A Few Teachers Speak Out on Technology in Their Classrooms

I am fortunate to have many readers who are classroom teachers. I have published posts over the past year about my research on teachers identified as exemplary in integrating technology into their lessons. Some of those posts triggered responses from teachers. I offer a few of those comments here.

Louise Kowitch, retired social studies teacher from Connecticut:

….The impact of technology can vary greatly depending on the subject matter (among all the other things you’ve addressed). While some pedagogical practices are universal, when “doing the work of the discipline”, content-specific practices,and by extension the impact of technology, might vary widely.

I mention this to say that as someone who lived through the IT revolution in the classroom (from mimeographs, scantrons, and filmstrips to floppy disks and CD-ROM, and finally to smart boards, Skype and Chromebooks), by the time I reached three decades as a full time classroom teacher, I was spending MORE time on my lessons and interacting with students, than less. Some tasks were indeed more efficient (for example, obtaining and sharing maps, artifacts, art, primary sources). Others, like collecting data about student performance for our superintendent, became arduous, weekend long affairs that sucked the life out of the joy of teaching.

That said, I loved how Chromebooks and Smartboards freed up my instruction to empower students to do their own research and conduct substantive debates. For example, a simulation of the post WWI debates over the Treaty of Versailles from the perspectives of different countries – something I had done before Chromebooks – became a powerful lesson for students in the art of diplomacy, the value of historical perspective, and the grind of politics, as a result of THEIR OWN RESEARCH, not my selection of primary sources. This was MORE time consuming (2 weeks of instructional time, not 8 days) and LESS EFFICIENT, but MORE STUDENT CENTERED and COLLABORATIVE.

Was it “better” instruction? Yes, if the point was for kids to experience “the art of negotiation”. No, if it meant having to drop a four day mini unit on elections in the Weimar Republic that I used to do after the WWI unit. Something is lost, and something is gained. Like you, I grapple with it’s a zero sum game.

Garth Flint,  high school teacher of computer science and technology coordinator in Montana private school:

My question has always been what effect does the increase in classroom tech have on the students? Do they do better through out the years? How do we measure “better”? We have an AP History teacher who is very traditional. Kids listen to the lecture and copy the notes on the whiteboard.
About the only tech he uses are some minor YouTube videos. His AP test results are outstanding. Would any tech improve on those results? At the middle school we have a teacher who uses a Smartboard extensively. It has changed how he does his math lectures. But he is still lecturing. Has the Smartboard improved student learning? I do not know. I have observed teachers that have gone full tech. Google Docs, 1-1, videos of lectures on line, reversed classroom, paperless. Their prep time increased. Student results seemed (just from my observation, I did not measure anything) to be the same as a non-tech classroom. It would be interesting to have two classrooms of the same subject at the same grade level, one high tech, one old-school and feed those students into the same classroom the next year. Ask that next year teacher if there is a measurable difference between the groups.

 

Laura H. Chapman, retired  art teacher from Ohio:

“So answering the question of whether widespread student access and teacher use of technologies has “changed daily classroom practices” depends upon who is the asker, who is the doer, and what actually occurs in the classroom.”

Some other questions.
Who is asking questions about the extent of access and use of technology by students and teachers and why? Who is not asking such questions, and why not?

Is there a map of “daily classroom practices” for every subject and grade/or developmental level such that changes in these practices over time can be monitored with the same teachers in the same teaching assignments?

Are there unintended consequences of widespread student access and teacher use of technologies other than “changes in daily classroom practices?” Here I am thinking about the risky business of assuming that change is not only inevitable but also positive(e.g., invigorates teaching and learning, makes everything moe “efficient”).

Who is designing the algorithms, the apps, the dashboards, the protocols for accessing edtech resources, who is marketing these and mining the data from these technologies, and why? These questions bear on the direct costs and benefits of investments and indirect costs/benefits….

Jo Lieb, English teacher and poet from Connecticut:

2017 – it’s 2017

Who would think that in 2017
I would feel the need to have you read
a poem in favor of humanity?

