In the aftermath of the pandemic, we often hear the sentiment that kids don’t need to be on technology any more in our classrooms. The understanding is that “true learning” happens in the absence of technology. In fact, we have even heard comments like, “Aren’t we done with technology now that the pandemic is over?” Technology is viewed by some as just a way to do homework, or as a mode for standardized testing. Indeed, students need time when they’re not using technology for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which are developing fine motor coordination, working through math problems, and learning penmanship, most of the sentiments above betray an understanding of technology that hasn’t yet accepted the fact that technology can truly transform teaching and learning. As Marlena Hebern notes, “Tech isn’t a side piece; it’s the missing piece.”
It is true that there are many ways in which students (and educators) use technology that gets in the way of learning. Many of us, for instance, experienced behavior in students during remote learning that led us to long for in-person learning so we could better monitor and control what students were doing during class time. We witness students forfeiting hours of their time to pointless (or worse, harmful) text conversations, TikTok and Snapchat streams, or hear about them binging Netflix series. The important thing to realize is that it is not the technology that’s getting in the way, but the way it is being used that’s getting in the way. Technology is a mighty tool that can be wielded for a range of good things, or it can be used for a whole spectrum of bad things from wasting time to criminal activity. Our goal as educators is to help students recognize the ways technology can actually benefit them, and learn to use technology in a way that enhances their opportunities for learning and for a high quality of life.
So what should students be doing with technology in our classrooms? According to Marlena Hebern and Joe Corippo, technology use in our classrooms should meet one of The 4 Cs: Collaborating, Creating, Critically Thinking, and Communicating. Here’s a brief overview of what I think they mean by these in our context:
While we are essentially a 1:1 district, that does not and should not mean that students are therefore learning in isolation. There may be times when students are working on personalized learning activities, but we need to resist the temptation to allow technology to divide our learning communities. Students–even while using their very own device–should be collaborating to solve common problems and to meet common goals.
Students should not merely consume digital media using their devices. While it is true that technology empowers them to be able to access a wide range of information, we want them to use that information to synthesize new content, whatever format that may take.
Students should be evaluating information to determine credibility, bias, and validity. They should be questioning sources and solving problems they establish from what they’re finding. They should be actively analyzing what they see on the internet and becoming aware of ways in which sources are attempting to influence them.
Students should be using technology to clearly articulate ideas, establish networks, and make connections with individuals within the school community and beyond, such as field experts outside of the district or students around the globe who are working toward similar goals.
Technology, when used well, can open doors upon doors of opportunities for learners. Students who learn to use technology well will outlearn and outperform students who can not use technology. As educators, we can help them open these doors. Or, we can stand idly by as we watch them enter a world we know full well is increasingly technological–yet have done nothing to help them survive in it because we thought technology was just a nice thing to have.