Which Doors Will You Open for Your Students?
Technology opens doors, both literally and figuratively, for people with and without disabilities. For example, it allows us to obtain advanced degrees from universities in other states. It opens a door for us when entering a building in a wheelchair or with a dolly loaded with boxes. It increases access to content in all parts of our daily lives. Just think of the times when you could not remember the name of that actor or that book; did you look it up using that handy little cell phone in your purse or pocket? When it comes to the classroom, technology is offering our students the same opportunities and is pushing us as their educators to engage our students with the curriculum in new ways. For example, technology is enabling students to learn about the importance and implications of financial loans through sites like Kiva.org that allow them to invest real money in global projects. Technology allows our students to improve access to reading and writing through speech to text or text to speech apps, software, and built-in features as well as through ePubs and digital textbooks. Technology brings content to life through captioned teacher and student made videos. It can even bring your recorded and captioned instructional message to your students when they are working with a substitute. Yet, with all of the possibilities and positives that accompany the use of technology in our daily lives, and especially in the classroom, some schools, parents, and educators are pushing back against the use of tech in the classroom. Is their hesitancy legitimate? For a while now, I have been reflecting upon this question and a few arguments and solutions have dawned on me that I’d like to share for your consideration whether or not you’re on or off the technology bandwagon.Firstly, screen time. After a recent conversation I had with a friend who has a student in Kindergarten, it dawned on me that screen time guidelines may have something to do with the hesitance some feel when it comes to embracing technology in the classroom. We all know that too much screen time is typically not a good thing and that there are pediatric guidelines for screen time and young children. Not to mention, we know that screen time is sometimes used as a free or low cost babysitter. But, it does not have to be this way.There is so much learning that can take place on a screen when we use technology as a tool (see next point) and when we take the time to interact with our screens together. I believe it’s when we remove the social aspect of screen time that the learning experiences we desire for our students and children are heavily diminished. We must intentionally design screen time so that we are supporting our students in their discovery of new information and the meaningful application of it to their lives. Screen time does not always equate to “me time,” it can and should be a social experience in both school and home. Secondly, it comes down to how and why the technology is being used. To be honest, there was a time in my classroom when I was gifted an iPad by my administration and told to use it with students. All I could come up with at the time was an app that allowed two students to face off in multiplication fact challenges. Probably not the best use of the tool or their time. Now, many classrooms have the opportunity to allow all students to use a device for an activity, for a day, or to keep for the year, and it is our duty as educators to use these devices as tools to create a learning experience that previously was not possible. We have the power to turn each device into a point of access for our students - access to content, access to accommodations, access to one another, and access to our world. We must step away from the thinking that the only ways these devices can be used is for digitalization of worksheets or for running learning management systems. Technology is the way of the future and there’s no getting around that. So, let’s utilize devices and tech to provide new experiences for our students that improves access to information while inciting curiosity and new perspectives. Below are a few websites to inspire your creativity.
Remember that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Many resources, strategies, and ideas are already out there for you to take and make your own. You don’t have to do this alone. Ask your colleagues what they are doing. Ask your personal learning networks on Twitter or Facebook. Visit DonorsChoose.org to see what other educators are doing and for what they are requesting funds and do the same. Reach out and ask our team how to make your tech work best for you and your students. You have the power to teach students how to make the most out of their tools and to use them for growth and advocacy. You have the opportunity to teach life skills like digital literacy and understanding fact from fiction. The time is now to support your students’ intentional use of technology to empower their lives and to prepare them for tech-based careers that we cannot yet comprehend.