Looking back at the many classrooms that I have worked in, I can trace the evolution from no devices to too many devices. In my first year of teaching I was lucky enough to stumble into a pilot program for the use of SmartBoards. I think there were only two in the school and the projector sat on a wheeled cart about two metres from the board. This was in a grade 4 classroom, so you can imagine how many times the cart was bumped causing the screen to need to be recalibrated. I seem to remember using it mainly to look at Google Earth or simple math websites… certainly nothing overly creative or collaborative.
Jump ahead a few years and I remember having a scheduled time in the computer lab where students either did word processing or played math games. At the time this was quite a step. My students were able to create “published” pieces of writing by nicely formatting the text and adding bolded, underlined titles in overly-elaborate fonts. I remember the pride and excitement they had waiting at the printer for their work to emerge.
Then came the “laptop cart” where we had a set of shared devices among a group of four classrooms. These were helpful for class management as I would create stations to give me an opportunity to work on a mini-lesson to support those who needed help, while others were simply “occupied” by a device that, once again, was used for word processing or math games. It was the shared laptop cart that became the staple of my classrooms for the next few years. But the usage of these devices was always somewhat cursory, somewhat rote, somewhat uninspired.
That brings us to today. I am now at a school that has a 1:1 device program, computer labs and even the ubiquitous shared computer carts. But how do we use them? Is it effective? Are all these devices enhancing the learning environment? Are they a detriment? I suppose if could answer these questions clearly, then I wouldn’t have signed up for CoETaIL in the first place.
How is all this tech being used in my class? Well, to be honest, I let the students guide the usage. They are generally ahead of me when it comes to new apps or sites that enable them to create interesting to demonstrate their learning. Generally, I leverage tech to monitor what is going on through the use of digital commenting on shared documents or through guiding an activity that involves collecting data through video or images and then annotating that with appropriate graphics and text to convey meaning. Of course, we use tech daily with email, basic internet research and course management software, but I have still yet to encourage my students to take advantage of their devices in an advanced way.
It was interesting to read about the concept of a tech break this week. Admittedly, when I saw the title I was excited to read an article that advocated putting down the devices and going outside for a breath of fresh air, but was surprised by Larry Rosen’s suggestion in his article that the break is actually a time for them to text, tweet or talk to their friends and family. I suppose that this makes sense given that it seems that the state of the world is people glued to a device, but I have a feeling that my class full of 12-year-olds might opt for going outside for a stretch instead.
This brings me to an idea that I have been curious about… how would my students react to a day away from digital devices? Would they have a similar experience as shown the Quest University student documentary “A Day Without Technology” by Jorid Pellicer and Zeeshan Rasool? I’m curious to know. Perhaps this is something that I will consider as a challenge for students… maybe we host a “Tech Free Tuesday” campaign? The idea would be for them to take a hard look at their reliance on their devices and to experience the world without… and then to reflect on the positive and negative aspects. I know that I would have the support of many of the parents at school as far as taking their children away from gaming or snapchat or the perception of “idle” online behaviour, but I have a feeling that the parents’ ability to have the safety of immediate contact to their children might over-ride their desire to actually agree to taking part in the project. Hmmm… I’ll have to give this some thought. Maybe I’ll casually ask a few families what they think of the idea… Tech Free Tuesday… it has a nice ring to it.