Too Much or Not Enough High-Tech in Classrooms

NOTE: I use the term “high technology” to recognize the many non-digital forms of technology, e.g., the printed word, ball-point pens, etc.

This raging debate has been pretty much overshadowed by Common Core and high-stakes testing, but I believe we should revisit it periodically rather than just going with the flow which appears to be the status quo. Lacking definitive research we still forge ahead spending big bucks. “Just what if technology really does enhance learning?” “Do I, the teacher, the administrator, the board member, want to be responsible for denying students opportunities to achieve, gain a college degree, get a good job, succeed in the future digital world?” The answer: “We can’t take the chance, we must spend the money.” Or as is in many one-to-one schools, “We will dictate a BYOD policy and let the parents/guardians spend the money.” Maybe we don’t need to speed up, slow or stop the momentum, maybe we need allow the direction of the technology momentum to be guided by the practitioners, the teachers.

SmithSystem.com does a fairly good job of capturing the more common valid reasons behind too much or too little (http://smithsystem.com/smithfiles/2014/10/20/classroom-technology-much-enough/). Reasoning for more: eBooks, post-school tech use, gaming develops spatial skills and inductive reasoning, collaboration/communication, deeper engagement/broader learning, teacher tools, and support for PLEs. Reasoning for less: meaningful engagement comes from people, too much too soon, distracting, cost and obsolescence, taxes teachers’ expertise, and classroom management. I can agree with both sides.

So my answer (too much, too little?) is both. We are all aware of the technology resource “gap” between wealthy and poor community schools. (A short aside: this gap also exists within Catholic schools systems, particularly in urban areas where many schools are dependent on donors for the majority of their technology resources.) This is without doubt a too little situation. I don’t pretend to have an answer regarding how to close this gap without spreading the wealth which would mean lowering the amount of technology available to wealthier schools in order to raise the amount of technology available to poorer schools. Or without increasing taxes. Either solution requires more big government involvement, ala Common Core and high-stakes testing and I’m a firm believer in locally controlled schools, among most other things.

We are also aware, although we seldom admit, that gaps exist among teachers within even the better-resourced schools. Recent research points out that the teacher gap is not so much due to age and the digital native/digital immigrant thing but more to the pedagogical maturity and content adeptness of teachers. And that the gap is not so much regarding how much technology is in play but more so about how successful it is employed whatever the level of integration. In short, well-grounded teachers, if allowed, do their homework, select and implement the technology that works best for them. That’s not an easy chore. There are many hardware choices and tens of thousands of educational apps and applications. Each teacher can’t vet them all and obviously a certain amount of standardization is necessary. The standardization should occur at the lowest possible economically viable level but no higher than school level. Full collaboration among all stakeholders is essential. Technology budgets should be built from the bottom up beginning with individual teachers. Teachers should have full reign over the software applied within their classrooms. Again, not easy decisions, however, help is available through PLCs; individualized, non-workshop-based PD (please!); the Internet; mentorship; and the technology department.

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