In the previous post, I argued that the onset of digital technologies since the 1990s had “disrupted” the print media beholden to a business model anchored in advertising revenues. Newspapers closed; reporters let go. Digital media spread swiftly and most Americans now get their news from screens, not newsprint.
Organizations that had not existed two decades ago such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter dispense news to their followers. New technologies had surely changed the institutional terrain of the newspaper world. But had these new technologies also irreversibly altered the practice of news gathering, writing, and publishing particularly investigative journalism?
I argued that core practices have remained constant in the midst of institutional meltdown. The practice of investigative journalism (as shown in procedural films, TV shows, and books such as “All the President’s Men,” “Lou Grant,” and “Spotlight”) not only still existed in the now smaller world of print media but also had mushroomed in cyberspace. Even with the proliferation of computer devices and software and their daily use in gathering and publishing news stories, reporters hewed to well-honed practices at the heart of the craft called investigative journalism.
Have the new technologies that “disrupted” print media as a business done the same in public education? Have the new technologies used by schools and in classrooms altered the practice of teaching and learning? These questions I take up in this post.
Have the new technologies “disrupted” education?
The answer is no. The screeching rhetoric of new technologies “revolutionizing” schooling in the U.S. and that by 2020 online instruction at home and in the community will be how most children and youth learn (see here, here, here, and here) is, well, talk. That rose-tinted future has yet to emerge from behind the curtain.
Surely, new technologies have spilled over public schools since the early 1980s and especially in the past decade. As student access to new devices and software has increased, so has teacher use in daily lessons. Laptops and tablets have become the new pen and paper in classrooms across the U.S. While for- and non-profit cyber schools have grown and online instruction has expanded in public schools, bricks-and-mortar, age-graded public and private schools still remain the established institution they have been since the early 19th century. No “disruption” as predicted has occurred (see here and here).
Have the new technologies used by schools and in classrooms altered the practice of teaching and learning?
Depends on what “altered” means? Yes, teachers have said often in surveys and interviews that they now use new technologies to expand the resources students use in lessons, deepen the content they teach, and save time and energy in running down sources for their students while more efficiently recording grades and taking attendance. Using digital tools more frequently than before, teachers have, indeed, changed how they access information, broaden the sources students use, and assess student understanding immediately. Teachers see these as important gains for them in planning and interacting with their students during lessons.
Digging deeper, however, has use of the new technologies altered core practices in teaching? In age-graded schools in which children and youth are compelled to attend, elementary and secondary school teachers bring to their work strongly held beliefs in how students learn best and expertise in using techniques that best convey knowledge and skills. One of those beliefs is the importance of developing relationships with a class and individual students based on trust and affection for one another. Without this basic relationship between students and teacher, learning is hampered.
From these beliefs, elementary and secondary school teachers come up with goals and objectives for a lesson. They plan the content and skills that both kindergarten and Advanced Placement students will get to know and do in the time they will be together. They locate the sources and materials students will use for the lesson. They organize varied activities, depending on the lesson objectives, such as whole-group sessions, small-group work, and students working independently. Moreover, teachers plan and execute a beginning, middle and end of a lesson that is defined by the wall-mounted clock. These are the fundamentals of teaching to which teachers apply low- and high-tech tools.
Before there were classroom films, radio, television, and computers, these core practices characterized the teaching of lessons in age-graded schools. To be sure, teachers then used paper, pencil, textbooks, etc. Now with digital tools available, they can enhance (or hinder) these core practices. But these core practices are constants that didn’t disappear when laptops appeared in classrooms.
In 2016, I observed over 40 teachers who had been identified as exemplars of integrating technology into their lessons. I asked the teachers whether using the new technologies had changed how they taught. One of the teachers answered “yes” and “no.” Her answer, I believe is instructive for those who fail to make the distinction between using new technologies to save time and energy while enhancing a lesson and the deeply-embedded basic practices that teachers perform daily in getting students to learn. The former cannot erase or replace the latter.
Here is Nicole Lenz-Martin teaches in the San Mateo Union High School District at Aragon High School making that distinction. An 11-year veteran of teaching, she teaches Spanish level 3 through level 6 (including Advanced Placement). Elenz-Martin is also an instructional coach in the district and an instructor in the Stanford World Language Project.
My teaching — in terms of pedagogical strategy and philosophical beliefs about World Language instruction — has not changed because of my regular use of technology; however, the regular use of Chromebooks in my classroom has dramatically changed my access to student learning, monitoring of their proficiency development, and my ability to cover more material over the course of a school year.
Why yes [that my teaching has changed]:
- My students are required to be much more engaged and participatory in their learning because of their interaction with my lessons through technology. When covering material in class, every student can interact with the presentation on my SmartBoard to share answers, respond to polls, or ask questions (Peardeck, Nearpod, Google Forms, etc.) This has informed my instruction immensely and has allowed me to change my lesson “on-the-fly” to ensure understanding before moving on.
- Students practice new vocabulary and/or comprehension questions with Quizlet, for example, and I can see their results and areas of challenge in real time. It allows me to change my path of instruction if necessary, as stated above, and it also allows me to personalize the learning for each student’s level and need.
- Students have built classroom community and have strengthened camaraderie with review games (Quizlet Live, Socrative Space Race, and Kahoot!). Not only has light ‘gaming’ sparked excitement and interest for the students in learning the material, but it has allowed me to formatively assess each students’ understanding and learning on a daily basis. The comfort level and “fun” among classmates has allowed them to be better risk-takers and communicators with one another, and this is critical for a language class where students really need to feel confident and safe around their classmates.
- Students have had individual access to more authentic materials from around the world, which is of course extremely important for culture and language learning. Their interaction with videos, texts, and audio can be documented in EdPuzzle, GoFormative, and Google Classroom. I can see their engagement with the material in a way that I was never able to assess before, and I can respond to students both individually and as a group much more efficiently and effectively. I can see what they are learning about a culture and I can motivate them to respond more critically to what they are seeing and comparing to their own culture….
Why [my teaching has not changed]
Certain parts of teaching can never be replaced, enhanced, or changed by technology. The very most critical aspect of my teaching is the relationship that I create with each and every one of my students. Without having a strong, trusting, solid, and respectful relationship with each student, he or she is lost in my classroom and will be unable to learn from my teaching. Because I speak almost exclusively in Spanish, the oral communication in my classroom and the relationships with my students are the very cornerstones of my teaching. Therefore:
- Technology has not replaced the way I speak or communicate with my students, and since I am a Spanish teacher, they are still listening and responding to me and to each other through oral communication much more than with the technology. The amount that I expect them to speak with me and communicate with one another is the same as it has always been, even before technology access.
Complex Instruction and Groupworthy tasks: I passionately believe in the importance of “student talk” and participation for learning, especially when it comes to working with partners and small groups on a communicative and/or complex task. Technology is almost non-existent in my classroom when students are working on an assignment that involves learning through talking with one another. Without going into too much detail — technology hardly has changed the way I engage students in partnering and groupwork….
Lenz-Martin’s “yes” and “no” answer nicely captures how, like investigative journalism, the core procedures and practices of the craft continue regardless of the high-tech devices available. Also Lenz-Martin captures the complexity of teaching high schoolers, the procedures she follows in daily contact with her students. Much of what she describes is seldom seen in Hollywood films and television screens past and present.
Which brings me to the next post. With all of the film and TV shows describing how detectives, doctors, and journalists perform their craft and live their lives in and out of their workplaces, why are there so few dramatizations that capture the daily work and life of teachers in and out of their classrooms?