As modern day educators saturated in an ever-expanding world of technology we have had it firmly drummed into our agendas that our pedagogy and curricula need to incorporate technology in meaningful and effective and ways to meet the outcomes of our students. While we intellectually agree that this is a good and necessary practice, many of us in the teaching profession, the writer included, have mixed feelings about it all, and varying assessments of the results.
This article lists five common but critical challenges we face as teachers incorporating technology in our classrooms, and makes recommendations for how we might address these challenges. It is hoped that these perspectives will provide some helpful insights and strategies beyond the common rhetoric on this much discussed issue.
1. Feeling overwhelmed, inadequate and guilty
Just how big is the internet? We all sense that its size without knowing its size. I often feel that we are only scratching the surface, that we cannot fathom the true size of what’s out there – yet what we do know is that it’s growing with each passing day. This can be both exciting and overwhelming at the same time, leading us to fear that for every gem of a website or tech tool we stumble upon, there might be a hundred others that can do the job better and have more wiz bang features.
When you also factor into the equation that in the teaching profession we are time poor and have so many other things that compete for our attention, it can easily make us feel inadequate and guilty.
But this is a reality that is not going away. Instead of feeling stressed and depressed by the magnitude of the task, we instead need to embrace and celebrate the opportunity of having such a huge range of choice available. We need to give up trying to be superhuman and instead just work things out as we go, making the best use of these opportunities. We should be encouraged to experiment and refine our use of technology tools, to collaborate and share our experiences of different technology tools and try our best to keep abreast of development. Maintaining an optimistic outlook helps too. Would we really feel burdened if we were kids in the proverbial candy store with an unlimited choice of candy to choose from? Whatever we choose surely it’s all going to taste sweet.
We should be encouraged to experiment and refine our use of technology tools, to collaborate and share our experiences of different technology tools and try our best to keep abreast of development.
2. Moving Targets
Keeping a positive frame of mind is important when implementing technology. The reality is that whatever technology we adopt will be superseded within three years and outdated in five. The world is developing technologically at a rapid rate. The changes the world has encountered in the last decade exceed that of all of history beforehand. Computer science courses taught at university before the turn of the millennium are outdated now, and we would be foolish to think that this would be otherwise for our technology lessons ten years from now. This brings us to our next challenge which is the questions: “So, if that is the case, what’s the point in trying?”
3. Developing Clarity of Purpose and a Meaningful Rationale
“So what’s the point in trying?” The point is that we need to take the time to understand clearly why we are utilizing technology in our lessons in the first place. It’s not just about teaching the technology (because that will date very quickly). Rather we are using technology in a variety of ways. Firstly to facilitate engagement and learning in our subject areas, which hopefully won’t become outdated. More importantly we are shaping our students’ attitudes to technology and their ability to embrace change and remain adaptive in a world that’s developing at an unprecedented rate. Whether you call it tech savvy, tech IQ or tech literacy, we are aiming to encourage the development of that competency in the way we incorporate technology into our classroom practice because this is what will prepare our students for the ever-changing unknown future.
4. Shaping the Mindset: “Consumer versus Creator”
education has so much more to offer than merely allowing us to passively take in information
So much of our educational technology is directed at getting our students to consume educational content. This is not wrong, nor is this observation a criticism, but education has so much more to offer than merely allowing us to passively take in information, or simply using technology to gain skills and knowledge. Technology can be used in the classroom to create and synthesize, to facilitate activity, artistic development and design, where students are encouraged to create their own new technologies, as opposed to students simply using technology to consume.
We need to be clear about what technology skills are necessary for our students to develop for the future and what will provide the best preparation for life after school in the 21st century and beyond. Then it will be no surprise that it is in the area of technology innovation, creation and design, or using technology to create and innovate in some other field which is where all the opportunities will be, as opposed to just being a consumer tech junkie.
Our prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull has said (and I paraphrase here) that for Australia to remain competitive on the global stage, we need to ensure that every student in school be taught how to write computer code. It is this kind of visionary perspective that we need to adopt in our teaching philosophy in order to benefit our society and equip our next generation for the future.
5. The Day to Day Practice of Implementation
Our final and greatest challenge when incorporating technology into classroom practice by far, is the meaningful and effective implementation of it. All too often, technology is the enemy. At some schools, if we are ready to admit it, teachers are constantly on the battlefield against their students in the war against mobile phones in class, inappropriate use of laptops and tablets. There is abuse of social media in relation to privacy, safety, and cyber-bullying. There is also online gaming addiction and technology as a learning distraction is a heavy reality. There is no denying that our students run circles around their teachers in their familiarity and intuitive use of technology but often it is to their own detriment.
How do you ensure that when we do book a computer room or hand out the laptops or tablets that students will stick to the lesson plan? Implementation requires vigilance and relentless creativity. We as teachers, often only limit our use of technology to playing “educational” games, sharing resources, or research on the internet. We stick to the software and tech tools we are familiar with and rarely venture outside of them. Finding innovative ways to use technology or finding innovative technology that we can incorporate into our programs is a constant challenge. Collegial sharing has to be a key strategy to overcome this and while it may go against every instinct that teachers have to do things on our own, to effectively and meaningfully integrate technology in the classroom requires us to reach out to our colleagues and share.
A final thought.
The challenges are many, the solutions lie in our willingness to explore, experiment, collaborate, and clarify. There are no cookie-cutter or foolproof strategies; rather what will work is a mindset and willingness to think positively and proactively.