Learning the language the world will speak
Every student must learn the skills necessary to participate in the global community of our 21st century world. These skills include the ones that you, the reader, have mastered in order to log-in: keyboarding, use of a mouse, ability to navigate through the internet. They also include those tools that are specific to an educational setting as well as specific to the subject area being taught. Some of these “tools” increasingly used in our world include:
Tools specific to the subject area:
Just as students are taught to read and to write in order to communicate effectively, they must also learn the skills associated with the operation of these tools. I think most of you reading this would agree with the necessity to include the instruction of such skills into the curriculum. Ahh, but that’s only part of the equation. What about access?
This is the point at which the issue of funding enters the debate about technology in the classroom. Most students, parents, educators, and taxpayers agree that the skills listed above are all very important, but, unlike a pencil or a ruler, their application in the classroom brings with it a very large price-tag. As a result, some school districts invest in the technology, thus enabling their students to develop the necessary skills and gain access to the vast and ever-changing world. However, students from districts without the extra money to invest will never develop the skills needed to participate in the large economic as well as social arena that new technology provides access to. Such an inequality serves to create and to perpetuate already existing systems of inequality. This is one of the major concerns about using technology in our schools. Click here for other cautions about our enthusiasm and blind faith in teachnology.
Where does the technology come in?
So far we’ve talked a lot about the “tools” of newer technology, the things that students learn to use. However, technology for the classroom is much more broadly defined. It includes all the tools that teachers employ to engage students with the material they are learning.
Technology in the classroom refers to tools used in “hands-on” learning. So you see, this includes not only computers but any instrument that requires the student to apply her knowledge in order to create and re-create her own meaning.
Furthermore, learning is not about the acquisition of knowledge or the gathering of facts. Indeed, we live in an Information society; we have virtually any and all the “facts” we need at our fingertips through the click of a mouse. The role of education in this whole Information Revolution is to ensure that our students interpret those facts, evaluate them, critique them, and then put them to use.
Therefore, students must learn more than just the skills and the knowledge of operating new technologies. They must learn how to manipulate that technology themselves. They must understand that technology does not simply make their lives easier; it also offers new opportunities and thus should raise expectations. We must reinforce that projects, assignments, and true learning still require imagination, creativity, and critical thinking. Students must think specifically about what work they are producing and how the technology helps them to do that.
For example, instead of simply giving a student a “How To” list of all the commands for a word processing program, a computer teacher (or an English teacher or history teacher or physics teacher) can sit the student down and ask them to figure out how to use the software. Therefore, the student not only learns the commands and the use of the program but also understands the structure of the program and will probably learn to use it for more creative purposes.
Other ideas, most of which are specific to a social studies classroom, of activities that allow the students to use technology as an aid rather than allowing the technology to control them:
Evaluate sources: It is important to know who your source is, and any history class should begin early in the year with a discussion and evaluation of primary and secondary sources. When students begin to use information from the internet, teachers particularly need to ask students to be critical of the source. Printed sources go through a publishing process that edits and re-writes weak parts; on the internet, anyone can post anything, regardless of accuracy. Students must learn to question their sources. A good activity to encourage this is to give the students a list of URL addresses to webpages all concerning the same subject. The students' job is to read each and evaluate them. Who is the author? Does the student think it is accurate? Does the page look attractive? What effect does that have on the student’s attitude?
International pen-pals: The most attractive feature of the internet for a social studies teacher is its potential to raze the walls enclosing nations and cultures. With email access, students can communicate instantly with students from counrtries whose histories and culture the students may be studying. The children can write back to one another, learning first-hand what life in that country is like, while articulating the features that make up their own culture.
Virtual museum: With internet access, all the treasures from all the world’s museums are in pictures on the computer screen. Students can view them on the computer, or the teacher can hook the computer up to a television screen and conduct a presentation for the entire class. With a scanner, students can find photographs in books, scan them into a graphics program, and create their own museum by writing text to accompany each artifact.
Of course, these are a trifle of the ideas for incorporating technology into the classroom intelligently and critically. The internet hosts hundreds of pages with great ideas for lesson plans and projects. Click here to see a list of my favorites.
Use of technology can also be a way of engaging these students whose attention spans are so short due their television and video-game upbringing; they may respond better to visually stimulating material. Furthermore, teachers should be aware of the changes in learning that we may observe between generations of students. Since instructional materials on computers often operate within a web-like framework rather than a sequential or linear framework, use of these resources may encourage students to think more in “webs,” making connections among themes in the material. Conversely, students may concentrate less on the substance of the page they are reading, while concerning themselves more with the high-lighted word on which they are moving the mouse to click. Therefore, teachers must ensure that students continue to evaluate the importance and usefulness of what sources they use.
Justina's Technology in Education Manifesto| Abuses of Technology in the Classroom| List of History Links