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Technology for Technology's Sake

Robert Pronovost

I recently heard Steven Anderson (@web20classroom) share a comment that I'm sure has been spread around the education circles: "If technology is the focus of your classroom, you're doing it wrong." While most people come into my classroom and see the laptops and iPod touches we have and are very impressed by their use by the second graders, if they stuck around long enough they'd also see we're not using them all the time. We do have leveled-reading time on the computer, but more importantly, we have interest-based reading time around the room. We spend time publishing our writing online, but not in every case and not with every child. We use technology as a tool for learning, not for technology's sake.

Picture this scenario. All the students in a classroom are sitting at computers, preparing to type a final copy of their book reviews, which they will print and hand in to the teacher. The class is asked to open their word processor and begin typing. The teacher comes around, supporting the students in spacing words, checking spelling, and understanding the ins and outs of the software. Great, right? Except that a third of those students only want to share their reviews with the person sitting next to them and another third wish they could tell people about their opinions on camera, like the reviewer on the news did last night. In that case, there is nothing natural about the students' work. Every child is using technology, but all in the same way, all without a choice.

Now imagine a classroom where all these students were allowed to publish their work as they choose. A third of students are publishing their work on a word processor, preparing to post the reviews to Amazon or Spaghetti Book Club. Another third are writing their reviews by hand, adding illustrations to really show their classmate what they mean. Finally, the last third of the class has finished editing and revising their reviews and are turning on the video camera.

Of course, the first situation seems much more manageable. There are a limited number of questions, a confined place for each student, and a streamlined system to evaluate their work. But in the greater context of the classroom, the more choice the students are allowed, the more engaged in the work they'll be. Technology should allow our students more opportunities to create and express, not simply be a new media for everyone to use in the same way.

This is why I struggle when a teacher, administrator, or visitor asks what technology they should buy for their classroom, school, or district. Every time a new technology comes along, we believe it will change the classroom. Yet each time, we introduce a new technology—television, document camera, whiteboard, iBook—the classroom seems to stay the same. I could recommend Product X, but without altering ones' perception of the classroom, there is going to be very little change.

If we want to develop the leaders of tomorrow, we need to begin using technology for differentiation and individualization, not for maintaining the status quo.

Robert Pronovost is a 2nd grade teacher and student tech advisor in the Ravenswood City School District in Menlo Park, Calif.

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