SCUSD Observer

Sacramento, California

Education Technology in the classroom: What should it look like?

My name is Alice Mercer, and I am an ed tech blogger (I blog about education technology). I am an educator and a computer and technology teacher at an elementary school in Sacramento City Unified School District. In addition, all of my teaching experience both in the lab and out, has been in high poverty schools. I believe in the power of technology to change education, but I also believe that if we are really going to change education, all students need to create and not just consume their education. If we can’t make it work with poor and minority children, we won’t really change how we are teaching, but if it can work where I teach, it can work anywhere.

Technology is one of the “new” and trendy things to talk about in education, but what does it mean? First, just knowing your way around a computer and the Internet doesn’t mean you’re ready to teach technology. Effective use of technology is more important than the technology itself. Why is this? Let me give an example. I have a dad who is super smart, and was a math wiz. He would sometimes attempt to “help” me with math, but all his smarts did not make him a great tutor for me. Ideally, we should be using technology to make a lesson richer, more effective, and more enticing for students. Getting to that point requires learning, time, and most importantly, support.

Next, you need to know not all technology is the same, and how it is used is where the real differences come out. Some people approach “learning” to use a computer as though it is like “learning” typing. Although there are skills involved in learning technology, the potential uses are much richer, and more complex than how one can use a typewriter. A mechanistic approach will not have students making use of the true potential for making learning more effective. There is a tendency to simply transfer tasks, and lessons that used to be done with paper, pencil, and blackboards, to computers. While this can give you improvements in terms of management and administration (like automated grading), it will make little or no change to instruction. How does this play out in the classroom? My son would refer to computer lab time as going to the “Tungsten” lab. In many schools, students think the lab is only for doing Accelerated Reader and Orchard test prep, and teachers who get interactive white boards use them simply as a more glitzy way to deliver a lecture instead of involving students in learning.

Last, how computers are used in education has a very strong class and race bias, that keeps poor and minority students from realizing the potential of this tool. One of the best explanations of this comes from Towards Digital Equity by Gwen Solomon and Nancy Allen, which is essentially, poor students are told what to do by computers (they are much more likely to spend all of their time on school computers doing test prep), while more well off students learn to tell the computer what to do. The second group of students is being prepared to become programmers, or analysts, while first is being prepared to operate POS (Point of Sale) machines at WalMart. Those kids are part of a future job market that will help support you in your Social Security years, if that’s not a disturbing thought I don’t know what else I can say.


Written by alicemercer

April 18, 2010 at 6:51 pm

One Response

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  1. So you’re sayin’ that tech is a social issue. Corps. are dividing us thru ed engineering. Teaching the test.

    Half of freshman entering the UC system have to make a 4.0 and no scholarships for sports. The big picture doesn’t emerge until 5 years from now when the under class knows how to work a computer, sure, but did it ever get a typing class? Or a decent math class? or an art class?

    Commendation to the teachers who have the vision to synthesize what’s happening on the lower rungs and 2 have the guts 2 speak out about it.

    Lilly Grover

    April 19, 2010 at 9:16 am

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