The use of technology in the classroom: are we there yet?

Technology has always been a driver of progress. But will we ever reach a truly tech-integrated destination in the classroom?

Anyone who has worked in a classroom will undoubtedly have encountered the whiteboard marker on the smart board debacle.

The situation usually arises when a teacher, versed in the ways of the smart board, is taken sick for some unexpected reason. The school, unable to rearrange the schedules of other teachers that day to compensate for the absence, brings in a supply teacher. This outsider, familiar with the systems that were in place before the turn of the millennium, rummages through the desk for a white board marker, and proceeds to unknowingly deface the most expensive piece of kit in the room.

The situation is all the more dire if said marker is permanent!

We’ve come a long way

Even 5 years ago, technology was seen as replacing like-for-like the systems that we had in place in the past. While the smart board episode above is funny, the frequency with which it occurred was problematic. Ultimately, smart boards were so similar to the white boards of the 90’s that they were almost indistinguishable. We had disguised new technology within old resources.

Nowadays, the variety of technological aides’ available has exploded. This has meant that their integration into the classroom has to be much more considered and the outcomes of their use far better understood.

Take presentations, for example. It was once possible to give a sterling presentation with the use of a flipchart, some text and a couple of handouts. But this has not been the way things are conducted anywhere other than the classroom for what feels like forever. Even the typical Powerpoint presentations, with their fade-ins and fade-outs, aren’t the medium that students are used to. Teachers are now guiding students in the use of online presentation methods with programs like Prezi, and these have made for much more immersive, effective and professional looking presentations as a result.

What we now seem to better realise is that the integration of the different technologies must mutually benefit both the teacher and the student. If something like the smartboard does nothing more than produce farcical (and costly) situations, is it actually worthwhile? Hampering rather than helping in the delivery of lessons benefits no one.

Real innovation in the classroom

The solutions that are arriving now are far more productive in servicing the needs of students and teachers. Online classrooms and portal services make the submission of work seamless, avoiding the need for unnecessary and wasteful printouts and the last minute panic the lack of printer ink produces. Tablets and other devices that can be ‘loaned’ to students means that the work a student produces is not stymied by the medium on which they produce it, with all having access to the same tools and services. Cloud based storage systems means it is nigh on impossible to lose the work that you have done, it being accessible on anything from your laptop to your smartphone. Learning is being made easier in many ways by the efficiency that technology provides.

But not in every case. In many traditional subjects, there remains a tendency to abide by the mantra of ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. This mentality persists in several subjects, with educators nervous about making the leap into areas that they don’t feel they know enough about. It is one thing to bring devices into the class that are used by most of us on a daily basis, but reconfiguring tried and tested lesson plans you have delivered the entirety of your teaching career because student behaviours and preferences have changed: nuh-uh!  

Being brave; being bold

This is the next hurdle. When we look at technology and consider where students’ time spend most of their time, it makes sense for us to be there too. As educators, we should be delving into the nooks and crannies of the technological landscape our students inhabit and plundering it for all the good it may contain so that we can deliver it back to students in an educationally purposeful package.

For too long, educators have been the kids in the backseat of the car, responding to the technology around them and incorporating it with occasional success: we hop in when it seems convenient, and throw the door open and tuck and roll out of it when it isn’t working to our advantage.  

But we shouldn’t be in the car at all. We should be building the roads, and making sure that the technology that’s already moving is heading towards the outcomes that will best benefit the next generation.

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