The Stereotypical Use of Tech in the Classroom & Why It’s Bad for Tech-Ed

My brother-in-law, who is a middle school science teacher, use to complain so much about how much he hated having to use e-mail to communicate with other teachers or his office that I used to call him a Luddite. He just didn’t see the need and in an era when there isn’t enough money to just buy enough school supplies and textbooks for his students he just saw his classroom computer as an expensive largely useless trinket. For years he’d just shake his head at me when we’d see one another at family gatherings because he knew that not only do I use the stuff every day but, in his mind, I’m part of the machinery that promotes it’s intrusion into our classrooms and our job descriptions. Then one day he was talking about his classes and mentioned using his computer to put together his class lists. What? I asked him how he was using his computer and he repeated that he was using it for basic classroom management, and using it to make lists and some correspondence with parents. But then he added that he doesn’t use it for whole class demonstrations or as part of the actual lesson, so in his mind, he doesn’t use the computer in teaching.
Strictly speaking, no, he isn’t using it as a central part of his instruction, but he is using it to do his job as a teacher. Thus my brother-in-law bought into the stereotype that the only way that computers are supposed to be used in the classroom is for a student to be on them doing lessons every moment of the teaching day. And because that wasn’t happening he thought that he wasn’t really using technology the way it’s “supposed to be used.” Unfortunately this is how technology is sold to our parents and every tech-ed commercial shows a classroom full of smiling children typing away on rows and rows of shiny high-tech beauties with the teacher standing in front of a projection screen expertly guiding his or her students through the lesson.

Alas, what school can afford the LCD projector for every classroom, much less the rows and rows of computers for every classroom? But actually, that’s asking the wrong question because there are plenty of schools with teacher who successfully do whole class instruction from a single compter connected to a TV without either LCD projector or “class set” of computers. The more important question, actually, is how did these computer-using-techers get to the point where they began to actively incorporate technology into their instruction? They got there by beginning to use the technology as part of their “normal” job: creating class lists, using it to correspond with colleagues and parents, printing out an overhead transparency, buying something from e-Bay.

techtrainAssumptions are made all over the place about what is needed to make technology happen in education. It’s some romanticized “Field of Dreams” mentality at work that if we just put the stupid things in the classroom that somehow they’ll automatically just become part of the students’ daily existence. I put three of my own computers in my classroom when I taught 6th grade and I worked at giving my students time to do work on the computers, but it was a struggle to really integrate what they were doing on the computers with what we were doing in the rest of the classroom. More often than not we ran out of time or they fell back to playing “Age of Empires” because it sparked their interest in History (my take) and it was fun (their take).

When I was doing research for my paper on tech use in the classroom for Dr. Davis I found a model for how a teacher goes from “discovering” technology to using as part of ones teaching day. An article I read for Dr. Davis’ assignment noted the difficulty the public has with understanding the process that it takes to implement technology in that there is an expectation that the main stumbling block is having equipment in the classroom and a resistence to the idea that teachers need to be trained in it’s usage first. But then, except for educators who have studied the “mechanics of learning,” the public doesn’t always understand that the most efficient learning comes from learning within a meaningful context and for teachers that means using the tools to do non-educational things like class lists and correspondence. [see Shuldman, M. (2004). Superintendent Conceptions of Institutional Conditions That Impact Teacher Technology Integration. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 36(4), 319]. JBB