Plugged in! Technology used the right way

Recently, I heard about a  study on National Public Radio  about how 4-year-olds had a harder time focusing on a single task after watching the fast-paced television show, “SpongeBob SquarePants.”  Though this study was criticized for how the results were found, it made me think about the uphill battle schools are facing to try to hold students’ attentions because they are used to the fast-paced input of television and technology.

We live in an age where input is constantly charging at all of our senses in a persistent way that is unparallel with times past.  With technology, doors to information and access are flying open for students.  The challenge is how do we, as teachers, channel this information in a manageable and engaging way in our classrooms?  What is engaging to our 21st century learners?  Lectures seem to hold attention for a split-second, and information recall is even worse…group discussions are a bit better, but when our student population is used to simultaneously texting, online chatting, surfing the web, instant messaging, talking on the phone, and tweeting- teachers have at least six strikes against them when they hold a textbook up in front of 32 students.

So what is the solution?  The old adage of, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” rings true as I try to muster up some resolutions to this scenario.  In my opinion, my school has always kept its head above water in the technology race, but it seems this year especially we have gained ground in the traditional instruction vs. technology battle because we have realized it is not an “either/ or” issue.  Both types of instruction are needed in order to provide a well-rounded education.  Google docs are common place now, among both teachers and students. Smart boards create interactive and engaging lessons when they are used in a meaningful and real way…but we still need that real face-to-face interaction provided in the classroom.

This may seem like a moot point, but as I came across a startling article in NEA Today outlining a ballot measure in Idaho that seeks to increase online courses and laptop access in exchange for teachers’ jobs. This is a distinction worth addressing. Technology tools are revolutionizing education but can never completely replace the experience in the classroom; therefore policies should be developed with the goal of supporting blended learning and toward the end of a more effective education…not as a budget fix.

We must use these tools that appeal to our students in order to fill in gaps in our “old school” instruction, rather than just using technology for technology’s sake.  For example, at my school, students blog responses and comments back to one another as part of peer learning.  This allows feedback that promotes both technology and content learning.

My friends lovingly refer to my hand-written planner as my “iWrite.” Though I have yet to switch over to an electronic calendar, even I can appreciate the value and the necessity of meeting the 21st century learner where he or she is in terms of technology.  And if I can champion for technology, then anyone can.  If we want to create competent students that are competitive with the global market place, we need to teach our students that technology not only can enhance one’s social network, it can access information that could not be found elsewhere.  With this idea, education can work on developing attention spans, while also preparing students for a networked world.  This is accomplished when technology is paired with engaging, real-life instruction that is created by a teacher’s craft.