Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Instructional Tools -where's the change?

I'm wondering today about the technology tools we use for instruction. Having attended a technology conference this week, it's natural to have these questions. Having seen things like Smartboard demos, a session on the use of Blackboard, etc. I'm feeling a little disillusioned with what we consider to be "good" uses of technology. Many sessions are billed as "engaging your students with [fill in the blank]" but what is meant by "engaging" and what are we "engaging" kids in?

We seem to think that if it's "fun" for our students that it will therefore be engaging. Hmmm...I guess there's something to that... Fun in school is surely a way to draw in young kids but what other ways are there to "engage" our students through the use of technology?

We place a Smartboard in a classroom, load up a game from a website and invite the students to come to the board and choose the right answer. We find "activities" where students can drag and drop and project that image to a Smartboard and invite students to come and demonstrate that they know how to drag and drop the correct letters into a word. We locate "interactive" activities such as PowerPoint Jeopardy games, project that image onto a Smartboard and invite the students to play the game. We project a story being read aloud then ask kids questions about the story, check to see which questions we answered incorrectly, go back to the story and look for the part of the story that would answer those questions. Are the students "engaged?" I suppose they might be...for a while...but what make the Smartboard a better tool? What's the difference between putting the image on the Smartboard and sending the kids to the computer (alone or with a partner) to do the same thing or connecting a projector to your computer and working from the computer to do the same things? Using the instructional design that was demonstrated, only one student can come to the Smartboard at any one time just as only one student can be called on to answer a teacher's question at one time. What makes the difference or what do teachers perceive as making the difference? Are we back to the coolness factor of the technology? Is the technology changing the pedagogy? Impacting student learning? I just don't see anything different happening here - I don't see the technology provoking any change in instruction.

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