30 March 2011

We need new thinking on technology in the classroom

by Jared Mader

Unlike many other specific instructional programs, educational technology is not at all about the technology. Quite honestly, it is about how our efforts in the classroom can make the technology invisible, centering more on relevant and authentic learning experiences. The focus should remain on what we want students to be able to know and do rather than the technology. Founded in the National Educational Technology Standards for Students (the NETS-S), our students need to be provided digital-age learning experiences that allow them to create, collaborate and solve problems. Our system of education, too often, asks skilled educators to dilute their talents by assuming the role of an information disseminator.

A mission that focuses on global preparedness is one without the baggage of viewing technology as another thing to “cover.” While there are technology skills that must be a part of the curriculum, such as using productivity software or learning keyboard touch-typing, the technology must be a tool for instruction that allows students to either work more efficiently or at higher levels of learning. This requires a curriculum make-over, and this will cost money. We need to pay it forward, and in the economic times that we are all facing, we have to ask ourselves, “Can we afford to not do this?”

No longer can the use of technology in classroom instruction be limited to those teachers who are comfortable with it or have been able to see its benefits. This is among the greatest of inequities that we see in today’s schools. We still see a digital divide among students who have access to tools at home and those who do not.

However, the divide that must be addressed urgently is the large number of students who can go through an entire school year and never once be exposed to higher-order thinking using powerful technology tools. That divide is not one of socioeconomic status but of the systemic failure to support all teachers in their efforts to foster environments for students to develop and use digital-age skills.

Critics would argue that this is not sustainable. Even with the introduction of low-cost netbooks, iPads and iPods, and thin client-computing devices, the expense is still too much to bear if schools are expected to provide these tools for teachers to change.

But who says that schools must provide these tools? We must grow tired of the conflicting environment created by our budgets and our policies. While we say that our budgets cannot support the purchase of these tools, our policies tell our staff and students that students are not able to use the tools they have. Imagine the audacity of telling a student they couldn’t use their own calculator or pencil or notebook, yet we do that every day when our policies restrict cell phones, personal laptops and other powerful tools of connectivity.

Networks still must be secured – agreed. But it’s not about adding more strain onto our budgets; it’s about repurposing some of the monies that we use for the replacement of computers for the purpose of improving infrastructures that allow for this personal connectivity. Our district has worked over the past year to install a wireless network across all buildings that has this ability.

So, what do our educators need to learn to be effective in integrating technology?

First, there must be a compelling argument for the need to change our system. Next, we need take a grassroots approach to train teachers to integrate the tools that will engage students. This is not about specific technology tools, software, or web-based products, but rather it is about what types of tools are available to elicit specific types of digital-age skills. Once teachers begin to see how their lessons are revolutionized by the systemic introduction of digital-age learning experiences, they will be able to see how programmatic change can occur through a complete curriculum revision process.

Our leaders must recognize that technology is not a thing, it is an evolution. Our hope is that technology, as a tool for teaching and learning, will one day be no more regarded than the ball-point-pen or colored pencils. Instead, the change to digital-age learning, as described by the NETS, will be the highly regarded focus and change agent that will help us to guide educational reform in the 21st century.

Jared Mader is the Director of Technology for the Red Lion Area School District. He has served in this position for four years, after teaching Chemistry for nine years. In that time, he has led technology integration professional development initiatives. He is a member of the Discovery Educator Network and has been identified as a PDE State Keystone Technology Integrator. He also serves as a partner in an educational technology consultancy, EdTechInnovators, providing professional development to districts across the United States and abroad. Jared lives in York with his wife Janell and 7-year-old daughter Emma. You can contact him at maderj@rlasd.k12.pa.us or jared@edtechinnovators.com.

1 comment:

Christopher said...

Not until funding for technology programming becomes a priority can this be realized -- or at least realized equitably. Mader is correct that it will take a culture shift – a repurposing of money in our school budgets. Knowing school budgets have been increasingly cut makes this a challenge; however, it’s a challenge we must all rise to meet.
I was watching TED Talks today on differentiated learning (through Kahn Academy). This is one example of what even a little technology can bring to the classroom – it only creates endless possibilities for our children. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gM95HHI4gLk