Technology in Education: Can It Work?

Remember the Speak n’ Spell?

You know, that little thing that spoke out what you spelled into it? The little device that literally does what its name is?

Yeah, that little beauty. Teaching kids how to spell over 200 commonly misspelled words since 1978.

The Speak n’ Spell was one of the first instances of technology used to teach reading, and we’ve come so far since then. Smart Boards, iPads, and Macbooks have permeated the education system as a part of a promise – and a hope – to improve the education of our students. The biggest question still remains, however: Is the use of technology a distraction or a solution to the mission of teaching literacy to our children?

Recently, I read a post from Larry Cuban’s blog about a teacher in the D.C. area, Valyncia Hawkins, who has successfully integrated technology to better meet the needs of the students who come into her 5th grade classroom behind the grade level of other students. The problem is, a story like this seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

Throughout my primary and secondary education, almost any time a teacher tried to use technology, something went wrong, the clicker wouldn’t work, the smart board was glitchy, the computer blew up… well not really, but you get the point. These problems became so commonplace that it was expected for the teacher to mess up the technology and the class to become one of “those” classes, where we just goofed off while the teacher tried to get the video to play, or the HDMI cable to connect right.

This all begs the question: Does technology have a place in literacy education? Should it be as available for teachers to use when so many of them obviously can’t utilize it effectively and efficiently?

My answer is no. and yes.

We live in a technological society. Let’s face it, our world is consumed with the newest model of tablet or touch screen device, and that’s fine. That’s great. Let’s go Progress.

The problem is, when we force and pressure teachers to “get with the times” and use this technology in any way possible to engage their students, it falls flat. Technology isn’t a magic ingredient to add to your lesson plan to magically make kids interested in what you’re teaching. It’s all about how you teach the material. Sometimes that cool technological gizmo you’re using (read: Smart Board, iPad, etc), doesn’t need to be used for this specific topic. Let’s face it, a lot of our teachers just as not technologically literate enough in these areas to utilize technology effectively.

I experienced this first hand in my high school. We had a lot of the old breed, the teachers who were used to the chalk board, the overhead projector, and the textbook as the tools to use for teaching. When we began the switch to iPads for teachers, some just couldn’t handle it. The iPads would sit on many desks, unused, while others would barely be used as more than a glorified note-taking device.

Hawkins is a great example, on the other hand, of how technology can be used, especially with a style of small-group instruction. She is well-versed and skilled in the technology that she uses, and because of this, technology in her classroom is not a distraction, but rather the vehicle through which her students learn the material.

I would like to hear others’ views on this, what do you think about technology and its role in teaching literacy, etc?

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3 Responses to Technology in Education: Can It Work?

  1. karacap says:

    I can definitely understand where you’re coming from. In my high school, we had some teachers that knew exactly how to use technology and were amazing at it! I learned so much in their classes, however, I also had some teachers that had no idea what Windows meant other than the thing that allows you to see outside.
    I think because the world is becoming so increasingly dependent on technology, it’s important for students to begin to become familiar with it as soon as they’re mature enough. As for the teachers, many (I want to say all) have to have continuing education throughout their teaching careers. A workshop or a few classes on technology could greatly benefit teachers and allow them to have their classrooms become more like Ms. Hawkins’.

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  2. jhelms94 says:

    My experience was similar to yours. I remember in middle school when the whole school got one new portable smart board that teachers were allowed to “check out” for an allotted time. The wait list was so long! Crazy to think now that there are smart boards in pretty much every single classroom. Also, if we asked kids today what overhead projectors with transparencies are they would be so confused. Technology in schools has come a LONG way even since we were in elementary school. I can only imagine being a teacher who is forced to use this new technology and integrate it into my lesson plans. Frustrating I’m sure! There will always be issues with the programs or devices or operator errors, but I definitely think integrating new technology into the schools is a good idea. It gives kids hands-on educational experience with tools that are in our everyday life. Although I still prefer to hold a book in my hand and turn the pages as I read, rather than reading on a kindle or iPad, times are changing and we have to face it. It’s inevitable!

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  3. leighahall says:

    Right – it’s not a magic ingredient. You should use technology because it allows you/the students to do something better/makes something easier or it allows us to engage in something we could not otherwise. Even when schools invest in current technologies, most do not invest in helping teachers understand how to use them well (and you already know how stretched thin teachers are for time). Thus you end up with teachers trying to use technology in ways that mirror what they were doing without it.

    For example, I talked to a teacher once who was very proud to have his students blogging. Problem was, they were not blogging. They were doing literature response papers and posting them on a blog for him to comment on. You could do this with pencil and paper – adding a computer to it didn’t bring much of anything new to the table.

    Not everyone uses technology like this, and I don’t fault the teacher. People need time and space and support to reconfigure some of what they are doing.

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