This page is a guest post by Lindsey Wright. In this article, she explores the role of classroom management in technology integration: Should teachers simply fit technology into their current instruction, or use it as a way to make learning differentiated and more child-centered? How can teachers manage the practical aspects of using technology integration so that it’s a tool to enhance learning and not just a gimmick? Read on to see Lindsey’s ideas.
Shifting from linear to an exploratory mode of learning
With the evolution of technology comes the evolution of learning. Long gone are the days of the one-room school with students of all ages and abilities. Second graders are now doing PowerPoint presentations for class. There are computers in almost every school, and sometimes one for every student. In fact, as people’s lives continue to get busier and busier it even seems possible that one day attending an online school, rather than a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom, may become the norm. In the meantime, teachers still have very present students to manage and guide as they integrate technology into their classrooms. Education technology has the flexibility to accommodate a variety of learning styles and abilities, often through non-linear or decentralized approaches. However, with the learning benefits of technology comes a host of new challenges for managing the classroom. The greatest of these is allowing students enough leeway to take advantage of the freer, exploratory mode of learning technology encourages while keeping the class productively on-task.
PowerPoints: Beyond “sit and get”
One of the easiest way teachers can incorporate the use technology in the classroom is the use of PowerPoint or similar presentations to condense information in a very visually appealing way. Teachers can use these presentations as part of lesson plans and teach students to create their own using a combination of audio and video elements, including text, art and animations as projects. However, letting students work on PowerPoints by themselves tends to present two issues. First, it’s not enough to sit a student in front of the program and expect them to know what to do with it. Make sure students all start off with some basic instruction for how to use the presentation program, then let them explore. That leads to the second potential issue: relevance. It becomes easy for students to get off track adding superfluous effects, silly images, and unrelated sound bytes to PowerPoint projects, especially if they don’t feel the presentation medium fits the purpose. Exploration has to be balanced with actually learning, and so in overseeing students as they work on presentations, the main task is to ensure they have a good idea of why and how to use the presentation medium for the objective at hand.
Skype: Making meaningful connections
Using Skype is becoming another popular technology to educate students. Although still in the beta stages of development, “Skype in the Classroom” allows teachers and students to connect with one another to share ideas and collaborate on projects. Students also have the opportunity to interact with students around the world in many significant ways, such as “mystery Skype calls,” where one class give clues about their location to another class who must figure it out. Connecting with students in foreign countries is a great way to learn, firsthand, about other cultures. However, connecting with other classrooms via Skype can also devolve into a frivolous exercise without a good plan. At the same time, keeping these kinds of calls too scripted reduces their value as well. A simple solution is to have students take time before the call to think up their own questions or conversation topics. This once again strikes a balance between guidance and freedom that’ll best conduce to a worthwhile technology exercise.
Choosing tools that fit your goals
Other tools like interactive whiteboards and Prezi (a visual program that allows the teacher to zoom and rotate around objects to see both the big picture and small details, like a Web-based map) can augment teacher or student presentations, while recording podcasts or collaborating on a group or class wiki or blog, can add more interaction and variety of expression to student work. Again, though, if the technology doesn’t fit the bill, students are prone to wander with it. On the other hand, if the tool is a good match for the project, the best management strategy is to step back and let student play around. Trust them to stay on-task and use the technology constructively once the groundwork of understanding what it’s for has been laid.
Show, don’t tell
Confucius’ saying “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand” applies to the using technology in the classroom. Integrating technology benefits both the teacher and the student by keeping students engaged in the material through a less linear mode of learning, letting students do more than just see and hear.
This showing instead of telling is one of the biggest advantages offered by educational technology. Beyond using a variety of resources to supplement and add depth to a traditional curriculum, bringing technology into the classroom and allowing students to use it with a reasonable degree of independence puts the learning experience in the students’ hands. The often problematic ‘sage on the stage’ teaching model gives way to the teacher as the ‘guide on the side.’ In terms of running a classroom according to this decentralized ideal, trusting the students to take responsibility is the keynote.
For example, one good way teachers are using the ‘show instead of tell’ technology is with online videos. Rather than just incorporating videos into their own lectures, teachers can allow students time to browse videos on their own recognizance to seek information about a given topic. Whether they search out videos specifically intended to be educational (like lessons from the Khan Academy) or just look for interesting clips related to the topic, their exploratory drive will lead them to find a broader range of information and make unexpectedly fruitful connections. Most importantly, the information they find won’t just be something put in front of them, but something they sought out themselves and engaged with by their own choice. That simple difference can completely change the character of the learning experience. All teachers have to do is be there to help and offer guidance, and coordinate students’ explorations.
Empowering students to take charge of their learning
Technology is changing the way we teach, learn, create, and communicate. While there is still a place for the textbook and the centralized teaching strategy it represents, classroom technology integration can be used to complement these books not only gives students a broader understanding of the material, but encourages a wholly different approach to learning where students aren’t passive receptacles, but actively pursue their own education. For teachers, it can be a great challenge to let go and give students more independence and trust. However, creating an environment where students are self-motivated to learn should be not only a teacher’s goal, but a teacher’s greatest reward as well.