Does contemporary learning require a large or larger role for laptops and other digital tools in the classroom and what are the pros and cons?
Instructional technologist Sam Morris takes a light-hearted look at teaching paperless in this "I Hate Paper" video, but the message is interesting... If more students had laptops, then what could we do electronically that we currently do on paper?
Professor Michael Wesch's "The Machine is Using Us" shows how the nature of text, and our interaction with it, has changed in the digital era.
So... back to the question... Does contemporary learning require a large or larger role for laptops and other digital tools in the classroom and what are the pros and cons?
Storage is, indeed, a big question, and I can see that the needs of students, teachers, and all of us in our personal lives might vary considerably. We have been debating the best way to save files of concerts at the lower school - that takes a lot of space, too much for the school server to provide year after year, unless maybe we consider using the cloud. For my own files of photos I've found using mini-cards seems like a good way to go. Having just tried to deal with transferring a few hundred slides of family pictures from my parents, I can't imagine how someone might someday want to see and select so many more pictures from my family files. How much that the students do will they want to access later on, and as more and more that they do becomes digital, and takes less space - will that change? Or will the digital storage needs just get bigger and bigger? I do resent the idea that Apple & Cisco will benefit. It's sort of like real estate - rent or buy? Personally I feel overwhelmed by the time and effort it takes to keep track of all the files I create in a year.
I do believe that we are charged with guiding students in their utilization of technology to gain knowledge and information. We can choose to be fearful of the change but the students are already using cell phones, itouches, ipods, ipads, laptops, xbox, playstation, etc. We can model and guide students in using the technology responsibly and help them gain awareness of their own digital footprint. We can help them manage the barrage of information that comes their way and to develop filtering skills as to what is appropriate and meaningful to them and what is not. I believe that they should receive more explicit support in managing the day to day experiences so that they have more information on how to behave safely as well as deal with situations that come up that are not age appropriate. By actually teaching responsible use of cell phones, blogs, wikis, chats or virtualworlds, and other social networking tools, we can teach our students communication skills for the digital world. Showing them a variety of contexts also helps them realize that the technology is not merely for "play" and working hard to make the connection between what is communicated virtually versus what is communicated in person can be very powerful. The management of increasing the technology options in schools as well as the expense are the definite cons. Teachers need training and IT support. Keeping systems running and with the necessary settings for student use requires a lot of time. However, the long term effects of explicitly teaching skills will benefit our students and having regular if not immediate access allows teachers to authentically integrate technology. Today if you want to look something up you do. You don't have to check out the computer from your mom or dad, most kids just hop on their phone or their home computer and look it up. They also don't have to wait for Thursday to come because that is the only day the computer room is open. Students use the technology everyday. Classrooms need to have this same kind of access with teacher management and explicit instruction and modeling taking place before independent use. The other piece to increasing accessibility ( requiring equity) is the fact that we can extend the learning day through interactive tools that students today are using for entertainment anyway. Instead of playing Air Penguin or updating Facebook. we could be asking students to blog with their classmates about sustainable practices in their own community, or what actions they will take to reduce the garbage their family produces, or share their reactions or connections to a book their reading. They could compare a movie to a book or create t-charts on the facets of their favorite interactive games. Students could watch a video pertaining to a specific classroom subject and then share something they learned. They could plan their own field trip, or at least parts of it, on a wiki. They can practice math and geography skills with immediate feedback. They can design their own multimedia projects. The options are endless and the pathways teachers choose circle back to the learning objectives. All in all, having access is the first step, creating management methods seems next, and constantly validating the use of a tool by seeing that the students are meeting the learning objectives, communicating effectively, and able to eventually show some transfer of understanding as it pertains to their use of technology beyond school.
* One realization I have had is that the pace of newly developed tools and applications is at such a break-neck speed that we as teachers need to be adaptable and even spontaneous. Things cannot always be tested tried and true and modeling what to do when something doesn't go smoothly is an important process. There will be times that the kids are showing us a new discovery or we are all trying a new tool for the first time and we learn it together. I think this is okay. That's the reality of their world.
In response to the first video: I have unquestionably benefited from increased use of music notation software, but this has led to using much more paper than ever before. In orchestra and smaller chamber ensembles, each class is a trial-and-error workshop, reading through new parts, making notes, and printing revised versions for subsequent rehearsals.
It would be great for each student to have a touch screen tablet on a music stand with a digital version of their sheet music (and a foot triggered USB device to "turn" pages as necessary). Not only would it save a ton of paper, but it would allow me to transmit near-instant modifications to them on the fly. Despite the frequent necessity of printing entirely new sets of parts, the process has given the players more input about their individual parts. I encourage students to question and offer suggestions and solutions, and this interaction has been essential for the evolution of new arrangements over the course of multiple rehearsals.
