximately ten minutes? I don’t want to keep up with the Joneses, I need that technology! (Enter lesson of wants vs needs.) I want that camera! That speed! That power! (In Rose Gold, please…) Oh, here’s a fun one – WHY can I never seem to get my computer to work correctly with the library projector during staff inservice?? That’s a really awesome feeling – when the technology inservice can’t get started…because of technology. (insert irritated emoji)

Ok, Ok, I say those things in jest (kind of). But honestly, technology, as wondrous as it is, can cause people some headaches (including me from time to time!). Especially teachers. It’s always changing. There are always new things to learn. It’s hard to keep up! You try something, and it doesn’t work out quite the way you envisioned, so you slowly start to write technology off altogether. After all, we’ve gone all these years teaching students without the latest and greatest technology – if it’s not broke, don’t fix it! Right?

Wrong. And here’s why.

I truly feel that if we don’t incorporate technology into our lesson plans, we are doing our students a disservice. Ok, let me back up just a second. I should probably define what I mean by “incorporate technology.” I think technology has two distinct roles in education. 1) To make teacher’s lives easier. (Think online formative assessments, grading made easy, analyzing data, etc.) That’s a really awesome role that technology can play. and 2) To engage students in higher order thinking skills, make them creators of digital content, and prepare them for life in a digital society. Please know that for this post, I’ll be referring to the latter, although I do love the former as well. Ok, so back to my point: If we don’t incorporate technology into our lesson plans, we are doing our students a disservice. We, as educators, have been told for a while now that this generation of students are “digital natives.” They’ve haven’t been alive in a time when the internet didn’t exist. (Say what?) So, naturally, they’re better at technology than previous generations, right? Again, I argue the opposite. Today’s youth is really good at certain things in regards to technology. Think about the things that consume a large portion of their digital time. Social media and…yeah, social media. Generally speaking, this generation loves sharing statuses and pictures with their friends, and receiving instant feedback. What we have to keep in mind, is that they are 14-18 years old. This leaves a lot to be desired in problem solving, analytical, and decision making skills. (No offense if you’re 14-18 years old and reading this post. It’s just science. That frontal lobe of yours is still developing.) So, education now has to take on a new role of giving students these skills to not only survive, but thrive in a digital world. Employers today expect graduates to be proficient in a variety of medias. Where else are they going to learn how to turn out professional grade products using technology? And evaluate those products? And take feedback to then go make changes to those products? The answer is simple: at school. I came across an article that discusses the idea of the “digital native myth,” and a paragraph pretty much sums up how I feel about the topic.

While clearly many young people are adept as digital consumers, their immersion in this world also heightens their susceptibility to the manipulations of advertisers, unless they’ve also acquired the critical and analytic skills needed to navigate our complex information landscape. And while today’s students certainly have a bigger menu of diversions before them than did their parents, entering the digital world as a creator and producer of content and mastering the tools to do so require a new and different skill set.

– Fred Mindlin

We have to be the ones to teach students this “new and different” skill set. This goes beyond teachers using things like Google Forms to interpret student data (although that is a great use of Google Forms!!), and into having students create Google Forms and have them analyze, interpret, and evaluate the data. Rather than giving students information and having them answer questions about the topic, we can utilize inquiry based learning and have students produce a product that demonstrates their learning. Now this is just one example, but is it easier to adapt certain content areas into a technology rich environment? Certainly. Does this look different for every teacher? Absolutely. Teaching is not a one size fits all profession. We don’t want to produce a “robot” teacher. But let me tell you this – if you give a technology tool to 5 teachers, I’d be willing to bet that you’d get 5 unique lesson plans incorporating that tool. Teacher autonomy and individuality does not go out the window when technology comes in. Nor is technology an “add on” to what we do. It should start becoming a part of how we think when we sit down with our lesson plans.

