To teach or not to teach with technology, that is the question.

To teach or not to teach with technology, that is the question.

By Jenny Bergh

At the risk of losing my job let me say that there is too much hype about ‘teaching with technology’. Seriously – we’ve been doing this since the dawn of mankind. It’s just the technology and the way we use it that changes. Dare I say that I have seen dipping pens, fountain pens, and – heaven forbid that the art of cursive writing be ruined – the ball point pen. In fact the meaning of the word ‘technology’ itself has changed. The Greek word “tekhnologia” originally meant “systematic treatment of an art, craft, or technique” (British dictionary). It was in 1859 (Do the math! 157 years ago!) that it was applied as “the science of the industrial and mechanical arts” (Etymology Dictionary). Most modern subjects now have different definitions for technology.

In Science for instance it is“the specific methods, materials, and devices used to solve practical problems”. In Technology it’s “jargon for ‘software’, ‘ hardware ‘, ‘protocol ‘ or something else too technical to name”. In respect of education I like the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s rendition as “a scientific method of achieving a practical purpose.”

I started teaching with a blackboard and chalk which is, you have to agree, a scientific method of achieving a practical purpose. If you asked me what technology (pre digital) changed my teaching I have to say – the overhead transparency machine. A veritable PowerPoint operated manually. The OHT was a most versatile machine enriching lessons with media as never before and providing a stage from which I could wax lyrical without ever having my back to the class.

Technology comes in all forms. I taught in a Jewish Day school with a headmaster who, dressed in a white safari suit, habitually strode around the school giving announcements through a red loud hailer. The ensuing crazy chaos was energizing but the technology was oh so inefficient – no Staffroom software in those days. Once I had to hide in a dark classroom as I had temporary caps on my front teeth and looked like a rabbit. I devised lesson plans around slide presentations and video clips – all presented in the dark. The students loved these types of lessons – they sat chewing gum, holding hands and undoubtedly kissing in the back rows. These lessons were entertaining but not engaging – well, not with the subject matter anyway. I could go on – many years of teaching gives loads of material to illustrate what I want to say.

So what is it that I am trying to say?

  • New technologies will always be introduced into education and we have to use them appropriately.
  • New technologies may offer greater learning and teaching opportunities that veer away from the traditional. Hallelujah. You can’t solve today’s challenges with yesterday’s solutions.
  • The best type of learning is by doing. Lessons that are learner centric and delivered at the students’ pace far outweigh those delivered by teacher talk irrespective of how entertaining the teacher may be.

Bigatel, in her research on strategies to enhance online learning, uses a student comment to define engagement:

“Engaged is being tasked, questioned, and expected to participate in team and individual projects. Students like myself should be interacted with in various ways, not only through assignments and quizzes, but also through exercises, training, forums, and discussion.”

All of the above creates a daunting task for traditional teachers. Engaging and enriching students using today’s technologies is no less daunting but from my experience far more satisfying.

Teachers do want to embrace today’s digital tools especially those that make administrative duties less arduous as well as teaching and learning more effective. More to the point however, students want to learn in an environment that gives them a voice so that they can interact, collaborate, take control and excel in a very fast changing world. To allow excellence to prevail we must contribute to the improvement of teaching by using the capabilities of media and new methodologies and in this way positively influence learning for students.

Reference:

  1. M. Bigatel www.facultyfocus.com. Student Engagement Strategies for the Online Learning Environments Accessed 03/15/16

Jennifer Bergh – E-Learning Consultant

jennyJenny has enjoyed a successful career in secondary and tertiary institutions both locally and overseas. Her international experience of 13 years centred on teaching within a second language university environment, managing online Learning Centres for exceptional and at risk students and very importantly, providing professional development for faculty and staff within an Educational Technology sphere. Continue reading