Technology is useless… if it does not amplify classroom instructions


As I See It

There is truth to Frank DiMaria’s article Allowing Technology to Amplify Quality Teaching published last week when he mentioned that technology is useless if not properly utilized by qualified teachers. I mentioned in my last week’s column that to succeed in the 21st century education, teachers must be prepared to use technology and must be trained to provide more adult guidance to students in modern technology gadgets. So, it’s not merely having a lap top for student use or a computer for internet use or a television in the classroom or a white board for illustrations, but knowing how to use them properly for effective classroom instructions.

DiMaria was right! Adult quality guidance in technology use must be provided because students will just surf the net and go to inappropriate sites or just check their email during class time. So, teachers need to resort to differentiated instructions and employ a lot of creativity to be able to keep the students engaged. The classroom is a challenging arena!

Actually, these tech gadgets in the classrooms are not new. In 2001, the Enhancing Education through Technology (EETT) Act was passed in support for technology. That was a boost for the education sector at that time considering that technology was the name of the game in the education sector with the inset of the World Wide Web.

Funding went with the legislation and teachers and educators were looking forward to acquiring computers and other high tech equipment. However, in 2011, the Act was defunded and the explicit funding of education technology was gone! As to reasons why it was defunded… we don’t know why! So, that was a big blow to the education sector. Since then, EETT legislation has come up for consideration several times from the ranks of the legislators.

Lately, the issue has resurfaced positively. A legislation was introduced by US Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) that would reactivate the EETT Act. Sen. Baldwin’s move was joined by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Angus King (I-ME). The proponents of the ETT Enhancing Bill said that the legislation “would authorize a billion dollars starting in fiscal year 2016 and continuing in some amount for four years to provide funding to state educational agencies that could be issued to districts and schools for the purpose of promoting the use of technology for student learning. The program would be managed by the Department of Education, as was the version of the Act originally passed in 2001.”

Dian Schaffhauser, in her article published in the Journal titled $1 Billion Federal ‘Enhancing Education Through Tech’ Bill Introduced, she said, “the act would ensure that a certain portion of funding be dedicated to teacher training and other school leaders to help them ‘use technology to redesign courses, personalize instruction and increase student engagement.’ The bill encourages the use of data to ‘drive classroom and school practice’ while still ‘protecting student privacy and ensuring data security”.

The 21st century is characterized by modern technology, so the EETT Act gave the schools the resources, infrastructure, hardware, software, and human capabilities to prepare students for the 21st century. So, I hope, this time Congress will pass the bill, but should not defund it after 10 years, just like what happened to the original EETT!

Today school districts are moving to revolutionize education through technology. These devices have the potential to be effective tools, but… “… without quality adult supervision, they are merely cognitive candy,” warns Kentaro Toyama, W.K. Kellogg Associate Professor of Community Information at the University of Michigan’s School of Information. He further explained that providing mobile devices to students without quality adult supervision is like giving dessert to children before they have had their dinner. “The cognitive candy effectively kills the students’ appetite for truly nutritious education,” Toyama explained. Over the years, he’s developed the Law of Amplification, which districts and teachers can follow to ensure their technology works harder and smarter.

Toyama’s Law of Amplification states that teachers who are motivated and committed to education and have sufficient time to learn about technology and integrate it into their lessons will positively exploit technology. “The technology amplifies their positive pedagogical qualities, and teachers who are unmotivated or those who are motivated but are not trained on the integration of technology or not supported by their administration will have little success using technology in their classrooms,” Toyama added.

Toyama has identified three forces that must be present for technology to positively affect education: intention, judgment and self-control. If any of these elements is missing, technology is misused and becomes a distraction rather than a positive tool.

Good intention, in an educational context, provides that both the teacher and the student are focused on learning specifically for the child’s benefit.

Good judgment, on the other hand, is a quality that is far more difficult to measure or breakdown. Sometimes good judgment means not using technology even when the lesson is about technology. “In many circumstances in which I have taught computer literacy skills to very young children, I found that having them close the laptops at their desk is an essential part of teaching them about the laptops themselves,” said Toyama.

Self-control, the third force, is the ability for a teacher to follow through on intentions. Teachers may place a limit on computer time in the classroom, for example, but drift over that limit for any number of reasons. Technology will only be effective in the classroom if the teacher has the discipline and self-control to make a concerted effort to shut down the mobile device. “All three of these components are necessary not just at the (teacher level) but at the school level,” said Toyama.

So, to be effective, technology must be utilized properly through the able guidance of knowledgeable teachers. “Any project involving computing technology in education is always going to run up against one fundamental challenge: what children most want to do with technology is some form of entertainment. Unless there is a very deliberate attempt to ensure that children are using the technology in an educationally productive way, more technology in the hands of children simply distracts them from their education,” said Toyama.

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