I’m a Gen X baby. Technology for me in the 1980s was a dodgy microfiche in the university library and then my trusty and often dusty overhead projector in my classroom. I was later amazed at the fax machine and proudly owned a Nokia brick with extendable aerial. And if I’m honest, I found all the hype around Adele’s flip phone used in “Hello” mildly offensive. I owned one of those too.
I have taught a number of millennials, also known as Generation Y. They are far more used to technology, having grown up with computers and mobile phones. Some of them initially had a foot in each camp when asked about integrating technology into the classroom. Although they love their smartphones and devices, they were of the belief that we should “just write stuff” and that the students using iPads “would just play games.” I think this belief is now in the minority, and besides, this is not the focus of my attention.
Perhaps we need to come to the realization that we teachers are not the only resource in the classroom.
I’d like to focus on the so-called Generation Z. Or if you like, Generation Technology. Gen Tech to make me sound more hip. This is the generation who will study the work of Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web in history books. They are the generation who do not know a world without the plethora of technology we have today. They are the generation that sees ultrafast broadband and wi-fi as a basic right. When I was trying to make the point of how quickly technology was evolving I told my students about my amazement at a fax machine. One boy piped up: “But miss, why would you want to send a hard copy of anything halfway around the world?”
So if they are Gen Tech, why are some teachers reluctant to harness and integrate technology into their lessons? Perhaps we need to come to the realization that we teachers are not the only resource in the classroom. When we concede the fact that students can access information from a number of sources, other than simply from us at our pace, we will start developing some independence with learning.
This leads to my next point. As adults we often entrust our kids to run the remote at home. We entrust our grandchildren to set up our new devices and change our Facebook profile pictures. There are even TV ads that pit parents against their five year old to see who can set up the car’s on-board computer first. Needless to say the five year old wins hands down (or is that hands-free down?) So why not trust students to access information, develop original artifacts and connect with an authentic audience through the use of technology in class. I agree that the World Wide Web can be a daunting and even scary place at times. It’s not called a web for nothing. But the positives can far outstrip the negatives. And anyway, teachers should be equipping students to cope with the digital world and all that goes with it. That goes far beyond teaching content. Developing digital responsibility I believe is vital.
So what could we be doing in our classes to promote good use of technology?
1. Blended approach
Develop a blended approach. Use the best tool for the job. That might include using white boards, paper and pen or an app or website. Features like the camera for recording and taking photos should be natural and normal in lessons. Using technology just because it’s there is not a good idea. Using technology because it enhances or transforms learning is always a good idea.
Allow students time to develop their blogs. Shared docs, creating video content, writing essays in Word or Pages, all these exercises are vital and should not be replaced. But there is nothing like a well-run blog to publish work. Students should develop their writing skills as a result of good editing and proofreading. This takes time to develop. Blogs allow for transparency and could form the ongoing portfolio of work over years at school. And of course the ability to add media rich work directly from the camera roll makes blogging easier than ever before. WordPress is my preferred blog host.
3. Put the onus on them
How many times have you heard people say “It’s not about the technology, it’s about the pedagogy”? If you truly believe that, put yourself into a student’s shoes. Technology is an extension of their arm, so for them it really is not about technology. It’s more about what works best for the given task. So put the onus on them to choose the best avenue to take. It shouldn’t be your journey or your pace. It takes a bit of trust but how else will we develop independence in our students?
Flip some work. I’ve been flipping for two years now and trust me, it’s not an overnight transition. Telling students that homework will be replaced by three minutes of prep is the easy part. Getting them to do it is the hard part. But I finally feel that I’m getting some traction in my class. When students realize that the expectation is that some prior knowledge is essential to progress in class, they get it done. And students coming into my class also realize that flipped lessons is the way it is in my class. The method I use is to create iBooks for each year level that I teach. This means one download at the beginning of the year which has the videos and other work embedded in it. They can work offline if the unthinkable happens and their wi-fi is down, because the work is sitting resident on their device. These books are free downloads in iTunes.
Gen Tech. The technology-saturated generation that coined the term ‘selfies‘; for whom words like ‘the cloud’ take on a whole new meaning. Social media takes center stage for many of them. A generation that faces a future where, many of the jobs they will fill, have not yet been invented. Mark McKinnon said: “Technology and social media have brought power back to the people.” It is imperative that we understand this power and that we prepare them as best we can for a future that we can’t fully imagine.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, Janitors.