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Aug 04 2015

What struggling with technology taught me about my students


When I began teaching full time and pursuing a masters degree simultaneously, I was under the impression that I would struggle most with the work load. I was shocked to learn that, while balancing the work would definitely be challenging, I would struggle more with managing technology:

Let me start by briefly discussing my history with technology. At 24, I am a product of my generation in that my phone is rarely far from me. I frequent social media and I definitely use the internet multiple times a day. I have no sense of direction and so, whenever I drive, I'm using a GPS app on my phone. In that sense, I am hugely dependent on the technology around me. You would probably think that I’d be quite good at using it, but I'm just not.

Let's put this into a different context – Microsoft Word. I’ve used it thousands of times. I can change fonts and line-spacing, insert headers, footers and page numbers, and beyond that, I am at a loss. Any time I’ve had the misfortune of doing research papers that require works cited pages, (which hasn’t been often since I majored in creative writing) I’ve spent more time than I care to admit attempting to format that last page. Each time, I decided that Microsoft Word had its own agenda and simply gave up.

Ok, so what does any of this have to do with my first year teaching?

When I was on my way out of college, I was vaguely aware of the emerging trajectory of education. Ironically enough, I worked at the equipment desk in the library, which housed all types of technological equipment for loan. At the start of my last year, Bucknell was moving into the digital classroom era. The library invested a ton of money in purchasing equipment for what they called the “Flip the Classroom Initiative”. I knew that professors were being trained in how to use the equipment so that they could introduce it to their classrooms but none of that ever showed up in my classrooms.

Fast forward to just a year later when I’m pulling my hair out as I try to navigate Google Classrooms, Blackboard, Wikispaces, Goodreads, etc., just to do my homework for EVERY SINGLE CLASS.

Here’s the thing: everyone throws out the word user-friendly. All of these sites are supposed to be user-friendly, so how does that impact me as a learner?

Truthfully, it made me feel unintelligent.

I’m not someone who ever really struggled in school and when I did, it was only because of my own procrastination. Ok, that’s a lie. It’s been so many years since I’ve taken a math class that I tend to forget how much of a travesty any and all math classes were for me. However, how many times have you heard: some people are just better at one subject than another? That’s how I looked at math. It never offended me that I was bad at math. Instead, I thought it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Technology is a different ball game. There is this assumption that because I exist in the age of technology, I should know how to use it well. Maybe that assumption is only on my part, but hey, perception is strong enough to do damage. Never in my life have I felt so incredibly unmotivated to learn. It’s disheartening when I know I have work to do and literally search for distractions just to delay the inevitable experience of searching on one site or another and struggling.

Recently, one class assignment required me to create my own movie trailer for a book I had read. I panicked. PANICKED. I put it off until I couldn’t any longer and once I started, I felt such an immense frustration that I could hardly focus. I couldn’t even figure out how to arrange my clips in imovie. I spent two hours trying to work imovie and probably only 20 minutes deciding what I actually wanted in my trailer.

To be fair, I did make the trailer. I did ultimately discover that imovie is “user friendly”, but the frustration surrounding that experience did not make me feel wonderfully accomplished. It made me feel drained. My trailer was crap. I spent so much time trying to learn how to make it that I didn’t care to put any extra effort into the actual content of the trailer.

Now, don’t think that this is just some angry, anti-technology, anti-digital classroom experience rant; it’s not. The purpose of this blog entry is to share my struggles with technology in the classroom as an adult learner and what I am learning about my students as a result of it.

I’m confident that if I ever again have to make a trailer, it will be a much more pleasant experience because I’ve already done the hard work. I’m also confident that I’ll dread the experience anyway just because it was so negative the first time around.

Realizing this made me consider my students. Many of my 11th grade ELA students read at 6th and 7th grade reading levels. Many of them have encountered failure after failure in my classroom and many other ELA classrooms long before they ever met me. Yet, I ask them every day to do the very thing that has made and continues to make them feel defeated expecting them to consider the essentialness of it. I haven’t been as sympathetic to my struggling readers and writers as I should be and it took me becoming the struggling student to recognize that.

So, I struggle with technology. I’m more comfortable not relying on web-based resources for education, but I know that opting out because of my discomfort is not in the best interest of my students. They are tech-savvy. Their eyes light up at the sight of a laptop even if just to type. I want to learn as much as possible about technology in the classroom even if it’s a grueling experience because my students would love it and would learn so much more from it. Also because my students would make some awesome freaking movie trailers of their own, I’m sure! Most importantly though, I want to be more conscientious of my struggling students and support them as much as I can because now I know what it feels like to reject learning when it causes so much stress.

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