Saturday, January 23, 2010

Technology and Engagement

This week had an unfortunate hiatus for my readers here at Teaching on Mars, but for yours truly, the reasons for the hiatus are well worth it for me. My mind is swimming with all sorts of things in all sorts of directions, but with some semblance of normalcy beginning to resume for me, a quick blog post is in order.

My last post brought up my favourite educational technology blog Aaron Eyler's Synthesizing Education, and over the course of a good discussion on the role of rote memorization, I think I found that my opposition to what I saw as his thesis was more of debating over fine lines than major issues as well as the fact that I teach a group of students that is far from the norm. One of his posts this week was on the role of technology in student engagement, and I concur with his thesis 100%. To me, the crucial quote was as follows: 

In no way do I advocate that we start arbitrarily shoving computers into classrooms without proper training and discussion, but I do find fault with the teachers who go all year without utilizing technology for multiple assignments. What we truly need to do is accelerate the discussion and provide professional development and training to these teachers, mandate usage in Professional Development Plans, and encourage them to take risks when being observed.
Looking at how teachers in general use technology, it feels like in most cases computers are arbitrarily shoved computers into classrooms without proper training and discussion, though not through the fault of technology facilitators. Then when there are observations made, teachers are assessed whether they use technology or not, without any sort of notation of the individual teacher's level of technology aptitude.

Eyler makes a great point that the tidal wave of technology that is coming into the classroom needs dedicated professional development to close the utilization gap that teachers have with technology. I know I'm nowhere near the norm in terms of teachers with technological know-how, but even among the "techie" teachers and average teachers, there's still a huge gap. There needs to be dedicated, and let me be honest, mandatory professional development to bridge this gap with some semblance of assessment of teachers to make sure it's sticking. I of course know that this is asking for nothing but bureaucratic trouble, but perhaps there's a way to keep the paperwork to a minimum.

The other thing he notes is to encourage teachers to take risks with technology when being observed. Our observation sheets only note if we're using technology, and the technology threshold is ridiculously low, in that overhead projectors are considered technology. So, when it's time to be observed, I could either make a fancy virtual flipchart on my Promethean board that includes the student using the ActivVote handhelds, and this is considered just as much of a use of technology as a teacher using markers on an overhead. It makes no sense and is frankly unfair to me in that I put so much work into integrating technology. I have no impetus to take risks when being observed, so why should I? Of course, I should for the students, but it's a weird feeling to see my observation sheet with just technology used checked when I used it to engage my students when I could have used technology in a passive fashion and gotten the same comment. Like most things, it isn't fair, but perhaps it's something we should look at.

Until later.

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