Personal Growth and Innovation
Achieving opportunity is about providing a realistic framework for learning in the 21st century. The way technology is used in the classroom, from booklets to iPads, is a critical component of that framework. In discussing the subject with other educators, I found there is great concern about school technology.
My classroom consists of students in the fourth grade who come from some of the lowest performing schools in the city. The curriculum we utilize is smart and engaging and we have one of the best teachers in the city. With these advantages, I was surprised to hear an educator say, “I know for sure the students at this school do not use a tablet to learn. I’ve seen it every day.”
We have an iPad for every student but do we utilize it to learn and lead student-to-student education? Is it adequate in preparing students for the future or are we using technology so it can pass as teaching? As educators, we don’t know enough about how technology is used to have a perspective. Do we have enough evidence to weigh in on the significance of tablet use? For years, school reform has been about raising test scores, decreasing class sizes, and enabling students to acquire certain skill sets that correlate with success. Learning how to test questions is paramount to learning, right? Well, the truth is, we’re at a point where we should be examining the impact of technology on how students learn in the classroom, and I’m not sure we’re adequately working toward this goal.
When school reform is examined from the outside, iPads seem like a great tool, and they are often the first thing highlighted. But what gets overlooked is the importance of how the technology is used in the classroom. Too often, students rely on texts, apps, and a device to reinforce a lecture, construct a lesson, or determine a comprehension problem. However, is this what’s important when the students are moving forward in their learning? Further, are students truly going to be able to utilize technology to achieve their potential when they’re simply just receiving instruction?
Without evidence that technological interventions positively impact learning, it’s simply a “nice-to-have.” Our teachers struggle every day when they take out a watch and time when they write lessons and exams on paper. We spend hours, even days, preparing to provide the best education possible, and so many are focused on buying the newest technology. With the limited budget most districts have, all technology has to meet a set standard for selection. If they can’t meet that standard, why are they justifying their purchase? While it’s unfortunate that technology buys are not based on research or actual educational evidence, this still does not make it right to replace educators and those who, in some cases, are unable to afford a printer and paper, among other costs.
We see this more often in some of the lower-performing schools. In these buildings, all students are “loaded” with tablets. However, it’s important that students are given the tools to learn from technology, but at some point, their desire to learn must also come from somewhere else. If a student is lucky, the devices will even be borrowed, giving the students the chance to use the technology. Even though the devices are often linked to an app, the devices are otherwise stationary. Students sit in front of the class when they should be exploring an app or, in some cases, exploring the world. For students like those in my school, the goal shouldn’t be to access the technology. They should be using it to engage in the traditional education they’re engaged in.
In a number of schools, students have been assessed for technology literacy through a test, called a SIG-CLEAR (Teacher Recognition of Computer-Related Skills) test. This assessment measures information comprehension from using devices, allowing teachers to determine technology proficiency. However, I am not sure what grade students in low-performing schools would receive in terms of actual use of technology. And if it has to be assessed, why not monitor technology literacy and use a test with lower achievement levels to test students in the future?