Classroom tech: Listen to the kids!


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.


About Author

Bruce Friend

Director - SAS Curriclum Pathways

Bruce Friend is the Director of SAS® Curriculum Pathways®, an award-winning education resource that provides online lessons, engaging tools and activities at no cost to educators around the world. As a member of the SAS Education Practice leadership team, his work is focused on the SAS Institute’s vision for transforming education and helping students and teachers utilize technology for more engaging and successful teaching and learning experience. Bruce has spent the past decade working in the field of online learning and digital content. He is a national pioneer in helping to establish the country’s first statewide online program and has been the chief administrator of two state virtual schools. Prior to joining SAS, Bruce was the Vice President of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL); a non-profit organization that provides support to students, parents, and online learning programs. Friend serves as a special advisor on educational technology issues for local and state leaders throughout the country as well as serving on advisory boards for several education programs and schools. He currently sits on the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Distance Learning Association serving in the role of Vice President, is on the advisory board for the K12 education division of the Software & Information Industry, and represents SAS on the education committee of the world Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Among Friend’s honors and distinctions: He was recognized for the “Most Outstanding Achievement by an Individual: K-12 Education” by the United States Distance Learning Association. Friend is a two-time recipient of the Florida Principal Achievement Award and was the Florida Virtual School Teacher of the Year. He earned a M.Ed. in educational leadership from the University of Central Florida and a B.A. in Social Science from the University of Pittsburgh.


  1. kozachim205 on

    I am in complete agreement with you in regards to teachers being completely unaware of the fact that today’s classroom does not provide students with the possibility of today’s technologies. In the argument of a teacher’s view, many teachers today do not even know where to start because they have become so lost in what in new, how to download this, how to use this software, and what can enhance this lecture. Do you think it would be a useful idea to have each teacher who is currently teaching to attend at least one mandatory instruction, how-to, and insight to the latest educational technologies?
    As a teaching in training, I am taking a technology is education class and I have been amazed at what I did not know I could use in my future classroom. Fortunately, the future teachers are being trained to use new technologies in their classrooms, yet today’s teachers tend to be in the dark since many are not going out of their way or taking the extra step to learn what they may be afraid of.
    Before my technology class, I restricted myself to emailing, general Microsoft software, and a small amount of internet use. Now that I have taken my technology in education class, I have been informed of not only the latest technology and how I can use it, but also the various groups and sites and can view to keep myself informed.
    I am training to become a music educator. In my future band class, I had previously planned to simply teach the ways of my previous band directors, but now I have a new plan and outline for how I will keep up in my knowledge of technology:
    1. Continue to be a part of MENC: The National Association for Music Education.
    This group provides magazines, events, recent news, and even newest technology for music teachers. I think that being a part of this association will be one of the most important parts of being a successful up to date music teacher. Here is just one example of an event about the latest music technologies available that I found by simply looking at the website:
    2. 2. Use the latest software available for my students to use throughout the class and when they are practicing at home. I already have a few of these software already, but here is a list of what I would like to use in my class thus far:
    SmartMusic, Finale, Garage Band, Band in A Box.
    I am sure that this list will grow as I continue in my education and become a teacher, and new models with come into play as well. I will be able to find the newest software by staying a part of MENC>
    3. 3. Be in touch with the local ISD for the school I am teaching and attend presentations or lectures that will help me stay knowledgeable of today's technology.
    My previous school district, Kent, is a prime example of what I will be regularly viewing to stay in touch with the latest technology:
    4. I would like to become a member of ISTE so I have the ability to stay in touch with today's teachers and future technology.
    What I will do is plan to update my knowledge and equipment every few months using ISTE so I can give my students my best effort.
    I am by no means trying to say that my outline is the only way to go, I am simply trying to put the idea of training teachers both current and future, to be knowledgeable and prepared to teach the students for the future.

  2. Bruce Friend on

    I absolutely think that we need to provide more training and ongoing professional development to teachers in supporting their use of technology in the classroom. I also think that such PD should not be optional for teachers today. The use of technology does not replace the need for having a highly qualified teacher intimately involved in the delivery of instruction and assessment of student progress. Technology can however help teachers work more efficiently and engage students to a higher degree. Technolgy will not replace teachers, but those teachers who use technology will replace those who do not, and I don't think that is a bad thing. We must also help teachers learn how to use technology for true instructional purposes, not merely using technology to handle the "business" of the classroom such as grade report, taking role, etc.

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