Answer: All of the above. It depends on how it’s used by the teacher.

I love technology. I love writing about technology. I love trying out new ideas in my classroom laboratory at the drop of a hat. But, even though I love being on the cutting edge of educational technology, it’s important to remember that sometimes the tool we’re using is not the right one for the job.

A few days ago, a colleague shared the following article with me and an hour later, my grade 7 students and I were deconstructing the text and evaluating the ideas.

Paul Barnwell published a great post on Education Week Teacher about why Twitter and Facebook were not good instructional tools in the classroom. The article and the discussion that ensued in the comments really highlight some of the pros and cons of teaching with technology.

Barnwell spoke about his experiences teaching grade 8 and his current experiences teaching English and digital media at high school. The article pointed out some of the limitations and dangers of classroom technology.

Pros and Cons of “Twitter and Facebook” (really, Classroom Technology in general):

Paul Barnwell (who blogs at Mindful Stew) wrote about his current experiences with technology, evolving from a teacher who blogged in the classroom and experimented with Prezis, Poll Everywhere and other tools. Reflecting back, he raises some of the problems with classroom tech:

  • Some teachers only use technology for the “wow” factor – the initial hook that grabs our students attention.
  • Some students only engage with technology in a very simple and limited way, never really moving beyond Twitter, Facebook and Tumbler as quick social media distractions to interact with friends and strangers on the internet.
  • Some programs make things [too] easy by providing templates, “cheapens thinking” and provide gimmicks (like movement) that does not develop “genuine technology competence”
  • Technology can be powerful when it encourages students to be truly tech savvy which the author described as including the ability to “synthesize ideas and media forms, and create something original.”

The comments that followed in response to the article were fantastic. They highlight some of the benefits to educational technology:

  • They highlighted the idea that using technology for technology sake wasn’t the solution, but rather using technology as a tool to improve the learning was key.
  • They raised the issue about the need to teach students how to do more than tweet, post to Facebook, or browse YouTube.
  • They mentioned the notion of balance and avoiding the polar extremes – I will never use technology or I will use classroom technology for everything.
  • Many criticisms about the abuse of technology as an instructional tool can also be applied to other “traditional” instructional tools such as worksheets, flashcards, and graphic organizers.

My favorite comment comes from @Cerniglia , who summarized best practices for instruction, and pedagogy with technology:

  1. There is a learning curve new skills for students and teachers
  2. We become better at using tools, the more we use them
  3. We should aim for engaging, meaningful instructional methods; the tool should only be used if it moves students towards desired learning outcomes,
  4. Instructional tool should be accessible to all students, regardless of socioeconomic status
  5. Instruction and use of new tools to be supervised and guided by the teacher

How are you going to differentiate technology in your classroom?

I think one idea that is important to consider is the notion of differentiation. Not everyone learns the same way. Not all students need the same tool to the same extent, however, it’s important that students are able to self identify what learning strategies work best for them.

I’ve had the wonderful opportunity of teaching with a class set of paper notebooks and pencils. I’ve also had the wonderful opportunity of teaching with a class set of laptops.

When I teach with a class set of notebooks and pencils, sometimes I need to differentiate the tool for my students.

  • Some students really do learn better with assistive technology as identified by an educational psychologist.
  • Some students don’t need assistive technology, but can use a computer to work more efficiently, manipulating ideas in SMART ideas, drafting, revising, and editing their work in Google Docs, giving and receiving peer feedback to the collaboration tools in Google Docs, etc.

When I teach with a class set of laptops, sometimes I need to differentiate the tool for my students.

  • Some students are not very good with technology or are technophobic. They think they can’t do it, so they don’t have a prior knowledge of troubleshooting skills, and, ultimately, completing a task on a computer is a frustrating experience which takes away from the learning.
  • Some students are not very efficient with technology. Sometimes it takes significantly more time to do the same task on the computer compared to using paper and pencil. Digital ink has come along way, but it’s so much easier to write using paper and pencil than on an iPad or Tablet PC.
  • Some students don’t make good choices with technology. I’m not talking about the ones who get distracted with Facebook, angry birds or other websites. (Those students and the ones who are distracted by “multitasking” are obvious.) I’m talking about the students who are trying to force a piece of software to work when it’s clearly not working. For example, you’re trying to brainstorm ideas using SMART Ideas or Lucidchart and it’s just not working. The program doesn’t open, your login doesn’t work, or the site is lagging. It would be just as easy to take out a blank piece of paper or to open up a Google doc to take notes. Instead, some students spend all their time trying to troubleshoot a problem instead of switching gears and finding a better solution.
Hmm. In retrospect, the last three points also apply to teachers which raises the very important question of how do we help teachers as a group to use technology more effectively for critical thinking or creative work?

How do you know if your classroom technology is effective practice?

I wrote this blog post using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11.5 Premium in Live Writer.

There were 860 words in the first draft of this post. The speech software misheard 20 words, however it correctly wrote down 97.7% of the article. (Two more capitalization errors were made so the overall accuracy was 97.4%.)

Read more about the Dragon NaturallySpeaking Educational Discount.


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