This article was also posted on the kinderchat blog.
More and more primary teachers now have access to technology in their classroom. Whether it is an iPad or an iPod touch, a desktop or a laptop, a growing number of teachers are either being given access to this technology by their school boards or bringing their own devices to class to help students to learn. Because of the multitude of choices and opportunities that technology enables, this is a positive development.
I have been concerned, though, by some of the ways that I see technology being used. Technology should not just allow us to do things in a more engaging way; it should allow us to do new things that we thought were not possible. It is those new things that are the real value technology provides. It is not enough to USE technology. You must use it well.
Having access to books does not mean that the students in my classroom will learn to read. I need to make careful pedagogical choices and use those books in a way that will gently and purposefully help those children to become independent readers. Very few children can make this leap themselves. Most need a thoughtful teacher to guide them.
In the same way, having technology in my classroom does not mean that my students will discover how to use it as a learning tool. I have to carefully select and structure what it is used for so that it becomes truly educational. As with reading books, should not our goal be to develop independent learners? Here are my personal abuse and use lists for the handling of devices in the classroom.
Technology should not be used as simply a digital worksheet. There are many apps and Internet sites available that are simply a technological version of a paper task, forcing students to practice over and over a skill that they may already have mastered. Don’t get me wrong. Skills do need to be practiced. I just happen to think that students should spend most of their time using technology for more creative purposes.
Technology should not be used as a way to keep students occupied. A small number of computers or devices in a classroom can be an inviting center, whether it is an assigned or a self-chosen one. If you use technology in this way, choose wisely when you decide what the students will do with the technology. There are many, many creative options available. It should not be just to keep students busy while you work with small groups of children. (They’re working on mouse skills? Really?)
Technology should not be used to do what can be done without it. Drawing a picture on an app or a computer program and labeling it is a worthwhile activity, but why bother if that activity is an end in itself? It may as well have been done on paper. Technology should allow you to do something new with that picture, such as sharing/publishing it in some way.
The good news is that there are other, better options for using technology. My heart does a happy dance when I see these.
Technology should be for accessing what was inaccessible. In the past, my teaching materials were limited to what was in my classroom and in the school’s library. Now there are a plethora of materials available online to fill any teaching need I have, limited only by my online search skills. From classroom-ready videos such as those of Mercer Mayer and Dr. Jean to sharing and learning with other teachers on Pinterest or Twitter to accessing the creative commons photos of thousands of photographers—well, let’s just say there is no longer an excuse for not having appropriate resources.
Technology should be for doing good things in better ways. For example, hearing books being read aloud is an important part of primary literacy. Long ago, listening to books on a cassette tape became listening to books on a CD. Now, there are online books and apps that do a much better job of this, highlighting the words as they are read aloud.
Technology should be for sharing with the world. The environment that our students are growing up in is wired for sharing. The hardware and the software that is available make it easier every day for children to share what they are learning with the world. Even young children can share their learning using drawings, images, blogs, video and digital portfolios. By sharing their artifacts digitally, students invite the involvement and support of their parents, grandparents and anyone who sees their work.
Technology should be for connecting. Before the advent of the Internet, classrooms were forced to be isolated learning hives. Now, those hives can all be interconnected as classrooms can easily link with other classrooms and experts to ask questions, compare experiences and learn together. Tools such as Skype, Twitter and blogs make connecting and collaborating with classrooms from anywhere a possibility.
Technology should give choices. We are blessed to have a lot of technology in my classroom and my favourite part of that is the choice it gives my students in both their learning style and in sharing what they have learned. When allowed to choose, some students prefer to read on iPads or computers. Others choose paper books. I think choice is important as we accommodate the variety of needs our learners have.
Technology should not just allow us to do traditional in a different way; it should allow us to do things that we thought were not possible.