Again, as part of my ETEC 533 class, we are supposed to interview someone who teachers mathematics or science and find out from them what their opinion and perspective is on the use of technology in a mathematics or science classroom.  The table below includes a partial transcription on the left of an interview with a senior science teacher at my school.  It is clear from the interview that the teacher makes pretty extensive use of various types of technology as part of their teaching practice.

Transcribed from interview Analysis

Question:

How do you incorporate technology into your teaching?

Answer:

"… technology becomes another tool to use to help the students understand the objectives…"

"…if using a technology becomes a valuable way of doing this, then that’s what we do…"

"…students can investigate and learn without having to listen to me doing my ‘sage on the stage’."

This discussion seemed very familiar to me.  I realized pretty quickly that it was exactly the same discussion I had just had with my colleagues in my MET class.  Apparently, among people who use technology a lot in their teaching, it is just another tool.

My obvious question is, what would the response be among people who technology infrequently?  Is it clear that the reasons for the lack of technology use are things like "it’s too difficult", "it takes too much time", etc… However are there people who do not use technology simply because they haven’t found an effective way to use it?

I liked the the ‘sage on the stage’ mention in this person’s interview, especially since that is one of my primary uses of technology.  I like being able to direct the action, but I also like being able to have students make discoveries without my intervention.  Anything that leads to an ‘aha’ moment is what I want to be using.

Question:

Given unlimited resources, what other technologies would you consider introducing into your classroom?

Answer:

"… the thing we need to improve upon the most is quality simulations where the students are either given simulations to do, or are given the tools to create the simulations…"

"…could definitely use more of the higher order thinking type tools."

What was interesting to me about the interviewee’s answer to this question was that he wanted tools to help him with higher order thinking problems, just like every other teacher I know.  In other words, there is a great similarity between teachers, regardless of use of technology, we want to make our jobs of teaching abstract thought and reasoning easier.  Some of us just turn to technology to try and help with this difficult task.

As I expected, this teacher wanted access to more simulations.  I didn’t find out why specifically, that was probably part of my poor interview style, but it seems this teacher was making a link between using simulations and being able to develop higher order thinking skills.  I’d like to have seen his reasoning flushed out a bit more there.

Question:

How has technology, and your perception of technology, changed over the years?

Answer:

"… initially it was a fun thing to do and I was one of the few teachers at my school who got into doing the stuff …"

"It was a new way to explore learning on my part and the students’ part.  It then became clear to me, or clearer to me, that technology is a way to engage more than just the easiest of the senses."

"Technology is a way to engage the brain at the same time the hands and the mouth are moving.  I find that has been the best part of using technology."

"As technology has become all pervasive in our society it is pretty hard to amaze students anymore."

"Technology has done what it always wanted to do.  It has become the toaster.  It is now so pervasive everywhere that people just use it."

I was mostly curious about the answer to this question because of my own belief that although the technologies have changed over the years, our attitude toward them has not changed very much.  However this interviewee seems to refute this claim, and provided some excellent examples of why our view toward technology has changed.

At first it was a fun game, but as the technologies began to become more and more common, the ‘jee-whiz’ factor began to wear off.   Now students are less impressed with new technology, although I have personally noticed that when you use existing technology in unique ways, the students notice.

I’m not sure about the ‘technology becoming the toaster’ yet, as in my job I frequently have to give advice on using and trouble-shooting technology.  Every educator I know always has a back-up plan to a technology based lesson, not everyone I know has a back-up to their toaster.  Maybe we are getting there.

 

Question:

Would you say that technology increases student achievement, the use of technology I mean?

Answer:

"The use of technology increases student achievement in a round-about fashion.  It gets kids more engaged in the learning and since they are more engaged in [the learning] there’s actually some learning going on, so as a result scores or knowledge increase.  Whether or not technology is the sole arbitrator of that success is almost impossible to determine."

This is a really key question and answer in my opinion.  The use of technology is only appropriate if it serves the ultimate teacher need, that of instructing students and having them understand your course objectives.  If the technology helps the teacher meet this need, then it is worth using.  The interviewee agrees with me, and provides an explanation why, which I think I can expand upon.

First he says that technology helps with student engagement and that helps with learning because of the increased attention being paid during the lesson.  I also would argue that technology, if used in certain ways, helps a lot with student empowerment and with ownership of the material.  Students who through technology make their own discoveries and write down their own opinions are much more likely to remember what they have learned.

Question:

Would you say that including technology in your teaching makes more or less work for you?

Answer:

"..it’s just as another tool that I pick and choose to use."

"Sometimes technology is your friend, and then sometimes technology bites you. So on the days that it bites you, you definitely spend more time using it and trouble shooting it and trying to get things to work."

"…on balance using technology isn’t anymore time intensive than finding references in a textbook, or creating a worksheet, or giving kids something else to do."

As this teacher stated before, since technology is a tool, he chooses to use it when it is appropriate.  So this means that an approach where you use non-technological solutions mixed with technological approach is worth investigating.  It seems obvious to me, technology can’t solve every problem, and not every lesson has an easy way to incorporate technology.

He makes a good point about the ability of technology to be a chimera.  It is possible that everything runs smoothly with no difficulties, and it is possible that some key component of the technology you want to use fails at a critical moment, leaving you ‘high and dry’.  This is why any experienced users of technology always have a back-up plan for the mission critical situations, and why I argue, technology has not yet reached the status of the toaster.  More work needs to be put into the reliability of technology, and then a greater percentage of people will rely on it.

Question:

Can you describe an experience you had recently using technology which had an impact upon your teaching?

Answer:

"The best thing that I’ve done recently…is developed a website for students to access…putting everything on the website…has allowed me to then to simply say to the students here is the stuff now we are going to work together to get through it.  Then I become somewhat less of a paper pusher and more of a resource manager…"

What was interesting about this answer, is that I completely agree. This is also the best thing I’ve done recently, and it has had the most impact on my teaching.  I’ve gone beyond using a website (a manifestation of technology) as a source of information for the students however and am trying to empower them to contribute to the resource.

This I think is one of the ways we can help technophobic teachers the most, since it has the greatest level of reliability, and doesn’t require learning completely new skillsets in order to be able to master web technology.  The proliferation of ways to get involved and publish to the web also means the entry costs to using this technology are much lower. 

I foresee a time, in the not too distant future, where every teacher will have a website for use with their students.  Probably every student will have a webspace as well, although the social networking websites are trying their best to fulfill this driving need in our society to be as connected as possible.  Possibly our students’ generation will have less personal websites than our own generation.

In brief, I found that the answers the interviewee gave to the questions were very similar to my own and that there were great similarities in our approach to technology.  Given that my interviewee has much more experience using technology than I do, it leads me to believe that I am on the "right track" and that my time spent mastering technology is worth-while in my teaching practice.

Students also appreciate the effort that we put into trying to incorporate technology into their classes.  It makes their lives more interesting, and can brighten a sometimes dull experience of trudging between classes, where still somehow students are often spoon-fed material.

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