Post-its and Ponderings
A middle school teacher's thoughts on science, technology and learning

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Teaching with Tech: Does it Work?

A recent article on asks, "Are students in the digital age getting dumber?" Tom Oppenheimer, author of The Flickering Mind: Saving Education From the False Promise of Technology, is quoted throughout the text and he believes technology is wasting our kids' time and energy. I agree that the article brings up some valid points, but I believe teachers have been dealing with similar issues in different formats for years. The article claims:

  • Technology, such as Powerpoint, results in kids creating weak and inaccurate content, while spending an inordinate amount of time on graphics that don't matter.
  • IM lingo is a problem in today's schools.
  • Laptops in the classroom actually interfere with student learning.
Weak, inaccurate and time-wasting? It certainly is easier to copy and paste information from the web, rather than laboriously copy text from an encyclopedia by hand, however, I can argue that my own classmates and I produced reports in which they "didn't absorb" the material either. Kids' learning is dependent on their investment, whether by hand or machine. If they don't care about the learning, they often won't care about the accuracy either. (The "let's just get this over with" mentality.) And, one only has to look as far as the file cabinets of saved class materials in college frats to realize that cheating existed well before the existence of term paper sites. These problems have been here for a while. Now that it is even more convenient for students to be lazy, educators need to be even more aware of student involvement and ownership.

Think back to all the reports you wrote as a kid. I was a good student, and I remember writing reports on the sun, medieval entertainment, leaves, and the state of Arizona (or was it Arkansas?). What do I remember from these reports? The posters I made, the pictures I colored, the poster I created. I don't remember a thing about Arizona or Arkansas. I don't believe it is only technology that tempts kids to "spent nearly twice the time working on the graphics than ... researching the report." I refer to this as the cake and the frosting. My kids know what I mean.

But, what I DO like about technology is that is levels the presentation playing field. I remember back to one of the first iMovie projects I incorporated into my science class in 2002. The day before the students were to share their work, one of my special education students said to me, "This is the first time I am proud to show off my work because it looks as good as everyone else's." Here was a kid with a written expression disability who spent years seeing his written work hung up next to all the rest. He volunteered to share his iMovie first.

IM is a problem? Mignon Fogarty, author of Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Clean Up Your Writing, believes that when kids text habitually, they in effect train themselves in writing a form of shorthand. "They'd be tempted to use it on their homework and exams. They might even slip into using abbreviations unconsciously." Again, I think it is up to educators (and kids) to know the difference between formal and informal writing. It's all about communication.

A student recently emailed to me, ""...prolly you would yell at my grammer but then again u dont teach LA." This email was informal. He clearly communicated his point to me in his message. He has never "unconsciously slipped" in his formal writing (homework, lab reports) for me. Why? Because he is conscientious enough to differentiate between formal and informal language. He cares enough consider his audience and the situation for his writing. I have no problem with IM. I do struggle with student apathy. As adults, we know the difference between writing a grocery list and a legal document. We talk differently socializing with our peers than talking with our grandmother. Kids can be taught an appropriate audience and situation for their IM-speak. Oppenheimer says, "There’s no job in the real world that allows writing in IM lingo." Sure there's not... yet.

Laptops are distracting? The article quotes a study in which laptop-equipped students, "On average, the students spent 17 minutes out of a 75-minute class doing activities not related to class work." Umm... that's not a problem limited to laptops. Un-engaged students are distracted by passed notes, open windows, shiny objects, and their own thoughts.

None of these problems are new. I think it is easy to "blame" technology. Students will learn when they are engaged and invested. In my opinion, technology is a tool to increase student engagement. Educators and students must use it effectively. Just as I would never put in a 50 minute video and sit at my desk during a class period, neither would I set up situations in my classrooms where technology will be a crutch to facilitate sub-par learning. Technology isn't the enemy here. Apathy, on the part of students and teachers, is. C'mon ppl, old skool doesnt cut it if we want r kidz 2 learn in 2day's world. :)

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