Sunday, September 23, 2007

Annoying Cliches and Automatic Toilets: Touchstones for Technology Integration in the Classroom

Perhaps you, like me, are sick of the constant cliche being bandied around, the sudden, phenomenal discovery of "this changing world we live in,", as if it just appeared, and hasn't been a subtle growing thing in the past few decades. Technology has sneaked up on us, worming its way into every aspect of our lives, affecting everything we do, from how we travel to how we pee. There are automatic toilets, doors, taps, lights and navigating systems. These are things we barely notice now - they've been integrated so well, and with the sole specific purpose of making our lives easier.

I think, as educators, this is the context we need to think about when it comes to integrating technology into our classrooms. What is our purpose in doing so? Is it to make learning easier? Or are we veering off the mark, so enchanted by all the bells and whistles that we forget the real purpose?

Good technology integration was explored in the article:Linking Technology, Learning, and School Change Feldman, A., Coulter, B., & Konold, C. (Dec-Jan 2001). Linking technology, learning, and school change. Learning & Leading with Technology, 28 (4), 42-47. In the article William was able to integrate technology in a way that supported the learning of ecology using the idea that technology should help students learn, not hinder them. As a future teacher, it’s important for me to remember. For example, if one of my aims was to bring cultural awareness to my students, I could not only begin a novel study with a book based in a different country, I could set up an E-pal program (Pen-pals over Email) with another class in a that same country, which would enable personal connections not only to the literature, but to the culture itself.

Problems with integration seem to occur when Teachers lose sight of that initial aim: making learning easier. It’s like watching a great commercial - everything is bright, catchy and captivating. Soon enough, you're calling the 1.800 number and shelling out the first of two easy installments of $19.99 for a glorified mop. You haven't stopped to question if what you're buying into is something you need, something that will help you, or just clutter up your closet.

When people forget that touchstone aim for using technology in the classroom, to make learning easier, assignments, lessons, and everyday teaching gets cluttered like your broom closet, filled with things you don't need. The article's teacher, William, used technology to enhance students' understanding of ecology, by showing them the broader patterns that influenced their area. He brought the academic home, and made it real. If he had been caught up in the 'razzle-dazzle', he might have instead gotten his students to watch videos on how the weather patterns of monsoons in Australia affect the glacial system in Tibet. It's still dealing with patterns of ecology in the wider world, but what it isn't doing is bringing it back down to an approachable level.

While our touchstone thought for integration might be simple, there is often complex problems surrounding integration. School districts might lack money, or not understand the vision. However, that on-rushing cliche, "this changing world we live in,", will keep pushing educators to surmount the challenges they face, to change with the changing world, and produce a system where students can learn easier, adapt easier, and suceed.

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