I look out at my students
what do I see?

I see wires from teenage ears
red, yellow, black pods in and around their ears
talking to them
mesmerizing them
hypnotizing them

I see the omnipresent ChromeBook
on their desks – their laptop computer instructors
And on tables as stand alones
I see the Boxes standing tall –
They are Black
They are Powerful
They are Teaching my kids

And I am complicit….

Whoooaaa
What did I just say?
The black plastic and metal square heads
Are everywhere… scrambling
the brains of my students
teaching them to be compliant
malleable
common
ordinary
all the same
as
each
other

But my kids are the outliers on the scattergrams –
my rebels
my questioners
my thinkers
my doers
the next generation’s movers and the shakers

At least they used to be

……

They used to be when we treated them as humans
not data

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12 Comments

Filed under how teachers teach, technology

12 responses to “A Few Teachers Speak Out on Technology in Their Classrooms

  1. Michael Wolf

    In re Jo Leib:
    I share the sentiment, but I am also recalling that 50 and 40 and 30 and 20 years ago, many kids were learning to be compliant and “all the same/ as/ each/ other” without aid of earphones and wires.

  2. speduktr

    This discussion needs to be continued.

    • larrycuban

      OK. Do you have a comment?

      • speduktr

        Sorry, my comment may have conveyed the wrong message. I would be very interested to hear from more teachers and some parents. I am a retired special education teacher. Even when I was teaching (6 years ago) I saw technology beginning to produce more work because administrators tended to see how it could be used to make their lives easier. What was intended to simplify process just resulted in shifting more of it to teachers. I also taught a course that included a computer based section. While I saw a lot of useful elements in the program; I also found some procedures so repetitive that they became boring. It simplified too much of the assessment to multiple choice questions and downgraded the professional input of the teacher. As long as I was allowed to modify instruction to meet the needs of my students, it was pretty useful, but when oversight was shifted to a number cruncher with no background in special education or the program (other than the marketing campaign), I no longer felt that my expertise was valued.

      • larrycuban

        Thank you for describing your experiences.

  3. mike g

    Separate from the teacher insights, I was struck by the TONE of Louisa and Garth’s comments.

    Humility! Such a rare bird in edu-discussions.

    “Has the Smartboard improved student learning? I do not know.”

    “Something is lost, and something is gained. Like you, I grapple with it’s a zero sum game.”

    A wonderful thing about your blog, and perhaps many of the readers it attracts, is the productive interest in “grappling.”

    • larrycuban

      Thanks, Mike, for taking the time to comment. Yep, humility is in short supply when it comes to talk about digital tools.

  4. And a couple more teachers have written a book, Screen Schooled. You can find it on Amazon.

  5. Chester Draws

    My experience as a Maths teacher is that technology has freed people up from a lot of drudge work, particularly doing awkward arithmetic (long divisions, square roots) and drawing graphs by hand.

    No-one who needs a graph in their work nowadays will ever draw it by hand, so we shouldn’t expect students to. And at senior levels in my area students use tech to draw their graphs, although unfortunately we still waste time with our juniors. That frees us up to discuss what the graphs mean, which is nice. I would say that technology has revolutionised how I teach graphs, in Statistics and Algebra (and to a small extent Calculus). Far more time can be spent on theory now that drawing them takes seconds.

    Other than graphs though, I barely use technology in my classroom, because I don’t find it helpful. I’m more than computer literate, but I find the chances of something not working — sound, internet access, computer deciding to update etc — is far too likely to impede our lesson than help.

    However the other area that technology has massively changed my practice, but I rarely see others commenting on it, is communicating with parents. I use e-mails, both to make personal and whole-class contact, and it makes the process so much easier and quicker compared to trying to ring. The result is that I have much greater contact with parents than I used to. (I do still sometimes telephone, but even then I generally e-mail first to arrange a time, so that missed calls are largely a thing of the past.)

    Others use social media — but I find that is most effective with students, and not so much with parents.

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