Technology for the Sake of Technology: Consider the Why and the How

For many reasons, technology is very tempting to embed into classrooms without a lot of thought behind our intentions. Its newness piques students’ interests, it connects learners with the wider world, and it can provide a seemingly limitless number of resources for communication, information and entertainment.

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But does it lead to learning? It depends not on what a teacher is using, but how it is used and why it might be needed. In my recently published book, I highlighted the conditions John Hattie found in his research about effective use of technology in schools, from his seminal resource Visible Learning: Maximizing Impact on Learning (Routledge, 2009, p. 221-227):

  • When there is a diversity of teaching strategies
  • When there is teacher training in the use of computers as a teaching and learning tool
  • When there are multiple opportunities for learning (e.g. deliberative practice, increasing time on task)
  • When the student, not the teacher, is in “control” of learning
  • When peer learning is optimized
  • When feedback is optimized

Beyond these situations, I also suggest that teachers make the purpose for implementing new technology into classrooms to revolve around some type of real world project or to address a community problem. For example, one of our teachers wants to replace her desktop computers with Chromebooks. 

Here were two ideas we discussed for this integration:

  1. Create an official Howe Elementary School welcoming website via Google Sites for new students and their families, where maps of the school, informational videos, and important information would be posted and kept current.
  2. Train the students to teach residents at an assisted living center how to use Google Apps for a variety of reasons, such as communicating via Gmail and Hangouts with family members who don’t visit them often enough. 

As I think about these possibilities, I feel a sense of enthusiasm for what could happen in this classroom with access to mobile technology. But just bringing in Chromebooks: Not the same. It is so easy to state “I need technology in the classroom” without thinking about the why and how. The shiny new pencil tends to lose its luster when its potential is not realized. We can do better.

Author: Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District, also in Wisconsin (http://mineralpointschools.org/). He also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Matt tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).

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