As a digital native I think it's extremely important to keep up with technology both in and out of the classroom. It's only going to continue to change and become more advanced. On the other hand, I still prefer a hallmark card in the mail over a facebook wall post. I think it's important to continue to keep up with the ever changing world, I also think it's just as important for a child to know what it feels like to use fingerpaints.
As some of the other arts faculty have mentioned, I am trying to figure out how to use technology in my theatrical work. I am a true believer in the experience of a live theatre performance and the impact it can have on an individual and an audience as a whole. I hope to find a way to fuse the two in order to keep the digital natives from getting restless.
Those of us born on the cusp of the generational gap seem to have a foot on each path. We were in elementary school when the first video games came out. We were in high school when the World Wide Web was unveiled. We were in college when email came on the scene. We’re not digital natives. We’re not digital immigrants.
By the beginning of high school, some skills we had learned in elementary school were basically made obsolete by new technology. I used to take pride in my penmanship and thus resented the impersonal font blinking on the screen. However, typing and editing a paper was much easier on a word processor than it was to type it on a typewriter…click, click, ching. By college, the shadow of a handwritten letter in my mailbox was replaced by a little icon in my email. Going to the library to check out books became a thing of the past by the time I graduated college. Did I love the changes? No. Did I get used to the changes? Yes. I always keep in mind that there were plenty of technological “advances” that died early digital deaths because they were not useful. Car phone anyone?
I think we simply accepted our acculturation as necessary to survive the influence of the new digital age. I miss the days of handwritten letters, yet I love the ease and convenience of email and text messaging. My generation has taken the good with the bad and made technology work for us. The keys to technology use are to be curious enough to try new technologies that make sense for you to try and to be discerning enough to reject technologies that do not improve your life. Rather than reject the digital world as a wasteland, accept that some of what it has to offer is valuable and useful. It’s all about balance.
We have to think of technology as we do a car. There’s a reason young adults have to go through a process before earning a license. We all will need proper training to ensure we are safely using technology.
The pros are endless. It is up to you to determine how to enhance your teaching.
The cons are scary. Privacy and security issues make it challenging to use a lot of the technology that our students use.
I look forward to this discussion.
Once upon a time someone probably asked a similar question about the need for teachers to have desktop computers in their classrooms. I don't think we can even imagine what "current" technology will be a regular part of the classroom in a few years. Will we consider it a larger role? Possibly, but the focus won't be on the tools so much as on the learning environment. Many of the tools will be commonplace, background to the learning that is taking place. Already students grab laptops from the carts at the lower school for a variety of projects and independently pull up information and use websites and on-line tools. The idea of pros and cons seems to be less about whether or not we see more technology in the classroom, but more about reminding ourselves to be thoughtful about how we integrate technology in our teaching and how to provide students with a meaningful learning experience.
I love technology and had the chance to use some pretty cutting edge stuff to teach middle school boys almost 15 years ago (Compudesks running Citrix at every desk in the school) and feel that we really have no option but to move forward. That being said, other than engaging students with technology, I have not seen any data to support the fact that our outcomes are improved with these tools. Given the millions of dollars spent by schools on technology, I would love to see some proof that this is the wisest use of our financial resources.
One advantage of technology and the Internet (I still feel it is critically important that students learn the basics and foundation of all of the subjects they take) is that once we teach students how to find and validate information, we can spend less time on memorization and retrieval of information and more time on how students use this information to support their argument. To help teachers teach their children these important skills in the Internet age I suggest Alan November's book, Web Literacy for Educators.
A significant disadvantage of this technology is that our students' (and our) attention spans are shorter and our focus is fragmented. How many of us react to the "ding" of an email like one of Pavlov's dogs and find it impossible to resist the urge to immediately see what is in our inbox. Our students are running Facebook, Tumblr, etc in the background as they do their homework, so while they believe they have spend 4 hours on homework, the reality is that the probably have only focused a fraction of their attention during that time on their work. In his book, Crazy Busy, Ned Hallowell has postulated that the omnipresence of technology has resulted in an "ADD Society" and that most of us now exhibit symptoms of ADD even though we do not have the biological predisposition.
And finally, I have friends who I believe to be very good teachers as college professors who do not allow laptops open in class because they know for a fact that the students are shopping on Zappos and checking their Facebook pages instead of focusing on class. They feel they have an obligation to their students and their students parents to make sure both are getting their money's work out of their investment.
In defense of paper...Getting started on a composition has always been hard for students, but I think students get a better start on paper with notes, clusters, and lists than they do on a computer. The rush to type something on a keyboard cuts out a crucial thinking phase.