I get really worried when I see teachers putting too much faith in IT! I’ve been a teacher long enough to know that while fads come and go, there are some universal truths that remain. For me the largest factor in any lesson’s success revolves around presence, that indefinable quality that speaks to the investment teachers make in being there for their students, and that students make in investing in their studies. I’m not saying IT has no place in the modern classroom, it clearly has! But I am saying that IT is only one part of a much bigger picture. I believe that when IT is introduced into the lesson, it needs to be there for a reason and not just because teachers think it will provide a magic bullet.
As a teacher I am considered a champion of ICT integration, and that’s true, I believe that many lessons can benefit from the judicious introduction of IT. Instead of writing on lined paper, many students can receive huge benefits from writing online, for real audiences. Instead of imagining the effects of actions on an electrical circuit, students can experiment with a simulation inside a browser. Instead of listening to a teacher in class, students can listen to input online, and spend class time receiving one on one assistance. IT has its place, but what I see happening all too often is that IT is used for IT’s sake, when there might be better, non-technological solutions. As teachers our major task is to fathom out when to use IT and when not to use IT. Unfortunately that usually involves using it a bit too much at first!
Back in the early days of the introduction of computers in the classroom, the computer was used as a teaching machine, and drill and kill practice was over-used. I can see some of that still going on, with students being required to spend hours on repetitive and largely meaningless tasks. All the teacher needs to do is post a link and the mind-numbingly-boring work is managed and assessed by computer. It’s very handy for an over-worked teacher, but represents the kiss of death for education.
IT needs to enhance teacher presence, not reduce it, and I think if all ICT integration followed this simple criterion, it would ensure that IT becomes a positive force in the classroom. If a simulation, for example, frees up the teacher to engage more one-on-one with her students, or an application opens up channels of communication which allow for deeper interchanges between teacher and student, we can speak of IT benefiting education. If not, then it should be ditched in favour of something which can do that job. IT can and does do this. When, as an English teacher, I am able to comment on a student’s writing in a Google doc -in real time – I am doing something I could not do using traditional pen and paper technology. Technology often allows teachers to gain greater insight and access to work in progress, and this is of a huge benefit.
The key to when to use IT and when not to use IT lies in whether it will enhance teacher presence or not. In online teaching this is a key notion, how to establish presence, but in hybrid classes it is equally important, and cannot be taken for granted.