In January of 2011 I wrote about how technology has altered the pursuit and management of knowledge in all academic disciplines and “that there is virtually nothing happening in academia that does not use technology to great effect in research, publication, creative expression, and collaboration.” I went on call for teachers to embrace responsible and creative uses of technology and not simply bolt it on to a new engine. Having said that, I failed to recognize that the next logical step is to examine the use of technology by classroom teachers as a means of illuminating effective teaching. Conversely, the ineffective use of technology can identify teachers who may need additional professional development, performance improvement plans or, perhaps to even be fired.
New technologies often reflect the practices of the technology they displace. The first cars were dubbed “horseless carriages” after the horse drawn buggies they replaced. The first television shows were stage shows filmed with a fixed camera and broadcast to the audience. Transparency projectors replaced hand written notations on blackboards, and PowerPoint presentations were (and arguably still are) a simple change of format from transparencies to the computer.
While many technologies are ultimately transformative their initial incarnations may not be. As you think about how technology is being used in the classrooms in your school, do you see a Model-T auto, a black and white episode of the Jack Benny Show, and fifty shades of transparencies that have not substantively changes in decades, or do you see fresh, even revolutionary uses of technology that are truly transformative?
Technology reveals much about how teachers approach teaching and manage their classrooms. For example:
- Are teachers using technology to “stand and deliver” with the majority of information flow coming from the teacher to the students? What is the real added value of technology in such a class? As for students, their use of technology in such teacher-centric classrooms is often limited to note-taking.
- Are students using technology to perform electronic seat work such as worksheets or drill and practice games? Worksheets are a hell of a lot cheaper than iPads.
- Are students off-task, texting one another, checking social media sites, and so on. (Chances are they are also off-task in poorly managed analog classrooms)
- Does the teacher struggle to get the technology up and running and freak out when it fails? Chances are that they may be disorganized and fretful in other aspects of their teaching such as when textbooks change, the forget a lesson plan at home, or a fire drill interrupts the class period.
- Even so-called “flipped” classrooms are often simple adaptations of the staid lecture model which values the one-way regurgitation of content via the teachers voice to students, often increasing students’ out-of-school workload. A dull lecture is still a dull lecture and truly gifted lecturers are, in my experience, quite rare.
- Assessment is probably the most resistant artifact of old teaching models. Technology has made few inroads here. The College Board allows languages students to submit MP3 recordings of the oral portion of the AP foreign language exams (with strict, convoluted security measures attached.) This is an adaptation of their old tape recordings method. It was big news when the state of Oregon allowed students to use spellcheck in testing situations. (see Driving Nails with a Hammer). But relatively few school are allowing open-computer examinations. (see Why Teachers Don’t Trust Students). It’s like telling students that it is fine to use technology for everything except when it matters.