Technology in education is transformational. Revolutionary.
Today’s technology in our pockets can do what cost us thousands of dollars in equipment in the past.
It can connects us to people and places and events virtually anywhere in the world.
But it’s not the be-all, end-all in education. It’s not the silver bullet.
And there are times when we shouldn’t use it at all.
That’s right. In my own classroom, there are times when we set all technology aside. I’m a huge advocate for the power of technology in the classroom, but I go unplugged in class on a regular basis.
There are solid reasons we should ditch our edtech. But I’m not going to go the “frustrated teacher” route. To me, spotty WiFi and “too many websites/apps/tools for me to keep up with” aren’t enough to swear off using technology (although they are legitimate frustrations).
No, today I want to focus on student-centered reasons for ditching our edtech. I want to make changes that will increase engagement and create quality learning experiences. I want my students to be better students — no, better people, better citizens, better members of the workforce — because of the changes I make.
If I’m going to ditch the tech in class, my students had better benefit from it … not me.
In my opinion, you should ditch your edtech in class …
1. If there’s a more efficient way. I always thought this was a no-brainer. In the past, I’ve tried to force technology into places where it just doesn’t help. Example: taking quick opinion polls with a tool like Socrative or TodaysMeet when it’s just easier to do a show of hands in class. (For the record, I still find myself forcing technology in my classes today. When I find myself doing that, I have to do some more forcing — force myself to quit it!)
If using paper to do an activity in class is more efficient, then just use the paper. (Although you might think of improvements in “virtual paper” that might make it worth the slight delay of going digital, like access anywhere, sharing widely or the ability to search.)
Efficiency isn’t enough reason to do anything in education, in my opinion. We can’t rework our schools simply to make our work faster and simpler. It can be a great contributing factor, though.
2. If your students are burned out on tech. I’ve gotten here before (and still do … did you read about my student who wanted to be “creative, just not computer creative” recently?)
It happens for a variety of reasons. We get enamored with certain tech tools. We get in a rut and rely on the same old thing. We see others using a new app or site and we want to work it into our own classes, forgoing the “technology supports sound pedagogy, not the other way around” principle.
As teachers, we have to prepare our students for the future. But throwing technology at them to make them “future ready” just isn’t the answer.
We have to keep our finger on the pulse of our students’ interest and curiosity. Like anything else, if something we do isn’t working, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and rework it.
3. If you want to mix things up. I use TodaysMeet in my class to let my students answer quick questions individually. I like that their answers are all on the screen at once and that I can scroll back and revisit their answers later.
Sometimes, though, I like to mix things up. I have a set of small dry erase boards, and we’ll answer those quick questions with them from time to time. The kids love using them — choosing a favorite color of marker, adding little illustrations to their answers (if time permits), making it as neat or sloppy as they want (as long as I can read it).
A little change can always do students — and you! — some good.
4. If you’re going for a certain sensory experience. Technology is great at a lot of things, but duplicating the experience of feeling something in real life just isn’t one of them.
In a comment on my “creative, just not computer creative” post, Joan Brown summed this up wonderfully. She said:
We have so many students picking up crochet, woodworking, sculpture, sewing and more because they are tactile. As humans, we want to experience creativity in all our senses. There is nothing like the smell of paper mache or sawdust. There is nothing like the feel of well sanded wood or a soft yarn. Kids are more than ever drawn to these arts because of the senses. Computers only give us visual and sound, nothing more.
Matt Miller — not the textbook ditcher, but the excellent social studies teacher — wrote a great blog post called “Low Tech Learning” where he said, “There is still a need to accomplish things with your hands.” Exactly.
5. If you want to connect with your students. Technology gives us instant access to people all over the globe via email, instant messages and the like. What it can’t do is look a kid in the eye, pat him/her on the back and tell him/her that everything is going to be all right.
The management of face-to-face relationships is a somewhat dying art. Text messages, social media and the like communicate quickly, but there’s a lot that’s lost in them from real interpersonal communication.
Teachers sometimes worry that they’ll be replaced by online classes and technology. I really doubt that. As long as we’re providing that human touch and meaningful educational experiences, I think teachers will always have a role to fill. Technology won’t replace good teachers, but it might replace bad teaching.
6. If you’re doing something where tech isn’t relevant. I teach high school Spanish, and I’ve found tons of places where technology impacts my teaching. Spoken, conversational Spanish is not one of them.
I’ve found ways to record students speaking Spanish (Google Voice is my old standby, but I’m really liking AudioBoom for that right now). But that’s just not the same as speaking face-to-face with another human being.
My students try to fall back on Google Translate to help fill the gaps in words they just don’t know yet. There’s some benefit to that (although I’ve found that Word Reference is much better for getting the right word in the right context).
If they find themselves face-to-face with another real person, Google Translating isn’t going to get them far. There are apps that will talk for you, translating your spoken English to another language. But those tools won’t develop trust like speaking another person’s language. Interacting with someone’s smart phone won’t help create a relationship.
The relationship and trust come with real communication. Real communication comes from real, face-to-face, voice-to-voice practice. My students can’t get that with artificial interaction with a computer.
What are other reasons for ditching your edtech? Do you agree with any of the reasons on the list? Disagree?
