Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Reflection: Impact of Technology

In order to make some sense out of all this information, I believe I should start by describing my classroom dispositions and attitudes:

First of all, I am not a full-time teacher. My greatest experience is one six-week session during Summer School 2010 at Edwardsville High School. My second best experience was my student teaching assignment at Granite City High School. In both instances, I was able to experience the thrill and responsibility of guiding students from point A to point B. At Edwardsville, I actually amazed myself. I was given a text book and some CD-Roms two weeks before class and basically told to “go get ‘em.” I planned and executed a semester’s worth of material in six weeks. I actually had students that were interested, and grades were better than I could have dreamed. But along the way, I made so many mistakes. Oh my gosh, so many. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to apply what I learned to another group of students. As a secondary Social Studies teacher, I am finding the current job market very difficult. Although jobs open up in districts across the region frequently, I find that there are so many unemployed teachers with experience that I can’t even get an interview. I will continue to diligently pursue a full-time position. I continue to substitute at both of the above school districts here in Madison County, Illinois.

I am old school and new school. What I mean by that is, I cling, romantically at times, to the notion that sometimes children just need to sit still, lift their eyes out of their little private space, and as a group focus on the task/information at hand; in other words, look at me and listen. However, there is nothing I enjoy more than using computers to teach my students. I can see the advantages of allowing the students to explore on their own, with me there to help when needed.  I see a need for large group, small group and individual learning sessions. I still believe that, when done correctly, lecture can be an interesting, informative and efficient way to teach. I can deliver more pertinent information more efficiently to the students by lecturing to them. So to make it as interesting as possible, I try to use technology to liven it up and improve the experience. I use sound, video, and other links to liven up the PowerPoint experience. Still, it is lecturing and note-taking, and by itself it’s not nearly enough.

What I believe I truly want to provide to my students is balance. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, a little bit of this over here. If I talk at them all day, they will get bored. If I just pass out worksheets, they will get bored. If I give them the same computer task consistently, they will still get bored. If I make them work individually all the time, they will get bored. If I go to small groups all the time, the method will still grow tiresome; and having them focus as one large group on a task is increasingly difficult in the digital age where attention spans are so small.

This leads me to this point: Computers ain’t all that (pardon my language). They’re fantastic, but that’s why kids spend so much time staring into them. Combine television with computers and cellphones and iPods and tablets and you have children that are missing out on the real world. Hello? Out here! Anybody home? I contend this is not a healthy lifestyle. When it was me growing up and staring endlessly at the television: that wasn’t healthy either. Whatever the rage was before television – music? – that wouldn’t have been healthy either. But in some ways this digital age is different. It infiltrates so many aspects of life that it’s impossible to get away from it, even if one wants to. When is it just too much? So in some ways, the classroom needs to be a place where we don’t give into the “real” world and step back and look at the actual “real” world. There is nothing wrong with reading a book or newspaper – also technology – once in a while. Soon these media may be gone, so we should keep memories of the old traditions alive, I believe. There is nothing wrong with taking a real field trip when students can touch and smell the world around them. There is nothing wrong with occasionally giving the students a worksheet to complete collaboratively. Let them use pens and pencils, and write on paper. Have them use scissors and glue and paste images on poster boards for a geography assignment. I say all of this to underscore that balance is the most important element in the classroom, I believe. I am not convinced that a virtual classroom is the most desired model. Computers can and should be an integral part of the modern student’s learning experience, but the most important; or the only part? I don’t know. Having said all of this, when I looked at the documents we based our reflection on, I began to understand that during those times when I chose to use computers in my lessons, I had much to learn on how to use them and when to step aside.

I would like to begin with the “LOTI” document, or “Levels of Technology Implementation” framework developed by Dr. Chris Moersch in 1994 (an impressive date considering the relatively new existence of web-based instruction). I found this reference to be the most interesting. I was glad to see that I definitely was not a Level 0 teacher, although I have worked with many that would fit this classification (my cooperating teacher during student teaching comes to mind). I studied Level 1 for a couple minutes, then realized that I had at least moved past the “using computers just for reward of prior work” status. No, Level 2 is where I definitely fit in. I am still exploring the resources and methods to properly engage the students when it comes to technologies. I am “guilty” of using computers only to reinforce the lower levels of student cognitive processing. Yet I have allowed students to discover work collaboratively. I don’t believe in placing one student in front of one computer to do one assignment. I found the upper levels of this framework to be a bit condescending. I still struggle with the idea that curriculum should be entirely learner-based.

I found the amount of information included in the “Hallmarks of an Effective eMINTS Classroom” overwhelming. I was doing OK as I looked through the first four or five elements, then when I realized there were 25 different elements I just wilted at that point. Look, it’s all valuable information I’m sure; and it’s a legitimate way to evaluate use of technology. It’s just a bit too much for me to digest. Overall, I found myself in the “experimental” or “transitional” category. That’s not where I want to be per say, but as I’ve said, I genuinely enjoy computing, and genuinely believe it can and should be an integral part of the learning experience. I think as long as those two are in place I can learn and adapt.

Unfortunately my comprehension of the Grappling’s Spectrum was even worse. I just found this reference to be almost worthless. The most informative part for me was at the bottom, the “Staff Development Focus” parts. That was much easier to understand then the bullet points above them. The phrasing and words used just didn’t make sense to me, and I just don’t have time to study a document over and over to try to understand it. I prefer to move on to other documents that actually help me. My final point is that in my lifetime, it will be hard to find a school that actually adheres to the third focus point, “supported and measured for all teachers” and “adequate funding of at least 30 percent of technology budget is in place.”
The situation in the public schools is something like this: “I go into this classroom and the teacher seems to be doing a good job. It’s the same with the other teachers. The kids were working and seemed attentive; the grades are pretty good. I can’t fire this teacher just because I think his/her style is not modern enough. He/she is an experienced teacher, and gets good results. How do I ask for more computers when the ones we have aren’t being used that much; and teachers are getting decent results with what they have? I think using computers in the classroom is great. We’re looking for teachers that are willing to bring technology skills into the schools and pass those skills along to other teachers.”

Whatever. My point is it will take decades before you “get rid” of all the old teachers that miraculously got along without computers for 30 years and get the digitally-savvy group of teachers that these documents suggest are required. And who knows how long it will take to equip all of these schools with the latest technologies, especially when they change so dramatically and quickly. (I think cloud-based technology has a real future here. The schools don’t have to upgrade their technology too often; they just need to have a lightning-fast connection and decent processors.) Economic times are tough, and schools cannot continue to ask for more money over and over, as long as the current conditions exist.

It’s more realistic to do a good job with what one has, instead of thinking about what one could have. Let’s not set full digitalization as the goal, let’s set full comprehension of available resources as the goal.

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