Are you using classroom technology effectively?

Let’s pretend you have a class of 24 students. As a classroom teacher, which would you rather have?

  1. Access to a class set of (24) laptops for two weeks of the school year. (If you choose this option, you get 10 computer days and you could either use those 10 days consecutively over two weeks, or you could space those 10 days across the school year. Maybe you visit the lab once a week for 10 weeks.)
  2. Access to half a class set of laptops (12 devices) for four weeks of the school year.
  3. Access to eight (8) laptops for six weeks of the school year.
  4. Access to six (6) laptops for eight weeks of the school year.
  5. Or, access to one (1) laptop for the entire school year.

It seems like a silly question, doesn’t it? If you’re asking, I’d rather have option #6, access to a class set of laptops whenever we needed it. The big question is, when do you need a computer? Does computer usage have to be a transformative experience that allows students to do something beyond what they could with simple pencil and paper?

The reality is that computers are a limited resource. They are expensive. And how do you share an expensive, limited resource with all of the students at your school?

Of course, there are broader questions, like how you make sure there is equitable access to technology across your entire school board or province. Going beyond that, we could talk about how this is really just a first world problem. And, at this point, I have to wonder, if computers were as cheap as pencils, would every kid be given a computer? Is this about effective pedagogy or economic reality?

Anyhoo, this summer, I’m looking forward to spending some time stepping back and thinking about whether the technology I use in my classroom program actually improves student learning.

I’m having a lot of trouble writing this blog post because my mind is swirling with ideas that I’ve read or heard over the past few months. I’m not sure where to start (or what I agree with):

  • Going to a computer lab – an actual room with computers – will be a thing of the past. Mobile devices and school Wi-Fi means using computers as educational tools should take place in the classroom. After all, we don’t say, “boys and girls, we’re going to stop this lesson to go down to the pencil room because this is the only time slot available.”
  • Giving every student access to their own computer isn’t effective. There are schools / school districts that have tried this 1:1 student to computer model without significant academic gains. Students learn better on the computer when working in groups of two or three. We want to move away from the model where everyone is working independently and looking down at their own screen.
  • Student engagement is not a powerful enough reason to use (purchase) technology in the classroom.
  • Some technologies are just fads / Schools are putting the cart before the horse when purchasing technology. Are we buying these devices to meet a need and improve student learning, or are teachers simply motivated by the latest trending device (iPad anyone?)  
  • Multiplatform / multi device labs are a good thing: android tablet, iPad, Windows, Mac, Chromebook. Having more tools in your toolbox means you could choose the right tool for the right job. (It also makes it harder for teachers to troubleshoot problems when you have different devices.)
  • I can’t get access to technology, so I’m not going to bother using technology in my classroom program.

Coming back to the original question, I know there are teachers and classrooms in every single possible combination. Some of us have access to a class set of laptops. Some of us have one or two computers sitting at the back of our classrooms. (And some of us don’t have access to computers at all.)

But if money was no issue, what kind of access to classroom technology would allow you to effectively transform your program and improve student learning?

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