16 March 2010

Don't Fight The Tech

I found humor in the errands I ran yesterday. Twenty years ago, if I said I had returned rented movies, bought some coffee grounds from the grocery store, and put gas in my car, you would assume that I would have had to interact with at least one human being. That was not the case yesterday, and it was the reason why I laughed at the stage society is in. I returned two Redbox movies to a vending machine, purchased my coffee at QFC's automated checkout stand, and paid for my gas at the fuel pump.

I do not want to make this posting about how technology separates us from human connection, because I do not think that is the case. In fact, technology expands our sphere of influence. One of my best friends is in Georgia, but staying connected is as easy as pushing a couple buttons, or talking on the phone. Whenever we see one another, which is only a couple times per year, we don't miss a beat. When I want to unwind at the end of a day I can play games online with others from around the world; its similar to a pick-up game of basketball from my couch.

This is the world kids live in today. Information is dispersed at the speed of thought. Mass amounts of information bombards kids' minds, and, at any given moment, they need to sift through it and make sense of it all while determining their own place in the world. How do we educators compete with this, and capture the minds of our students?

I propose that we do not compete with it. If technology has provided us a way to be entertained easier, to be informed easier, and to keep in touch easier, then why don't we use it to teach easier? Where does it say that teaching is static, and that it's only effective when it remains unchanged? Classes are now online, we can broadcast ourselves, we can podcast ourselves, and we can discuss in real-time at any time. Twitter, GoogleWave, iTunes, YouTube, Wikis, Forums, etc... The list is endless. How else do we expect to illustrate to students that learning is an ongoing process and can happen anywhere when we restrict it to in class or at their home desk? Why wouldn't they be able to jump on their phone, or entertainment device, at any given moment and have something class-related at their fingertips?

Problem: Student is absent during the explanation of a new unit or during a group exercise. Possibilities: Video/Audio Podcast of the lecture, Flip video or tweets from the student's group members. Sick student can participate in group discussions via webchat or web video, Twitter, or some other means. End Result: Student still receives participation credit, and is still part of the group exercise, and will not need to make up the project after school. This can be difficult to do for science labs, but I would allow it for only one missed lab per semester or year.

Problem: Student is stuck on a problem at home, and needs help in order to complete an assignment. Possibilities: Online whiteboards, GoogleWave, online forums, etc... The teacher could schedule a time a few nights each week to field questions, or respond to a request for help via Twitter. End Result: "I didn't understand it when I tried to do it at home," become irrelevant. Help is now always available to students, and they can have open discussions and brainstorm through the online forums.

There is no a single problem in education that can be fixed only be adding technology into the equation. Technology is just another tool that can be used the right way, or the wrong way. People have trouble understanding how to implement it, but I would venture to guess that these are the people who use pliers to tighten a screw or a monkey wrench as a hammer.

With proper respect and boundaries established, the days of a teacher lecturing at the front of the class, and punching a clock are coming to an end. Why correct endless essays by hand when you can do it in WORD, show the corrections and save paper by sending it through email? Why not improve upon the example you learned under? I have seen the tip of the iceberg of what technology can do for the education process, and the students therein. I am excited about what tools have yet to be developed. I am excited about educating and impacting lives. I'm definitely looking forward to moving education forward.

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