4 Questions & Answers about Technology Integration (from a journalist to me)

A journalist, Emily S., is writing a piece about 1:1 technology initiatives for the Highland Lakes Newspapers (The Highlander, Burnet Bulletin, Llano County Journal, Lake Country Life) and requested to ask me some questions. I share the questions and my answers here.

Q: What are some ways technology has changed the typical classroom? What do you think is the biggest change (for teachers, for students)?

Technology does not inherently change classrooms. But some uses of technology can change the approach to instruction shifting it from teacher-centric, teacher-controlled to instruction and learning that is more student-centered. This is more likely to occur when the technology is put in the hands of the students, as opposed to technologies that are teacher-centric, such as projectors, teacher computers, grading and attendance software. Putting technology in the hands of the students can give the learners more agency in their learning, in which they might be able to choose the best way to engage in a task. Or student might even design an inquiry learning task.

Given that, though, 1:1 implementations do not always create such a student-centered learning environment. My research and others in the field also show school classroom environments in which students who all have computing devices simply take notes of teacher lectures or creating presentations that summarize textbook chapters. In these settings, the technology is having no impact toward changing pedagogy or learning.

The biggest change is vastness of information on the Internet and available apps. Schools think that they’ll eliminate textbooks in order to buy laptops or tablets. But this shifts the curricular development onto the shoulders of teachers who are not only trying to learn a new technology but now also have to curate an entire year’s curriculum using open educational resources (educational resources that are available on the internet for free) that are seemingly endless. While the idea of having teachers create their own curriculum and choose resources is amazing, this responsibility cannot just be dropped onto teachers’ shoulders with no notice, support, or resources for development.

Q: How can teachers avoid side-effects of technology, such as decreases in attention spans, being easily distracted?

The best way to avoid students from being distracted (daydreaming, shopping on the internet, ordering take-out for lunch, playing off-task games) is to create vibrant, interesting, motivating lessons that involve students in interactive ways that lead students to developing new knowledge (that solve real problems – even better if the problems are community-based!).

Q: Do you think students are apt to give up more quickly when the answers don’t come easily? (Students might get used to instant answers, in other words…)

Motivational theory puts forth that learners maintain motivation when given series of short, attainable goals that have importance. Designing instructional activities, then, would lead a teacher not to create assessments that have short, instant answers, but instead are complex problems that require inquiry. The answers are unique and are not necessarily known already by the teacher or the students. Through the inquiry, the teacher would work with students in developing small goals that, as each are completed, help the students move farther towards solving the larger problem.

Overall, students are not motivated by worksheets that ask for one answer, which reflects information easily found in textbooks or on the Internet.

Q: Do you think using technology in the classroom makes students less sociable? How can teachers avoid this pitfall?

For the most part, I do not think that technology in the classroom makes students less sociable. But it all depends on how the teacher organizes the use of technology.

If the teacher implements a “personalized” tutoring software in which students put on earphones and listen to problems on a computer screen and answer multiple choice questions individually, then YES this approach to the use of technology makes students less sociable.
If the teacher implements an inquiry-based lesson in which students (in groups) are using tablets to collect data about our social world, pull the data into data analysis software (such as spreadsheet or visualization tools) and find answers to the inquiry, then NO, technology IS supporting social learning, which is optimal for learning to occur.

Most contemporary technologies are social and interactive technologies. Educational apps that do not have features that allow collaboration, sharing, and publication are not supportive of optimal pedagogy and learning.
The general public can simply reflect on what technologies motivate them to engage? They will most likely realize the technologies they are excited to be involved in involve small doable challenges (video games with levels), social interaction with other people (Facebook, twitter), interest-based social groups (the biking club, the knitting club), creating or sharing (e.g., a writers group, photography site).