So, continuing with our ongoing theme of teaching from the past couple weeks, and since I’m a teacher now helping to run a podcast and business and such, I figured now is as good a time as any to talk about the impacts of technology on the classroom. To be sure, this is a topic which deserves a lot more talk time than our typical blog posts, and honestly, probably someone with a great deal more expertise than I have to analyze it. That being said, I feel like there are a couple key advantages, and one massive disadvantage, that really stand out to me.
One of the major things I’ve seen that has really helped me out as a teacher is how helpful technology can be when teaching a class with a wide spectrum of ability or preparedness. In years past, when I was teaching 5th grade language arts, I consistently had classes of 30 or more students. Amongst those 30 students, I would have some who could read high school novels and others who were still really working on the very basic reading skills. As a teacher without an aid in the classroom, I needed to be able to engage both extremes and everyone in between without neglecting any of them, and also being mindful that 5th graders do, on occasion, lose their minds if given the opportunity. Now, I know a lot of teachers who I admire and respect deeply who do an amazing job, even without 1-to-1 technology, of sparking, kindling, and enflaming a love of reading in similar or even more challenging classrooms than the one I’ve described. Never the less, for me, the ability tap into various apps, programs, and even websites was a God send. There are so many resources which enable me to work on similar skills at different levels in a way that I just never managed to do as effectively without it.
The other thing I love is less about technology in the classroom, and more about the impact of tech, especially smart phones, on the expectations of students and teachers for what education is. While memorization is a viable and important part of learning, there can be a tendency to assume that a mere absorption of facts is the same thing as being intelligent or a good student. The idea that history, for example, is simply about memorizing a list of names and dates has a difficult time surviving its collision with a generation of students who know that they can find that same information in seconds with a little help from the web. Instead, the students and teachers have an opportunity to study relationships between facts, to employ critical thinking, to compare and contrast different thoughts and perspectives on the subjects.
I’m not, however, quite so naïve as to think that all teachers and students will take advantage of these opportunities. The great challenge technology and the ease of access to information brings to education, as it seems to in so many arenas, is an increased threat to credibility and relevance. Students have long asked the question, “When am I ever going to use this?” While there are lots of good explanations for each of the subjects and their relevance in their lives, some of those explanations seem less convincing to students who think all they’ll ever need can be found with a quick search online. In addition, for many children(and perpetually angry adults, it seems), distinguishing trustworthy, truthful information from click bait and trash posts is a skill still very much in its infancy. The number of classroom conversations with the phrase, “Someone on YouTube said,” or “I read a thing online that told me,” is pretty terrifying.
All this said, the reality is that technology isn’t going away, for any of us. We can’t really choose whether or not tech will impact our lives, we can only try make sure it’s a tool for our use instead of the other way around.