Another reason to incorporate technology is because it adds an element of relevance to our lessons. As mentioned before, this generation of students has not been in a world without the internet. It’s part of their lives. If you can take your content and use technology to give it more relevance to students’ lives outside of school, and into the “real world”, you’re going to give them a deeper connection to your content. Earlier this week, Daisy Dyer Duerr posed the question in her blog, “Can JUST RELATIONSHIPS keep teachers relevant to students in the classroom?”  First, I want to start off by saying that I’m having a difficult time thinking of a current classroom teacher who refuses to use technology on any level, so I do not have any teacher in mind when I answer this question. I’ll be answering in generalities. Ok, on to my answer. I think all teachers know that the relationships you build with students are the building blocks to a successful classroom. You simply cannot have an effective classroom if students do not feel valued. Think about the worst teacher you’ve ever had. Chances are that you probably didn’t even like this teacher, let alone learn much. I’m a firm believer that students learn more from teachers they like. They’re also willing to do more for teachers they like. So Daisy’s question was, are these great relationships enough to get meaningful learning in a classroom? My answer is no, it’s not enough, although it is a necessary ingredient. Many times, I like to relate things to sports. I played sports my entire childhood and through college. Having a coach that you love and respect as a human being is so important. There is a special bond between player and coach, but only when the coach allows it to happen. But is this bond enough to make the team successful? Of course not. The coach has to have an effective way to get her athletes to master the skills of that sport. Many times, a coach can be loved, but lacks in actual coaching ability. It doesn’t necessarily make the athletes love this coach less, but it does has an effect on the outcome of the athletes’ performance. Is this a stretch of a comparison to relevance in the classroom? Maybe. But I think the concepts are similar. Additionally, I can think of a handful teachers from elementary school through college that I loved as human beings and could talk to about almost anything, but I didn’t necessarily enjoy their class, and I didn’t necessarily learn a lot either. But I still really liked them.

Now, back to my answer on this whole relationships vs relevance piece. In addition to “No, relationships are not enough,”  my answer is also that technology does not stand alone as an “end all-be all” to add relevance and thus, to have a successful classroom. However, let me say, that technology is a fantastic way to tie the two worlds together. Technology is a tool, and should be utilized as such.

Relevance and relationships walk hand in hand to creating an effective classroom. In just the way that relationships cannot stand alone to create an effective classroom, neither can relevance. Students won’t care about the relevance if they don’t think you care about them as individuals. We also cannot talk about relationships and relevance without mentioning the other “R” sibling – rigor. (Have you seen the new accreditation system for Kansas? You’d be wise to ensure your class has strong relationships, relevance and rigor.) With these three qualities, you will push students to do things they never thought possible, and I think that is a goal that every teacher possesses.

It would be hard for me to talk about technology and not mention student engagement. I’ll keep this portion fairly short and to the point. If you had an opportunity to reach more students, would you? Technology offers us this opportunity. What you currently do, without technology, is probably great. But are there a few students you’re having a hard time reaching? Or who may just be going through the motions because they’re into the whole “compliance” concept? It’s just a thought, could technology integration be just what those students need to rejuvenate their engagement? Not to mention you could be hitting two birds with one stone – higher oder thinking skills and technology fluency – both of which are two skills employers today are looking for. This is what’s best for kids.

Let me conclude with one last word: Balance. Please don’t be all technology all the time unless your content truly calls for it. Interpersonal skills are still extremely important, and they are also skills that employers are looking for today. Face to face interactions are vital for our students to have. Can they put technology down and have a professional interaction with an adult? Can they shake hands and look a stranger in the eye and have a solid conversation? Can they speak in front of a group of people? Can they use spoken word to elicit emotions from others? Can they get their point across without having to type it out first? We still need “people people.” We still need to teach students “soft skills.”  These skills do not take a back seat to technology. These two world’s absolutely do NOT live in isolation of each other.  Methods that could be considered “old school” do not have to be eradicated from classrooms today. In fact, there are times when those methods are the best and most appropriate methods to utilize. Please, continue to use these methods when this is the case. There are times where technology should absolutely be put away and not utilized. I really think that we can have our cake an eat it too. By this, I mean we can produce students who are well rounded in both interpersonal and digital skills, and I think it’s vital that we do just that. So I leave you with the one word I told you I was going to leave you with: Balance.

Thanks for reading,

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