Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Keeping Technology Out of the Right Hands

After reading the following article, 'Think before you ban' (eSchool News 1/21/2008) I find that it struck a chord with me. As a technology teacher it is my job to teach kids how to use technology more efficiently and effectively. It is also my job to help students learn how to evaluate technology. I find it interesting that often times when new technologies come out such as web 2.0 tools the first instinct of many districts is to either ban them or proceed extremely slowly in their adoption. Oftentimes banning these technologies is out of necessity because to not ban these technologies would cost us federal money (EX. Pornography, bomb making sites, etc.). The banning of these makes sense as there is little to no educational value in the viewing of these sites (although I know some would argue this last point). However, I find in my readings and from personal experience that there are times when we ban technologies/websites because we're scared of how they may be used at school by students (MySpace, blogs, podcasts). It is easy to say that we are blocking these technologies to keep kids safe or because we don't want students to become distracted by the content provided on these sites, to me this is an easy cop out. I say this because today students are able to find distraction on a computer, cell phone, MP3 player, textbook, or paper and pencil just as easily as if they had access to the blocked technologies. A great case in point is my use of student discussion boards in my introductory and intermediate technology classes.

I work with my students on how to use discussion boards to ask questions and have a meaningful discussion on specific topics. For awhile students stick to the topic of the discussion but after a while, and usually due to lack of monitoring, these discussion boards quickly become chat rooms. Now at first glance I was scared that work was not getting done but standing back and taking a look I found something interesting happening with these crude chat rooms, work was getting done. Now I will fully admit that the work that students were taking on wasn't work for my class but was work that needed to be done. For example our local parent group had surveyed students about how they would like to see a rather large sum of money spent. This survey was done the traditional way by asking students in their homeroom classes for their thoughts and opinions. I am not sure how those discussions went but I can tell you what students thought about being asked and what some of their suggestions were based on a discussion thread that was created on one of my discussion boards. The students in my class took it upon themselves to create and maintain their own discussion thread on a topic that was of importance to them. I could not have been more proud than I was at that moment; this was one of those rare and elusive "aha" light bulb moments in education that reminds me why we do this job. Now I will say there were several other topics ranging from opinions of our Dean of Students, the lack of snow, and comments about the local college rivalry game that weekend. There were inappropriate comments made on a variety of topics and there was the expected inane babble that comes from these creatures we call middle schoolers. There was even distraction from daily lessons and activities but all of these were easily managed with a simple discussion and loss of privileges (the dreaded read only feature of the discussion board). Although because of this aha moment I am encouraged to continue using this technology as a way of hooking in the students and meeting them on their playing field.

I encourage you to build on this aha moment and look at some of these web 2.0 technologies and some of the many articles, blogs, etc. that discuss their use and try and find ways to use them in your classroom. Unblock them for student use and see what they choose to do with it. At the many conferences I have attended over the years and the several articles I have read on educational technology I have heard one constant battle cry and that is we need to start focusing on helping students become creators of technology and not consumers of it. This is what web 2.0 technologies are all about, making it easier for all of us to become creators of technology. Some of the ideas I am toying with having students do are:

  • Using demo video software to create tutorials
  • Having students utilize online textbooks as instructional materials
  • Using gaming/simulation software as a form of classroom based assessment
  • Helping students become more familiar with using our district portal as an instructional tool

I hope to be able to expand this list to having students create and maintain their own school blogs, wiki's, and maybe even have them create and maintain a school podcast. I hope to take on some of these projects/ideas with the deployment of the new version of our portal, and am looking forward to engaging students in the use of technology as a production tool of the future.

As always any feedback or further ideas on how to reach the elusive being that is the middle schooler is greatly appreciated.

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