Saturday, November 6, 2010

Using Technology in the Classroom - Reflections on Balance

The more I learn about technological tools available for use in the classroom, the more responsibility I feel in ensuring that I am incorporating these within my teaching. This morning, I was thinking of the challenges I have personally faced in doing so. The main word that kept coming to mind was 'balance'. Currently, I find the most challenging overall aspect of using technology in the classroom is that involving finding a suitable balance.

The following are just some of the areas that I find to be in need of balance:
  • Technology and traditional learning techniques. It is essential that the most effective (as proven by research and data) teaching strategies be utilised. Just because something is a tool of technology, does not automatically make it effective in teaching/learning.
  • Explicit instruction and enquiry based learning. Students still need to be taught - otherwise, why have a teacher? Thinking skills and enquiry skills need to be explicitly taught to enable students to use these skills and to have an ever-increasing repertoire of skills, becoming increasingly more independent as learners.
  • Breadth and depth. I am concerned that with technology, sometimes adequate depth is not being achieved. Areas of learning are becoming so vast. Pace of learning is often very fast. If not guided carefully, students may not actually be learning what we think they are.
  • Time. It takes time for educators to become confident and competent in technological tools and in maximising the effective use of these tools. It takes time to teach students how to effectively use these tools so that the learning objectives (separate from learning about the technology) can be met. Sadly, valuable teaching and learning time can be lost due to unreliability of some forms of technology. (Refer to my previous post on reliability.)
  • Teaching tools and covering the curriculum. How often do we hear about the 'crowded curriculum'? This point ties in with the previous one about time. Time spent teaching how to use tools can, if one is not careful, result in time lost to cover the curriculum. Now, perhaps the curriculum needs to change further in order to incorporate technological learning objectives. Perhaps it needs to be less crowded in order to permit students to explore areas of interest and to delve more deeply? In the future employment world of our students, knowledge will certainly be less important than knowing how to source information.
  • Digital immigrants versus digital natives? Prensky (2001) coined the terms of digital immigrants and natives. There appears to have been considerable discussion on digital natives being at a greater advantage over immigrants and assumptions made that natives are comfortable in using technology and have ready access to technology. Over the past few weeks I have spent class time teaching my year 6 students how to use different aspects of technology. It became readily apparent that not all of them 'got it' straight away, nor did they necessarily feel comfortable in using technology. In addition, not all have access to computers or Internet at home. Add to this the fears often felt by their parents in permitting their children access.
I realise that each of the above points in themselves would be worthy of hours of research, thought and development. Therefore I acknowledge that I have only scratched the surface and need to spend more time reflecting on these areas.

So for me, what are some potential solutions to these issues? 
  • Persist and persevere.
  • Try to base what I do on current research and data.
  • Encourage and assist other teachers in incorporating technology - if we all do it, then the time needed to teach the technology to the students will be shared across the years and subjects!
  • Aim and push for clever design of the curriculum to prepare students for the 21st century and to ensure adequate depth and breadth can occur.
  • Collaborate and share with colleagues in order to save time. Remember that we are all working for the benefit and our students and future citizens.
  • Discourage excuses made on the basis of being a digital immigrant. We are teachers because we are lifelong learners, therefore, we can and must learn new technologies.
  • Be careful not to assume that all students have access to, and fluency in, technology.

Prensky, M 2001, 'Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants', On the Horizon, vol. 9, no. 5.

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