Thursday, January 28, 2010

Guest Post: "I want to use technology as a method -- not has a cool activity."

Today we have two guest posts from folks in the TeachPaperless community! One of my absolute favorite things as a blogger is to be able to provide you all with the authentic voices of teachers making their own way through these digital times. I hope you enjoy reading these pieces as much as I enjoyed publishing them.

Heather Mason is a middle school teacher with 14 years experience in the Language Arts classroom but has only realized the power of technology in education recently. Follow her on Twitter @hrmason.

A confession before I start. The whole paperless thing kind of frightens me a bit. I was raised reading the comics on my dad’s lap, flipping through the pages of a journal and curling up with a paperback book. But one look at the papers stacked up mercilessly on my desk and I know there must be a better way.

When asked what I would want for technology if money was no object, my first thought wasn’t a new gadget or piece of hardware. They always seen to be outdated right after the PO is put in. Plus those tools often stay in the classroom.

As a writing teacher, I know that when kids write for me they are concerned with how many paragraphs do they need to get a good grade. But when they write for others, the grade no longer matters. They want to know how to make their writing good enough to pass peer inspection. Tech is no different. A tool that never leaves the classroom will only provide learning that stays in the classroom. I want something more.

In order to get more, though, we have to do a better job putting the tech into student hands, both at school and at home. Computers, and more specifically the internet, are now a ubiquitous part of our lives. The problem is they aren’t really a useful part of many students’ lives.

I know there is this myth of the digital native better able to communicate through electronic means that traditional ones. There is truth to that for some, but for many kids technology is only a new means to pass notes, and beyond their cell phone and MySpace/Facebook account, they have no experience in using technology to serve a purpose. Recently I told a few kids they could email me their presentations; only one knew how to add an attachment to an email. During parent conferences, many parents have confessed to getting rid of internet for safety concerns or monetary troubles. And recently I took a poll of my students and almost a quarter of them don’t text; some don’t even have cell phones. No new gadget in my classroom will overcome that.

I work in a system that supports technology, but doesn’t have the funding to fully realize its dream. There are two computer labs at my school: one for the business classroom, one in the media center, and one in its own room. I get to use one about once every two months or so, sometimes not even that much. That means that instead of making tech a key part of my class, it becomes a project… a unit that I have to plan specially for. And if we can’t finish in the two days I signed up for, well… students are out of luck unless they are already familiar with the tool we’re using and have access to a computer at home.

I’m not complaining, some schools don’t even have one lab. I have a doc cam and projector with cables strung across my floor like booby traps, but I know teachers who are still using the overhead out of necessity.

While I am happy with what I have, I want to use technology as a method -- not has a cool activity.

I want to teach students to manipulate many different forms of text. I want students to think of email and blogs as the main way to turn in papers, slide shows, photo essays, movies, whatever means of creating they choose, not as a thing for only the few special kids who happen to have internet and know how to use if effectively. I want to get them beyond passing notes. That’s where I see myself going over the next few years.

Meanwhile, I have a stack of papers to grade. Sigh.


  1. I find it's incredibly difficult to teach students to think of the internet as a research tool. Even now, five months into the school year, they bristle at going in search of quotations to build into their writing efforts. Even when that's as simple as typing "Aristophanes quotations" into Google and selecting an appropriate line or two.

    All the same, it is starting to happen in class. I modeled for my students today the difference between a 1-point paragraph and a 7-point paragraph, cutting and pasting the whole way. Even my more supported students (a class of six) are starting to get the importance of including relevant information into everything they write.

  2. Technology as a method... that's the right idea. An example from our 1:1 project. I interviewed teachers and students this past September for a prez I do for parents on our 1:1 project. Anyway, teachers talk about kids, especially boys, writing more. One teacher claims on average boys (grade 6/7) are writing 8 times more using laptops than they did by hand - during a 5 minute write this is the difference between a paragraph and the beginnings of a short story! I suggest that this supports the idea as technology as a (transformative) method!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.