Hoping to prompt some discussion, I’d like to theme this post around the use and abuse of technology in the classroom. Coming in to the GK-12 program, without any in-classroom experience at the middle school level, I was all for using as much technology to teach kids as possible. All my experiences with classroom staples such as laptops, Powerpoint, and projector screens have been positive; both in teaching undergraduates at the university and in facilitating my own learning. However, my classroom experiences at Central Middle are beginning to call my ‘technology-faith’ into doubt.
Let’s take this past week as an example. Thursday I observed 7th graders taking the MAP Science test for the first time in the district. District testing, for both checkpoints and MAP tests, is done on personal laptop computers that automatically calculate student scores. Sure sounds easier than the waste and time-intensive scoring of paper-testing, right? Nope-It was chaotic and exasperating. Students had to log-in through various clients and portals to access the exam (avg. class time = 15 minutes), with each student’s access controlled remotely by a teacher laptop. Once the exam was running, an average of 7 computers per class would freeze up, requiring exam resetting by the instructor (avg. time to fix one computer = 5 minutes). Exam resetting took a minimum of 10 operators and the manipulation of both the instructor and student laptops. One unfortunate incident caused a student to loose her electronic test-taking privileges for the entire day.
To be fair, I realize that the problems we encountered in test-taking were due to software, networking, and user error but I wonder how often technology actually slows learning progress in districts/classrooms that 1) can not afford quality equipment, 2) do not staff competent IT who prevent technology breakdown, and 3) do not provide instructors and students with enough training to smoothly operate technology tasks? (Note: My intent is not to call KCK schools out for this, I’m merely using my school as a contrast to the university with all its IT folk and expensive equipment).
What do you think of the use of technology in classrooms? Are the problems with technology that we experience in K-12 schools due to lack of autonomy in individual classrooms (e.g. district-wide mandated laptop testing?). Certainly technology is a critical component to classroom learning, but in what cases does it fail and what can we do about it?