To Tech or Not to Tech

Four classes into my education technology Master’s at Boise State University, I have realized how much is out there yet how much has not truly touched classrooms across America, except maybe at the collegiate level.

There are already two significant positions out there and one that is more important than both. One is to ignore much of the use of technology in the classroom, either because of educational funding issues, simple ignorance or fear, or because some educators believe it will do little to nothing to make a difference.

There are those who want everyone to jump off into the deep end whether or not it is 30 degrees or 110 degrees outside and fully embrace the technology, pump millions into getting the latest tablets and such into the classroom, and then sit with Christmas morning anticipation of what the day (translation educational success) will bring.

Yet the third is the one that is best examined, but it is also the one that requires the most time, patience, and methodical approaches: A well-thought out plan of action to incorporate technology into different environments instead of a “one-size” fits all concept that too many schools have embraced, much to their chagrin and at times epic failure.

To translate, using two cities I have formerly been a teacher: Albuquerque and the East Valley section of the Phoenix metro area. A “one-size” fits all mentality would not work in those areas, especially Albuquerque, which has strongly diverse population and diverse needs. Schools with more special education students need certain approaches. Schools with a large chunk of their population considering education after high school need others, such as more online training and preparation for such endeavors (I will elaborate more on these in the coming months as I write more deeply and intensely about education and educational technology).

In education, we call this differentiation. If it is important to offer different approaches to our students, then the same needs to be done when adding technology to the classroom.

Too many times in the last ten years, I have personally seen computers dumped into classrooms, and they end up just sitting there, collecting dust. Some teachers are not sure what to do with them, and the students who could or would use them look at what is in front of them and scoff at how much they actually can use them for (and I am talking about education…not because they are mad they can’t Facebook or do “mad gaming” on them).

Colleges are not immune to epic leaps before thinking: Portland Community College recently dove into using Google as part of its learning management system. Not a bad idea, except it did not appear they tested it well, resulting in two weeks of chaos at the beginning of the Fall 2011 semester as the system was instantly overloaded by the crush of students and instructors getting online at once.

Based on what I have learned and experienced the last few years, incorporating technology is not as easy at it looks.  However, when it is done well (not perfect, just well) and takes an education first approach instead of a “shiny new something” mentality, it can and will make a difference.

An iPad is nice, but simply giving students options to find information outside of the constructed time space can be even more important. Teachers need to know how to feel comfortable with the instruction, because if they feel good with they are using, students tend to feel good with it as well.

There are so many fun and solid educational tools out there (including plenty that are already on campuses across the country), but if the basics of instruction are missing, there is little that a SMART board, iPad, or Google Docs can do for a student.



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