Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Teaching with Technology: Innovative Instruction or Wasting Time?


Here is another technology guest post. This one comes from Elaine Hirsch – elainehi86@gmail.com .
When you think about the term "educational technology," you probably think about computer labs and digital presentations. You probably don't think of simple things like pens and overhead projectors, and you may not think about tablet computers and social media. However, all of these things are educational technologies. This range of examples illustrates that educational technology is a changing field that will continue to alter both what and how students learn. However, whether in elementary school or PHD online, only when used in conjunction with appropriate teaching methods can educational technology really make education more effective.

Educational Technology Then and Now

While "educational technology" may be a rather new term, teachers have always used technology, and that technology has always affected what and how students learn. Before mass-produced writing tools were widely available, students learned the techniques involved with writing using quill and ink. Next, they learned to use pens and pencils when writing by hand. Since the advent and spread of the typewriter, we have had typing classes. Film projectors, overheads, computers, iPads, and calculators are also all examples of educational technology. As new technologies are created, what educational technology is in particular will continue to change.

However, today's use of classroom technology is significantly different from educational technology in the past in one key way: today's educational technology is more social than ever before, and indeed this is proving to be a point of controversy. When teachers integrate technologies like Facebook, blogs, YouTube and text messaging into their classrooms, parents and administrators wonder how instructors could be using these technologies to do any real teaching. Aren't teachers just allowing kids to waist time?
Administrators and parents often go to great lengths to ensure "time-wasting" sites like Facebook are blocked within school networks and make sure cell phones stay off during the school day. Restrictions like these are much to the chagrin of teachers who insist students are actually learning using these technologies.

Resolving the Controversy

The solution to this controversy, surprisingly, comes from looking not at what technologies teachers use but at how they use them. If technology is used appropriately, it can greatly enhance learning. In fact, the learning needed to succeed in the 21st century working world isn't possible without educational technology. If students don't learn how to use computers and even social networking sites effectively, they won't be able to communicate with coworkers and bosses or do research when they enter the real world.
Further, with so many of today's students being exposed to technology at home long before they come to school, learning via technologies such as video games, blogs, and online activities can help students better understand concepts and become more engaged in what they learn. In fact, Facebook can be successfully integrated into the classroom in a number of ways that would engage at-risk students as well as better facilitate most other students' learning as well.

However, teachers also cannot teach effectively when they use technology for technology's own sake. Instead, they must harness the power of technology to present information in a useful and education-centered way. Allowing students to text, play on Facebook, or blog during class is obviously pretty pointless unless students are doing it in conjunction with a lesson. For example, English teachers could have students compose text messages as part of a grammar lesson, showing students how texting grammar works in the context of a text message but not an academic paper. Lessons like this can be hugely effective. Simply turning a blind eye while students text their friends is not.

Whether they are using computer labs or Facebook, teachers need to embrace educational technology to be effective, but they must embrace it in the context of good pedagogy. Technology without substance is just as ineffective a teaching tool as substance without technology is to this digitally native generation.
Let’s hear from you. Innovative Instruction or Wasting Time?

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