I may step on some toes with this one, but if what I’m about to say bothers you, just know that I’m speaking from a very specific point of view (that of an English teacher). I’m not opposed to the overall presence of technology in education; I just don’t want too much of it in my field. Though I’ve mentioned it in casual conversations at work, I haven’t “officially” shared my opinion in faculty meetings simply because I’m still a long-term sub, not a permanent addition. I’m not in a good position to rock the boat too much yet. When that time comes, I’ll be diplomatic, but until then, I’ll stick to just blogging my thoughts.
Like many private schools with limited funding, we grudgingly accept the fact that most of our technology is far from the cutting edge. We have two permanent computer labs, but we’ll probably lose one of those to more classroom space next year. We don’t have a “mobile lab” (more commonly known as a laptop cart), much less the “iPad for every student” trend we see happening at other schools. Our WiFi network isn’t 100% reliable, and we share an IT guy with the two other schools in our association (we get him on Mondays, except when he doesn’t show up).
But we aren’t in the dark ages, either. Every teacher has an assigned laptop which we can plug into projectors for movies, PowerPoint, etc. One classroom even has a SmartBoard. We have a “Bring You Own Device” policy, so students can look up information on their phones and tablets if the teacher permits it.
I do use the tech available to me. We listen to audio recordings of Hamlet through the classroom sound system, and watch the movie after each act. I put notes about the research paper up on PowerPoint, and we’ve watched a YouTube video from time to time. There’s other things I would do if I could. I would love a laptop cart for work-shopping essays in class. A document camera would be a nice (if somewhat frivolous) device to have, too.
But here’s the thing…
I don’t think the technology makes me a better teacher, and I don’t like using technology simply for technology’s sake, without proof that it enhances learning. I’ve taught with nothing but books, paper, and a marker board, and I did just fine. Because I’m an English teacher. I teach books — the written word communicated and digested in more than 140 characters at a time. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that technology hinders the study of English more than it enhances it.
I don’t want my students reading exclusively in Twitter posts and text messages. I don’t want them to ignore anything that isn’t written in a bullet point format. I want them to actually read long passages of text, paragraphs and pages at a time, forming the complex thought processes inherent to the mental work of reading. Unfortunately, I’m encountering more and more students who can’t do this, and I think technology is to blame.
Don’t get me wrong. My students can read. They know the phonetics, vocabulary, and basics of sentence structure, but the more the world hands them information in bite-size nuggets, the more they shy away from reading more substantial writing that requires mental effort. They don’t know how to take the knife and fork to piece of work and pick apart the text themselves. Sometimes it’s as simple as reading the instructions on a worksheet. If I write instructions in paragraph form, most students won’t read them! They’ll skip over the big block of text and just guess at what they’re supposed to do! However, if I write the instructions in bullet points, my students may actually read them. It’s a small (if common) example, but it’s representative of a much bigger problem. When it comes to reading and thinking, too many students just take the nuggets and ignore the steak, because that’s too much work. If I’m supposed to be preparing teens for life, I need to teach them to think without technology.
I doubt many of my teen readers fall completely into this category, since you actively participate in the blogging world. Clearly, you know how to read and write in paragraphs – but I’m guessing you know what I mean, anyway. I’m guessing you’ve seen this phenomenon in your classmates and friends, and even in yourself when the writing isn’t something you want to read on your own.
I would use a laptop cart for the sake of research papers. I would use a document camera to show specific book pages to my students. I would use them if I had them, but I don’t need them. Like I said, I’ve done this job with just a marker board and books, and that was enough for what I do.
So math and science people can have their technology. I see the value of it in those fields. Languages, history, arts, etc., I’m not opposed to technology in most aspects of education. But please don’t force the iPads into my classroom. I don’t need them, and my students already know how to use them. What they need from me (whether they like it or not) are books. They need face-to-face discussions about those books that force them to think and defend their ideas without hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. They need to learn how to learn from reading, both in academics and in maturity. They need to learn how to form an intelligent opinion about a written work without someone spelling it out in bullet points for them, support their opinion with textual evidence, and communicate that opinion articulately through their own writing.
There’s not an app for that kind of learning.