Even though we may be working with “Digital Natives,” students do not necessarily have the technology skills to do the work we want them to do with their laptops and tablets. In an environment where the technology is in service to learning the curriculum, it is important that teaching those skills is done quickly so that most of the student’s time is spent on the content of the activity, not the technology itself.
But good, well-intentioned teachers often make two inadvertent mistakes when they start out teaching with technology…
I once observed a middle school Health Education teacher work with her students on a technology-based project. She is an excellent teacher who comes up with very creative ways to engage her students. She also used technology quite a bit herself and had terrific ideas of how to use computers with her students. Although she was an experienced teacher and knowledgeable about using computers, she was a novice at teaching with technology. She ended up making a critical mistake.
She was preparing to have her students make thirty-second public service announcements (PSAs) about different health issues and diseases. Students would use the desktop video software available on their laptops. I was there from the first lesson, when the teacher described the project to the students. Enthusiasm was high! These students were dying to create videos and they were anxious to get their hands on their computers. The teacher had carefully and thoughtfully prepared a series of skill-building sessions to prepare students to use the desktop video software.
But it took her three days to go through all the skill-building lessons.
By then, many students had lost interest in the project or were off task, and some were really disruptive.
The teacher’s mistake? She had put too much emphasis on the technology. She spent too much time teaching the technology skills.
Teachers new to teaching with technology generally make two mistakes when integrating technology into their teaching.
Spending Too Much Time Teaching the Technology
Spending too much time teaching the technology takes the focus off of the curricular goals originally intended for the technology-based activity. Or, worse, this destroys the intrinsic motivation students might have for a project when it is introduced. The Health Education teacher’s PSA project was like this. It turned out well, but she had to work to get their interest and motivation back. Teachers want students to know all the skills that they might need throughout the project, and don’t recognize that students probably only need a handful of skills to get started and can learn new skills as the need them, if they don’t figure them out on their own.
Not Teaching the Technology Skills
The other mistake is not teaching any technology skills at all. For example, a teacher might want students to create PowerPoint presentations or to make a multimedia project to show others what they had learned from the research they have done in class. But the teacher doesn’t show the students how to use the presentation or multimedia software and simply expects them to figure it out on their own. Sometimes this is because the teacher assumes the students already know how to use the programs, or because the teacher isn’t sure how to teach them herself. Sometimes it is because she is concerned about the time it will take and she knows she has a lot of curriculum to address.
If we are going to expect teachers to integrate technology into teaching (hopefully because we believe in the benefits to learning!), then we certainly don’t want teachers to leave students floundering with the technology. Students deserve to be given support and instruction in order to be successful with the task. By the same token, we want teachers to be able to focus most of their instructional and student learning time on their curriculum and not to shift the emphasis of their teaching to technology.
What, then, is that balance between supporting students with some technology instruction and not taking too much time so teachers and students can stay focused on the curriculum? Teachers must not only design engaging technology-based projects and activities for their content, but they must figure out how to teach the technology quickly.