A Brief Survey of Technology and Education

By Sara Henschell

Teachers have been put in a rough spot. For so long, we were expected blindly accept or even be grateful for decisions made about the tools we use. And when I say tools, I mean the means of production of learning: books, peripherals, hardware, etc.

If you worked in a large urban center as late as five years ago, you might have been pumped to be able to make a class set of each chapter of the text book you were given. If you were really lucky, you got to use the Rizograph.  Ka-Chunk!

At this point, we could get lost in a social moral rage. WE could point fingers and get nowhere really quick. Instead, let’s talk about what did, what we do, and what we can do.

What we did was we learned to do without. We spent hours making copies, when we could get paper. We wrote grants to companies we would never shop at to get supplies, or better yet, just bought them. We were chalk-talk gurus who built worlds on notebook paper. We could make 16 different foldable graphic organizers with a plain sheet of notebook paper. Our watch words were patient and flexible. Being resourceful was more valuable than content knowledge.  It was not comfortable, highly effective or practical, but we made do.

Then one day, things changed. I remember the year I came into my room and my rather large institutional desk was filled with a dinosaur of a desktop computer.  With great patience, a new keyboard (I bought) and a very long blue cord, I made it work. Eventually the blue cord was tapped to the ceiling. Then dinosaurs proliferated and I have a tree of blue cords on the ceiling of my room. Dinosaurs on leashes for everyone!

The year after that, we were taping bedsheets to the wall and buying Wii-motes to make touch boards with open-source software. WeE spent Tuesday nights on edchat desperately looking for something new. (we still check it out)

And all the sudden we were supposed to be magicians. WE were pulling verbs out of hats with funny sound effects and had a video clip for every 3 minutes of lecture.  I will admit it, I ate it up. I had every peripheral gadget (talk to me about light pens…) and hardware.

The room I had had windows without glass in them, just a clear piece of plastic that I caulked and hot-glued back in every so often. It didn’t have reliable heat and air conditioning was a dream.  The room was built for about 30 student desks, a teacher’s desk and chalkboards wall to wall.  It was crowded. Hardware failed. Mice sacrificed themselves to the electric cord god.  It was Dickensian. This is a common story. The future was moving faster than we could and we were left in the dust, running, trying to stay relevant for our students.  

Just for context, this all happened in a 2 to 3 years. in terms of education, this is light speed. Whether or not history will recognize the information revolution we have lived through can only be told by generations to come. But, from the view of the classroom desk, there were times that reminded me of the industrial revolution of the last century. (Will common core be remembered as the triangle fire of our time? Who knows) There is still no full solution, no true reconnoitering of the skills and content that our kids will need to thrive in the information age.  Plus, the waters are muddied with state mandates, teacher contract strife, concepts of privacy, net neutrality. We know more about what we don’t know most days.

What we do know is that the phones, games, computers, social media are not going away.  We have to find ways to incorporate what our students find to be useful in our practice, meaning we need to know what we know about content and know what they know (or need to know) about finding and organizing information. Because information is the new currency, and I am not talking about memorizing facts. We need to be vigilant consumers, constantly reading and thinking about what ways we can help students become digital citizens who can wield content wisley.

I realize I am very lucky in many ways. I am in the last generation of kids who remember what the world was like before the internet. But I also have never driven a car without a phone in it. (Remember the bag phone? #TBT) I am a native user of iphones, ipads, computers, netbooks. I play video games. I use tech in my life outside my career and it has been a boon, I can also understand how it is scary for people who know how to get to places without a robot voice telling them where to turn.  

We now approach the main conflict in this survey. We have teachers who are able to take agency but the resources we had were too finite; we also have teachers who need support and direction to continue being relevant in the classroom. This is not a comfortable split and there is tension surrounding these ideas. The setting for this drama is wrought with ineffective and inappropriate tools.

They broke, they were not meant for student consumption and they were too expensive in the first place. The software we have been made to use is questionably functional at best, the peripherals made to run on faster machines (watch me bring your whole room to a standstill with my bamboo tablet) and the app to run on browsers other than Explorer, which was (…is…) the industry standard for education *cough*. Plus they couldn’t be left in our hands like tools should be, they had to be checked out, and we had to bring our classes to them. The tech savvy and the less savvy are resentful and wary. Does anyone remember the last time workers didn’t have access to the basic tools they needed?

The pain points are tangible. We are getting bitter. We are realizing that we are the consumer of these products and should have a say in what we are told to use. What can we do? We will take back the agency in our careers.

We shouldn’t be asked to move our classes to tool that really should be coming to us. We should have access to them in a way that works within the schedule of our learning not shape our learning around the tools.  If it can’t come to me and stay with me, then it wasn’t meant for me and I don’t want it. I will say that because I will get grants for what I need. We should write grants, read about grants and figure out who the people are in our communities that are going to help us fix our problems. They do exist and it never hurts to ask because if we do, they will help us.

Waiting for people to tell us what to do  is not something that we will do anymore.  We won't want to rely on anyone to provide for us, because it will take away of the control we have over our tools and it just won't be worth it. We will invest in our own knowledge bases and constantly attend professional development of our choosing to facilitate growth and ability to make informed decisions on what we will  use in our rooms.  We will be in control of our rooms, our technology and we will be savvy consumers. Now, we need to see what the world will do about this power shift.  I wish them luck, because history is on our side.

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