Saturday, March 31, 2007

I am currently covering another teacher’s class while my students take the English II State Writing Test (for obvious reasons, it is illegal for me to be in the room while my students are taking any state test in my subject). The classroom in which I currently sit is less of a classroom and more of a computer lab. The teacher sits at a computer at the head of the class while students work on individualized programs meant to improve their English language skills (the program is called “Orchard,” for those of you familiar). From what I can see, the students are mostly searching for the main idea, answering some reading comprehension questions, and completing grammar various grammar activities.

But for the occasional pen-tapping, cough, or sneeze, the room is silent. As you, dear reader, have probably already realized, the setup of the classroom gives me (or any teacher) the ability to dutifully ignore the students as they complete their assignments. Or don’t complete them – I just went around the classroom and awakened three different students for the third time, one of whom retorted with, “But Miss O. lets me sleep in this class!”

I truly cannot judge how much learning is taking place in this room, as I type these words. My honest guess is that about 40% of the class is getting something out of their exercises, 20% is completing the exercises and not learning much, and the last 40% is daydreaming or attempting to sleep.

Which brings me to my point: technology in the classroom is a farce. Despite this, it continues to be a buzzword in education, one of those perennial topics that will certainly appear on the docket during conferences and seminars, one that will always be a part of the curriculum of graduate schools of education. It remains so potent because it is a panacea that satisfies the needs of three major groups:

  1. Teachers. Teachers in technology-based classrooms commonly used the machines to replace themselves, something that sounds disheartening but in actuality is nice for the teacher who does not want to do any actual teaching. As most of us realize, this is, sadly, a very populous group.
  2. Administrators. Principals and assistant principals feel they are accomplishing something by getting an expensive piece of technology into the classroom. It is an addition that can be pointed to as a concrete example of “improvement”: “Look! We now have an expensive thingamajig!”
  3. Politicians: Much like principals and other administrators, many politicians seem to think they can satisfy numerous educational problems by bankrolling a sexy piece of technology.
My main issue with all of this is not that we have technology in the classroom; on the contrary, I think it is wonderful to have access to a variety of tech-based tools. However, I commonly fear that technology in itself is becoming a coverall that allows individual teachers to cut corners and not fully donate themselves to ensuring their students fully learn each topic at hand. Technology should never replace the old-fashioned model of teaching: lectures, note-taking, reading, studying, and assessing.


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