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Asking the Right Questions about Classroom Tech

Written by Meenoo Rami
February 06, 2013

Originally posted as guest blog for Education Week on January 23, 2013:

What role does technology play in your classroom? What questions do you ask yourself before you choose to use a particular web-based tool or application for instruction? What is your students’ impression of your perspective on technology?

These questions are worth considering when we talk about encouraging teachers to incorporate technology in the classroom.

I often turn to my principal Chris Lehmann‘s words on technology to guide my use of it in the class. In his keynote addresses, he often says that technology should be like oxygen, “ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible.” In other words, technology should get out of the way, while thoughtful pedagogical choices should guide classroom practice.

In the end, effective use of classroom technology is about more than technology; it’s about about people and how they use it. A laptop can be a tool to create a multimedia book report using Minecraft (as one of my students recently did), or it can be used for drill-and-kill test prep sessions. A tool is just that; it is the user who directs the potential in a particular direction.

So, what difference does thoughtful use of technology make in the lives of students?

The most transformative quality of technology is that it gives the power and agency to the students to tell their own stories. Instead of merely consuming content created by others on the internet, intentional use of technology in the classroom can give voice to the ideas that our students possess.

For example, take a look at this project by My, a sophomore at the Science Leadership Academy. In this digital story, she shares her journey towards finding her voice and confidence to speak in class. It is a beautiful testament to her growth as a student and a person. It also shows how her teacher, Mr. Kay, has used technology to give his students a chance to tell their own stories.

“You have nothing to hide from” from Trina Truong on Vimeo.

But how do you get to that point? Educators who are looking to incorporate technology should consider the following ideas:

Network with other educators. This weekend, Science Leadership Academy will welcome more than 500 educators from around the country to take part in EduCon. One the axioms of this conference is that technology serves pedagogy, not the other way around. I am looking forward to discussing and debating innovative ways teachers are incorporating technology in their classrooms. We need to collaborate so we can support one another. Teaching is hard enough, we don’t need to do it alone.

Be a learner first. Before you ask your students to create podcasts, create one yourself. You don’t have to be expert in the room but you do have to be willing to show that you’re learning along side your students. If you show hesitation and fear, your students will also become reluctant to go with you along on the work.

Accept that good learning is messy. Any meaningful work I’ve done with my students has never really followed the simple 7-step lesson plan. The work has always been circuitous, even messy at times. Often times, I have asked myself if this was a good idea in the first place. Show your students that you’re willing to take intellectual risks in your classroom as well.

What would you share with teachers who are trying to figure out meaningful ways to incorporate technology in their classroom?

I look forward to reading your ideas.