Putting IT into Perspective: Infusing Technology into the Classroom

You wouldn’t use a hammer to loosen a rusty bolt, or a flat head screwdriver to pry a nail loose from an old board. Well, some of us might, but the majority of us choose the right tool for the right job. And, just as hammer, wood, and nails when manipulated by a skilled carpenter can produce something beautiful or useful, the same materials when manipulated by an incompetent worker may produce something ugly or useless. Education is no different. A skilled teacher, armed with sound pedagogy and the proper tools will help a child grow and develop into a well-rounded adult. An ill prepared teacher with little or no experience will take those same tools and cause irreparable damage to a child.

Some may consider what I am about to say blasphemy, but the computer is not a necessity in the classroom. Children have been succeeding in the classroom long before the advent of computers. Yes, the optimal situation would place a good teacher in a room with great technology, but if push came to shove, I would rather see an experienced, caring teacher in a classroom with no computer than an unfeeling novice with top-notch equipment. This is not to say that we should rid the world of computers. Quite to the contrary, we need more computers; more importantly we need more computer-related staff development and courses.

As a Technology Coordinator in an urban school district, I have seen both sides of the issue. There are those who believe the computer is the coming Messiah for education and that it will help our children succeed where all else has failed. And, with the current onslaught of new technology, it is easy to see why so many believe computers to be the cavalry. Then there is that group of educators who believe the computer is a monumental waste of money and argue no progress has been made in the quality of education our children receive. They point to increasingly dismal test results, attitudes, and behaviors in the school.

I must agree. At first glance one would assume that technology has failed us, but is it the technology that has failed or the lack of training?

The computer is a tool. Just as a ruler helps a student measure, a protractor helps calculate the degrees in an angle, and a pencil and pad assist in the capturing of ideas, so a computer assists our children in creating, manipulating, and producing various pieces of work. There is no magic formula for producing results in our students. In order for our children to succeed it will take good teaching combined with good tools. The computer can either be used properly and produce great results or improperly producing disastrous consequences depending upon who wields the mouse.

Imagine, if you will, the technology-rich classroom. Every child is equipped with a Wi-Fi capable firewall-protected laptop. There are bluetooth-enabled peripherals, such as printers, scanners, and projectors. There are also hand held computers and every other possible technological advantage. Now, imagine thrusting an ill prepared teacher into this mix; whether it is a novice educator fresh from college with no pedagogical experience and poor classroom management, or a seasoned veteran with little technological skills but dynamite classroom management. Pandemonium will ensue. In the case of the novice teacher with poor classroom management, picture children off task, surfing the net, violating school acceptable use policies, and computer mouse balls everywhere (what a picture). In the case of the veteran teacher with dynamite classroom management but no technology skills, picture the children all in their seats, behaved and prepared but with all the computers collecting dust.

Now imagine the same room with a properly prepared teacher, grounded in pedagogy, and knowledgeable about technology. Whether novice or veteran, the possibilities are endless. The Internet could be used not only for static research but for real time data. Envision a project where the children can chat with experts in various fields or Email their opinions to children in other countries, testing hypothesis online and sharing information. They would then create PowerPoint presentations from this research. They could beam drafts of information to their teacher for immediate feedback. They could create charts and graphs. They could enhance their writing, using the computer to take them through writing workshop and all the steps of the writing process. They could use Inspiration or Kidspiration to do their prewriting, and Works or Word to do their drafting. They could then Email or beam their information to their teacher for assistance with editing and revising. The teacher could communicate by adding comments to their work and sending it back to the student via Email or beaming. Finally, the students could use Publisher to produce a final copy or use FrontPage to turn their work into a Web page. There could be peer-to-peer conferencing without the students ever leaving their seats, and that is just the beginning.

There is no doubt that the computer can add to the efficiency of the classroom, but standardized test scores have remained stagnant over the past few years. We purchase technology, we vote to raise salaries, and we agree to spend money on various whole school reforms. But little or no progress is being made. Why? The answer is simple. We have forgotten about pedagogy. Staff development is lagging far behind. Many of the opponents of technology are correct in claiming that we are not infusing technology properly in the classroom, but this does not mean we should remove it. It means we must make changes in how we perceive technology. There must be a shift in paradigm. Perhaps the new “No Child Left Behind†Act can help. One of its provisions allows school districts to re-appropriate funds from various sources to technology. Here is our opportunity to improve upon how we infuse technology into the classroom. Money can be allocated to not only the purchasing of updated equipment but to the development of our staff in sound pedagogy.

Technology is neither the savior nor the destroyer of the educational community. It is a supplement, a tool, a means to an end, and just like any other tool it can be wielded by a master carpenter with great precision or by a lackey with no skill. We must prepare our teachers to prepare our students. We must apply the proper amount of support and pressure to enable the infusion of technology to be a benefit and not a distraction in the classroom. It is our job as Technology Coordinators and leaders in the school to “push the envelope†and try new things. Ms. Frizzle, the fictional teacher of the Magic School Bus, says it best, “take chances, get messy.†Yes, IT does have a place in our schools, but it is our job to define that place and to carve out a niche that will provide our students with the extra assistance they need.

Email: Terry Woolard