Friday 4ALL: More Than Just Technology

students at computers

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Recently, this article popped up in the New York Times, reporting that teachers are up in arms over an initiative to put computers in the hands of every student. Additionally, students will be required to take online courses as part of their studies in high school.

From what I can tell, both sides are missing the point. The state legislature and school administrators are giving technology to students in order to prepare them for the 21st century workforce. Conversely, teachers are complaining that technology can’t replace good teaching. However, what educators and politicians in Idaho are missing is that without a change in instructional philosophies, nothing will change.

Technology alone cannot improve student learning. Because a student writes a paper on a word processing program or reads a newspaper article online does not mean that he will become a better learner. Specific and proven teaching methods must be applied to help facilitate that student’s learning. Only skilled teachers with the proper training can do this.

Teachers should also not be so afraid of technology, rather they should be thinking about how outdated teaching strategies do not work with technology. Instructional strategies from the 19th century do not work in the 21st century. Even those teachers employing progressive teaching strategies could very easily utilize technology to improve interactivity between students both in and out of the classroom.

The problem lies in the limitations put on technology. Technology is neither the sole answer nor the only obstacle for reaching the 21st century student. Sound pedagogy that promote student-centered learning works best with technology and builds creativity and critical thinking skills.

Too much of the focus in Idaho is on the technology and the teaching instead of the learning. Students learn differently than they did twenty years ago. They are digital natives who long for instant access to information and the ability to converse with their peers. Of course, they still rely on the steady hand of a teacher who can guide them through their learning experiences. These teachers just need training in methods that can make this all possible.

Granted, as an eMINTS Instructional Specialist, I am biased. However, if we look at the kind of professional development eMINTS offers, one will notice that only one-fourth is technology-focused. The rest of our time is spent bringing teaching methodology up to the 21st century. Plus, unlike the mandates in Idaho, we have the data to back it up.

There are ways that Idaho could solve this issue. It may take politicians and policy-makers recognizing the importance of providing good teachers the support and training they need to make this technology initiative work. It may also require teachers to adjust their own teaching strategies to incorporate technology and embrace the many advantages it can provide. I worry that this debate will carry on without improved student learning resulting from their efforts.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center and he believes in the eMINTS instructional model and what it can do for student learning.