True integration of technology requires that it be baked into student learning rather than just sprinkled on top. This requires an investment in time, money, and teacher attention to challenge existing modes of classroom instruction. As Pak Tee Ng expressed in his Global Search for Education interview from October 28, 2013, the real challenge is to use technology in “a student-centered manner to enhance student learning or even to bring about learning that was not possible in the past without technology.” The alternative is to treat technology as an afterthought or a distraction.
This is a hefty challenge, and it has been my experience that most failures of technology integration occur at the system level. School districts and schools often neglect to provide enough time or training for teachers, avoid offering a vision for technology use, and fail to develop curriculum that is inclusive of technology skills and concepts.
Nonetheless, there are five errors that teachers make in this effort that are also worthy of examination:
- Not preparing for the worst
Any regular user of classroom technology knows that it is only a matter of time before some network or hardware issue completely sidelines a tech-infused lesson plan. It is essential that teachers have an offline and/or non-digital backup plan ready in case this happens – not only to insure that a period or day is not wasted – but also to provide some psychological comfort to teachers and students that it is not the end of the world. These technology fails do happen, but successful technology integrators are prepared.
- Holding on too tight
Sometimes our best technology educators are our students. An individual student may have expertise and passion for a particular technology. This is an opportunity to empower this student with the flexibility to show off what he/she knows. However, it requires that a teacher accept that for that part of class, in relation to that particular tool, the student will lead.
- Ignoring the authentic possibilities
One of the best things about technology is that allows teachers to increase student engagement and enthusiasm by sharing work online – to parents and the broader community. This has to begin with appropriate parental permission, but the payoff can be amazing! So many students will be thrilled when their video is on Youtube, when their letter is Tweeted out to the world, or when their creation is on the Internet and ready to share with friends and family. Parents also crave this type of classroom sharing!
- Focusing on products and tools instead of learning
A classroom technology goal should not be to create a PowerPoint, a Prezi, or even a presentation in general. It should be a learning goal with some broad guidelines for successful demonstration of learning. When students are not prescribed a tool or a requirement, they have the potential to blow you away with their creativity.
- Neglecting students as creators
It is a shame that nationwide effort at large-scale online testing have redirected many technology efforts – from integration to test prep. Whenever possible, teachers should resist the urge to use time dedicated to technology for drill and kill. By focusing on students as creators of knowledge, teachers are also passing on lifelong skills related to creativity, digital citizenship, and democratic action.