“I do not want laptops/iPads/technology in my classroom. It interferes with my teaching.” As an IT guy and a technophile I hate to hear that argument but as a classroom teacher I can identify with it. When I am at the front of the room and the kids have their laptops open I have absolutely no idea what they are looking it. It bothers me. Student technology also seems to always have some issue when I start to depend on it. Many teachers just want a board and a marker. That way the students’ attention cannot be divided, it is always ready, and it takes very little training. There is one minor problem with this approach; except for teaching there are almost no jobs that require skill with board and marker, or that require someone be skilled at watching someone use a board and marker. Everything our students do, except for those that live in the deep woods off the grid (I live in western Montana, we have those), requires they has some proficiency with a computer.
I see laptops in the classroom as a learning duality. The kids can use the laptop for the course material, the obvious and most talked about use. But hidden in the background is that the kids learn how to use the laptop. I am not talking about using a word processor or playing a CD or watching a funny YouTube video during the brilliant lecture. I am talking about learning to save their term paper in the cloud so when the laptop gets orange juice spilled on it and dies they are not going to think of suicide. Preventing data loss, anti-virus protection, network printing, troubleshooting wireless issues and other need-to-know-in-the-present-computer-world type tasks are lessons 21st century students should learn.
It is this second, usually hidden learning that I see in my school causing the largest problem in the classroom. Teachers seem to be able to adjust their curriculum and lessons to having kids do internet research, build presentations, type papers, turn them in electronically and other direct laptop tasks. It is when things do not work the way they are supposed to that drives the teachers up the wall. Things like the internet being slow (usually caused by that teacher streaming music), the wireless not cooperating, the laptop not charged, the needed software not installed, the projector not working correctly and, most entertaining of all, the amazing missing file. It is this infrastructure hassle that interferes with teaching the most. Heck, just handing out the laptops and getting them turned on can take time out of a period. If a school is operating on 40 or 50 minute periods this added 5 or 10 minutes is significant. One minor glitch can destroy a lesson plan and burn in the idea “It interferes with my teaching.” I hear teaching technophiles stating to always have a backup plan in case the technology does not work. So to use technology in the classroom teachers should be making two lessons when they plan to use technology? It is much easier to not use the technology.
This is not to say teachers should or should not use laptops in the classroom. It means to say that teachers should look at the dual nature of using laptops in the classroom and consider possible approaches or advantages. Schools and teachers will never have technology reach its potential until the students are educated on how to use their own devices.
Assuming students know how to use their laptop because they are members of the technology literate generation is a big mistake. Today I noticed one of my smartest kids doing her on-line physics on one of the lab computers instead of her own laptop that was on the desk next to her. On asking why she simply said it did not work on her laptop. The site stated it required Adobe Shockwave and she did not have the slightest idea what that meant or how to get Shockwave. Downloading required software like this should be trivial but it is not something that is instinctive or is imparted by the morning vitamins. Of course the little detail that most teachers are even less tech literate than the kids is a problem.
Our “digital natives” are pretty much digital idiots because there are no teachers to teach them digital skills. Most teachers are either not digitally comfortable or do not want to have the digital world interfere with their primary goal of teaching the subject they spent years of college and experience getting proficient at.
So what is the solution to getting teachers and kids up to digital speed? Waiting for the new generation of teachers to come out of the universities is not going to do it. I see a pretty good collection of student teachers through my school and they are as bad as the kids when it comes to digital knowledge. “Hope and pray” has been a traditional approach to many education problems for years but since prayer is frowned upon in public schools they cannot use that one. (Luckily I am in a Catholic school so the approach is still good. I am just not too sure about the viability of the approach.) As much as I hate the idea I think this has to be a top down affair. Someone way up there has to come down and say all schools will educate their students and staff on the intricacies of the digital world. If No Child Left Behind and Common Core can be mandated then surely something that is actually needed and makes sense can be also. The present strategy of low level advocates (tech teachers) trying to promote the need to an ambivalent administration is simply going to take too long to break through a rather solid wall based on tradition and apathy.