I found myself overwhelmed last night as I sat in class. While the instructor lectured, I glanced down at my notes and looked over a list of teacher resource websites. How am I going to remember all of this, I thought. Is all of this necessary?
In my teacher education program, and as I imagine is true of many others, we talk a lot about how and why we should use technology and the Internet in our classrooms. In previous posts and in my personal blog, I have written about the importance of technology in education. But after last night’s class, I am left wondering: how can we tell when we are using technology to entertain children instead of using it to teach them?
Some might say that all technology is entertaining for children, and some might say that all technology is educational. I straddle the line. However, as a teacher, I have to distinguish between entertaining and teaching and between entertainment and learning.
I recognize the importance of technology for tactile, auditory, and visual-spatial learners. There are websites and software that allow these students to make outlines for and graphic representations of their written work, as well as to record and play back their thoughts.* Yet, I think teachers have to examine their motivations behind choosing a technology to teach rather than using a conventional strategy. If teachers choose technology and Internet programs simply for fear that they will lose their students’ attention, then they are not using it effectively. If they choose it because they think they are supposed to (which seems to be what is being suggested in my program), they are not using it effectively. If they choose it in attempt to keep students’ behavior in line, then they are not using it effectively. This list could go on.
Motivation sparks another debate in education. There are intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and people feel strongly about the type they value. It could be argued that students are intrinsically motivated to use technology. It has been a part of their upbringing for as long as they have been alive, and everyone is curious. However, I have witnessed teachers posing computer usage as a reward for good behavior. Many schools promote certain reading programs with computer usage – a good score on a computerized reading quiz and students earn stickers or points in hopes of accumulating a certain amount for yet another reward – a pizza party or a field trip.
Maybe I have said this before, or at least alluded to it in some fashion, but as educators, it is our responsibility to inform students that although technology is something they should know how to use, it is not something they have to consume. Consumers have choices, a fact that everyone needs to recognize. Having a multitude of devices does not make someone especially more informed than the person without them. Nor does having a multitude of devices make someone more qualified than someone without them. We have to be careful in both our motivation for using technology in our classrooms and in how we convey its importance.
In closing, but maybe meant to be discussed in greater detail in another post, it is important to consider how students feel about this debate. Do they really care about being able to use their cell phones in the classroom or about online programs for making graphic organizers? Not too long ago, I found a video titled Engage Me on YouTube. Filmed by students attending the Robin Hood Primary School in Birmingham, UK, it portrays the student side of this debate. In some cases, the students are questioning why they have to use certain types of technology, and in other cases, they are wondering why they are not allowed to use certain types of technology. Perhaps we need to reconsider our approach to technology in education by including the students we are trying to reach in our conversations about it.
* Note: I recognize that these programs benefit all students, and I believe that each of us embodies multiple intelligences, but for the sake of argument, I am categorizing.