November 1st, 2011

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Gadgets, part 2

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Technology. Gadgets. Same thing? Useful in the classroom? Worth the money spent on them? The educational community deals with these questions every day. The level of comfort, and the enthusiasm regarding their use, varies from school to school.

During the Eduskeptic’s time in the classroom there didn’t seem to be any clear delineation of willingness to adopt new technology, in whatever form it came in, based on the age of the teaching staff, administration, or support staff.

What was stratified was the basic familiarity with the technology. The younger staff grew up with computers and all that they have evolved in to. Those of us of a certain age possibly took longer to understand some of the operating skills required, but we did learn.

One frequent question is this: Are computers/technology necessary for children to learn?

From the vendor standpoint, the answer is yes. The common refrain is that schools are responsible for not only educating children, but ultimately getting them ready for the working world of the future. It is only possible to do so with a robust computer/technology program.

From the educator standpoint, the answer is diffuse. The technology is good to have, but it may not actually be necessary. Given the pace of change in the techno world, it is fundamentally impractical to get children ready for tomorrows technology systems using what exists today.

Teachers, in general, will use any tool at their disposal if it will help children learn. Keep in mind that the span of abilities in any classroom is very large. A tool that will help one or some children may not do anything for others. The art in this process is being able to apply the correct tool at the correct time.

Computers can be useful in most classrooms. For children who are struggling, programs on a computer may be what they need to practice, review, and move on to the next lesson. For advanced students, computers can fill the need to go past what is being presented, and stay engaged in the learning process. For the vast middle group, individual explorations are possible.

None of this is possible without a good teacher in the classroom. The teaching end of the business remains critical to the learning process. The teacher puts together the lesson and hopefully brings it to life. The computer/video screen/recorder/smart board allows for either remediation, review, or extension of the lessons.

The Internet allows for anytime, anywhere academic learning. Children who are natural night owls can plug away later in the day. Children who are early risers can start early in the morning. Being out of the classroom doesn’t mean being out of the loop. Actually, it never did. It’s just the method of staying connected to the learning that’s changed.

The biggest drawback to the proliferation of all the techno gizmos in the classroom is this: technology is the black hole of education funding. There is no end to it, and it only seems to grow.

While there doesn’t seem to be any definitive research to either support or disprove the usefulness of computerized learning in schools, the Eduskeptic can say that the entire spectrum that comprises “technology” in the classroom can be helpful to children and teachers. The caveat is this: nothing in my experience suggests that a good teacher is secondary to the learning process.

Without inspiration and insistence on excellence by a real teacher in the classroom, the personal touch by a caring teacher, all the technology in the classroom just sucks up electricity, and produces not much else.

Next time the Eduskeptic will address whether any of that stuff is really necessary, especially in the younger grades.

As always, assume nothing, verify everything.