I recently co-taught a graduate course for inservice teachers. One of the modules I was leading was about educational technology. So, given the limited time (about 4 instructional hours), I had to do some hard thinking about what I wanted to discuss concerning ed tech. I settled on three main points.
1) Technology can be used to promote the goals we have for students. If we want students to collaborate, perhaps a shared google document will do the trick. Want students to connect ideas rather than memorize descrete facts? There are many online concept mapping tools available. To help students communicate, I can have them engage in various social media platforms.
2) Technology can account for learning theory. If I want to represent some content more concretely, a YouTube video might help. To determine students’ prior knowledge, I can use any number of online formative assessment tools. When designing an assignment, I can use MS Word to ensure that any readings I’m using are grade-level appropriate.
3) Technology is not just digital. This was, for me, the most important point to be made with my class. When trying to make something more concrete in math, base ten blocks might be better than any digital tool. When helping kids work on editing their writing, a piece of paper might illustrate things a software program can’t. If I want to teach kids about shadows, the educational technology I need is a lamp.
Because of this third point, I can say with certainty that on any given day I am using technology in my teaching. Some days we are using laptops, others we use whiteboards. But to say one lesson benefits from educational technology and the other does not demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of technology and a shallow rationale for using educational technology.
When my class redefined educational technology as “tools for learning”, many of the teachers felt liberated. While we shouldn’t actively avoid using digital technology, forcing ourselves to use digital technology is equally problematic. Many of the teachers felt our definition of technology helped them reframe the pressure they were getting from administrators. They felt emboldened to fight for best practice and worry less about meeting unrealistic and short-sighted digital technology demands. Digital technology does not need to be the constant in our classrooms, learning does.