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Is Technology in the Classroom Outpacing You?

Jacqui Murray

In considering this question, Is technology outpacing you?, let's first look at technology in the classroom’s place in the current education landscape. True, it is touted as a magic wand that will fix all education woes. Sure, 73 percent of teachers use cell phones in their classrooms and 92 percent say the Internet has a "Major impact" on their teaching. We gush over new hardware like iPads and Chromebooks. We spend millions on training teachers to blend technology in the classroom into their lessons. We darkly predict that the day will soon arrive when technology erases the need for teachers. But truthfully, technology in the classroom is less a magic wand than a unicorn. It will never:

  • Take over education. Using webtools and burying noses in digital devices won't provide the interpersonal skills required to succeed in the working world. Any job students get post-school will require listening to real people, responding, and adapting when body language says you've confused the person in front of you.
  • Replace teachers. The human piece to education can't be overstated. The attention and care provided by a teacher -- technology may measure it but can't provide it.

Current research supports this: "... among school-related factors, teachers matter most. ... good teachers are irreplaceable assets for coaching and mentoring students, addressing the social and emotional factors affecting students’ learning, and providing students with expert feedback on complicated human skills such as critical thinking, creative problem solving, communication, and project management." -- RAND Education.

What technology does, and does quite well, is make learning materials more accessible, more equitable, more up to date, and better suited to individuals. And importantly, it automates tedious tasks like roll call and grading so teachers have more time for students.

That said, teachers are increasingly worried that they don't "Get" technology. When lessons rely on tech tools that ultimately (predictably?) fail, teachers don't know how to fix them. That is a debilitating fear that makes many great teachers either avoid technology or if forced to use it, want to leave the profession.

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Here's why 2018 or 2019 are not the years you should feel like technology will roll over you like a steamroller.

Technology in the Classroom: You're Not Alone

90 percent of teachers think students know more about tech devices than they do. 80 percent of teachers don't consider themselves experts in technology. Those are big numbers. If you were in a seminar, it would include the people on both sides of you and in front and back. What that means in real terms is that, despite all the ed-tech articles you read, you shouldn't be embarrassed. You aren't going to be "Made redundant" because you are not yet comfortable with using tech in your classes. There are a lot of reasons why you aren't using technology, few that place the blame squarely on your Luddite shoulders. You may need more training. Your school's infrastructure may be inadequate for needs. Your class digital devices may be undependable.

Whatever the reason, it doesn't mean the field you have loved your entire working career has passed you by.

Tech Plays Well as a Support Tool

What tech does well is take the tedium out of daily tasks like attendance, sorting grades, creating report cards, tracking progress, and even class newsletters. Do you see a theme here? These are tasks that are peripheral to your teaching -- necessary but outside the student-teacher relationship. You might consider them "Support stuff." Most teachers I know happily and smartly use technology to relieve them of these tasks. It's like having an assistant while you spend that freed-up time getting to know students better.

You Don't Have to be a Geek to Use Tech

No matter if the lead teacher in your school has a degree in IT and is everyone's go-to person for solving tech problems, s/he doesn't have to be your role model. Your expertise is teaching. In fact, more and more tech tools are designed to be intuitive to deploy and learn. The hardest part of using technology often is pushing it out to the teachers and students, and that's done by the IT folks. Once it reaches you, developers know that their webtool will fail if it's too complicated. Teachers don't have time for a long learning curve and neither do students. School curricula are chock full with no big blocks of time that can be devoted to tech training. If education tech tools are going to work, they must be easy to push out, easy to use, fast to troubleshoot, and impervious to mistakes. A tool that isn't Always On should be skipped.

I Can't Do [Insert Current Popular Buzzword]

Usually, that buzzword rhymes with robotics, coding, programming, 3D printing, Maker Spaces, AI or AR or VR. They are the sexy images of a cutting-edge classroom that fill summer education seminars, serve as the engine behind technology integration, and excite both kids and adults to use technology. What isn't true is the conclusion that without these tools, a teacher is hopelessly behind the tech-in-ed curve and might as well give up.

The hard reality is that school-based programs involving these buzzword activities are time-consuming, expensive, hardware-intensive, and often represent stand-alone learning not easily blended into existing lesson plans. I'm not minimizing their coolness in a school's tech program -- they do sizzle (forgive me mixing metaphors), and all of the issues I mentioned can be overcome but it takes a committed all-school effort that may end up applying to a small number of educators rather than the majority.

So, don't worry if your class isn't highlighted in ISTE's monthly newsletter. Take a breath and remember all the important topics being taught instead.

***

I'll wrap up with the current darling of technology-in-education: Google Classroom. This amazing free tool automates lesson planning, homework collection, and assignment of work. It organizes activities so students know what's due when. It does a reasonable job of encouraging discussion boards and easing teacher-student communications. What it doesn't do is explain the lesson, adapt teaching to the confused (or bored) look on student faces, answer outside-the-box questions, or zig a lesson to accommodate unique interests. That's all the teacher. And those qualities -- what the technology of Google Classroom can't do -- is what makes teachers indispensable.

More on Tech, Teachers, and Education

Teachers Matter, from RAND Education

What it takes to integrate robotics and coding into the classroom

The Importance of 3D Printing in Education


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over 100 ed-tech resources, including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in ed-tech, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice reviewer, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on ed-tech topics, contributor to NEA Today, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning. Read Jacqui’s tech thriller series, Rowe-Delamagente.