Saturday, February 4, 2012

Does Technology Get In The Way In The Classroom? 2

Are teachers losing their students to technological distractions? (the middle school iPad experience)
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In a technology blog written by I,Cringely, there are two articles on the use of technology in the classroom. The first is Hello, Mr. Chips, where we are introduced to "Steve" an electrical engineer turned math teacher. The second is Class Dismissed: Even Good Students Don't Always Want To Learn. Both of these articles talk about student motivation and technology in the classroom and how students are not motivated and are in fact, distracted by technology.

To fully grasp what I was reading and how  I wanted to respond, I went back to the first article, "Hello Mr. Chips". Here we are introduced to a teacher who at best is frustrated with how students use technology in school and the lack of student motivation.  I think that this is a good place to start.

The article starts off with the idea that technology in schools can be more of a distraction to students and teachers. It follows with the notion that the number one factor in student success is the student's attitude toward learning and motivation.  Finally, the bold statement is made that "if students are motivated to learn, they will learn, pretty much regardless of the specific format or technology... Conversely, if a student is not interested in learning, the details of the lesson don't matter very much."

Here is the problem as I see it, and I will delve further into each as we go along. First, technology can be a distraction if not used properly. Second, student motivation and attitude toward learning is related in some way to success. And finally, a students motivation is directly correlated to a number of different things, including teacher motivation, expectations and the ability to engage their students.

Furthermore, the article states that there seems to be a fear or hatred of technology in schools by administrators. I dare to say that this is true of many teachers as well. This statement I happen to agree with wholeheartedly. Most administrators and teachers that are afraid of or hate the technology feel this way because they don't know how to use it, or they don't want to put in the effort to learn to use it properly themselves! Most of the time it's used as a distraction, ie. when the teacher is being observed, and expecting the students to know how to do everything on their own with little guidance.

The fact of the matter is that we are rapidly becoming a technological world and people in general are multitasking much more than a mere 10 years ago. How many times have you seen someone searching the Internet, while listening to music from the same device? Nowadays this is extremely common. In fact, it is the norm in society, and someone that is not multitasking frequently using technology is an aberration.  This is scenario is the norm.

So this brings me to the second article, "Class Dismissed...". Steve makes another bold assertion,
...consider what happens if you inject into this scenario an iPad into the hands of every student in the classroom...some students are intrinsically motivated and this will unlock great learning options...it may bring in some students who weren't very interested...but many will choose to use the iPad as just another distraction.
He even said that in his college class the students were "multitasking" with their laptops open to Facebook and other distractions while the professor lectured. I'd just like to say one thing on this, goofing off on Facebook, and, multitasking while working are two completely different things. This wasn't multitasking, in this case the laptop was a "distraction". But was it really? Maybe the teacher was distracting the student on Facebook.....

So there is that word again, distraction. As a middle school teacher who feels that technology can be an asset in the classroom, I have embraced the iPads and their contribution to learning and use them in class often, but not daily. That said, at first, I was skeptical of their uses as I thought it would wind up as just another distraction, just as Steve believes. I couldn't have been more wrong.

I'll fully admit that when I first used them, I knew very little and in fact had to learn the ins and outs myself. This made it much easier for the students to use them as a distraction. There were students listening to their head phones and surfing the web and taking pictures of themselves etc.  In addition, students tried to take the easy way out by using things like ask.com, and yahoo answers. But can you blame them? After all if the teacher did not know all of the tricks, why should they pay full attention. The teacher did not give them the proper tools and directions on how to complete the assignment, so, bring on the distractions and incorrect methods for using the iPads.

So yes in this case, the iPads became a distraction out of frustration and out of the fact that I, as the teacher was ill prepared, I think. The students were frustrated that I did not know all the "fixes" to the bugs that come with using any school based web server- lack of service, blocked sites, slow servers, just to name a few. Therefore, most did the bare minimum required and immersed themselves in their own worlds, while the students who were interested in learning tried to help me with the fixes. In this case when I didn't have any of the answers the students did become unmotivated and distracted. For this I take full responsibility.

This is the point that a good number of teachers would throw their hands up and say that technology is just another distraction. And this is where they give up technology as any type of tool in the classroom. After all the students were taking pictures, playing game apps, and goofing off in general. It must be the technologies fault right? But none of what i said above was the technologies fault. I was unprepared, or shall I say underprepared.

However, I was determined to figure these things out so, I learned how to use these and fix those little bugs that cause teacher frustration in the technology and absolutely love having the opportunity to let the students learn using the iPads.

The iPad opens a huge cache of knowledge, ideas, opinions and adds depth to the students education. For example students can quickly see two sides to any particular event in history whereas most textbooks are cut and dry. I learned that I needed to go step by step and teach the students how to use the iPads and not assume they already knew themselves.

So now, I spend a day going over instructions, potential issues and fixes. In addition, I walk them through the basics, tricks to multitask correctly, and fully instruct them on what I'm looking for as the output of the task at hand. Oh and once I taught the students the proper uses, they were able to listen to music, research multiple articles, write short answers, email me responses and get immediate responses back from me. My desk was much the neater for it.

Subsequent lessons using the iPads just seem to get better and better because I taught the students how i want them to use them to do the assignment. I taught the students to use the technology properly for educational purposes. I opened the door to a new world that is not just a textbook. And for this I am sure that they did in fact learn in the class.

I can't say how many people would do this on their own. But I would say that a good number of teachers that had the same experience that I did the first time I used the iPads probably would give up on them completely.

This brings me to motivation, attitudes toward learning and success in the classroom. Here we need to look at the student and the teacher. Students will not be motivated to learn and will probably have a poor attitude toward learning if they find their classes boring. This will certainly leave them trying to find distractions in any way they can, even misbehaving because they are not motivated to do anything productive.

However don't think that this is just solely based in the schools. Are people highly motivated to go to work every day? Are there times that things become so monotonous that you need to take a break? I'm positive that that is the case. Yes there are students who seem unmotivated, but are they really? If the teacher sets the tone, conveys interest and has high expectations for even the seemingly unmotivated, student success will rise.

If you add to that the teachers interest in varying lessons and correctly teaching through the use of technology as well as "traditionally", student interest, attitude and motivation will grow, and so will their successes. Attitude reflects leadership! In class the teachers are the leaders.

Of course there will still be the critics saying that technology is still a distraction. And Steve proposes Internet control and restrictions in the classroom. To an extent I do think this is necessary. Certain things like Facebook should be controlled depending on the age level. For middle school students it is probably very necessary to lock certain apps or websites like Facebook. However, I would not say the same thing for college and even certain classes in high school.  Age level definitely plays a factor in my opinion.

Technology needs to be properly integrated into the classrooms not thrown in willy nilly. First the teachers need to be taught that it is not the enemy. Then they need to put the time and effort into learning how to use it themselves and creating lessons using the technology they are planning to use. Finally they need to teach their students the proper ways to use the technology in the lesson. This would include very precise instructions on the lesson. Then and only then will we begin to see students attitudes toward education change and improve. 

1 comment:

Mikellee31 said...

I am interested to know how many hours outside of school were spent solving the bugs, fixing the issues, and learning the ins and outs. Teachers are overwhelmed and this article makes it seem as if they just arent trying hard enough to keep up. I suggest time be given for proper development of the lessons as well as time to use the products. If that time is not found we will begin seeing achievement gaps in use of tech. in addition to academics.