The other day after giving a demonstration on a program called Inspiration (Inspiration.com) to my staff I asked staff for their opinion on whether or not we should entertain purchasing it for use in our computer labs. I received the usual mixed bag of comments but one comment in particular grabbed my attention and kind of shook me. The comment centered on the opinion that computers are doing too much for us, in reference to using computers to setup writing. After getting over my initial shock I started to think of how to respond to this comment. I thought for several days on an appropriate response and eventually came to the conclusion that no comment was really necessary but I did think it would make an interesting post to my blog.
In thinking about the comment, the teacher had a valid point. All the stories on the news and research indicate kids are spending more and more time either in front of a computer or a gaming system. Now I know that for every study that says this is bad there is another study that says there is some benefit to this. Being a technology teacher I am biased when it comes to the use of technology but I am also aware of it's draw backs, hence my famous saying "The more I work with technology the more I like paper and pencil". This saying stems from my early days in technology education when technology was not as reliable as it is now (although I am aware that some may argue with me on that). I also agree that students need to learn how too effectively use paper and pencil to write and express themselves but I am also aware that in this day and age so much of what is done in the work place is not done using paper and pencil. So I ask you to consider what if we applied the same logic we use with technology today to past that of the technology of the past.
What if we said that students shouldn't use paper and pencil because it allowed them to work outside of the teacher's guidance/supervision? What if we said students shouldn't use books because it messed with their oral skills (retelling history as some cultures stress)? What if we said students were not allowed to take the bus to school because it took away from their physical development (not walking to local school house)? What if we took away teacher's email, my god how would we communicate (don't laugh it happens)? Some of you may think these questions absurd but take a moment to think about the impact of each of these questions on not only a student's education but the financial impact they would have on a district, state, etc. Makes you think a little doesn't it?
Now I am not advocating that we only teach students to use technology to do everything, what I am saying is that we need to start teaching them how to use technology as one of the many tools at their disposal. More and more teachers complain about how we must compete with video games and TV and computer games. Why should we compete with them when we can embrace them? One of the major standards set in place by ISTE is that students need to learn to become producers of technology not just consumers. I can tell you first hand that teachers as well as students are masters of consuming technology. Case in point I used to be great at using the computer to play games, listen to music, read blogs, surf the web. Although now I am starting to practice what I preach in creating this blog, using demo software to create videos of my tech lectures, I am becoming a low level producer. I am working on helping the students in my technology classes become producers as well in the projects I have them create. In doing this I am noticing a difference in their engagement and interest in the subject matter. Students naturally would come into my classes excited until they found out what the curriculum was (typing, basic office skills, etc.), they quickly got bored and constantly looked for ways to get out of work (playing games, surfing the webs, etc.). I used to fight this until I took a step back and looked at what some of them were doing or trying to do. Yes I had the gamers but for the most part I had students trying to access their email, chat rooms, blogs, interactive sites that allowed you to dress dolls, MySpace, etc. In grouping these sites I found that the majority of them were production oriented in nature, not that some would see that upon first glance. This opened my eyes to the power of having students be producers. I changed my curriculum to a project based system where students were producing PowerPoint decks on Repetitive strain injury, planning a vacation, participating in discussion groups, etc. and noticed a turnaround in attitude. When I told students they could either do their pre-write using a word web or by participating in an online discussion guess which one they chose and actually did. Now I will say that students still try and play games in class and I deter it as much as possible but there are times that I do let it go as students need a break just a we teachers need a break as well. However for the most part I have students engaged in what I am showing them and what they are learning. They are interested in how they can use this awesome new tool called excel to do their math homework for them. How can they use word to "do their proofreading and commenting for them" (track changes)?
What I am saying is that when you are faced with the dilemma of should I teach students how to use technology to do something that can be done also using paper and pencil I challenge you to not take the tools out of their hands. Ask yourself this question as well, When a student is out in the real world will they be asked to do things using paper and pencil or using a computer?