Thursday, September 22, 2011

Classroom Technology: If It Ain't Broke, It Will Be Soon

I saw this article in GothamSchools that discusses how Teach for America teachers were given iPads from Apple. It sparked some thoughts I've had recently about technology in the classroom.

First of all, I'm a technology skeptic when it comes to the classroom. That doesn't mean that I don't believe kids need instruction on how to use technology effectively, creatively, ethically, and safely; of course they do, and schools should provide it in 2011. That's all fine. What I mean, though, is that I'm skeptical of using technology as a "magic wand." A kid who struggles with reading a printed book with a highlighter is not going to read better because the page is projected on a SmartBoard. Likewise, you can do a lot with a good old whiteboard (or, heaven forbid, a chalkboard) that can be just as helpful for kids as something more tech-y. If I had a choice between a SmartBoard or an amount of books that cost the same as a SmartBoard, I'd go for the books every time. At the end of the day, I'm an English teacher, and my kids need all the help they can get with reading, writing, speaking, and listening, which people did long before SmartBoards, document cameras, and, for that matter, printed books themselves. The habits of mind acquired through a sound English curriculum will outlast any and all forms of technology, and those should be in place before we put all our faith in anything newfangled.

So in some cases, good, timeless instruction is supplanted by technology that is evanescent. Then there's the problem of money. I guess it would be nice to have an iPad, but again, there are things I want more for my classroom than that. If I did have a school-issued iPad, I would have daily panic attacks worrying about it being stolen. I would have to chain it to myself like a bike messenger. And then theft and replacement become issues, as well as repair. Things break so quickly in schools, both innocently due to heavy use and not so innocently because of neglect or malicious destruction by ill-supervised children. (The title of this post is a favorite saying of an IT guy I used to work with.)

And being able to, say, send an alert to a dean about a behavior issue instantly doesn't mean anything if your school is understaffed, apathetic, or both. It will help a school culture that is already strong, but won't do anything to fix a school culture that is weak.

So forgive my fuddy-duddiness on this, but instead of an iPad, could I have a class set of dictionaries? We'll start there and I'll keep going until we get to a couple hundred bucks. You know, like that "Teacher's Choice" thing we used to have, back when I was your age.
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