On the Importance, Nay Necessity, of Technology Integration in the Classroom

Recently, I have witnessed some debate about the importance of using technology in the classroom. Some argue that technology for technology's sake is not productive for learning.  Some argue that technology, used appropriately, is just another tool to reach students.  Teaching with technology in the 21st century is a necessity.

About five years ago, I made the decision to go paperless in my classroom.  I had a small space in which to teach so my storage space and file room were non-existent.  At the end of the previous year, it took me an entire week to come out from under the mounds of paper that we had generated in the class during the year—what a waste.  Frustratingly, I noticed several stacks of unused papers (we have all been there:  we make plans to pass out assignments that never get used for one reason or another).  And strangely, I found multiple stacks of the same papers that did get used, but had way too many copies of.  So, I wanted to end that waste, and made the commitment to go paperless. 

It was an easy transition.  That was the year that I began using wikispaces for all of my classes.  Any documents or assignments that needed to be handed out were uploaded instead.  If a student was absent for a day or more, she could access the class wiki and find the discussion notes, reading notes, project information or anything that she missed in class that day (no more, "I was absent and didn't get the notes" excuses).  The class wiki is even open to parents so they have access to everything we do in class.  This is helpful, as well, for those students who don't have internet access at home; their parents can retrieve all of the class information for them at work, if necessary.  Of course, other arrangements were made for students who had no internet access at all; luckily that happens at my school very rarely.

Wikispaces is not the only technology tool that has become like second nature for us in the History room, however.  As budding historians, my students are expected to do a fair amount of research using both primary and secondary sources.  There are a myriad of online databases that we use on a daily basis. My students had already been blogging on an online current events website.  In my History class we depend on technology for productive learning, as well as on the countless tools of presentation that we use on a regular basis.

All of this is to say that when our access to technology was restricted, we all had a difficult time reverting to the non-technology-integrated classroom.  At this time last year, my colleagues and I were setting up our classrooms in a temporary location, since our 100+-year old building was undergoing a massive renovation.  As the "Perfect Storm" of bad-renovation Karma hit us, it became impossible to outfit the temporary space with wi-fi internet access.  On most days, we were lucky to have any internet access at all on the teacher's desktops.  Given that our student laptops are outfitted for wi-fi, and there were only two hard-wired connections into the building, it was impossible for the students to use the computers for anything other than word processing.  Very frustrating.

With no access to technology, I had to completely rethink how to teach.  Those first few weeks were difficult to say the least.  Thankfully, I had built up a respectable classroom library of history research materials that had gone sorely unused for several years.  Problem:  they are all secondary sources, and I didn't have nearly enough for every student and every subject they were interested in.  We spent a lot of time in a public library that fall.  Imagine, for a moment, going totally disconnected...What would you do?  How would you teach?

The experience taught me that, yes, in my history classroom, we need to use technology.  (And, it is imperative to be flexible, positive AND creative when things don't go the way I expect.) Some people warn of the dangers of using technology for technology's sake, but that experience got me thinking: why not use technology for technology's sake? Students are immersed in it anyway, whether we use it in the classroom or not.  If we teachers go out of our way to use technology in schools, we have the opportunity to model to students all the cool things that the tools can do, and to use them in productive ways.  

We should try to reach our students where they already live, and let's face it:  they live in 21st century technology.  Our students are children of the 21st century, and we have a responsibility to prepare them for life in the 21st century. I'm not suggesting that we disrupt the progress of the classroom just to incorporate the latest technological gadgets, but I do think that it is important for teachers to make an effort to incorporate at least some technology that fits with the flow of the class while modeling safe, appropriate and productive use of it for our students.  Food for thought.


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