My job allows me to travel around the country visiting different schools and speaking to teachers and students about their use of technology in the classroom.
What I hear and see concerns me.
The “technology” I see being utilized as part of instruction in traditional brick and mortar classrooms amounts to little more than the chalkboard being replaced by a PowerPoint presentation. As a result, students are often not engaged, which contributes to drop out rates that hover around 30 percent.
Recently, I met with a small group of students and their teachers, and the students were dismayed that they were not allowed to bring laptops to class even for the purpose of taking notes. Granted, there are concerns about having students use personal computers and connecting them to a school network. But as one student stated, “What I do in school is copy notes from the board. When I get home, I transcribe them into digital format so that I can use the information to learn. Seems rather unnecessary.”
In another example, a student used his iPhone to illustrate a disconnect between teachers and students. With a bit of dramatic flair, the student held up his iPhone and asked the adults in the room what they saw. All of the teachers stated that it was “a phone.”
“Precisely my point,” the student declared. “You see a phone when, in reality, this is my computer. This is my connection to information.” He shared how a teacher recently scolded him for “having his phone out in class.” He was using it to learn more about the lesson being taught. He was essentially asked to leave technology at the classroom door.
At a Careeer Day, I asked a group of 18 students the requisite “what is your favorite class” question. The responses I received ranged from physical education to band, web design/computer class, and so on. Not a single student responded with math, science, English, or social studies. As I delved deeper, it became apparent why the students identified those classes. Being actively engaged in the learning process is core to those courses. P.E., band, and a computer class are not passive experiences. They could not say this about their other classes.
We can debate why technology is not more fully integrated into traditional classrooms -- with arguments ranging from a lack of teacher professional development, administrative commitment, pre-service preparation, and yes, funding -- but what we really need to do is change it.
The money set aside for education technology by the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act is not enough, but is a start. Successful pilots of 1:1 learning environments like the North Carolina 1:1 Learning Technology Initiative will help. But maybe what will help the most is listening to the students themselves.