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Sometimes there’s nothing like holding a novel published 50 years ago in your hands. Sometimes your students will want to draw on paper. And sometimes you read Teach Like a Pirate and realize the kinesthetic hook means your students should BE the opinion meter instead of using Today’s Meet or Answer Garden. And finally, when I do Super Happy Fun Circle Time Fridays (calling an activity fun, even when you make them write all hour, makes kids believe it is fun, and letting them move their desks into a circle once a week makes them happy.) with my sophomores in English 2, and they start with their own paper and story but end up with someone else’s story “to end,” a paper or notebook is much easier to pass to the left or right, once every minute than say, a Chrombook would be.
I teach 8th grade Sience and my students LOVE doing labs! They love mixing things together to see what will happen. They love setting things on fire! And they absolutely go crazy with excitement if I plan a lab involving food!
As much as I am fascinated with technology I still value human involvement and relationships. A computer has no “tone” in its voice or a pat on the shoulder. Teenagers are desperate for attention and edification which is not available from a computer. So for me, just as pencil and paper are tools of the trade, I see computers as tools of the trade, not the the replacement.
I agree with all the reasons to ditch edtech. Using technology may be more efficient for teachers, but not necessarily more effective. Yes, technology is a must for our students future, but not necessary to use for every lesson. Our students interests and curiosity plays an important role in their learning. As Miller says, “Good teaching trumps good tools.” I totally agree that a lesson can be just as effective and efficient with paper and pencil. Technology should be used to enhance a lesson when possible, but don’t force it if it’s not relevant. A balance between the two would probably work well.
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I especially appreciated the section on face to face usage.
I am afraid as a society we are losing that ability to sit and look at a person and discuss the world. Using too much technology does not create human relationships.
I agree with that to a point, Karen. Text communication (social media, text messaging, etc.) can leave a lot to be lost in translation (i.e. tone, inflection, meaning, etc.) Plus, when we rely on those means of communication in place of a real, face-to-face conversation, I think we’re missing out on what it really means to be human.
However, that said, using technology can also give us opportunities to communicate when we wouldn’t be able to otherwise (i.e. video chats with distant family/friends, texting with someone in an important situation when a call wouldn’t do, etc.). As in everything else in life, I think the right balance is key.
Great post Matt. Last year I went from a school with very limited tech access, to basically 1-1. I was so excited to have the opportunity to integrate tech so easily, I found myself overusing it. I’ve since found sense of balance and regularly switch between tech and pen to paper exercises. I’m especially a fan of the visible thinking routines. My students quite obviously enjoy the tactile interaction with a big piece of paper and some markers and sticky notes too. Even if it means they are often doodling around the edges, I see the benefits in a balances approach for sure! Thanks for the reminder.
Pen, markers, big piece of paper and sticky notes are the way that some kids think and operate … we should cater to that sometimes, too, right? Thanks for the comment, Ryan.
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I enjoyed your #6 reason the most, because I too am a Spanish teacher. I have yet to see an app or website that can give the ‘raised eyebrow look of confusion’ like an actual human can. Not to mention, I love it when my first year students tell me (courtesy of some-kind of translation app/website) ‘Hay cinco chivos en mi familia.’ I am usually very surprised by that statement since ‘un chivo’ is a kid, as in a baby goat, not a human. I do have my Spanish students do some of their written homework via Google classroom and have had them record short video projects of themselves telling a story to the computer camera as if it were a person. So I am not anti-tech, I just think there is a time and place for it. Because before we know it the pencil and paper might appear in a historical museum as an ‘artifact of communication’.
Pat, I love this comment! For you, it’s “chivos” … for me, it’s “ventiladora”, as in “I’m a fan of ____” (supporter of a team vs. object that blows air). Your statement sums it all up very nicely: there IS a time and place for using technology, and the time and place is not “all the time” and “everywhere.” Thanks for your insight and contribution.
Great blog post- you hit on a lot of great reasons to go tech-less for a short time. I agree with all of them. My 6th graders LOVE tech but also LOVE expericnces and hands-on and sometimes “old school” is most efficient and effective. Thanks for being bold with this post!
Thanks, Kari! (PS: I wrote this, posted it and thought, “Hmm … I’ll bet I see a comment from Kari about this one.” Seriously! 🙂
What a great article on “6 reasons you should ditch your ed-tech!” When someone says the students are smarter than we are, related to technology, yes I agree. But when the students google to get an answer, and they select the first answer, which is incorrect, who really is smarter? Maybe a title for your next blog.
I like that, Lynne! Googling answers and picking the top response will only get you so far … and many times, that mistake in judgment just makes you look foolish!
I’ve also learned that just because they may be called “Digital Natives” doesn’t mean they know how to use the technology in an educational arena. They can take pics, post them, create videos, but sometimes lack when try to create a great presentation using the same mediums.
I totally agree. I was just talking about this with someone at my school. Students hate it when teachers use technology just to say they’re using technology. They want meaningful lessons created that engage them in a different style of learning. This doesn’t have to be achieved with technology. I find that the “non-tech” days are just as important (and sometimes help me create relationships even more) as the tech days. Students still love to act things out, make up songs/poems, write on the desks with EXPO markers, and more. A poorly planned lesson doesn’t become magical just because it has technology. And just because there is no use of technology in a class period doesn’t mean learning isn’t occuring. We need to use the technology to enhance amazing lessons. We shouldn’t force it just because it is the cool thing to do. Students see right through that, and start to resent us for it.
Stewart, you just hit the nail on the head. “A poorly planned lesson doesn’t become magical just because it has technology.” “We need to use the technology to enhance amazing lessons.” And when we force technology just for technology’s sake, students DO notice and it turns them off of using it all together sometimes. Very insightful. Thanks!
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