The next big thing in educational technology is often described like a silver bullet, forever ending this or that problem in teaching and learning. The reality, of course, is a lot different.
From the film strip projector (if you don’t know what that was, you’re better off!) to the VCR and DVD player, technological hardware has often been seen as a panacea for conveying information — if not understanding.
Perhaps the biggest fanfare in educational technology was the arrival of personal computers. Computer “laboratories” were all the rage in the 1990s and are still with us today. The weekly visit to the computer lab was exciting, but not exactly paradigm-shifting for most. Internet connections followed, but, boy that World Wide Web was overwhelming! 🙂 I confess that for me, the internet was just another collection of sources that was fun for kids to navigate, but not much different than using a great library.
LCD projectors and SmartBoards followed. I have no doubt that these tools have been helpful. But as with computers and the internet, the question of what these tools accomplish remains.
Various software have also been touted as “the answer” to teacher’s needs and student’s difficulties. Testing software, flash cards, presentation software, and graphic organizer tools have been introduced, shined then faded ever since the PC was brought into the classroom. Useful? Sure. A game-changing panacea, no.
New and fun can provide interest, albeit temporary for both teachers and students. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if there is no raison d’etre, a new technology that doesn’t serve a legitimate purpose, it is probably not worth the effort.
As a technology lover myself, I’ve certainly been guilty of spending too much time — OK, waaaayyy too much time — playing with devices and software without thoughtfully considering its value. I like to think that I embraced technology because it was useful to my purpose and not just a lot of fun. But honestly, I had no clear thinking about how to make that decision.
So how can we decide whether we are implementing a technology that makes for deeper, more engaging learning? In other words, how can we decide what’s truly useful and which technologies just provide that shiny, new, wow factor?
Practically, I think this quandary can be approached from two different directions, depending on which comes first: the technology or the goal.
Let’s say you learn about some new software or gizmo that seems interesting, maybe even exciting. In other words, the technology came first. Is it worth adopting? I think the key question we should ask in these situations is, “Does this piece of technology move learning from rote to real?” Does it help us achieve our goals for student learning? For example, will students move up Bloom’s taxonomy to evaluate information or create something new as a result of this new tech? Will it transform our teaching to result in more engaging work and deeper student learning?
On the other hand, you can look at your district’s goals, and/or your course goals, and ask, “What technologies are available to help me transform this old task into something that will help them achieve our end goal(s)?” It goes without saying that this requires us to be concrete and clear about our goals. Whatever the source, pull those goals out of the file cabinet and post them on your bulletin board. Use them as a litmus test for deciding what you do and don’t do with technology.
But shiny, new is cool and fun! Tell me about it. The tech geek in me still enjoys playing with new stuff. Is it so wrong to play with a new technology because it’s glitzy, new, and fun? No. I’ll still play with new software and gadgets — because I enjoy it. But before I use it in my classroom, I’ll at least do a mental check on my goal(s) and whether this shiny, new tech development helps my students reach it or not.
For more info on thinking through your use of technology, check out these links: