All Tech All The Time?


This is in response to a question that Robert Pronovost recently asked me about how much technology should be used in the classroom. My initial answer was that technology should be used when it’s needed and that we shouldn’t expect to see technology being used all the time in classrooms. After pondering on this a bit more, I think that was a safe answer. It’s an answer that doesn’t reflect the world we live in and leaves room for some to say, we’re learning, so we don’t need technology. Well…

We like to talk SAMR from the teacher’s perspective but I think technology in the classroom needs to start with the students. Having access to 1:1 devices has the potential to transform how students learn. Technology does not replace; technology enhances, augments, and accelerates. Technology is a disruptor, it eliminates the middle man from traditional models. In the classroom, the middle man is the textbook, the worksheet. the memorization of facts and yes, even the summative assessment.

I am going to take a very student centered view on this answer and say that technology should be used whenever students need it. Just like we do in real life.

The challenge is, what does that really mean for the classroom? I think it means that whenever a student needs information they should be able to use technology to access resources to look it up. Those resources might be the Internet, a social network or their friend in the next classroom. I also think it means teachers need to model this behavior for their students. 

Artificially restricting a student’s access to information, their social network or their peers is a purely 20th century concept of learning. Providing a sheet of paper (or text book, digital or otherwise) that students then use to “find” and copy information into a worksheet is tantamount to teaching malpractice in the digital age. Students need real skills if they are going to develop fundamental digital literacy. Nobody outside of a classroom looks for answers in a textbook. Today, online information search, acquisition and retrieval is critical for college, career and life long learning. In every 1:1 classroom, how students access information should be radically different.

The same can be said for creating content. While paper and pencil shouldn’t necessarily disappear, the power of a 1:1 classroom to create content for a broader audience, beyond the teacher and the classroom is another critical literacy in the digital economy of today. No matter how student work is created, whether online or on paper, technology should be leveraged in the classroom to share with the outside world. Technology should be used to expand student audience to other classes on campus, to parents and community, and across the globe. A picture is worth a thousand words, sharing a picture of a student project with a broader audience, on a regular basis, in a safe classroom environment, will prepare students for the world of online sharing that awaits them outside of school.

Using online tools instead of traditional paper/pencil activities lends itself to fostering collaboration especially if students are using a collaboration suite like Google Docs where the teacher can provide feedback in real time. Students can easily work collaboratively on projects across time and space as they learn to navigate the anytime, anywhere learning that is another fundamental literacy of today’s digital age.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that the core backbone of instruction should be built around a digital ecosystem with digital workflows using the technology we have available today to access information and create content across the “curriculum”. I think students need fundamental digital literacy skills to be successful, self sufficient, lifelong learners and those sills cannot be learned without ubiquitous access to technology.

Why education chooses to focus so much on content vs. learning has always puzzled me. Facts are free, ideas cost money. We spend so much money on facts (curriculum) instead of ideas (pedagogy, professional development, learning to learn) and then we spend even more money assessing content knowledge over the knowledge to learn. It’s kind of crazy actually.

In every 1:1 classroom, the expectation should be that students use technology to access information through online resources and social networks, to collaborate with their peers and content experts, to create and share their ideas, thoughts and projects with the world. And all of this requires that we teach kids how to do this, responsibly, safely and effectively which means, we need teachers to model and teach these skills as well.

To make this happen, Teachers need digital workflows, frameworks and scaffolding. I believe this is where the focus of teacher professional development should be, instructional practice with technology infused into the process. Districts that still separate content area instruction from educational technology are missing the point. It’s all about good instruction, and today, that means technology infused instruction, where students choose when and how to use technology to empower their learning.

Thanks to Robert for making me think about this because it’s certainly a timely topic and as we push more technology into classrooms and have discussions about what that technology use should look like, I think it’s important that we take on these big questions.