I’ve seen a few lessons recently which seemed to me to confirm the worst that can happen when teachers try to bring technology into their lessons. I taught one of them, so it would be churlish to pick on others when the fault lies so close to home. It is a common thread, though, in many classrooms. I am not the only offender.
In my defence, I was tired and rushed off my feet producing reports – a task I get laden with as an IT teacher! It was just after exams, and I needed to start film study, wearing my English teacher hat, with my grade 8s. I also had report layouts to check and a report printing deadline looming! I found a wonderful PowerPoint presentation on mise-en-scène analysis, and I embedded it on the class Moodle page so that I could display it on the Interactive Whiteboard to form the basis of class discussion. The presentation was excellent! But I forgot to check that it could be enlarged, and I lost the original file. Suddenly there I was with a tiny presentation nobody could read, an IWB whose sound was broken, and on a computer where I could not load any of the wonderful film clips I’d saved to discuss because the machine did not have the right software.
A lesson based on technological resources, and none of them worked!
The first rule of Ed Tech is always to check that it works before the class! Let’s be frank about this – technology obeys Murphy’s Law, and its rider that the likelihood of something going wrong is in direct proportion to its importance! If you are going to use technology in the classroom, you always need a Plan B! There’s nothing more pathetic than a teacher struggling to get a computer or video recorder to work while the class watches on, sniggering and making paper aeroplanes! If it doesn’t work I always go to Plan B immediately and as soon as the class is engaged in the first exercise, I go and wrestle with the technology. Very often you can get it going in time to reverse a lesson plan order and still use that fantastic Youtube clip or Prezi you spent all night looking for, or creating!
I actually believe, though, that there should be a minimum of technology in the classroom. Obviously, topics such as film study do require film, and there are many opportunities to introduce wonderful applications of technology into any lesson, but it should never be done just for the sake of doing it. I’ve seen too many lessons in which spurious Youtube videos seem to have been used simply to appear “trendy”. In my view teachers should always look at opportunities to get their students to use technology rather than using it themselves. Why should teachers be creating Prezis? Isn’t it better to ask students to make presentations and use these to “teach” a topic?
I also believe that teachers should not be proscriptive about what technology students use, or what applications they use to put together their assignments. Technology is like the air we breathe, it shouldn’t be the focus of anything. When I ask students to make a presentation on the novel they’ve been studying, I don’t mind if they do it as a PowerPoint, a Prezi, a video, a blog, wiki or a website. All I ask is that they meet the requirements of the topic. Have they dealt with theme, character, plot? I do, however, give a mark for appropriate use of technology. If no marks are awarded for things which might take a great deal of time and effort to produce, we are teaching that presentation, perfecting and polishing doesn’t matter, and it surely does.
Many teachers shy away from technology because they feel they do not have adequate skills to cope. And yet, surely, we should be giving students the responsibility to learn how to use technology. As an ICT teacher I see it as my responsibility to teach students skills they can then apply in all their classes – not just my own.
To take it even further, I believe that we should be doing the same with content, giving students the responsibility for deciding what they want to learn – but that’s another story! I do believe, however, that technology is a significant affordance in enabling problem based learning. Schools need to create adequate technological infrastructure, and then get on with the job of enabling learning, rather than trying to micro-manage how technology is used in the classroom day to day, lesson to lesson. We should be posing broad problems, asking big questions, and then helping students try to solve these problems, allowing them to use whatever technology they find appropriate to the task. Sometimes we can’t see the curriculum for all the scaffolding!