Technology Integration: How and When
One of the underlying factors with technology in education is its integration within the curriculum. Technology should not be an after thought. It should not be difficult to integrate. It should allow for a variety of learning styles and levels of difficulty. It should mold itself to a variety of teaching styles. It must fit the needs of differentiation. It should be a responsive element with intervention strategies. Administrators should support a variety of technologies and integration levels. Teachers need to be open to a variety of learning tools that focus on student learning styles and needs.
This sounds like technology has a lot to prove. It does. It has big shoes to fill. As a species we have spent millennia learning with only the simplest of tools at our disposal, and the most sophisticated compact, portable anytime, anywhere, information storage gathering, retrieval, processing analytical device ever created. The human brain. Here comes technology with promises of a better way to learn.
Technology has grown very quickly. We have scarcely had the opportunity to master one tool when a variation of the same tool emerges to challenge us even further. With each variation, the tools become easier to use and more complex to learn. A word processor is much easier to use than it was twenty years ago. The variety of tools available in the most common word processors require books with hundreds of pages and illustrations to learn. It resembles a game of chess or Gomoku. The rules are easy enough to follow, but it takes years to master.
This is one of the challenges which currently faces those of us in education. Where does technology fit within the daily classroom instruction? The ubiquitous integration of education and technology is not far off now, but we can’t look that far ahead. We need to look at what we can do now with the technology at hand, and the technology yet to appear. The ubiquitous nature of technology tomorrow takes its clues from what we learn today about how we integrate technology.
One proposal has been to write countless lesson plans which detail the integration of technology. Most of these lessons promote the use of one tool over another. Some lesson plans do a little better by promoting a variety of tools for students to use. Most of these lesson plans; however, see technology as an end product. Many more lesson plans fair even worse. They outline the integration of technology where the teacher is the master of the tool and the students distant spectators with small opportunities to interact with technology. Technology integration is a slide show, the use of clickers, a slate briefly handed to a student for a response, and hundreds of white boards where students have a brief opportunity to interact with a device. The teacher is still the sage on the stage and the proprietor of technology.
I’ve had this discussion with colleagues. Teachers need to know how technology works before they can integrate it within daily lessons. I’ve argued that the teacher does not need to be the expert but should know what is to be expected. The same concepts students are expected to learn using paper and pencil are the same they should learn using modern technology. They in turn tell me that it is easy for me because I know both well. This got me thinking about our expectations of teachers. Does a teacher need to have several courses dealing with technology in addition to knowing the core contents while getting their teaching degree? I’m afraid that the answer is yes.
Teachers need to know how technology works so they can assess if the student understands the concepts. These concepts go beyond the core and extend into technology. Teachers need to know different file formats, operating systems, design principles, color theory, principles of typography, and a host of other skills. These are the skills that operate just below the surface of everyday technology. These are the skills students need to know in addition to the cores of math, science, reading and writing.
How does a teacher learn all these concepts well enough to teach them? It is no easy task. I’ve worked with computers in one form or another for the last thirty years. I’m still learning. Technology can be daunting and a little frightening when you don’t understand the concepts completely. My job deals with learning technology everyday. At times it is difficult and takes a great deal of time to learn and more time to master. Teachers don’t have this time. Where and when will they learn these important skills? Without these skills teachers will forever be behind the times with regards to technology integration. There are many teachers that integrate technology, but those are few, and fewer still go beyond the surface level of technology. Technology is getting easier to use at the surface level but most of the important concepts will always lye just beneath.
It seems that technology is a specific skill set on its own. I remember going to take typing classes on a type writer. I learned to insert paper, align margins, set tabs, and make sure the keys did not stick. This typing class was separate from what I learned in the classroom, but it was essential and integral to all things I would later come to do. Including writing this blog. Is technology a separate skill set? Is it much like typing classes where students go to learn the skills that one day will be essential, and integral to all the work they do? Computer labs are disappearing. Should they be replaced with a computer essentials class? Will they learn essentials like word processing, spreadsheets, databases, presentation skills, video editing basics and audio mixing. When will they begin to learn these skills? Right from the beginning of course. Maybe not video editing or databases for first graders, but definitely word processing and presentation skills.
We have the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Technology. These outline the skills students should know within set grade levels. These outline what needs to be learned, and by when it needs to be learned. All we need now is someone to teach them these skills. Teachers are overburdened with testing, testing and more testing. What is probably needed is a teacher that understands a broad range of technology tools and how these tools can be used within the different core content areas.
In our district we are close to achieving this goal. Each campus has what we call a Campus Technologist. This Campus Technologist wears many hats at this point, but what is needed is a cementing of duties and responsibilities of these individuals. Campus Technologist duties range from setting up hardware, installing software, troubleshooting, teaching and administrating computer based tests. With all these hats it is difficult for the Campus Technologist to teach the software basics needed by students at each grade level. Campus Technologists need time to learn all the technology, and they need the monitary resources to purchase the necessary hardware and software to teach the concepts within the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Technology. Campuses need a mini technology department. This department would be divided into support and teaching. The teaching component is important because it underscores everything I just wrote. The department could be as small as two people and as large as a campus has monies to fund.
Is a separate skills based course required for students? I’m not sure this is the answer in the long term but it might be the first step on our journey. The death of the type writer and typing classes have disappeared from high schools, but has the need to learn keyboarding disappeared with them? Maybe it is a skill set that is still as relevant as writing and reading. To keyboard you must do both.